History & Vision-Why We Need Both

In my reading today, I came across a quote that clearly and concisely summarized one of the reasons why I appreciate history. I have tried to explain this idea verbally to others but for some reason it has never come out in these terms (nor as concisely as these writers put it). This quote is from a book entitled “Colossians Remixed” by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat (while they have differing surnames, they are actually married-pretty awesome!). In one chapter they write this:

This story has come from somewhere and is going somewhere [referencing the last paragraph], and we can truly know where we are going only if we know where we have come from. In order to have vision we must have memory. Indeed forgetfulness or amnesia is precisely what strips us of vision-without the past there can be no future. So our contemporary improvisation must be informed and directed by both profound indwelling of the biblical vision of life and a discerning attentiveness to the postbiblical scenes that have already been acted out in the history of the church.

Their argument about the necessity of remembrance (history) for any sort of vision is intriguing and I think extremely significant. I don’t think that this is an argument for a particular philosophy of history, whether cyclical or linear, but rather a proposal for the purpose and necessity of history in the present and future.

In an attempt to illustrate their point, let us imagine for a moment that you and your spouse (imagining you have one if you don’t) adopt a young boy. The child is rather old for adoption (maybe 13 or 14) and his parents left him at a young age and since then he has been in and out of a number of foster homes that were not always actually “fostering” him in a manner that was positive. You don’t really know the details of his story, but just have a general idea of what his life has been like. You and your spouse are ecstatic about this adoption and have always wanted a young boy of your own. Together, you have dreamed about what school he should go to and who he should marry and what his vocation will be, but you have done this without knowing much about the boy you are soon to adopt. You have very much enjoyed carefully crafting a vision for his future.  As you drive this boy home from the courts, while hardly being able to keep your eyes on the road because you constantly want his eyes to meet yours from the backseat, you realize that he has a story of his own that is not quite what you expected. As you ask questions, he meets you with answers that you weren’t at all prepared for. He has more wounds than you could have imagined and peculiar passions that you never would have guessed. Thus, his story begins to change what you thought adoption would look like. It not only changes your view of adoption, but also your vision for what you thought his life would become. Slowly you realize that his story is going to affect all the dreams that you had for his life and they are going to have to change. You realize that you were ignorant to who he was and where had come from and as he spoke you came to see that his story was shaping the present circumstance and your vision for his future in your midst.

Simply put, when we are attentive to the past, we tend to see the future differently. How are we to know where we are going if we are ignorant of our own history or the history that shapes our context, community, and/or character? We can have no vision for where to go next if we don’t know where we’ve been and thus don’t know where we presently are. There can be no vision for reform if we have nothing to re-form.

The writers who provided that quote hone in on church history and I think that this is particularly important yet forgotten in the church. Church History is vital for the church, but alas we are fighting against a postmodern age that Hauerwas aptly describes with a saying that he has become known for:

America is the exemplification of what I call the project of modernity. That project is the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story.

In essence, Hauerwas is saying that our culture has forgotten and been severed from any semblance or remembrance of History. We are a culture of wanderers without any concept of how we fit into the history of the world. Without history (whether someone’s personal story or a global history) we lose deep appreciation for stories of the past (and how those affect the present), an understanding of where we fit in, and a vision for where we are going.

Wheaton Theology Conference 2013 – Christian Political Witness

I am not sure if you have heard of Wheaton College and/or their Annual Theology Conference that is held in April, but either way, you should check out their media archives from this years conference. You can see watch videos or listen to the lectures here.

This years theme or topic was Christianity and Politics. The topic strikes a cord in us doesn’t it? It seems implicitly unsettling, controversial, and perhaps not important. Unsettling and controversial?-I get those two reactions. Not important on the other hand could not be further from the truth. I think the role of government and the role of the church is something often misunderstood and watered down to a simple repetition of Romans 13 or 1 Peter 3. I’m convinced that the Bible just doesn’t talk of politics but instead that the Christian faith is a politic in and of itself (stirring the pot, I know- but I have to give credit to Stanely Hauerwas for this). There is a vast history of relations between church and state, and there is so much of that history that pertains to the predicament of the church and state today.

In any case, the first lecture I listened to from this conference was “Church Matters” by Stanley Hauweras. I will leave you with a quote from his lecture in which he states, “Christians no longer believe that the church is an alternative politics to the politics of the world, which means we have lost any way to account for Christians in the past who thought they had a faith worth dying for”. I hope you are able to ponder the question of Christianity and politics deeply through some of these lectures.

The Significance of a Building

Ever since Constantine, (Roman emperor in the 4th century) and the declaration of Christianity as the official Roman religion, the church has built a ubiquity of the most magnificent structures that the world has ever laid eyes upon. It seems though, that in the churches recent  history there have been many young people who have a certain disdain for the church because of the construction of these magnificent but seemingly “hypocritical buildings”. The reasons for this stance would vary I imagine, but to get the idea across, here are a couple that ideas that I personally have said and heard. Some, I think, find the church to be hypocritical or simply misguided because they witness the construction if these fancy churches yet do not attend to the poor as they seemingly are thought to profess. So, it has been said that they spend millions on a building and simply in that act, they no longer practice what they preach inside those buildings. Others have said it only serves as a self-glorifying structure-the church wrapped in its own glory and power. This could indeed be true in some pockets of history. Lastly, one I have said before and heard often among young zealots (I use that term in an endearing way) is that the church in its essential form is not a building, but rather a people (could not be more biblical). In years past, we have equated the building as “the church”, and that should never be. I could probably list many more if I sat and thought about it, however that is not the point. The question remains lingering, is there significance or importance in a church building?

