I looked back over my last two blog entries – ‘Wisdom comes from God’ and ‘Ignorance is Bliss’ and thought – Heavens to Betsy, people are going to think I have lost the plot. Talk about a contradiction in terms and yet this is exactly where I find myself – all full of knowledge and none of the wisdom – so ignorant and ill-equipped but knowing that I know that I know that I know that I know that I know … Do you know what I mean?
Well, no perhaps you don’t …
This might help.
About 18 months ago I had a rather sinister dream.
I was walking through the streets of what felt like 80’s Johannesburg. Old ‘regime’ South African white-washed stoep homes and red dusty streets. Set out throughout the suburb were children on elevated platforms playing some kind of ball game. Almost like tennis but of course it was a dream so it was nothing like tennis. They were scattered throughout the streets. What was disturbing was that they were all wearing masks. Beaded masks in the colours of the new South Africa. Beautiful, bright green, red, blue, black. You couldn’t see their faces, but I knew they were children by their size…
This was a very lengthy dream so I will just give the highlights. As I tried to find ‘my people’ I clutched hold of what was then (in real life) my brand new Blackberry, which had a red flashing envelope on the screen telling me there was a new message, (remember the days when that was how we knew had a message) anyway, I walked through the ‘game’ where everyone seemed to know the rules except me, I wrestled with some tiger type animal – as you do, to find out he was just cute and friendly and not sinister as I expected and then walked into the ‘church/school/institution, straight
into a kitchen which was piled high with dirty dishes, stacked up plates filled with leftover food.
Now of course with 18 months worth of hindsight and a little bit of that wisdom and knowledge that I seem to be lacking (sic), I have come to understand that dream in terms of my feelings about the church and my faith.
There are times, when it feels like the institution of the church is playing a game where no one knows the rules except ‘those in charge’ – ‘they’ in turn wear masks and are not much more than children themselves. The blackberry represents for me a new understanding of faith as I have experienced it through the gift and the curse that is Social Media – Twitter and the Internet have introduced me to Theologians and thinkers who have widened my understanding of faith and God and yet at the same time, have left me reeling with confusion at the sheer scope and scale of the topic that is ‘theology’, God thought and dare I even say it, but RELIGION. And it’s religion that for me sometimes carries the sinister edge – the games that are played behind the masks of ‘piety and orthodoxy’ (Orthodoxy being about right belief, rather than right living which is orthopraxy).
This dream has become for me an ongoing metaphor for my struggle with my faith and my own ‘orthopraxy’ (right practice). I am a student minister in this institution called the mainline church and in many ways there is a party line that I have to tow. Matt 23: 3 tells us to obey our leaders, but not behave like them if we don’t agree with the way they live out their authority, so there is some ‘party-line-towing’ that has to go on in the wider scheme of things … but right now there is an even bigger issue for me.
The world is changing and as the world changes so our understanding of God changes, doesn’t it? And of course when we look at God as an absolute truth, our changing perception of that absolute truth can be scary, because surely God is unchangeable – ABSOLUTE. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Philosophers would do this argument much better justice than I can, but hopefully my meaning is somewhat clear. Is God a subjective construct – have we made him up? Do we interpret God in light of our own understanding? In postmodern conversations (which dominate
much theological debate) we have come to realise that much of what we do know of God is severely limited, or at least our knowledge and understanding is limited by
our individual contexts and so it should be, that makes sense – we know more now than we did when we knew a lot and so now we know that we know nothing… Confused? I was too …
Thank heavens for those who have thought these things out. Kevin Corcoran writes the opening chapter to Church in the Present Tense… he helped clear up this mess in my head… by saying:
The idea is that committing oneself to concrete Christian beliefs places oneself in
the primordial waters of modernism and the pretentious grip of the Enlightenment ideal. As the writer of the Cloud of Unknowing so succinctly put it: “God may well be loved but not thought”. The postmodern turn for Christians is, therefore, a turn away from Christianity as believing or knowing certain things and a turn toward Christianity as opening oneself up to a transformative event. To put it another way, it is a turn away from faith as a kind of scientia (knowledge) and a turn toward faith as a kind of sapientia (wisdom), wisdom construed more in terms of the subjective and affective than the objective and cognitive.
In other words, our faith is alive and exciting in so much as it transforms us and life around us. So, God is not just in the ‘head knowledge’, or just the ‘heart wisdom’, God is in the world and in the space in which we find ourselves at this present moment, transforming us if we allow him to.
This discovery has excited me because I am a thinker, because I love to have my mind stretched, but also because it is an affirmation of what I believe my dream was trying to wake me up to. The leftover food on a plate represents left over beliefs or ideas of God from another time and place. I want to have my own tea party with God. I am sure that the tea party that was had with God in that other time was fantastic, but this is a new time and my head and my heart knows that the beliefs that were ‘fed’ to me as a child do not serve me now as an adult living in a global village, serving another kind of marginalised and forgotten people. (we have new issues to grapple with now as well as the old ones – new regime and old regime problems)
But, BUT – the important thing is to have that tea party and to remember that a tea party with God involves more than just my head – it involves my heart, my spirit, my creativity, my loves, my hopes, my fears. It involves me spending whole-hearted time with God rather than just head time with God. Over the last few months of academic study I have come to realize that I miss BEING with God and that my belief in God is nothing if I don’t spend time in his presence.
It’s not enough to know you love someone, love needs a physical expression, an outpouring of person to person being and so I am going to have my own tea party with God, knowing that I find God in my everyday life expressions as well as my head. I will look for God in the faces I am called to serve and the faces I am called to love. I will feel God on my face as I sit in the sunshine, as I stand barefoot on dew covered grass, as I kiss my precious little four legged children. I will engage my life Blissphilly as a whole-hearted person of faith, who knows that she doesn’t KNOW God as well as she would like, but who recognises that she LOVES God with all of her being.