Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why Should We Care About a Bunch of Old, Dead, White Guys?

"Orthodoxy is paradoxy. Paradoxy is orthodoxy."

Do you see the shark? 

Sometimes the critique of church history is that it is about a bunch of old, dead, white guys. What does that have to do with us in a diverse 21st century? I'll get there...eventually...I think. What I see in culture, politics, media is a widening of gaps. We are moving from a bell curve to a well curve. The fringes are getting larger and we are losing the middle. It used to be all about the middle and the general. Middle class, middle management, General Electric, General Motors, General Mills. As the gap widens, we have an increasingly divisive, polarizing, and either/or paradigm - People on both sides calling the other side idiots or heretics.

So what am I saying? What is the solution? We need more middle, meek, mediocre perspectives? More No, I don't think so. Here's when I come back to old, dead, white guys. In the second, third, and fourth centuries these guys had some really intense debates. They were calling one another heretics for different reasons. The big first debate - Jesus Christ. Was Jesus fully God or fully human? To these early Christians it was difficult to imagine that both could be true. Some were saying Jesus was human, perfectly obedient, and created (and not divine). Some were saying that Jesus only appeared to be human, and was fully God. What these weird bearded guys decided was that heresy would be choosing one over the other. In fact, the word heresy literally means choosing one over the other. They were dogmatically relentless in their unwillingness to settle the paradox.

A good image of this tension is the bow... holding the tension. When we bring the two ends together in conversation and build a bridge (the string) and hold the tension, we have something different. Church Historian Daniel Brunner is known to say, "If it makes sense it's probably heresy." Len Sweet says, If you're only hearing Jesus say one thing, you're not hearing Jesus."

Here are some Jesus quotes:
  • "You've got to lose your life to find it."
  • "If you want to be great become the least."
  • "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."
  • "Come to me and you will find rest." "Pick up your cross and follow me."
  • In one gospel - "If you are not against me you." In another, "If you are not for me you are against me."
Another image. Do you remember those magic eye books? If you were able to see the 3D hidden images you might describe it this way: The first step is that you have to let things get fuzzy. You have to sort of cross your eyes and look at two things at once. Then, right before the image becomes clear, your eyes get uncomfortable and you start to feel out of control. And then...the magic moment...you can see something that you never would have seen without the process.

The early church Fathers got this. The two most important conversations (according to the councils, creed, canon-process) meant letting the paradox hang, meant holding the tension - Christ was both human and divine and God is both three and one. We take for granted how mysterious, counter-intuitive and paradoxical these two doctrines are. Another image. The earliest image the church beards came up with to describe the trinity is Perichoresis: The Circle Dance.  Like the bow, we must bend to understand it. We must bow to come into conversation it. And when the bow begins to play its song, we enter into the circle dance.


(images regurgitated from conversations with Len Sweet)

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