Why do I avoid labels?
Because I have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear.
Because I have been through so many paradigm shifts sometimes I feel like I’m wearing a peacenik swimsuit, a woolen toque and a tutu on a John Deere lawn mower tractor –whilst waddling in pink Crocs that ought to be on the other foots.
Because like the blind man, every time I think I have figured out what an elephant feels like God drags me around to the other side –or the other end– and tells me to try again.
Because the phrase that seems to pop out of my mouth most often lately is “On the one hand…” followed by, “But on the other hand…”
Am I indecisive? Well, maybe. I don’t know. I’ll get back to you on that one.
Photo: Mugwump. My Dad used to say a mugwump was a person who sat with his mug on one side of the fence and his wump on the other.
Maybe I’m just tired of making apologies.
This position may look humble, but dropping to the ground is sometimes the only safe posture when caught in the cross-fire between warring factions. I am so very aware of the quarrels among us.
Hymn and organ lovers ….vs….Chorus and drums lovers
Practically experienced….vs….Theoretically indoctrinated
Sinners saved by grace….vs…. Saints who reckon themselves dead to sin
Those who are working out their faith….vs…. Those who are saved by grace and not by works
Those who offer grace….vs…..Those who maintain standards
Those who are sure that God is grieved ….vs….Those who insist that God is in a good mood
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” ….vs….”Jesus said, ‘But I call you friends.’”
“May you prosper as your soul prospers”….vs…. “Rich men, camels & eyes of needles and all that.”
“He who will not work shall not eat”….vs….”He who shuts his ears to the cry of the poor shall cry himself and not be heard.”
“By His stripes we are healed”….vs….”Knowing Him and the fellowship of his sufferings.”
Reverential folk….vs…. “I got to move it, move it, move it!” folk
Church building builders.…vs….church building leavers
Seeing something from one particular viewpoint is called a paradigm. Oliver Sachs wrote about a middle-aged man who regained the sight he lost in childhood, but who then faced so many challenges he chose to ignore his new faculty after a while. A dog from the front looks completely different from a dog from the side, yet they are both dogs. Who knew?
A paradigm is our most comfortable default position. Things fit nicely and work well. We only have to deal with one construct at a time that way. For example, we assume a beloved nephew has been unfairly fired, and advocate for him — then we find out from the boss he embezzled a gazillion pencils. It was easier before we knew both sides of the story. We still love him and support him; we are proud of his brilliance, but now we are also ashamed of his stupidity.
Paradox greatly complicates things, but God’s ways seem to be more about paradox than paradigm. Jesus often spoke of two seemingly opposite concepts which are both true. The Bible is full of paradox like, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first,” “You need to lay down your life in order to live,” “You receive through giving,” “Rest under his yoke,” “You are strongest when you are weak,” “We see the unseen,” and many more.
Paradox is awkward. It feels unstable. We tend to want to gravitate to one end or the other. We polarize easily.
It struck me this week that the pole we choose to slide toward is often strongly influenced by which aspect of our soul dominates –mind, will or emotion.
Look at worship styles, for example. For some, worship means thinking, studying, discussing ideas about God, and listening to sermons which exegete the Bible with skill. For them, authentic worship is getting doctrine right.
For some, worship is an act of the will. These people love words like decide, purpose, endeavour, determine. Worship for them is a deed, whether it is signing up to commit to journaling for forty days, or volunteering for a new program , or inviting someone home for soup, or buying a plane ticket to The Gambia. For them, authentic worship means not only hearing but doing.
For some, worship must engage the emotions, whether it’s quiet contentment or raucous rejoicing; they desire an encounter with God that touches them deeply. For them authentic worship doesn’t ignore emotions forever; it connects and moves the heart.
At one point or another I have cycled and re-cycled through all three camps.
Here’s the thing. The mind, the will and the emotions are all fine, God-given, God-created parts of our souls –but they are all limited and, without the Holy Spirit sanctifying, refining and empowering them to operate from the perspective of the Kingdom of God, they remain, well, self-centered. Proof of self-centeredness is that we continue to engage in silly disputes over who is right and who Papa God likes best.
I was asking Papa God about this, after listening to yet another discussion of sovereignty vs. free will (which, as usual, produced more heat than light). Both sides could quote scriptures to back their positions. That night I dreamed I was playing on the floor like a child. A kind, gentle, patient person was helping me fit metal puzzle pieces together. (These puzzles drive me nuts. I hardly ever figure them out.) In the dream I actually got a couple of them to work. After quite a bit of effort we finished a complicated mat-like square of interconnecting puzzle pieces about a meter long and a meter wide. I was as happy as a toddler and clapped for myself with glee, although the man helping me had done nearly all of the work.
“Yay me! Me so smart!”
Then he started building upwards. He was making connections and building a solid cube about a meter long and wide AND a meter high.
I said, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
He smiled and said, “Quit thinking in two dimensions.”
I recognized him as Jesus.
I have been thinking about this for quite a while. Unity is about more than living with the tension of paradox. Paradox is not “this or this;” it’s ”this and this.” But paradox is also incomplete.
Building a solid structure also requires another dimension– another way of thinking –another viewpoint.