Friday, April 27, 2012

C. S. Lewis says: Why study theology?

The last section of C. S. Lewis's classic Mere Christianity is a sort of first, hesitant step towards that intimidating word: theology. Lewis was told his readers didn't want theology--give them something practical!--but he would have none of this. If we want to think and talk about God, he reasoned, we probably want to think and talk about God well.

I agree. I suppose this post is for those of you who might come to the wardrobe, see that I'm off on some theological rabbit trail, and hurry off as quick as you can, back to facebook, to another blog on your favorites, to the email--anywhere to avoid theology. It's important. We need to think through these things.

But why?

Lewis once encountered a old military man, tough as nails, who had no time for theology. If you've met the real thing, he barked, all the little dogmas and formulas seem ridiculous and unreal. Lewis could appreciate the man's complaint. This fellow probably had really encountered God, and moving from that encounter to the creeds and doctrines of the Church probably felt a bit like walking along the coast and looking out at the Atlantic, and then going in and looking at a map of the ocean. The man was "turning from something real to something less real."
Yet Lewis didn't stop there.
But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walk on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.

God is deeper and more expansive than any ocean. His waves are fiercer. You can't go far thinking and talking about God without getting lost. Unless you have a map. The map helps us navigate. It shows us the way to go and the ways to avoid. Our personal experiences of God and thoughts about him can be powerful, but they aren't always clear. And I think this is no less true of someone's personal reading of the Bible--there are so many tempting paths that open up in the scriptures that you have to finally pass by, but you need guidance to help you see this. You need a map.

Theology isn't mathematics. We aren't hoping to figure out the right formulas for understanding God--once you have them, you just plug in the numbers and calculate the mind and actions of the Almighty.
Theology is exploration, probing the depths of this awesome Wonder before us. We do this with the Bible, as it witnesses to God's work in the world, through Creation, with Israel, in Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit in the Church. But we also do this with our map, with the theology of the Church. It helps us stay the course as we try to find out this deep and mysterious God. If we're going to talk about God well, we're going to need it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day

Over the last year I've tried to make posts reflecting on Creation and the Church's relationship to it a priority on the wardrobe. This is a matter that, in some quarters, is entirely overlooked, despite its recurrence throughout the Bible and its particular relevance in our time. (Of course, in other communities people likely attend to care of creation too much, to the detriment of other, crucial concerns.) So with Earth Day coming up this Tuesday, April 24th, I thought I'd offer up a few of these posts again--take some time today to think about God's purposes for His Creation, besides humanity, and how you ought to relate to the world and creatures around you.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rachel Held Evans is writing about the Bible

Rachel Held Evans has a great ongoing series of posts on scripture over at her blog, called "learning to love the Bible for what it is, not for what we want it to be."
I love this title. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis's helpful insistence on an honest appraisal of the scriptures (which I've written about before): there are certain examples and claims in the Bible itself that we simply have to make room for in any 'doctrine of scripture' we concoct. If we want to love the Bible (or talk about the Bible!) well, we need to be open and reflective about what it is and what it is not.

Evans's strategy to this end is to look at books about the Bible. No complaints from a bookworm like myself, and I think her choices are especially good. She has six posts on Christian Smith's recent book, The Bible Made Impossible:

And there are three posts so far on N. T. Wright's book Scripture and the Authority of God:

These aren't short posts, there are a lot of them, and you should really start from the beginning--so you might want to just pick a book and follow her posts on it. Any of them will be worth your time though.
Check it out!

Sunday, April 08, 2012

He is Risen!

I can't think of a better way to celebrate our Lord's resurrection than by sharing a portion of St. John Chrysostom's beautiful Paschal Homily. Enjoy--and happy Easter!

Let none lament his poverty;
for the universal Kingdom is revealed.
Let none bewail his transgressions;
for the light of forgiveness has risen from the tomb.
Let none fear death;
for death of the Saviour has set us free.

He has destroyed death by undergoing death.
He has despoiled hell by descending into hell.
He vexed it even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he cried:
Hell was filled with bitterness when it met Thee face to face below;
filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing;
filled with bitterness, for it was mocked;
filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown;
filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains.
Hell received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven.
O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?

Christ is risen! And you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is risen! And the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen! And life is liberated!
Christ is risen! And the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power, now and forever, and from all ages to all ages.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Eating Mercifully

Last week Emily and I had the chance to go to a film screening and discussion put on by the Humane Society of the United States and two Duke Divinity School professors, where we watched a clip from a short film called "Eating Mercifully" and discussed Christians' calling to live well on this planet with the rest of God's creatures.

The film details the the phenomenon of factory farming, the source of almost all of the meat we consume in this country. Simply put, factory farming is a gruesome practice, where animals are treated as no more than production units. The bit of the film we watched focuses on the conditions pigs suffer in this system: living spaces often only a few inches larger than the animal, while the larger spaces are oppressively overpopulated; violent behavior resulting from the psychological effects of these conditions; a million pigs dying every year in transport. It's a chilling reality which my descriptions can't begin to communicate. (You can view the trailer for "Eating Mercifully" here.)
The ladies from HSUS's Faith Outreach program then made a short and helpful presentation. The issue, they stressed, is not about animals' rights. The animals have no rights, and this is precisely the point. Animals are completely powerless before us, totally at our mercy; how are we going to use that power?

Afterwards, Dr. Stephen Chapman, a professor of Old Testament, and Dr. Norman Wirzba, a professor of theology, offered some really insightful and important comments that I hope we'll all consider long and hard.
Chaps began by describing his surprise as he discovered, over the years, the prominence of animals in scripture. They are in the story of creation and Eden; they are included in God's covenant with Noah (Gen 9:8-17). They're also present at the End--indeed, animals may provide the Old Testament's most important image for God's healing work in our world. They certainly offer the most memorable image--think 'the lion and the lamb' (Isa 11:6-9). Psalm 36:6, he pointed out, keeps us honest here: "you save humans and animals alike, O Lord." God's saving plan is for all of creation--not just humanity, or our souls! This is not just an issue of cruelty to animals, he emphasized: Christians need to be recalled "to what the gospel is really about." God's vision is more expansive than our common, narrow focus on 'getting to heaven when we die'.

Then Dr. Wirzba opened by sketching a quick historical picture of us--21st century Americans--as "the most ignorant eaters the world has ever known." By and large, we have little to no contact with the processes that bring us our meat: we simply go to the store and look for the best pieces at the best prices, and take them home to cook. We're pure consumers. Given this, the horrific realities of factory farming should come as no surprise; as Wirzba put it so well, we have "lost the imaginative capacity to see these animals as anything but a commodity to meet our demand for really cheap food." If animals are simply a commodity, why would we care about anything other than cost and efficiency?
Given this situation, the questions Christians need to ask themselves, Wirzba suggested, are how do you make yourself worthy of another creature's life and death? How can we become more gracious and more grateful eaters?

"Eating Mercifully" is available for free online. The film is 26 minutes and the product of a lot of research and consideration--about how to communicate the importance of these issues to faith communities and about how to expose viewers to the horrors of factory farming without gratuitously-violent visuals. There are also other resources available from the HSUS for those interested in learning more or taking steps towards a life lived more conscientiously with God's creatures. You can check them out online here, and on facebook.

Have you given much thought to where you meat comes from? If the sweep of God's saving work in the world includes the redemption of animals, what changes for you?

What can you do to be a more gracious and grateful eater?