Stained Glass Communities

Note: this post is building on the image of seeing God through stained glass and will make more sense if you read Stained Glass first.  But here is the key part, “we must take our art, our DNA, our human experience, and hold them up to the light.  Imagining them projected onto an empty wall of a cathedral, we could glaze them into stained glass and let the sunlight shine through, casting images onto the concrete floor. It becomes a double projection:  We are projected up into the form of stained glass, then God projects back through the stained glass.”stainglassreflection2

Well here we are, down on the cathedral floor of life, with that pure and holy light seen through the stained glass of our human experience.  This is beautiful, but not without its challenges, which center around how that pure and holy light can be seen only *through* the stained glasses of human experience.

Some of you have long known this, and others will disagree and say we can know things for sure without the coloring of our own view.  But I am in the middle of the transition from one to the other and so I will write to understand.

“Most people do not see things as they are, rather, they see things as they are.”¹

Our faith communities are formed around common projections

When our human experience changes, it can change our view of God and relationship to the faith community.  We may be in a comfy situation, sitting on the cathedral floor centered around an image of God, appreciating the varying colors shining through our shared stained glass.  We have something new to hold up to the light, but others around us may be content looking at the reflection they already see on the floor.  Why do we have to stir things up?

Think about what holds your faith community together.  Is it shared faith, or shared humanity?  Faith seems the answer, but when we lose or change a few of our faith chromosomes, so to speak, do we still fit in the community?

In that time of change we may feel alone, wondering where we fit.

But why should our faith communities lose the wanderer in all this?  Aren’t churches also filled with humans?  If we share our humanity AND our faith, then when faith wavers we can continue in community.  (And, paradoxically this has greater potential to bring us back to faith.)   We might wonder aloud,

“What if we were united by our questions instead of our answers?” 

If I think of the church as a family of faith into which many children are born or adopted, I candanworktripnyccitrix-098 imagine the immense and unconditional love poured into each kid well before knowing how they will turn out.  What they believe is not a pre-condition for family membership – in fact they have done nothing to earn it.

Now for some good news: If we’ve lived cloistered in a faith community it can be freeing to discover how much we have in common with once-perceived “others.”  We can toss some of our fears into the communal bonfire and throw our arms around the others (like the random lady next to me at last summer’s Coldplay concert, draping her arm over my shoulder and full-voice belting out “Para-para-paradise“).   I remember the dread of certain situations where I might be asked what I believe or why my morals were a certain way and need to have a succinct answer.  Ironically it was also my secret ambition to live such a life that would cause others to ask me this.  Now I’ve wrestled with so many core questions, I look forward to conversations with fellow questioners and am even more willing to explain the few answers I do have.

The thankfulness remains – we didn’t get here without our community – but we may flow through many communities in this life to do all the growing required of our garden.  And we work to make our existing communities among those which accept the questions our shared humanity asks of faith.

♦ weekendswell ♦

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This is Stained Glass part 2, see also Stained Glass and  Stained Glass Leadership


¹From Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

Stained Glass

Knowing about ourselves and our Creator are intertwined.

My favorite corner downtown has within its reach art, music, books, coffee, and food.  If I could afford to, I’d live there and never leave the block, while a rotation of artists, musicians, and writers filled each venue, illuminating truth.  Could I find the Creator on this creative corner?

Art illuminates the truth.

It shows us who we are, paints our humanity, bypasses the entanglement of words to bring our soul to understanding.  When we see Picasso’s, Blind Man’s Meal, we can feel his loneliness and thus better accept our own. BlindMansMeal The joy, the memory, of discovery is ours when we spend a minute with Renoir’s Gabriel et Jean (top of blog image).  When art sheds healing light onto each wound of life, we inch closer to making peace with the many insults pockmarking our memory.

Then science shows us a strand of DNA and we feel wonder even before we understand it. (skip forward if you’re not in the mood to geek out)  DNA is amazing:  it stores blueprints for every short-lived cell in my body, and yet the DNA itself can last hundreds of thousands of years.dna1  It is small enough to be seen only with an electron microscope but somehow contains over 700 Megabytes of data, leading computer hardware designers to copy its design.   Data scientists are building databases of unusual size (D-O-U-S’s for Princess Bride fans?) to unravel the mysterious coding sequences which make me – me.

But images of eternity are not themselves eternity.

We must take our art, our DNA, our human experience, and hold it up to the light.  Instead of being squished between microscope slides, we might imagine them printed onto old square Kodak slides and projected onto an empty wall of a cathedral.  We could glaze these into stained-glass and leave them up for the sunlight to shine through, casting images onto the concrete floor.

stainglassreflection2

It becomes a double projection:  We are projected up into the form of stained glass, then God projects back through the stained glass. With each projection, each painting, each well-crafted song, each scientific discovery:  the less foggy is our mirror.

