Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Living in the Questions

“If you had to choose one thing that you believe your church or tradition does the best, or one contribution you believe your church body makes to Christendom as a whole, what would that be? “

Weekend Fisher posed this question for this month’s Christian Reconciliation Carnival. I’m late with my entry; I should know better since I was a previous host.

When thinking of what the Lutheran Church brings to the "Christian Table," I started thinking of what our Parish Nurse calls “living in the question.” Other words that come to mind are “tension” and “paradox.” I started making my own list of concepts that Lutherans might say that they can hold on to at the same time, and then I turned to the web.

From the Fall/Winter 2002 Ministry Link reports on a sermon by Bishop Hanson: “Lutheran tradition is rich with examples of representing real-life experience by holding opposite concepts in tension. We see that creation is both good in God’s eyes and fallen, he said. Each of us is both saint and sinner. God’s work in the world is both hidden and revealed.

“Our “consumptive, multi-taking” culture, presents a challenge to the Lutheran tradition of seeing these dialectical tensions in faith and life, Hanson said. ‘Folks want a roadmap to life. They don’t want the paradox of life and God’s grace revealed in weakness,’ he said. Yet that understanding is one of the Lutheran movement’s great gifts to the Church, he said, calling for Lutherans to engage in ‘public prophetic speech’ and to present a Lutheran understanding of Scripture to counter the ‘fundamentalist’ interpretations that are prevalent in the culture.'”

Certainly Lutheranism isn’t the only tradition to think about some of the paradoxical tensions in faith, but this way of thinking is certainly in contrast to some of the prominent statements that come from some churches (or perhaps independent preachers) that use the media better than Lutherans do. In my mind, being somewhat comfortable with living in these tensions is a recognition that we humans can’t grasp the fullness and complexity of God. We’re not trying to pin God down to the finite words in the Bible, even as we believe that God is indeed revealed in the Bible. We recognize that God’s ways are not man’s ways; they can’t be reduced to formulas or simplistic statements.

And yet…..I will mention a few more of these paradoxes or tensions, summarized with some simplistic phrases.

The Kingdom is both Now/Not yet



In the World/Not of the World

God is both transcendent/Immanent

Jesus is both True God/True Man

The communion elements are both the True Body and Blood/in the form of the bread and wine.

I’ve often thought that life would be so much easier to deal with if everybody thought the same way, my way. There would be more predictability. I’d feel less anxiety. But perhaps because I’ve been steeped in Lutheran thought, I can be more realistic about what life is all about. There will always be tensions between life and death, guilt and innocence, slavery and freedom, and good times and bad times.

Ok, I’m supposed to just write about one topic that is a strength of my denomination, but in the research I did for this essay, I came across this statement by Bishop Hanson, “It’s a well-kept secret that the largest provider of social services in this nation is Lutheran Social Services.” see here and here.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Living in that tension is not always simple, and it seems our culture is enamoured with the simple, quick answer.


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