Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Death & Resurrection of Christianity:
Rediscovering the Love at the Heart of the Truth

Dear Curb-Your-Dogma Friends,

As you may have read in earlier postings, part of my reason for starting this blog is that I have been doing research for a possible book. Being a Myers-Briggs "E", I have to "think out loud" before I write and and test out ideas as I go along. Some of the entries I have already posted are in the vein.

The current working title of the book is: The Death & Resurrection of Christianity: Rediscovering the Love at the Heart of the Truth (I say "current" because my working titles seem to have a constantly evolving life of their own).

There are three things I hope to do in this book.

First, I want to look at the paradigms that the Church has adopted over the centuries, how many of these have lead directly to the current divisions within the Church today, and of which many are the process of dying because the no longer provide the church with an effective basis to understand itself in the context of reality as we know it.

Second, I want to examine movements within the earlier church which in their day transcended the paradigms by which the Church understood and regulated its existance at the time, and thus may provide us with clues as to how we might transform our understanding of what the Church is being called to by God to be and do in our day.

Third, reflecting on the above, I want to begin to suggest the broad outlines of what I am calling "a converging theology for an emerging church" -- a different way of looking at "orthodoxy" which would be at the same time more humble and more bold than the way in which we corrently conceive it -- living out of the few powerful, mysterious, and paradoxical Truths that core of Christianity "like we really believe them," rather than trying to trying to enforce a uniformity of belief.

No small task, I know. But I would welcome your review and comments as I post my "chapters."

Meanwhile, for your reading pleasure a sermon which takes on what one of the ideas that will likely be in the book: a discussion of Truth with a Capital T. It is called, "The Truth Will Make You Free . . . But First, It Will Really "Tick You Off."

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August 27, 2006 - Pentecost 12 (John 6:56-69)
By The Rev. Ken Howard

The Truth will make you free . . . but first it will really tick you off.

Because of [his words] many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

This may well be one of the best known of the sayings of Jesus. Certainly one of the most profound. But a friend and colleague of mine once suggested that this was only the first half of what Jesus said on that day. That some careless scribe left the second half off. And that the full text should read:

“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free . . . but first it will really tick you off.”

Careless scribe? Could be, I suppose. Or maybe the scribe just missed the second half because the crowd was reacting so loudly to the first half’s implication that they didn’t already know the truth. Or I guess Jesus might have meant to say it, but got distracted by the crowd’s reaction. Or maybe my friend just made it up. In fact, I’m almost positive someone did. But whether Jesus actually said it or not, I think it’s a true statement all the same. Come to think of it, if I were putting words in Jesus’ mouth I would go even farther. I would have him add:

“And you shall know it is the truth, because it ticks you off.”

Because in my experience that is the way it is with Truth – and here I mean Truth with a capital T. In my experience, the Truth is not something that makes us feel comfortable, but rather something that makes us squirm, at least just a little.

This is not the common wisdom, which would have us believe that the Truth will make us feel confident, self-assured, and right with God. But in my experience, things that make us feel that way are not capital-T Truths, but rather are things that are merely “truthy” sounding. They do not so much make us confident as provide cover for our insecurities; do not so much make us feel self-assured, as disguise our self-centeredness; do not so much make us feel right, as self-righteous.
Let me tell you a story. Most of you know I came from a fairly large family: three brothers and three sisters. So maybe it doesn’t surprise you that there were a lot of arguments going on. In fact, I can hardly think of any time when I was growing up that there wasn’t some argument going on between two or more of us siblings. But with one of my siblings – a younger brother – and I, the habit has continued on into adulthood. Politically, he is about as far away from me as you can get: somewhere to the right of Ghengis Khan. Religiously? He’s an atheist.

Not too long ago, he called and asked what I thought of a political email he sent me. And off we went. After an hour or two, I finally, said, “Look, I don’t want to argue about this any more.”

“Ah hah!” he said, “So you admit I’m right.”

“No.” I said, “I’m just tired of arguing.”

“But I won,” he said, a little desperately.

“Not really.” I said, “You’ve only convinced me that this argument is a waste of time. If you want to call that a ‘win’ then be my guest. But don’t make the mistake of thinking my silence means that I think what you are saying is true.”

