Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Running Mad 2 - A Place to Stand

This post references stuff from my earlier Running Mad post, specifically the following section (italics are me quoting myself) [I often feel like I have about 4 different trains of thought going on at once, so this isn't that unusual for me!]:

"Still trying to let this be a spiritual process of discernment and growth, and not get too bogged down in my many questions. What kind of job should I pursue? Am I chickening out by deciding to look at only associate minister positions rather than senior pastor roles? Should I be thinking about church planting? Do I have the right to take unemployment while choosing *not* to pursue another chaplaincy position? Should I only look at full time church positions, or should I be open to part time church and part time chaplaincy? Should I move, and how far away is too far? Should I look for ways to pursue missional/emergent callings - like missions work, new monastic communities, etc., or just try to incorporate those leanings into more traditional (and more settled, and better paid) church work? Etc. In my prayer time I hear the words 'Everything must change' - but what does that concretely mean? And how do I balance being as pro-active as I can be, while also letting myself be led?"

The last week or so has been busy, mostly in good ways, but busy, and sort of turbulent emotionally and spiritually. Again, mostly in good ways - but all in ways that seem significant, worth attention. I've been doing some unpacking, praying, and processing for the last few days, and feel like I have gotten to something I can stand on - hence the title of the post. But outlining that, clarifying it, is gonna be a bit of a ramble.

By the way, he said (rambling, not getting to the point), I blame high school speech and debate. As a 4 year member and co-captain of the debate team, I was trained to see multiple sides of every issue - and to be able to support any side at need, with logic, rhetoric, and impassioned reason, so that all who heard me would agree with me. Sometimes, that works too well on myself - I convince myself of whatever side I'm coming from at the time - then I look at another side of things, and convince myself of that one, too!

Exasperating sometimes (also fun, sometimes, to exasperate others), but it's also sometimes good theology. Much Christian theology, after all, requires an embrace of paradox and ambiguity. How can God be One and Three? How do you become great by being a servant? How can Jesus be fully human and fully divine?

Okay, I seem to be digressing. But there is a connnection, and it comes back to this idea of embracing paradox and ambiguity. One more example, then: Christian theology is built on the idea of revelation - that God seeks relationship with us, and seeks therefore to be known by us. As Jesus said, as Judaism has said - God has acted in history, and God's acts reveal to us things about who God is and what God is like. God has sent prophets, to continue to speak and reveal who God is and what God is like. That climaxes in the coming of Jesus, who while being as human as you and me is also as divine as God. Jesus and God are one, Jesus says. So by looking at who Jesus is and what Jesus does, we get the best revelation of who God is and what God is like. In Jesus's speaking truth and acting in compassion and seeking for justice, grace, mercy - love - in defying the powerful, healing the broken, befriending the lost and lonely, aiding the poor and hungry, finding the value in the "discarded", dismissed, marginalized people - these traits are traits of Jesus. This is what Jesus is like. This is what God is like.

So...revelation...it's central to Christian theology, to any theology, really. And if you believe that God has revealed stuff, then you can be confident in that - really, really confident - and find a faith that you can wrap your life around. Not just a convenient cultural faith, but something so profound, something from God, something that you have to listen to and allow it to change you, not counting the cost.

But interestingly, one of the the things _Revealed_ over and over agin, throughout the pages of Jewish and Christian scriptures, is how limited our knowledge is. Over and over again, in different ways, we are told this. Isaiah 55 puts it like this: "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

There are other ways its expressed - the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, for example, or the famous "we see through a glass darkly" from 1 Corinthians 13. In the NAS, it reads like this: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known." And a few verses before that, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part"...though love never fails.

God thoughts and ways - God's words and actions - are different from ours. God is different from us because God is better - wiser, smarter, more compassionate, more powerful, more giving and forgiving, more loving than we can imagine. Fundamentally, God is beyond us. The normal theological term for this is that God is transcendent. The very revelation of the community of believers over the millenia is that God is beyond what we can grasp.

And yet, Christians do have a belief in revelation - a belief that though we finite beings cannot cross the gap between us to grasp the infinite, still the Infinite One can, and has, crossed the gap for us. Anything we learn this way remains partial and incomplete - it's notable that the NT so highly praises humility as a fruit of the Spirit, when neither Roman culture nor ours puts much stock in it. And yet it remains revelation, and, Christians affirm, the greatest expression, the most complete revelation, the place where Infinite and finite beings most fully connect...is in Christ Jesus. That revelation can be phrased lots of ways - one way is to say that Jesus, called Emmanuel ("God with us"), reveals that the transcendent God is also immanent, powerfully and intimately present with us.

Healthy Christian faith, it seems to me, lives in the paradox and embraces the tension. God is far beyond us, and intimately with us. We must be humble, and remember that we know only in part - and still be so confident of Christ that we are willing to die for him, and that while we live, we shape our lives to further his Kingdom.


So what does this have to do with what I started with? Discernment - understanding the will of God for a person, time, or place - isn't so different from revelation, really. I am called to be humble, obedient, corrigible, to be willing to say at any moment "I'm wrong" or "This was right but it's not any more", or whatever.

I'm called to keep asking my questions. To obsess over them, even - sorry, folks, but I don't think we're meant to be without questions. All the time, we are to be working out our salvation (a word with many meanings, all related to healing, health, and wholeness - as we see in our word "salve". It speaks not simply to "forgiveness of sins", but to becoming a whole person, in body, mind, spirit, and in relationship to God, self, others, and the world.), working it out "with fear and trembling."

I'm also called...and so are you...to faith. To embrace the paradox, to not fear what I don't know, to be willing to take up my cross even if I don't know where I'm headed, to be willing even to suffer for the sake of the Kingdom of love, of God, of salvation...to be willing to take risks, boldly, confidently, freely.

Where can we stand? In the fulcrum, in the eye of the storm, in the place of convergence, always emerging but never fully formed, carrying the cross....dare I say it, reformed and always reforming...

Stand on the paradox.

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