Friday, December 20, 2013

Everyday Theology

You may have seen this Thai Life Insurance commercial (you can watch it here), entitled “The Silence of Love.” It’s a powerful image of a father’s love, and the effect on his daughter as she sees what he’s done for her. I’d encourage you to watch it. We actually used this video in one of our Sunday School classes at New Hope, in which we're evaluating cultural messages (in the form of advertisements) in light of Scripture. 

In this commercial, we see a teenage daughter, angry that her father is deaf and mute—unlike everyone else’s fathers. She ultimately comes to the point of attempted suicide, and is rushed to the hospital. Her father is distraught and ends up giving his own blood for a transfusion to save her life—and at the conclusion of the video she finally recognizes and receives his love for her.

But if that’s where we stop, we miss out. Stories or images like this show something of human love, but ultimately they point beyond themselves to our God.

Think about it like this: If you enjoy watching for wildlife, when you see a shadow of a large bird skimming along the ground, your first reaction is to look up in the direction of the sun. Shadows do not exist in and of themselves; they are always cast by something solid. 

And although it may be easy to think of “theology” as abstract and less “real” than the everyday experiences in our lives, the opposite is true. This world—though twisted by the fall—is full of shadows that point us to the real source of those shadows. There are parables all around that point us to God if only we take the time to notice them. Over time, we can better learn to recognize and come to know what is actually casting those shadows.

The Thai Life Insurance commercial gives us a glimpse of the powerful and self-sacrificial love of a father for his daughter. Doesn’t this remind us of something else as well? Human love is imperfect, but it point to the reality and source of all that love: Jesus giving His blood for us—the transfusion that gives us life. Of course, God is not deaf or mute: It’s just that we’ve been covering our ears so we can’t hear His words to us. Our Father loves us so much that He gave His own life for us. But these glimpses of love around us—shadows of the source of all love—point us to the One who is casting those shadows.

Of course, this all takes a little imagination. If we assume that God is simply the exact reflection of our capacity to love, give, forgive, then we end up with petty gods like the Greek pantheon. We end up with big humans. But if we recognize that every shadow, however insubstantial it is, gives evidence to something far more solid that is actually casting that shadow, then we are on the road towards a weightier theology.

Another example. Whenever we screw up and hurt someone else, but then experience their forgiveness, we catch a glimpse of a greater forgiveness. Jesus gives us the prayer “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” In a sense, whenever we forgive—however imperfectly—we are learning and coming to know God’s forgiveness a little better. When you let go of a grudge and give it over to God, you begin to realize, “Wow…God actually forgives and releases me, and extends goodwill toward me—even me, with all that I’ve done against Him (far more than anyone else has done to me!)…”

And there are more shadows pointing to the greater reality. Each morning when you get dressed, that everyday action points you to Isaiah 61:10 (“he has clothed me with garments of salvation…”). When you take a shower—nothing special about it in itself—you see a shadow that points to the greater reality that your sins having been washed away by Christ (the same thing that baptism points to in a special way). When you sit down to your ordinary breakfast of eggs and toast, you catch a glimpse of the truly life-giving nourishment of Jesus’ body and blood, received in faith like you receive your breakfast by picking up your fork to eat it (the same thing that the Lord’s Supper points to in a special way).

Theology seems abstract until we see the shadows that God has cast in the midst of our everyday lives. Scripture attunes us to these shadows and then points us to the reality itself: God Himself. So every time we give or receive forgiveness or love, every time we get dressed, take a shower, or enjoy a meal, we’re having a theology lesson. If only we will stop and take notice of the shadow, and then look up beyond it. And then we may actually come to know the One who is casting the shadow…That’s everyday theology.

News from Bangor and New Hope

Some recent updates on life in Maine:
  • Over the winter, I’ve been able to join a men’s indoor soccer league as well as a semi-weekly tennis night. These have been great times to decompress, do something I love, and meet others in the area. I am grateful for various ways to plug in around the area—and it doesn’t hurt that those are through sports I love to play!
  • One of the things I love about living in Bangor is the small-town feel. Bangor has a population of around 40,000, so it’s not tiny (it is actually the third biggest city in Maine). Even so, I have found that I can be sitting in a coffeeshop (one of my “offices” as I prepare sermons or do other work) and often count on running into several people I know. Ever since it’s been too cold for hiking, I have tended to spend my Mondays (my day off) at a local Starbucks to relax and read—and it’s been enjoyable to see people I already know as well as to meet others in this setting. It’s been a privilege to be able to connect with others in various settings around the city.
  • As New Hope is relatively small, there aren’t enough students to sustain a traditional youth group. Because of that, we have been considering other ways to engage the younger generations, hoping to bridge the generation gap and hopefully pave the way for formal or informal mentoring relationships between members. As I grew up in my home church, I certainly enjoyed our youth group. But one of the most significant memories I have was of the older men and women in our small group who actually took the time to get to know me, shared their lives, and invested in my life. And I believe this is one of the things that the Church has in its very DNA. The Church is not a special interest group; if it were, then there would be little common ground between generations. The Church is a gathering of forgiven sinners who have been brought into a new family through Jesus Christ. It’s like a Thanksgiving dinner table with grandparents and grandchildren sitting side-by-side and splitting the last of the cranberry sauce. With this foundation—the common ground in Jesus Christ and the family ties with God as our Father—there is ample reason to build relationships between generations. Of course it will be awkward and stretching at times, but we should never underestimate the impact of those interactions. Over these next couple months, I look forward to opportunities for younger and older members to grow alongside each other—and I believe that the resulting relationships will be mutually challenging and enriching. Faith in Jesus is contagious when His followers genuinely take the time to invest in one another’s lives out of love for Him. I pray that through our youth and men’s Bible study in January (as one place I hope this can happen), we may have a setting in which those of all ages can come to know one another and grow together in the gospel.
Thank you all for your prayers and encouragement!