If art can know the soul and science can know the body and music can know the heart, then we – miraculous combinations of these and more – can surely know the Divine.

The breathing bashful bloody human can know the Creator. Next post will bring out some of the problems with this God-through-the-stained-glass model, but for now, sit back and let the light shine in.

♦ weekendswell ♦

This is Stained Glass part 1, see also Stained Glass Communities and Stained Glass Leadership

 

Endless Mystery

It’s amazing how much we know about God. But we don’t marvel enough at how much we don’t know about God. By remembering how far beyond our box the Divine really is, we are treated to the relief of humility, and God is treated to our praise and wonder.

I wrote some lyrics below to try to capture this thought – the “I’m just here for the poetry” readers can skip ahead… otherwise consider this:

It’s good to embed our doctrines – what we suppose we know about God – into the larger circle of truths we can and cannot fathom. truth-knowledgeThis picture¹ shows a blue circle of absolute truth and a yellow circle of what we know. I’ve been living out my faith within the castle walls of green – where knowledge overlaps truth and we are sure we are right. I didn’t account much for being wrong about God (yellow) and didn’t focus much on the wild, endless mystery of God (blue).²

I wasn’t even aware that part of the yellow was hanging outside the circle of truth, but like an election ballot’s hanging chad, doubt was cast upon my confident vote.

Like an election ballot’s hanging chad, doubt was cast upon my confident vote.

Humility: if I’m wrong about some things, maybe I’m wrong about other things. And from there I can begin to see that I cannot see it all. But this mystery is magnificent, and unlike our topics of expertise, can never become boring. As Richard Rohr says, “Mystery isn’t something that you cannot understand – it is something that you can endlessly understand! There is no point at which you can say, “I’ve got it.” Always and forever, mystery gets you!”³

I intend to use the green area – what I know about God – as a sort of base camp for excursions: to climb up the mountain exploring newly-knowns and ancient truths about the Divine.  But I need to remember that yellow and blue make green, and keep a filter to let misconceptions flow downstream and away.  And here are the promised lyrics:

Mystery

Shining in the morning light
Showering the starry night
Blinding bright while giving sight
Mystery

Outside time, beyond our ways
Thousand years might be a day
Creation that re-creates
Mystery

Far above us all, and worlds beyond
Now we see only in part
Deep inside us all, where we belong
Someday we will see all of your heart
Mystery

Breathing life eternally
Underpinning history
All in one, in one, complete
Mystery

Ancient mover and unmoved
Always new and ever true
Ever better than we knew
Mystery

Far above us all, and worlds beyond
Now we see only in part
Deep inside us all, where we belong
Someday we will see all of your heart
Mystery

 

♦ weekendswell ♦

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¹Adapted from a diagram at Achter de Samenleving


²This is another articulation of the “unknown unknowns” concept (which earned Donald Rumsfeld some bad press but is actually a great grid for understanding when not being used to avoid a question). The idea is that we know many things (known knowns), and there are other things we don’t know but at least are aware of (known unknowns), e.g. is there life on Mars. With these we can feel pretty smart because within our field of view are a bunch of ideas we understand and many we don’t, but may expect to soon.


What we overlook are the unknown unknowns – the questions we aren’t even thinking to ask. This becomes important in fields like engineering – a software tester must look past her list of extensive tests and ask what hasn’t been asked. A helicopter designer anticipates many knowns that can go wrong, but what aren’t they thinking of? So too when we put the Divine under the microscope – we might pin down one area (e.g. virgin birth) but completely miss what doesn’t fit under the scope (e.g. our universe may be one blink in a universe of universes).


³Richard Rohr in, The Divine Dance

Studies or Stories

I had some assumptions about being gay. One simple google could have filled a day with studies to back them up – but I didn’t, probably because no one was questioning them in my (mostly) church community. The information sat well because it surrounded and protected a core belief that “homosexuality” was just another behavior – not an identity – that the Bible spoke against. These assumptions filled the castle moat I described in a prior post, protecting core beliefs.

Our loved-one broke those assumptions: her very being went against every one of them, breaking my mental map of how things work. It sent my GPS into a “recalculating” loop, as if my car took a wrong turn and was trying to find a new route to the original destination. True enough, but if the destination was, “protecting my assumptions and beliefs at all costs” then I actually have a bigger problem and need a new destination altogether. Continue reading “Studies or Stories”

Simmering Boil

“I was simmering, simmering, simmering, then Emerson brought me to a boil.”  That was Walt Whitman writing about his literary hero.  And that was me holding on, white-knuckling the faith through various doubts, when along came a whopper and I couldn’t hold on anymore.

