“Suffering is the shout of “No” by one’s whole existence to that over which one suffers- the shout of “No” by nerves and gut and gland and heart to pain, to death, to injustice, to depression, to hinger, to humiliation, to bondage, to abandonment. and sometimes, when the cry is intence, there emerges a radiance which elsewhere seldom appears: a glow of courage, of love, of insight, of selflessness, of faith. In that radiance we see best what humanity was meant to be.
That radiance which emerges from acquaintance with grief is a blessing to others is familiar, though perplexing: How can we treasure the radiance while struggling against what brought it about? How can we thanks God for suffering’s yield while asking for its removal? But what I have learned is something stranger still: Suffering may be among the sufferer’s blessings…in the valley of suffering, despair and bitterness are brewed. But there also character made. The valley of suffering is the vale of soulmaking.
But now things slip and slide around. How do I tell my blessings? For what do I give thanks and for what do I lament? Am I sometimes to sorrow over my delight and sometimes to delight over my sorrow? And how do I sustain my “No” to my son’s early death while accepting with gratitude the opportunity offered of becoming what otherwise I could never be?” [Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament For a Son, 96-97]
Ellen Davis reports a time when she was a part of a discussion with scholars representing a broad spectrum of Christian traditions. One question on the table, “Identify the kinds of theological inquiry that should be pursued and funded in order to provide solid intellectual grounding for this stage of the church’s life.” In other words, what is the biggest need that the Church faces today? Davis’ answer is stunningly simple, “To learn again to read and teach the Bible confessionally.” What does that mean? “The need for the church to learn afresh to acknowledge the Bible as the functional center of its life, so that in all our conversations, deliberations, arguments, and programs, we are continually reoriented to the demands and the promises of the Scripture. Reading the Bible confessionally means recognizing it as a word that is indispensable if we are to view the world realistically and hopefully. We acknowledge it as a divine word that is uniquely powerful to interpret our experience. But more, we allow ourselves to be moved by it, trusting it is the one reliable guide to a life that is not, in the last analysis, desperate. Reading the Bible confessionally means reading it as the church’s Scripture.” [from The Art of Reading Scripture, 9-10]
I just came across this lecture by Kevin Vanhoozer titled Gospel Theater: Rehearsing, Imrpovising, Performing. It is an hour long, but worth every second of your time. To understand Vanhoozer’s program one needs to grasp few key aspects of it. First, one needs to be familiar with his metaphors, like metaphors for theology (dramaturgy), Scripture (the script), theological understanding (performance), the church (the company), and the pastor (director). Second, crucial for Vanhoozer is his conviction that doctrine is linked with life. What does that mean? For Vanhoozer it means that the the doctrine serves the church by guiding it towards wise living. In his book The Drama of Doctrine Vanhoozer’s goal is “to convince ministers and laypeople alike not to dismiss doctrine as irrelevant, and to encourage theologians not to neglect the needs of the church. It aims to make the pastoral lamb lie down with the theological lion. Its goal is to refute, once and for all, the all-too-common dichotomy between doctrine and real life. Christian doctrine directs us in the way of truth and life and is therefore no less than a prescription for reality” (xii) It is towards this end that he coins the term theodrama. Under that large rubric he understands the Church as an arena where the gospel is improvised and lived out. The Scripture is seen as a script to be performed, faithfully, leisurely, and imaginatively. Discipleship is envisioned as improvisation.
NOTE: this lecture was a part of the the Page Lectures at Southeastern Seminary, Nov. 10-11, 2009, titled “Doing Faith: Seeking (and Showing) Understanding in Company with Christ.”
