Tuesday, February 26, 2008

thinking about stories, struggling with theology

i grew up thinking that theology was a fancy word for finding loopholes within the bible so we didn't have to be obedient to it.

i'm not really sure anyone taught me that, it was just sort of the swill of the lifer pentecostals that i'd overheard as a kid.

thankfully, mom and dad felt a little differently and i was encouraged to invest myself in a solid grounding in scripture and its context.

+ + + +

in parallel moments, as a kid i always wanted to be a writer. i have my own imagination and love to get caught up in other ways of looking at the world.

science fiction was my schtick - it was where all the important questions were being asked, albeit in poor prose - but sci fi/fantasy were almost universally understood by charismatics to be godless myths and old wives tales...so i tried to grow out of it.

+ + + +

flash forward 20 years (holy crap, am i really old enough to say that?) and i'm a religious 'professional,' fearful that such a label might be more fact (and interdiction) than fiction.

i love the bible, i love theology, i love to teach

but i'm caught: i don't enjoy dumbing things down, but the un-dumbed teaching i endeavor to bring really doesn't mean a ton to everybody...and by everybody i really mean i'm forced to acknowledge that at least 1/3 (please, dear jesus, let it only be 1/3) of the people whom i'm charged to serve have no idea 1/2 of the time (please, dear jesus, let it only be 1/2 of the time) what i'm talking about.

but if they did...i'm convinced it would make a difference in the way they live in relation to god, to others, to themselves, and to the world (thanks to scot mcknight for supplying the rubric here).

so...full circle...i love the bible because it changes the way i live. it connects me more deeply to jesus, makes me more sensitive to the spirit, and corrects me through the instruction and authority of the father (of course, each trinitarian person does more than this...these are just my access points).

but it hurts me when i teach the bible and it's not as transformational to others as it is to me...because some are hard-hearted, some are bored, some are simply unable to understand the gobble-d-gook i'm shooting out my mouth.

so, how do i get it to make more sense to more normal people?

again - the classical answer is that i should just speak slower, use more ordinary language, and clearly delineate every point i'm trying to make.

there's nothing wrong with that - i really have only one objection to those things: that advice doesn't feel like me.

if it's true that we're all one of a kind, and that following jesus is very much about discovering who we uniquely are in Him, then i'm forced to believe that part of my spirituality is to discover the truest possible version of myself in christ...which doesn't allow me to simply follow the conventional, professional, wisdom of how to be a more understandable pastor.

instead, it leads me to thinking about my own construction, my spiritual DNA - which i'm convinced has always been marked and inspired by story.

so i've begun to write stories - some collaboratively, some in verse, some fun, some dark. i'm just stretching my fictional muscles (pun intended) in something i've always enjoyed but recently ignored.

now, i'm not sure that i'll use stories to illustrate theology...that seems like bad storytelling, worse theology, and even worse relationship...but i do think that stories have their own theology, which speaks to us on its own terms, and that theology is shaped and governed by the inspiration of the author.

sound familiar?

anyways - i'm using this post as a way to mark my territory, as it were. however unskilled or unused, i've chosen to throw my lot in with charles williams, madelein l'engle, and c.s. lewis.

and why not?

every great writer needs bad imitators :)

Monday, February 11, 2008

i'd volunteer

my good friends mark and jaylene have recently had another child - leeallen, a baby girl.

they were saddened and torn at her birth to discover that leeallen has downe's syndrome.

after roughly a week of genuine anguish and disappointment - from one of the most grounded, spiritual, and godly couples i've ever met - mark and jaylene experienced a transformation in their outlook, their mood, and their grief.

mark put it this way to me last night on the phone: what if God has a certain number of downe's babies that must be born each year into our world...what if they just have to come, for some reason or another...their lives will be so difficult...if i knew that those babies had to be born, i'd volunteer to take one.

god knows, mark

richest blessings on your beautiful, generous, holy family


Thursday, February 7, 2008

found this while researching for ecclesiastes

from harold kushner's book "when all you've ever wanted isn't enough"

a rabbi once asked a prominent member of his congregation "whenever i see you, you're always in a hurry. tell me, where are you running all the time?"

the man answered "i'm running after the reward for all my hard work."

the rabbi responded "that's good if you assume that all those blessings are somewhere ahead of you, trying to elude you and if you run fast enough, you may catch up with them. but isn't it possible that those blessings are behind you, that they are looking for you and the more you run, the harder you make it for them to find you?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

theology of beauty - what???

What benefit does this have to me as a spiritual person?
There are probably four big benefits that I can immediately recognize, available to each of us who are willing to engage God in this way.

1. We allow ourselves to be opened up to the beauty around us and God’s presence in it. Consequently, we find ourselves more concerned with honoring Him in those beautiful things, thanking Him for them, and inviting Him to do something more beautiful in us.
2. Our understanding of beauty is expanded from simply ‘prettiness’ to an understanding of God’s presence in the world, such that we begin to see beauty in acts of charity, justice, and creativity.
3. We also increase our ability to see through the fake and vain beauty that much of our western world has adopted as beauty-in-truth. We see that there is more to being beautiful than simply having certain physical proportions, certain hair and clothes, and certain fame.
4. We learn how to speak to other people about what we find beautiful, which is often a reflection of our spirituality, and allows them to ask questions in a safe environment about our beliefs.

If we’re honest, many of us have no working conception of beauty as God understands it. At best, we decide what beauty is for ourselves based on what we like; at worst, we swallow the lies of sex and wealth along with the rest of the world.

For us to truly be committed to following the way of Christ, we must continually turn over our thinking selves to God to be renewed.

This series is simply one small step in that direction.

theology of beauty - how???

