Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Where the sacred meets the secular...a rambling.

For the past few weeks in our weekly PCM Bible study (Break@8), we've been sharing song lyrics that have significance to us--particularly theological significance. I brought one in first, just to sort of set the tone and expectations. Yes, it was an Indigo Girls song...The Wood Song. Oddly, it's my favorite song, and I have yet to hear it live. Sad. Anyway, it's been fun to share the songs together, to delve deeply into the lyrics with each other and see where the secular might intersect with the sacred. We've had Coldplay, Jars of Clay, U2, and Switchfoot. It's an exercise that has reminded me of the uncertainty of youth, and the search for answers that, when you are a young adult, you think will eventually come. But they don't. What happens, I think, is that if you're lucky, you get comfortable with the fact that there are very few, if any, real answers to the questions that matter most. I don't think life is about finding "the answer." Life is about the conversations that we have along the way as we search for it, knowing that we'll never really find "it." And being okay with that.

I heard a preacher (I think it was Vic Pentz) criticize the ancient fable about the blind men and the elephant. You know the one. It is the story of six blind men who visit the palace of the Rajah and encounter an elephant for the first time.

The first blind man put out his hand and touched the side of the elephant. "How smooth! An elephant is like a wall." The second blind man put out his hand and touched the trunk of the elephant. "How round! An elephant is like a snake." The third blind man put out his hand and touched the tusk of the elephant. "How sharp! An elephant is like a spear." The fourth blind man put out his hand and touched the leg of the elephant. "How tall! An elephant is like a tree." The fifth blind man reached out his hand and touched the ear of the elephant. "How wide! An elephant is like a fan." The sixth blind man put out his hand and touched the tail of the elephant. "How thin! An elephant is like a rope."

An argument ensued, each blind man thinking his own perception of the elephant was correct. The Rajah, awakened by the commotion, called out from the balcony. "The elephant is big," he said. "Each man touched only one part. You must put all parts together to find out what an elephant is like."

This pastor made a formidable argument against using that analogy for God. Likewise, "serious problems" with the elephant argument can be found here as well: http://www.ptm.org/98PT/SepOct/Elephant.htm But I still like to think of God's Truth as an elephant. We are each holding on for dear life to the part of God that we've been given, the part that is more proximal to us, or just the part that someone else showed us a long time ago. And the part that we're holding onto is comfortable, and we feel as if we know it. But that's not all there is to the beast. I don't know about you, but I'm glad that I don't know all there is to know about God. The God I worship is living and dynamic. Stable yet fluid. Incomprehensible yet personal. Mysterious yet certain. The ultimate paradox.

I fear that many young adults today see religion, and Christianity in particular, as a way of life that limits one's intellectual self, as if one must choose between being an intellectual and being a person of faith. And truthfully, for too many years, Christians were guilty of believing they possessed the truth, that they fully knew God, and even owned God. But thanks to brilliant minds who asked and addressed really tough questions, our view of God is wider and bigger than it was a century ago. And thanks to brilliant minds who continue to ask and address really tough questions, our view of God GETS wider and bigger with each passing day.

Our challenge is not an easy one. We Christians have dug quite a hole for ourselves. But I've got my shovel and I'm going to work, one scoop at a time, until the hole is filled. I pray that one day, we will ALL be able to look around us and see the fullness of the world that God created, and all the many gifts of wonder and diversity that it has to offer.

And so as I work among these college students, I hope to share with them ways that I see God at work in places where we might least expect it. I hope to share with them how they can see God at work in the simple moments of each day if we but keep our eyes open and our minds willing. I hope to share with them how God can use people even when they are not believers, or even when their personal intent is somehow different. I hope I can impress upon them that God really is bigger than any labels or any faith tradition. And I hope, most of all, that can help them be at peace with the fact that there really aren't any always-reliable, always-right answers to life's greatest questions. God just IS, and that's okay.