I think I have found myself agreeing with most of these previously stated opinions at one point and time, and that is a reason why I have enjoyed h2o Church’s practice in this regard (the church body I am apart of and work with).  If, for a second, we consider the early church (before Constantine), we will see that they met in the homes of church members for goodness sake! What are doing making these grandiose structures then?  In the same breath though,I must caution myself, because this conviction is not explicitly written in the New Testament, but we can glean certain principles from stories of the temple, the New Testament church, and the like. h2o, similar to the early church, doesn’t have a building, but instead we meet on Kent State Universities campus in one of the more homely looking buildings on campus. While the exterior building needs some work, the lecture hall that we meet in is getting a makeover as I write this!

I was with my friend the other day and we had heard about our room (133!) in Bowman hall (the building we meet in) going under a good deal of change. Anything that looks a little less like a rustic lecture hall is always a good thing!

We are excited about the new remodeling happening, and are looking forward to seeing what it will look like when it is done! I am a big fan of the color scheme so far (is that weird?)!

Back to the question-To shed light on this theology of matter (church buildings), I go (as I often do) to my dear friend and conversation partner (although I have never met him) N.T. Wright. In his book Surprised by Hope he deals with this new disdain towards church buildings. Now keep in mind that Wright is an Anglican Bishop and has the traditionalistic view that I need in my life as many others do to balance out their anti-building/hippyish beliefs. He says this about church buildings:

Church buildings and other places where, in Elliot’s phrase, “prayer has been valid” are not a retreat from the world but a bridgehead into the world, a way of claiming part of our God-given space for his glory, against the day when the world will thrill to his praise.

It is nothing short of dualistic folly, then, simply to declare without ado (as many try to do today, supposedly in the interest of mission but in fact in the interest of dualism-or a quick profit) that old church buildings and the like are irrelevant to the mission of God today and tomorrow. Of course in many cases a church building has served its purpose and can now be demolished or given over to alternative use. But many are rediscovering in our day that there are indeed such things as places sanctified by long usage for prayer and worship, places where, often without being able to explain it, people of all sorts find that prayer is more natural, that God can be known and felt more readily. We should reflect long and hard on a proper theology of place and space, thought through in terms of God’s promise to renew the whole creation, before we abandon geography and territory.

Wrights thoughts on this are a slight stretch for me, but I typically need that in my life. I think that I need to renvision Gods redemptive work on this earth to include more than just his people, but the rest of his creation too. To add to Wright, a building, just as a sanctified sermon or a time of blissful prayer, can draw one’s attention more fully to the glory of God revealed in Christ. Can’t one be drawn more fully into God’s presence through the beauty of a sanctuary? I agree with Wright that there is a need to reflect long and hard on a theology of space and matter.

Could we perhaps introduce the women of Bethany in Mark 14 to this conversation? She “wasted” a jar of “pure nard” that was worth almost a years salary on Jesus! Couldn’t that money have been used for something else? Of course, but the women was more concerned simply with worshipping Christ. She wasn’t concerned about what she could do for Him, but rather glorifying Him. Should this not also be the case in constructing churches?

As far as h2o Church is concerned, I could not see us being anywhere else than on campus and in a place that students are familiar with. So, although this doesn’t apply to h2o per se, I think it is still an interesting view to consider the next time you pass a church building.

Crucifix as Theological Statement

I am currently writing a paper for my Late Middle Ages class about the role of the crucifix. The picture is the crucifix I specifically chose to use for this project. It is on display at the Cleveland Museum of Art. This piece was crafted and used during the middle of the 12th century. I am looking forward to this topic because to be honest there is much more than meets the eye…especially for art within Christendom. I have been reading about the different stages of crucifixes from the 4th or 5th century when they first were used, until the 12th century. The most fascinating thing about this for me was the theology that was and is necessary in creating such a piece. Each little tilt of the head, or eye opened, actually meant something to the people who were fashioning these pieces. It was not enough just to create a crucifix and a corpus that simply looked good, but one that was aligned with what they thought to be orthodox. In this particular piece, Christ has his eyes closed, looks peaceful, and has a circlet instead of a crown of thorns. In years preceding this piece, Christ could have looked like a King with gold and elaborate clothing on a crucifix or in the pictures. The preceding centuries were vastly different in their lack of humanization of Christ. The piece that I am looking at is the beginning stages of Christ becoming “human” to the people who worshipped him. Christianity as a whole was being revisioned and reformed into a faith that became about God identifying with humanity. Christianity was no longer just for the religious professionals in the middle ages but for all humanity. This crucifix is representation of that reality in the middle ages.