Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Post-Modern Before Post-Modern Was Cool

Bear with me for a few posts while I reflect on some of the life experiences that shaped my thinking on these matters.

I remember the first time I encountered paradox. I was about five years old at the time (I'm 53 now). It was late. I was in my bed trying to fall asleep. But as usual, I couldn't stop thinking -- my mind sifting its thoughts, scavenging through the events of the day for items of interest.

It was my last activity of the day that really stood out. I had been outside looking at the stars in the night sky and pestering my parents with the usual kid questions: how big? how far? how long? Most of their answers were satisfactory to me. I might not totally understand them, but I had confidence that one day I could figure out a way to wrap my mind around them. But the last question and the answer I got to it was not so satisfactory.

"How far out does the universe go?" I asked.

"Forever," was the reply.

I did not sleep that night. Why? Because of the feeling of overwhelming awe that I felt: a sinking, queasy feeling. I was confronted with an unresolvable paradox: (1) it was impossible for the universe to go on forever, and (2) it was impossible for it not to. As my imagination soared outward through the universe, I kept stopping to put up some sort of imaginary wall (here it stops). And for a moment I would breath a sigh of relief . . . until my curiousity got the better of me and I looked over the imaginary wall. And off I went again. No matter how hard I struggled, I could not make sense of this paradox. For years afterward I often cried myself to sleep trying to wrap my mind around it. (I know . . . weird kid . . . my parents thought so, too.)

Until one day, when I was about seven, something fell into place. Here's what happened: I woke up in the middle of the night after one of those really bizarre dreams: the kind in which all kinds of fantastical/impossible things were happening (I could fly, for example), and yet it all seems so real. And as I sat there in my bed, the after-images of my dream still almost visible, suddenly it hit me: I was God's dream. If God were dreaming me, then paradoxes like the one I was agonizing over were not only possible, but to be expected. The awe-full feeling left the pit of my stomach, I lay back down, pulled up the covers, and slept like a baby . . . for the first time in years.

So what did I learn from this? I mean beside that I was weird. Well, over the years it prepared me to understand/accept several things:
  1. The Authority of Scripture. When I would later open the Hebrew Scriptures and read the opening chapter of Genesis (Hebrew: Bereshith or Beginnings), I was totally blown away to read of God speaking the universe into being out of nothing/chaos. It just fit: God really did dream all this up.
  2. The Deepest of All Truths Are Paradoxes (and Therefore Beyond Complete Understanding). Once I was willing to look everywhere around me I found paradoxical truths about reality. The same infinite/finite conundrum that defined the furthest reaches of space also described the nature of inner space (there is always something smaller, but how can there not be a foundation?) and of time (there is always an earlier time, but how can there not be a beginning?). There is no fully understanding these truths: they just are.
  3. Only God Makes the World Make Sense. The good news is: I don't have to fully understand everything. I can understand what I can understand and trust God for the rest. I can leave other people's understanding to God, too.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Be Gentle: It's My First Time...

I have to say I've been a little hesitant to enter the blogosphere...

Things seem to get a little heated out there, especially when the topic turns to religion, perhaps even more so when the topic is Christianity. It seems sadly ironic the amount of vitriol that can erupt in discussions of the Prince of Peace, especially between his followers. I think it may have been C. S. Lewis who once said that we are one of "the few armies that believe in shooting our own wounded." And speaking of Anglicans, as an Episcopalian, I feel a little gun-shy of venturing out into our own online discussions, given the us/them, "take-no-prisoners" attitude of some of the commentators out there.

And then there is the question of whether I have anything say. Anything new. Anything original. Anything anyone wants to hear. Anything that will make a difference. There is a part of me that feels that putting my thoughts out there is a little presumptuous. As odd as it may seem, despite the fact that I make my living as a preacher, I don't feel a need to "hold forth" on everyday on every topic of the day. But I do have one thing to offer that is relatively unique. And that is the perspective of someone who has come to the Christian faith as an outsider; specifically, as a person of Jewish heritage.

Coming to the Church as an outsider enabled me to distinguish between the core beliefs of the Christian faith (the overflowing love and grace of the Triune God, and Christ's human-divine essence as the conduit for that love and grace), and those that are secondary (everything else). This makes me difficult pidgeonhole as a conservative or a liberal theologically, because I have sympathies with both points of view (this drives a few of my parishioners crazy).

On the one hand, when it comes to the core dogmata of the faith, I am as "orthodox" as they come. When I say the Nicene Creed, I BELIEVE that stuff. The nature of Christ is not an abstact point to me. If Jesus Christ was not God, then I'm out of here, because my Jewish sensibilities tell me I cannot be worship a mere human, no matter how wonderful of a person he might be. On the other hand, it is precisely because I really believe that stuff that lies at the core of the faith that I am willing to "let go and let God," as the cliche goes, when it comes to everything else. If God really is what we Christians claim to believe God is -- the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all things, the inspiration of the Scripture, the transformer of human hearts, and the source of Christian community -- then God has what it takes to set us all straight (including me), and that job does not belong to any one of us. I like to say that I am both "orthodox" (accepting the core dogmata of the Christian faith) and "paradox" (accepting that the core dogmata are paradoxical mysteries beyond human understanding or definition).

So from time to time I will offer up my musings from this point of view. And I will happily entertain any musings in return. Oh, and one more thing (in the interests of full disclosure): I am working on a book from this point of view, so anything you say may be used . . .

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