Too often these days people wield Truth – or what they believe to be Truth – as a weapon to wound their enemies: those with whom they disagree, or who make them feel uncomfortable or threatened. All too often they make the mistake of thinking that winning whatever argument they are waging is the same as establishing the Truth of the matter. All too often they make mistake of thinking that the silence of their opponents means that the “Truth has won out,” when it may only mean that their opponents are too intimidated – or maybe just too exhausted – to continue.
And all too often this happens in the church. Sadly, perhaps more in the church then in other venues of life. Perhaps more so even then in politics, perhaps because we know we are supposed to be about Truth, while most politicians can get by on “truthiness.”

And let me be clear here that no part of the Church is exempt from this temptation to condescend. Those on the left can fall into it just as easily as those on right. And those of us in the center can just as easily look down upon the extremes. It is just a part of our human nature to believe that we own the Truth, that we and those who agree with us are right, and that those who don’t are dead wrong. We all do it. It’s just that our preferred weapons of “truthiness” just look a little different on the outside.

The irony of the whole thing is that Capital-T Truth really IS a weapon. But it is a very different kind of weapon than the kind we are used to. It is a weapon that we cannot bring to bear against another without wounding ourselves. Like a sword that is all blade and no handle, we dare not raise it against another unless we are willing for it to cut into our heart and mind as well.
It reminds me of the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. All night long they wrestled, until finally the angel touched his hip joint and wounded him, a wound that would cause him to limp for the rest of his life. And after wounding Jacob, he gave him a new name: Y’sra El – literally “Wrestles-with-God” – because, as the angel put it, he “wrestles with God and humans.” Jacob learned the Truth about himself that night, and was wounded in the process. And he counted this exchange as a great deal. Because he learned an important Truth about God: that one could “wrestle face to face with God and live.”

This story has informed Jewish thinking about Truth since ancient times. There is an old saying: “Wherever there are two Jews, there are three opinions.” On one level, this saying merely observes the fact that arguing is the Jewish national pastime. But on a much deeper level, it means that no one person can have complete knowledge of God’s Capital-T Truth, but that when two or more people come together and engage in open-minded, open-hearted agreement a more complete picture of the Truth emerges. And when this approach is used as a theological method to argue about what God expects of humankind it is called “Midrash,” a method of teaching with which one Rabbi Y’shua ben Yoseph – whom we know as Jesus – was quite familiar.

It is also the Anglican approach to theology, as well, though we do not call it Midrash. But it is a recognition that as fallen human beings, none of us can fully know the mind of God. That we don’t always have to look at our differences as either/or, because sometimes they are both/and. Myself, I’ve always thought of it as the “Walton’s Mountain” approach: The Church is like a big family. We can argue and fight all day long, but at the end of the day its “good night Mom, goodnight Dad, goodnight John-Boy, and we go to sleep in the same house, and wake up the next morning just as much family as the night before. We are stuck with each other. And for a reason. So we can learn from each other. About ourselves. About each other. About God. And if we realized that Truth, maybe we could come to our arguments not to “win” but expecting hearts and minds to be transformed. Most especially our own.

Because we already know the Truth. And the Truth has and is and will continue to set us free. We do not own the Truth. The Truth owns us. And whenever two or three of us are gathered, there He will be . . . in the midst of us.


Nancy said...

"We do not own the Truth. The Truth owns us. And whenever two or three of us are gathered, there He will be . . . in the midst of us."

Being rather new to the Episcopal Church, I am continually struck by the fact that there is room for more than one 'interpretation' of many scriptural truths. Where I have come from it was settled. The truth was known and obvious, and if you dare to disagree with the Truth, then you are in rebellion to God!

As I more and more allow the TRUTH to own me, I become more and more free. It's exhilarating! I am loving participating in discussions of the Bible where differences of opinion are not only voiced, but welcomed.

I've just starting reading "Velvet Elvis" by Rob Bell. He points out that in Jesus day scripture was interpreted in community. " was assumed that you had as much to learn from the discussion of the text as you did from the text itself." pg. 52 No one could go too far off on a twisted tanget without being back to a sense of reality by others.

Jim said...

Looking forward to the book, Ken. Bring it on!

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