Every Spring I use to take an extended backwoods Canoe trip in a remote part of the Adirondack mountains. We would start on one body of water and navigate through several connectors over the next few days. One night we would stay on this big island and the next morning we would cross our biggest lake of the trip. We had a saying ‘ the wind always blows against you on Lowes lake” which of course was really saying two things: the wind always blows on Lowes lake and secondly, it is always against you.
When you reach the far shore of Lowes lake, which takes a while, you get to rest for a minute and collect yourself before you put your canoe up on your shoulders and hike it – an old move called portaging – to the next body of water. We would camp at Big Deer pond and inevitably the conversation that night would invariably turn to how difficult that portage was and how short it was compared to the one that was waiting the next day.
The next day was quite a haul and in the middle of the portage there was this ascent called ‘Heart Break Hill’ where you plateaued and had a relatively flat walk the rest of the way. Fatigue would set in and other members of your group would help you out or rotate in to give your shoulders a break. By the end of the day you were able to set down your canoe and pack on the shores of the Oswegatchie river. This was new fresh water. You would be paddling with the current now and you were now fishing for native Brook Trout instead of Bass. These were legal to keep for dinner and there aren’t many things that taste as good as fire roasted trout after an exhausting day with a group of trusted buddies.
This helps me think of two things about our conversation. The first is that I designed year one of Everyday Theology based on the pace and geography of that canoe trip. I tried to sketch it out – where to push hard, where to camp for awhile and when to pick up our vehicle and portage it up to new water – all in keeping with the layout and topography of that backwoods adventure. This means, of course, that in our little analogy we have finished the trek to the Oswegatchie and this begins the next leg of our journey.
The second thought is that as nice as it is to be in the new water and as thankful as we might be to have the heavy work behind us… we still have our same canoes and paddles. Our vehicle has not changed. But while we will still paddle in roughly the same manner, since we are flowing with the current our pace and technique will change a bit. Our tone is a little more casual. We are still doing the same activity, we are just in a different environment. But with that change in environment comes a new stroke: the backstroke. Out on the big open water you don’t want to lose any forward energy so back strokes are generally less desirable. But over here it is pretty essential. The current will do much of the work for you as long as you navigate and negotiate well. Read the current, watch for obstacles, mind the shore… and it will go well.
This analogy fits here well for me. I see the current direction of the world – globalization, technology & media as well as the information age- heading in a pretty clear direction. This strong current pulls us along and we want to navigate and negotiate it well. Some people of faith want to fight the current in order to preserve or conserve the past. I think that is a losing battle – in fact, I’m not even sure it is the good fight that it is often portrayed to be. No, I don’t want to combat the age we find ourselves in – I am interested in where it leads and if it can deliver us to the place that we are all called to in the end. History only flows in one direction. You can not live in the past. You can live in today only as long as today. The current keeps flowing , always in that one direction : forward. The past is passed and while part of it was great… it is certainly has been a mixed bag. God has been involved in the process of history, but it moves forward.
Theology is our vehicle, conversation is our paddle and culture is our stream.
I’m looking forward to the journey.
Here then are some things that came with us from the first leg
I typed up (over on the main Podcast page) that “Navigating in a liquid culture takes some unique tools.
Narrative Theology pushes us away from bullet points and propositions only.
Developing an every day theology takes an thoughtful addressing of the intersection and integration of modern Biology , Psychology, Philosophy … and even Cosmology.
There is a way to do it, however.
When people say Theology they often mean the History of Theology.
We mean the expression of content in a context. All content happens in a context. Historical expressions will be considered and addressed. Some will be applauded and approved even adopted. Others might be best left in their own day.
We live in a world of massive change. If we approach this exponential situation with a debate about incremental adjustments – or worse yet : classical formulations – it probably won’t result in what we hope it will.
I love that famous Einstein quote:
“ the kind of thinking that will solve the world’s problems will be of a different order to the kind of thinking that created those problems in the first place.”
– Albert Einstein
The difference between a tree and a river
“We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the center: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level life is not like a river but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as the increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.” – C.S. Lewis
So while our allegory is a river our experience is more like a tree and this is why we are humble in our conversation and dialogue about the ‘other’ and their perspective and experience. This propensity toward diversity and multiplicity requires it.
