In my year of “embracing the wilderness” I have tried to take stock of where I really am in my life and ministry trajectory. Seeing a counselor will do this to a person. One of the things that has come up to the surface is the realization that I lean in a different direction theologically than any of the churches/denominations I have regularly attended.
Well, than all two churches I have regularly attended.
This has caused me to question my journey a bit. Should I be more conservative? Am I about to go off the deep end? Should I be more progressive? Maybe it’s okay to go off the deep end? A wise seminary professor challenged us to think of our spiritual/theological journey’s as more “orbits” circling around a center (God), who is constantly trying to pull us closer to himself. Moves we make closer to or farther away are not so much about which direction we are heading, but are more about our proximity to the center.
So, my orbit has definitely shifted over the last few years. Whether it has moved closer or father from the center is up for debate and depends on one’s perspective on the conservative-progressive spectrum. Because of that dependence on perspective, I’ve slowly been realizing that I need to hold onto my theological beliefs with more of an open hand than a clenched fist. Hence, the title of this post being (Un)Resolved Theology. I am finding more and more value in being okay with my theology and beliefs being (Un)Resolved rather than cemented and resolute. I get that not everyone will find the same comfort in this as I am. Also, please do not read (Un)Resolved Theology and think I have thrown all my beliefs out the window and have begun my slide down a slippery slope. Allow me to explain myself.
As we grow and learn, we have to constantly weigh the beliefs we hold to see if they still hold up. We must believe that as we grow, our understanding about the world grows and our understanding about God and his work in the world grows as well. When we are young, we are content with simple words and flannel-graph images to support our faith. When we are more mature, those flannel-graph images will not stand up and are often poor representations for the stories that are considered foundational to our faith. If we continue to grip, white-knuckled, on what we believed we may miss out on new understandings and new wonders God wants to reveal to us.
In the first Star Wars movie, Princess Leia drops this challenge to her captors during the scene at the top of today’s post,
“The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”
Sandwiched between the unflinching Grand Moff Tarkin and the imposing Darth Vader, Leia points out that their use of force, power, intimidation and violence will not give them what they desire. The tighter their grip becomes, the more they will lose a grip on what they are wanting to maintain. I think the same can be true when we hold onto our theology and view of God with clenched fists and certain resolutions. In order to hold on to what we know, we may resort to violence, power, intimidation and confrontation in order to maintain our sense of security.
Jesus confronts the Pharisees on a very similar issue. The Pharisees were notorious for focusing on what actions would fulfill the Law of God as recorded in the Torah (or Pentateuch, the first five books in our current Bibles). They wanted to appear holy before God in every area of their life so they spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to fulfill the law through their daily actions. This caused them to focus on the smallest details and, at least according to Jesus, miss out on the actual intent and purpose of the law.
“How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You give to God a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, but you forget about the more important matters of the Law: justice, peace, and faith. You ought to give a tenth but without forgetting about those more important matters. You blind guides! You filter out an ant but swallow a camel. How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees!”
Matthew 23:23-25 (CEB)
Jesus saw that the Pharisees were holding onto their beliefs with such a tight fist that they worried so much about the small details (“filtering out an ant”) that they missed the big point (“swallowing a camel”). The true purpose of the law, the true purpose of their faith, was slipping through the Pharisees fingers because they were holding so tightly to what they believed.
Predictably, their response was intimidation, power and violence as they conspired to execute Jesus. Their fists were clinched tight, their theological resolution so strong, that they failed to see God moving in amazing ways amongst them.
So, as a sort of (Un)resolution, I will work to keep my theology (Un)resolved. I will try to not miss how God is acting because I refuse to loosen my grip from a belief or theological concept. I hope I can remain open to new ideas, new thoughts and the new world God is constantly working to break into the creation. I hope to remain firmly anchored to the tradition just as much as I can be open to new insights. As my theology shifts and my “orbit” changes, I hope that my understanding of God grows and I will not be afraid.
Because, honestly…God is big enough to handle it all.