“Well-meaning people tell us that the Christian gospel will put us in charge of life, will bring us happiness and bounty. So we go out and buy a Bible. We adapt, edit, sift, summarize. We then use whatever whatever seems useful and apply it in our circumstances however we see fit. We take charge of the Christian gospel, using it as a toolbox to repair our lives, or as a guidebook for getting what we want, or as an inspirational handbook to enliven a dull day. But we aren’t smart enough to do that; nor can we be trusted to do that. The Holy Spirit is writing us into the revelation, the story of salvation. We find ourselves in the story as followers of Jesus. Jesus calls us to follow him and we obey- or we do not. This is an immense world of God’s salvation that we are entering; we don’t know enough to use or apply anything. Our task is to obey- believingly, trustingly obey. Simply obey in a ‘long obedience.'” [248-249]
“Beyond the flicker of televised Christianity, more and more followers of Jesus refuse to believe that our only choices are pie-in-the-sky poverty and the materialism of the American Dream. There is a third way, God’s way of radical abundance in the here and now. This third way requires the transformation of our desires; it demands a revolution of our imagination. there is a way to receive real abundant life, not the version measured in dollar signs and square footage that ultimately leaves us wanting. Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are right about one thing: our God of abundance does want to give you your best life now. It’s just that God’s abundance is more radical than many of us have dared to dream. We sell ourselves short if we think that the joy of the Lord can be captured in a cosmetically whitened smile. Our God offers so much more.” [28-29]
The transformation of our imagination is an absolute must because it hits at the core of our problem. Following Augustine’s lead Wilson-Hartgrove argues that our fundamental God-given restlessness, this abiding hunger for more, can been high-jacked. Our imaginations has been colonized and exploited. Rather than desiring to be more, we now insist on having more.
While there is much current debate about large systemic issues and wholesale change, Wilson-Hartgrove suggests ‘tactics’ that could be put into practice here and now. Followers of Jesus can utilize these five tactics to live out the first fruits of God’s Kingdom in the midst of the current economic system.
Subversive service [Mark 9:35]
Eternal Investments [Matthew 6:20]
Economic Friendships [Luke 16:9]
Relational Generosity [Matthew 5:42]
Gracious Politics [Mark 12:17]
As Eugene Peterson writes in his Forward, “Money is everybody’s problem: rich and poor alike, Christian and non-Christian alike. There is no escaping money. If we think of and deal with money on the terms offered by the American economy, we will almost certainly diminish, if not downright ruin, our lives and the lives of those around us. But there is a way of unmasking the demonic power of money by setting our imaginations free from the captivity of money so that we are free to enjoy the extravagant economy of God.”
I am so aware of my deep need for wise and honest companions who help expose the allure of money and bid my imagination to see the light of God’s true abundance.
“Let us picture a woman thrown into a dungeon. There she bears and rears a son. He grows up seeing nothing but the dudgeon wall, the straw on the floor, and a little patch of sky seen through the grating, which it too high up to show anything except sky. This unfortunate woman was an artist, and when they imprisoned her she managed to bring with her a drawing pad and a box of pencils. As she never loses the hope of deliverance she is constantly teaching her son about that outer world which he has never sen. She does it very largely by drawing him pictures. With her pencil she attempts to show him what fields, rivers, mountains, cities and waves on the beach are like. He is a dutiful boy and he does his best to believe her when she tells him that that outer world is far more interesting and glorious that anything in the dungeon. At times he succeeds. on the whole he gets on tolerably well until, one day, he says something that gives his mother pause. For a minute or two they are at cross-purposes. Finally it dawns on her that he has, all these years, lived under a misconception. “But,” she gasps, “you didn’t think that the real world was full of lines drawn in lead pencil?” “What?,” says the boy. “No pencil marks there?” And instantly his whole notion of the outer world becomes a blank. For the lines by which alone he was imagining it, have now been denied of it. He has no idea of that which will exclude and dispense with the lines, that of which the lines were merely atransposition- the waving treetops, the light dancing on the weir, the colored three-dimensional realities which no drawing could ever achieve. the child will get the idea that the real world is somehow less visible than his mother’s picture. In reality it lacks lines because it is incomparably more visible. So with us. “We know not what we shall be”; but we may be sure we shall be more, not less, than we were on earth.” [C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 109-110]
“Our society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggressive people anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at their surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting an enemy to suddenly appear, intrude and do harm. But still- that is our vocation: to convert the hostis into a hospes, the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where strangers can cast off their strangeness and become our fellow human beings, and where brotherhood can be formed and fully experienced.” [Henri Nouwen, Reaching out: the three movements of the spiritual life, 65-66]
“Unbelief is as much a choice as belief is. What makes it in many ways more appealing is that whereas to believe in something requires some measure of understadning and effort, not to believe doesn’t require much of anything at all.” [Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, 218]