Sunday, May 3, 2009

All Theology is Biographical

At many a point, I wanted to believe that my beliefs were more purely founded - on something called truth, or Scripture, or the Holy Spirit, and that my education, my studies, my determination to know the truth was paramount.

Which, of course, is the heart and soul of theological conflict, as we hurl "bigger and better" Bible verses at one another, along with "pure" reason and god-inspired convictions, which, when added up, make me right and you wrong.

But, then, of course, you might feel the same about your stuff. But, then, of course, you're wrong; you just don't know it. But I do! Ha! And so it goes.

Clearly, all of this is modernism at work - the conviction that reason, which is finally what it all is, even when dress it all up in the robes of faith, will lead us to the truth. And because of that conviction, people have been burned at the stake, congregations split down the middle, denominations embroiled in ceaseless conflict, relationships won and lost and perhaps never won again.

We have forgotten that when Pilate queried Jesus about "truth," Jesus remained silent.

And in one of the most telling of all notes in the gospels, John has Jesus uttering, "I am the truth," and with that, John liberates us from the illusions of modernism. Truth is not a set of data, a collection of theses or propositions - at best, such things can only dimly hint at the truth embodied in Jesus - a deep and profound self-giving love that risks everything for the sake of the other, that puts itself into the hands of a Father who at times seems distance and cruel ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?") and dies, “It is finished.”

That's the truth we see in Jesus, and to believe in Jesus, to set our heart upon him, is to move into that kind of love, and, then, suddenly we realize, just how distant that kind of love is from our meager little lives, driven as they are by self-interest (ouch, that's a toughie to admit, isn't it?)

But herein lies the possibility of discovering humility, and humility is the basis of conversation with one another.

That our convictions, which we all love to elevate to the level of god-like value, are profoundly shaped by everything we are ... in some remarkable way, we can say "I am truth" too ... because my truth is really mine - what with study and reflection and years of life and the witness of Christian history, it's still mine, in the sense that it's embedded within, flows through and emerges from my life, with all of its goodness and all of its darkness, its love and its callowness, its self-giving and its relentless self-interest.

As the tax collector prayed in the Temple, "Lord, have mercy," we are our best with those same words when we stand before one another.

I don't know how our conversations about faith and politics, abortion and homosexuality, war and national health care will turn out, but we have a choice to make: to approach one another with the illusion of "my truth" being better and bigger than your truth, or ... the humble admission: "LORD, have mercy upon me" - I am what I am, and I believe what I believe out of the stuff of my life, and my life is both good and fractured.

Perhaps we might all serve our gods better, whatever our faith is, by spending a little more time in discerning the contours of our personal histories - the matrix in which we receive the world, process the information and make our decisions about what we value and how we will live. The kind of home we had; parental influence and the deep undercurrents of family values and styles.

And to see that my life is of no greater value than anyone else's life - and, that my life is just as valuable as anyone else's life - thus, remembering, that we're all in this together.

I don't know how this could affect our discussion, but it might lessen the anxiety, turn down the volume and render us less likely to jump ship, maybe even allowing more room for one another to live “the truth” as it emerges and flows through our biography.

When queried about truth by a hostile inquisitor, Jesus choose silence.

Might the cause of truth be better served if we exercised that response a little more often.

It surely doesn’t mean that I’ll cease thinking about abortion rights and the ordination of gays and lesbians. Nor does it mean that I’m going to be less an advocate for a national, single-payer, health care plan or EFCA.

But to try to say “my truth” as clearly and as humbly as I can.

Perhaps in a common humility, we might help one another along the way, and maybe even grow a little wiser in our self-understanding and a little bigger in our compassion for the world.

As for my wife? She was right all along.

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