Saturday, April 23, 2011

Some Personal Reflections

In the midst of thinking about and praying in this Passion weekend, I have been led to read the Preface to Jurgen Moltmann's The Coming of God. Normally, I skip prefaces, yet I sat and read this and discovered a passage that echoed in my own heart. First, he notes that he was not brought up in a Christian home, and only discovered and read the Bible as a German POW after the Second World War.
Right down to the present day, theology has continued to be for me a tremendous adventure, a journey of discovery into a, for me, unknown territory, a voyage without the certainty of a return, a path into the unknown with many surprises and not without disappointments. If I have a theological virtue at all, then it is one that has never hitherto been recognized as such: curiosity.

I have never done theology in the form of a defense of ancient doctrines or ecclesiastical dogmas. It has always been a jorney of exploration. Consequently my way of thinking is experimental - an adventure of ideas - and my style of communication is to suggest. I do not defend ay impersonal dogmas, but nor do I merely express my own personal opinion. I make suggestions within a community. So I write without any built-in safeguards, recklessly as some people think. My own propositions are intended to be a challenge to other people to think for themselves - and of course they are a challenge to objective refutation too. Theologians also belong to the communio sanctorum, the communion of saints, provided that the true saints are not merely justified sinner but accepted doubters, too, thus belonging just as much to the world as to God.
Unlike Moltmann, I was brought up in church, baptized and confirmed at First United Methodist Church, Sayre, PA. After a pretty standard and typical college experience, I went through what I now consider my own wilderness years, landing safely, if somewhat bruised and psychologically battered, at the safe shores of Wesley Theological Seminary 20 years ago. I have, ever since, considered this the singular event of my life. What came before was, at best, preparation. What has come since has been a blessing beyond words, all down to that moment in the late summer of 1990 when I stepped in to my dorm room in northwest Washington, DC and discovered a people who were willing to let me be a part of their lives, to start this journey that, for me, will not end even as death takes me.

This blog has been an important part of my own working out of what it means for me to live as one claimed by the risen Christ. Even at its most profane, most bombastic, even occasionally humorous moments, all I have ever been doing is trying to figure out for myself what it means to call myself a Christian. Does it even mean anything at all, or is it little more than fantastic thinking surrounding the on-going delusions of the mad, those who actually consider our world something more than a passing phase in the emptiness of cosmic history.

Nothing I have ever written here, whether on topical matters of the moment, my own philosophical curiosity, or faithful reflections on what God continues to do for all of us, has been to satisfy some vain grasping after intellectual integrity for its own sake. That kind of thing, the life of the mind chasing down various ephemera for the sake of itself, doesn't interest me in the least. Nor am I interested in being seen by others - for I surely do not see myself! - as some kind of self-proclaimed expert. On any matter whatsoever. Expertise is a highly overrated commodity. I am astounded each and every day by the array of things I cannot know and will never know. All I can say in my own defense is I write what I do know, never claiming any more for it than that - it is what I know - and I chase down what it might mean for myself and others, to the best of my meager abilities. I am quite happy with the expectation that quite a lot, if not most, of the things I have written and will continue to write, will be proved quite wrong. Not to do this, however, would be a kind of premature death for me. To refuse to take a stand, even if all upon which I stand is washing away by the tides of time and the pressure of reality, is a kind of cowardice. One cannot fall unless one first stands, and the rock upon which I claim to stand, that cornerstone the builders rejected, has held up countless others, so I have faith there is room for one more.

All this is to say that what I do here, and will continue to do as long as I can, to the best of what little abilities I have, is and will be working through what it means to profess that one is claimed by the crucified and risen Christ. Not for me, because the first thing that bursts forth on Easter is the realization that none of this is about me, or you, or you, or any individual. To stand upon the rock that is the risen Jesus of Nazareth is to look out and realize that our world is not defined as a veil of tears, that the burden of existence has been lifted, that the pain and suffering we see around us - not just of our fellow human beings, but the planet itself, groaning as it does under the weight of our many violations of its integrity and wholeness - is not the final word. If God exists, if Easter really happened, if Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, then all bets are off. We are, even now, if we are willing to see and hear and even work for it, watching the birth of that New Creation. Chronicling my own meager perception of that birth is what I do.

In short, this is all personal because I believe and proclaim and confess and profess that none of it has little to do with me at all. The beauty and joy and pain of life, in all its various flavors and colors, fill me precisely because I am unimportant, ignorant, a tiny voice in the deafening chorus before the throne of God. I have no interest, nor investment, in saying anything once for all. I am glad, however, that I have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, bearing in my very being the marks of the crucified and risen one. That is the only unchanging reality of my life. To quote St. Thomas Aquinas, all the rest is straw.

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