I hope that people don’t think that I am just being fancy for that sake of being fancy. Or that we are being innovative as an end in itself. Or that we are obsessively updating as a fun little experiment or trivial hobby or out of fear of being shunned as unintelligent troglodytes who believe in superstitions of the past.
If someone misses what I am suggesting here then they will probably not get what we are up to or why we are doing what we are doing. So let me be really clear about this. I am suggesting three things:
– The recent centuries have seen massive innovations in the areas of Biology, Psychology, Philosophy and Meta-physics. Maybe it’s time to update our Theology too. I don’t want to cling to classic formulations of the past for the sake of tradition only or for fear of veering from orthodoxy. If something is right and true and can stand up on it’s own merit, I willing to believe it no matter when it first came into formulation as I am willing to move on from something that doesn’t stand up regardless of who has in the past believed it or for how long it’s been believed. In the Brand New Day ideas either hold water or they don’t – and if we want to take something by faith that is fine. But let’s be clear that is what is happening and not promote the facade that this is reasonable when in fact it is simply historic tradition. Intellectual honesty and humility needs to mark our way forward.
– One of the great advantages to the post-modern framework is that it can handle – more than that , it helps facilitate – the multiplicity of options, perspectives and positions. That means that it is going to be essential that we frame our conversation and label our categories with broad enough boundaries and big enough regions that family members from other ‘camps’ or ‘tribes’ can be included in the territory. There are some people who calls themselves Christians who are seeing modern day miracles (even old style signs and wonders). There are also believers who do not believe in the breaking of physical laws of nature – they do not believe in the miraculous. They think that it is scientifically inviable. There are other believers who think that the miracles did literally happen in the days of the Bible but that those ceased in the change of ages. Here is the thing : they are all Christians. The days of drawing up the boundaries in ways that one group classifies the other as ‘outside’ the faith needs to be over. If we want to have conversation and even disagreements, that is fine. What we can no longer do is ostracize and vilify those in other camps. We are all a part of the same family. The big wacky wooly family of God. There are going to be those in the family that think that the world was created in 6 days Six thousand years ago and others who are going believe that God has superintended a process that has taken Millions of years. They are both part of the family. There are going to be those who think that Homosexuality is a sin and those that think God ordains it and that those 3 passages in the Bible are not about sexual orientation but about a distinct act that we still need to vigilant against. They are both members of the family and as heated as the debate might be, we cannot disqualify or disown each other from what only God is in charge of. We are going to have to change the way that we frame this conversation if we want it to go differently that it has in the past.
– There are parts of our tradition that are rich and wonderful and we want to embrace them, fulfill them and promote them. Not all of church history is admirable but neither is it all antiquated relics and superstitions. We want to honor and adopt those things that draw us forward to living authentically in our day while acknowledging those that have come before us. We obviously want to be careful that we don’t fall into thoughtless rhetoric, mindless obedience and empty ritual. We all kind of agree that religious ceremony that is absent of the power that it is suppose to represent is pretty hollow. We want to do things – not just because they were done in the past – but because they are worth doing today.
– We need to update our Theology to incorporate innovations in Biology, Psychology and Philosophy.
– We need to draw bigger boundaries and more inclusive circles because believers who believe very different things can both be Christians. There is not just one way to believe that qualifies as legitimate.
– We need to be wise about integrating the parts of our tradition or heritage that are worth embracing. There are parts of the past that just need to stay in the past.
So that is our initial plunge into the new water.
Feel free to post on the Blog, email me personally or chat in the Facebook discussion room.
Oh, and one last thing: we also have a saying about being on the river “bye all means necessary, stay upright – do whatever it takes – just DO NOT TIP” and I think that applies here. Sometimes the waters are turbulent and the current is scary strong… I understand why people’s faith gets a little tippy (this is an official Canoe word – I think) and they want to get out of the boat. But let’s just remind each other once in a while -especially if we see some danger up ahead or notice someone having a tough go of it – “Stay upright , do whatever it takes – just DoN’T TiP”