Sep 6, 2007

reviewing sabbath: a beautiful mess

Yesterday I enjoyed a great lunch with some local pastors... guys from different denominational backgrounds who all follow Jesus Christ. There's something quite beautiful about gathering together around some unspoken essentials in order to breathe some fresh breath into our local effort of revealing Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. Sometimes I think this sort of intentional bridge-building is one of the only ways the spiritual soil in our region can stay fertile, which is one reason I'm firmly committed to this relationship.

Well, that and the amazing mushroom, steak, and cheese sub I order from the restaurant we meet in. (Da-rool, da-rool.)

As we spoke, the subject of conflict came up from one of my pastor friends. Without sharing details, it's fair to say that he is in the midst of some with a fellow Christian leader. There was absolute anguish in his spirit over it, especially since from his vantage point he is trying to be kind and loving in his approach... and yet he faces this kind of awkward tension right back at him. I identified with his journey and heartache on this, since I've also experienced this over the years in ways I didn't ask for.

A good guy experiencing some hard stuff.

Which brings me around to a chat my wife and I were having about Lot's wife.

With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished." When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, "Flee for your lives! Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!"

But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:15-17, 26)

My wife and I spoke about this passage together last week, specifically talking about this last verse. There are times where it seems as though God is quite the harsh disciplinarian, while other times He comes across as a peace-love hippie from the 60's. My thinking, though, is that in this passage He is both - just as He is always both. While our eyes may drift toward the pillar of salt ("I mean, come on - a PILLAR OF SALT?"), we miss out on the initial mercy He offered to Lot and his family (who shouldn't have been living where they were living to begin with).

This is where our sense of completely understanding the supernatural tends to starts to erode.

Truth is both poetic and rational, which means that God is like wind - while we can't see it with the naked eye we know it's true and can certainly see the effects of it. Occasionally when it gathers up the dust of the earth we can make out a shape, just as when God blows into the dust of the earth He can reveal His presence to even the blind.

Unfortunately, to hold truth (or anything for that matter) in tension means that we lose control over it. I'm finding that not to many people are comfortable with this, and yet it still remains true. We can only understand the supranatural (yes, that's spelled right) truths of God to some point, and then we either have to admit that it's bigger than explanation or else we have to convince ourselves and everyone around us that "it's actually quite easy to understand, and you should, too."

I like how Rick McKinley (who pastors Imago Dei) puts this in his amazing book "This Beautiful Mess: Practicing The Presence Of The Kingdom Of God":

I love studying theology, but I've noticed that theology has little tolerance for loose ends. As the study of God, it mostly uses human tools like logic and interpretation and systems to define Him and how He works in our lives. Countless brilliant women and men have written penetrating works that help us think more clearly about God. They give us a rich theological heritage, and I encourage you to read them.

But be careful. You can study God expertly in His parts and miss Him entirely in His Being. Sometimes I think today's evangelicals have dissected God, put Him in jars, labeled all His parts, and then breathed a sigh of relief. Whew. Job done, they gasp. Now we have no more confusion about God. Now we have a God we can market. At least now we can be excruciatingly confident that "our team" is right.

As right as body parts in formaldehyde.

I've found that theology, especially the systematic kind, becomes more helpful when you think of it as grammar. Grammar helps us read and write, but it can't on its own give us one memorable sentence. That's because grammar is a tool, not an end in itself. Meaningful communication is the end Communication like, say, poetry. Yes, your grammar helps you understand and experience a poem. But just when you're getting comfortable, a good poet will break a language rule, turn an image inside out, give you slip, send you falling.

And there's nothing you can say in response but,
Hmm, good poem. I felt those words.
The rest of the book rocks out a rather refreshing challenge about Christ's message of the Kingdom of God and what that all really means. When most of us think of the "Kingdom of God" we think of pearly gates, golden streets, cast down crowns, and eternal peace. Yet Jesus use language to talk about what the Kingdom of God "is" and not just what it "will be" - which means there is a present and future context to it all.

Which can mess with your theology if you prefer one over the other.

Yet here it is... a beautiful mess of tension. Once you see this in one place you begin to see it everywhere. At the very moment Jesus died on the cross God shouted no and yes at the same time... when Saul/Paul cried out in blindness, it was the first time he would see. Then there's the Incarnation... the Trinity... salvation... being seated in the heavenlies while also being on earth... crazy stuff.

So perhaps if our theology can accept the tension of the known and the unknown, then maybe whatever is ahead in the broken, beautiful, ugly, forgiven, sinful, awesome world might just be possible... with God, that is.

Which is something I've become more in tune with through my Sabbatical.

British Scientist John Haldane has been quoted saying “My own suspicion is that not only is the universe queerer than we suppose, it is queerer than we can suppose.” I love it when British guys use words like "queerer," but really I suspect that he's on to something.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9b)

So while I'm becoming more attuned to the theological tensions that practically pop their heads into my life like unwanted gophers, I am aware through at least three different conversations last week that whenever you proclaim such things you make other people uncomfortable.

Realizing an insight from your journey with God that involves tension can create division if you share it out loud.

To paraphrase some great advice I was once given...

You will lose friends, constantly disappoint the people around you who don't get it and find that ultimately only a few people can truly be trusted with the authenticity of your journey.

People might say really, really unkind things about you...

and it is the best possible way to live.

What a beautiful mess.

More in the next post.


Aim Claim said...

I've been missing out lately on blogger world. I am inspired once again by your wise words... what a beautiful mess!

I was able to blog at my last job (much less unproductive environment) and for the last year I have been working at a company that didn't allow me to get on the internet. Now I have ventured out and changed careers to do something I have always wanted to do... teach. Yup, you heard it, I am a high school now! I started a new blog last week its not quite as inspiring as my previous blog, but maybe it will get me back in the groove, while documenting this frustrating first year of teaching!

Thanks for you interest. I'll be back to read ya!

Aim Claim said...

correction... I'm not a high school, I am a high school teacher. ha!

Tony Myles said...

Well, the tax breaks are about the same. ;)

CONGRATS on investing into emerging lives!

Madelyn said...

Beautiful mess, indeed...I had the great chance to talk with an 87 year old about what church services looks like today and what she finds appealing...she landed mostly on tradition, but loves the idea that many churches are using "creative modern methods to reach her grandkids and beyond." We both reflectively shared that it is possible that traditional church and "modern church" might be missing the powerful "AWE" of God. "Have we all made God too chummy?" Great statement from an 87 year old gal from London! More tension...

paul said...

it is a beautiful mess and so are we - at least we get to play together at theology :)

bjk said...

Yet here it is... a beautiful mess of tension. Once you see this in one place you begin to see it everywhere.


Tanner Ridge said...

"What A Beautiful Mess"...

Sounds like a great title for a worship song... Maybe David Crowder could write one to this :)

brian said...

Sometimes that way of living is difficult, even if it is "the best way to live."