As I follow the flame that consumes me, that fire of knowing God as he wants to be known, I have been confronted by many and varied paradigms. My blogging buds (John, Jason, Yael, and Luke) have really provided some great mental stretches for me, and we continue to wrestle with each other as we also wrestle with God and how we each believe he is manifested in this crazy life. One of the things that has hit me rather squarely in the face is how arrogant and offensive Christianity can look as we discredit the beliefs of other faiths in our claim that only Christianity contains truth of any value. I don’t see Christ as having behaved that way, and a message of offense does not seem to be the best way to approach the interfaith dialogue table. One of the things I like about the emerging thought movement within Christianity is how it seeks to evaluate just about every corner of the faith in an attempt to understand if we have gone off in an errant direction. One of the people doing this, and really stretching my neurons, is the Irish philosopher, Peter Rollins. I have recently been reading his two books, How Not To Speak of God and The Fidelity of Betrayal, both of which challenge me on just about every page. I would like to share a bit from the second work today. He is quickly becoming one of if not my favorite author. I think I should have gone into philosophy or law instead of medicine sometimes. These guys mesmerize me.
One of the things the Rollins really seems to like to do is turn things on their heads. I find myself spinning as I read him so much so that I think I will have to read each of these books 4 or 5 times to really get all the stuff that’s there. One of the themes that I see throughout his work is that God is found in the searching, not in the result of the search. This idea is again expressed in his second work on page 133: ” As we attempt to understand our faith, we will develop ideas and practices that help us. Yet the point is that we must always be ready to critique these ideas and practices, for they are forever provisional. To display our fidelity to them we must always be ready to betray them.” I love that. It really is at the heart of my search for God, and I believe is at the heart of the emerging movement.
Within this willingness to betray, Rollins includes our interpretations of scripture. He is not suggesting that we just throw out everything, but he is suggesting that we challenge and refine and adjust as more is revealed to us. Perhaps one of the largest sacred cows in our Christian institutions is our various interpretations of passages of scripture. It is this, after all, on which all our fracturing of Christianity into denominations is based. I am myself presently in the infancy of my own project to reread the bible straight through and to read it differently, as if discovering God for the first time without any of the previous biases that I have inherent. In a sense I know this is impossible, but I certainly at least hope to attain a cleaner reading.
Rollins gives, in his discussion of Christianity critiquing itself, a different interpretation of a common parable. Jesus is discussing the kingdom: “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like the mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” The more standard interpretation here presents Christ as the founder of Christianity, starting a movement that will grow until it becomes a great institution, providing shelter for all who seek it, a religion that will offer salvation to the world.
But, and as I am finding is true for much of my understanding of the bible, there is a much different way to look at it. What if the birds do not represent the innocent taking shelter? What if, as in other parts of the bible where birds are described as stealing God’s seed, they represent evil? The interpretation then speaks of a religious movement that will one day grow into a vast institution that will house much evil. An amazing contrast that contains much truth. Both interpretations offer truth about the church today, about Christianity today, about Christians today. And Rollins, as is true of much of his work, believes that we need to stand in the tension between the two which is a place where one cannot adhere strictly to one system of thought about their faith in God. There is truth all over the place, and as Rob Bell would say, God is responsible for it and I am to claim it.
I really like this way of thinking about my faith. Closing myself in a theological box for too many years suffocated me. It was turning me away from God. This journey of discovery, on which I am finding many companions, is reviving me. Thanks for reading.