Shame I don't get a vote...
conversation starters for the journey of faith
One of my best Christmas presents this year was a copy of Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. This is an excellent book. I finished it by Boxing Day and don't really have the time to list all the great points it made. One helpful image Bell uses (on pp. 22-28) is the picture of the doctrines of the Christian faith as springs in a trampoline, rather than bricks in a wall.
Springs aren't the point of the trampoline - jumping is. Springs help you jump. Springs can stretch when examined, pulled about, whatever. In fact, their stretchiness is kinda the point. If they weren't stretchy they'd be rubbish springs and useless for jumping. The springs are very important but they aren't the whole deal.
Bricks, on the other hand, are very different. Try to take out one brick or 'stretch it' and it's liable to crumble; and with it the whole wall. Bricks are the point of a wall - their purpose is to be immovable and impenetrable. Mess with them at your peril. The other thing about walls is that they exist to keep us in and/or keep others out. For it to keep doing this job (one I don't think Jesus spent a lot of time on) it must be defended, kept immovable. So you end up talking about how right your bricks are, because without them the wall comes down and the whole endeavour ("brickianity") is lost.
As Bell puts it, "you rarely defend a trampoline". No, you jump on it - and invite others to come and jump too.
It strikes me that the trampoline image is more faithful to the early church fathers. These guys had this tremendous experience of living in the way of Jesus Christ - the experience of "jumping" - and developed the doctrines of the Christian faith (the springs) which best described what they knew to be true. And we should learn from them and use the springs they developed as long as they are still good for jumping. But the doctrines weren't originally the point (although it seems like they quickly became more "brick-like"). Following Jesus was the point.
Because, as Bell puts it on p. 27, "God is bigger than any wall. God is bigger than any religion. God is bigger than any worldview. God is bigger than the Christian faith".
For those at BCC you'll see the following in the church newsletter this week (hey, we emergent types are all for recycling!)...
I was deeply struck by the story in the paper this week of the Orkney minister who opened his home for Christmas lunch to all on the island who were lonely. There’s something about radical – even reckless – hospitality that speaks of God to me. After all, God is pictured in Luke 14 as a host who holds a party and instructs his servant to “go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” and even pulls people in from the streets to fill his house. What recklessness! Our God: the radical host.
In this story of course, the invited guests refuse to go to the party. Are we prepared to allow God to be our host? Can we receive gifts from him? Or do we, like Peter, say “No, you shall never wash my feet” (John 13:8).
I watched ‘The Da Vinci Code’ the other night (I know I'm a couple of years behind - always have been!). Apart from its obvious confusion of fact and fiction, the thing that struck me most was that, for the characters in the story, the big scandal – one the Church would kill to cover up – was that Jesus might have been married (or even a father). For me, the greater scandal is that God might have (and did!) become man. The ‘scandal’ of Christmas is that the divine and human touched. God, the consummate host of creation, became its guest: a guest in a stable, a guest at a wedding, and a guest at many a supper. Mary was, for nine months, host to God. God made himself vulnerable – and was a guest of humanity.
This Christmas, and in the year to come, we will have many opportunities to be hosts to our community – and maybe “entertain angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2)! We will also have time to be guests of God – as he seeks to go on (as he always has) giving us gifts and inviting us to feasts. Let us be humble guests, allowing the Saviour to “wash our feet”. And let us, like God, take the risk of radical hospitality and welcome in “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” without judgement. Above all, “by thought, by prayer, by every tried and untried means, let us do all that we possibly can to make known that astonishing mystery, which is also a historical fact, that God became one of us so that we might become like Him.” (J. B. Phillips).
Emmanuel: God is with us! Happy Christmas!
image: Christina Saj, Madonna and Child (1998)