'how can normal people talk about the theology of beauty?'

perhaps the best thing to do in any conversation about art and beauty is to listen – to allow others to tell you what they find beautiful and meaningful – and then begin to ask yourself questions like the following:

• What about their response would Jesus approve of? What would Jesus find beautiful about their perspective?
• What do I agree with this person on? How can I affirm them in the noble and redemptive things they see here?
• Is there a similar feeling or experience that I’ve previously had that I might share with this person? Would it be appropriate now to do so?

Remember, all the beauty in the world ultimately comes from and reflects God. Don’t be afraid to talk about things you find beautiful, or to ask questions about what others find beautiful – God is present in it all.

Similarly, don’t feel the need to force God into the conversation. Ask the Spirit to guide you about when it would be appropriate, or well received, to share your own experience of faith. Be sensitive. No one like to feel like they were ‘just talking with a friend’ only to have that friend turn into a ‘bible thumper.’

theology of beauty - where????

in addition to wanting to know why we'd do a series like this, some have wanted to know, charmingly, 'where all this crap is in the bible'


for starters...

Here is a skeleton outline of beauty in scripture:

• God creates and it is good, Genesis 1-2
• God creates Adam as a co-creator, Genesis 1-2
• God invites Adam to create (in naming the animals), Genesis 2
• God instructs the people to build the temple and make it beautiful, Exodus 24-28
• God inspires Bezalel and Oholiab to be excellent craftsman and skilled in making things beautiful, Exodus 31
• God uses Esther’s beauty for His own purposes, Esther 1-10
• God, through the author, beautifully describes love in Song of Solomon, Song of Solomon 1-8
• The Prophet Jeremiah beautifully describes pain in Lamentations, Lamentations 1-4
• Jesus speaks one of the most beautiful oratories ever transcribed in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7
• The Transfiguration of Jesus into His glorified (hence beautiful) self, Matthew 17
• Jesus’ Passion is considered an act of beauty-in-suffering, John 19
• Paul describes the ancient Hebrew understanding of beauty in Philippians 4.8
• John witnesses the beauty and splendor of Heaven, Revelation 21-22

In addition, we might make mention of the following inherent beauty in scripture:

• the beauty of poetic language in the prophets
• the beauty of prophetic discourse in provoking people to live differently
• the beauty of St. John’s imaginative descriptions of Heaven and the End of Days

Also, we might make special mention of the fact that there was no special language in Hebrew for art and beauty, precisely because beauty was understood to be an interconnected component of every aspect of life. So, a fuller examination of the following terms may yield a greater appreciation for beauty as understood in the First Testament:

• tsebi, meaning beauty and honor
• hadar, meaning to glorify and to honor
• pa’ar, meaning to crown or to beautify
• hamad, meaning to delight in
• yafah, meaning to be fair or beautiful
• na’ah, meaning to be physically attractive
• na’em, meaning to be pleasant or lovely

And in the Second Testament:

• prosphiles, meaning pleasing or lovely
• kalos, meaning good

We should mention that no one ought to make too much of the fact that there are seven words for beauty in the First Testament (and many more appearances of those terms) while only two in the Second (and far less appearances); for any biblical scholar understands that the Second Testament authors would have felt no need to repeat every single good thing with which they still agreed from the holy texts of the Hebrew people just to prove a point.

theology of beauty - why???

many have asked why we'd "bother" doing a series like this, so i'll reprint my rationale below (taken from the intro of our Teaching Atlas)

There are four major (and perhaps innumerable minor) reasons why we’ve chosen to address the topics of beauty, creativity, aesthetics and creation in Fusion.

1. beauty is a signpost to God

Because all beauty comes from God, reflects God, and reveals God we can have conversations about God every time we see something truly wonderful. Even more significantly, independent of any conversations about beauty, God can use beauty itself to reveal Himself directly to people.

2. imagination is one of our four core values at Westwinds

While our recent series, Sweet Dreams are Made of This, focused on the permission piece of iPac (imagination, permission, authenticity, community), and many other talks have focused on being real and being in community, we realized that it has been years since we spoke specifically about the role of imagination in faith and we felt it was appropriate to do so now. In particular, we wanted to do a series on imagination that was guaranteed to have a teaching atlas provided, so we could be sure to always have that on hand at Sound Words so anyone with questions about this value could have some document to work off of.

3. we want to explain why we design our corporate experiences in the ways that we do, to foster a better understanding of our values

We do things so differently at Westwinds than at other churches, and people always ask us why. To be honest, it can be fairly tiring to answer the same questions all of the time, so we thought that a public, systematic approach, would serve to answer many of those questions once-and-for-all (yeah…right).

4. the Church in the West is severely deficient in its understanding of a Theology of Beauty; and, as a result, instead of looking for, creating, and authenticating those things that are beautiful in the world we spend most of our time concerned with the world’s ugliness. This leaves us woefully out of balance and unable to fully articulate who the source of all real beauty Is.

The Bible is an incredibly rich and varied book, with many themes and movements of God described in many, many, ways; however, much of Western theology in the last several hundred years has (inadvertently) truncated and abbreviated the Bible to be solely about Sin. While it is true that Sin is a major theme throughout scripture, it is not the only theme, nor is it either the first or primary concern of God in the scriptures.

Our role as participants with God is so often overlooked, and plays such a key factor in any biblical understanding of beauty, that we feel it deserves to be elevated to a position of equal consideration with the doctrine of satisfaction.

In this way, we’re attempting to bring together three of the main strains of 20th Century theology: Reformed theology, Orthodox theology, and Wesleyan theology. Such a unity is rarely dared, almost never hoped for, and almost never celebrated; but we believe that these three great understandings find far more harmony within the biblical text than within our varied religious traditions and, at Westwinds at least, we feel like its part of our job to try and bring them back together from their fracture.