Friday, January 25, 2008

Favorite words

Once a month I have breakfast with a good friend who is on a spiritual search. She struggles with some of the traditional doctrines of the Christian Church, can't completely abandon her upbringing in the Christian Science Church, is both attracted to and repelled by tradition, and just can't ignore Jesus.

As we eat, we usually talk politics, gender issues, and it always come to questions about faith. I think I puzzle her when I don't embrace all of the doctrines that she thinks a good Christian is supposed to believe. I find myself coming back again and again to my two favorite words in my theological construct - paradox and contextualization.

She asked me about the trinity the other day. I'm not sure that I believe it in a way that would make most fundamentalists happy but I do believe in that doctrine. I haven't a clue as to how to conceptualize it though. I fall back on the first word - it is a paradox. Some might say that is a cop out but, I believe that paradox is central to faith. As I understand it, Christianity is full of paradoxes. I believe Jesus is the only way to God... but I don't believe everyone else is going to hell and I believe God is revealed to one degree or another in virtually all faith systems. I believe that Jesus is fully human ad fully God at the same time... make sense of that one. I believe God is all powerful and all loving and is personally concerned with individuals but I also see the problem of evil in the world. The list could go on. Bottom line is that God is too big for my understanding. The universe is too complicated for me to hold it in my mind. The result is paradox.

I love when my friend says that she cannot ignore Jesus. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus is the primary self-revelation of God to humankind. But he was clearly a male, first century Jew living in a remote corner of the Roman Empire. His experience of life was about as culturally different from mine as it could possibly be. Here's the rub... You can't have incarnation with contextualization. For Jesus to identify with all of us, he had first to identify with a specific group of us. To be human is to live in a cultural context that shapes everything for us from the way we experience God even to the way we count (heard that on NPR the other day... a language that is disappearing that counts both in base 12 and base 20!) Had Jesus been above his context, he would not have been able to identify with us or we with him and he would be meaningless. God speaks to us and encounters us in the context in which we live. It is a paradox that the most personal is also the most universal. Without a specific context, there is no universality.

And this concept of contextualization/incarnation is the pretty unique in Christianity from what I know. Sure other religions have gods that put on flesh and walk the earth but they always stand above the realities of life. Jesus becomes one of us. And he continues to become one of us in our various contexts. Christianity is the only major religion in which we do not speak the name of God in the language of the founder of the religion and in which the scriptures are read in indigenous languages rather than the language of the founder. This serious stuff as language represents the way a people conceptualize the universe. In Christianity, God comes to us, where we are.

So paradox... and contextualization... love those words! What do you think? And do you have any favorite theological words?

1 comment:

Toni Ertl said...

When the 'Toronto blessing' as it was called was first experienced in the UK, a guy called Dave Holden (part of New Frontiers) announced there were 2 words that went with the whole experience:



As in "What is God going to do next".

"We don't know".

Contextualisation. Paradox. Nah mate, too many letters.