All along the message had been to stand firm, finish well, even in pain remember what you believe and don’t follow the temptation to change.  Painting the picture of a narrow road with many diversions, both deep and shallow, with any variation leading to being lost.

I felt I couldn’t grip any more – as Michael Gungor describes, being in a swiftly moving river and grabbing hold of protruding tree roots for dear life, then finally… letting go.  Scared.  Unsure.  Never been here before.  Going against all prior advice.

But for the first time wondering if God might be also in the river I was now washing down.  Could a living-moving-breathing God-in-Spirit use a traumatic event to show me things anew?

But for the first time wondering if God might be also in the river I was now washing down

How did the promise, “Behold I am making all things new” speak into keeping things the way they always were?  Is newness a one-time event?  Isn’t each day a new creation: a sunset or snowfall or conversation that has never existed in the same way before?  (What kind of amazing is a Creator who puts into motion a world that is perpetually new!?)

In a future post I’ll write more about what I was doubting and what is new.  But today, I’m only recounting the experience. Here’s one way to visualize it:  when our dog was a puppy we trained her using a standard dog crate-kennel that’s completely closed with a wire mesh door.  I have an image (and don’t take this too far) of myself growing up in the safety of this comforting and predictable evangelical kennel, complete with messages about fearing the outside world.  But enough trips outside caused a conflict when the world didn’t look as described – it was wildly variegated and contained a wealth of God’s beauty in the eyes and lives of others who didn’t follow our “brand” of faith.

When my simmering became a boil, desperation took over and I opened the door.

The fear of staying became greater than the fear of leaving.

When I stepped through the windowed door, there was fresh air out here.  And it turns out the backyard of faith is big, and there are plenty of other kennels scattered about with doors hanging open.

I could hold onto my faith in God without it looking as before.   I could still see the comfort and safety inside and a part of me missed that.  But I can’t un-smell the freedom.  As Switchfoot sings (slanging Roosevelt’s words), “Fear is all I got left to fear”.

He is making all things new.  I don’t know the road ahead, but I know that I cannot stay where I am and I do not go alone.

♦ weekendswell ♦

See more questions I was asking, see About

Capital Faith

Give faith room to be re-invented.

My faith can never stay the same, any more than my body could. Through the decades it has to grow, but most often that growth first feels like loss.

We’ve re-imagined our garage many times – car parking, storage, ping-pong table, gaming lounge – but we can’t just cram all those new things into the garage as is.  It always starts with removing what’s there and a clean up that can feel like a good “scrubbing behind the ears”.

“Finish well” doesn’t mean ending life with the exact belief set we started with.  We can live dogmatically – holding principles as incontrovertibly true – or we can strive to be corrigible – capable of being corrected or reformed.  Both allow Truth to be capitalized, but only one allows Faith to be.  As Anne Lamott writes, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.”

Keep searching for further light to shine on the truth you “know”.  It might look different in 5 years.  Though Truth itself may be absolute, our grasp on it ebbs & flows, because now we see poorly as in a dim and dusty mirror.  But soon we will see face to face, and this joy will surely also reveal areas we were wrong.

 

The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.

–Anne Lamott in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

♦ weekendswell ♦

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Moving Inward

Difficult times boil things down to their essence and give us a chance to discover each other’s depths. To first of all pull closer and declare, “I’m with you” and then to go find out what that means. 2016 was the start of go find out.

Learning last year that our loved one is gay – thinking and reading and listening and conversing about it – triggered a lot of rethinking other things too: faith, church, the bible, assumptions.  Now the boxes we once trusted to hold our branded faith no longer seem big enough to hold their contents.

I picture our small church as a circle of people, arms locked, centered around Jesus.  Facing inward from our circle it’s hard to know if other circles even exist around us.  When someone breaks the circle’s expectations, they may unlock arms, unsure if they fit in.  Evangelical kids who come out as gay so frequently leave the circle and drift outward, looking for a place to belong.

What amazes me is her effort to move inward.

When we are hurting and confused, when things don’t look as they once did, we can draw closer to Jesus and find his hands on our shoulders, blessing those who mourn, who are poor and realize their need for him.  We find solace in every gospel story of Jesus reaching out to all the “wrong” people while challenging the religiously sure.  We move inward to Jesus and are wrapped in the knowledge that he knew all along.

Jesus reached out to all the “wrong” people while challenging the religiously sure.

And then it happens.  From our now-disrupted circle we’ve moved inward to find comfort.  And then we pivot and look outward to discover broad and diverse circles of pilgrims facing Jesus and ready to embrace us.  This has been one of the great joys of the past year – finding the merciful in such abundance, the circles of Christians through history who differ in secondary views but agree on primary creeds.  Discovering long lost sisters and brothers has been like opening and stepping through a window, curtains blowing, and finding freedom on the previously-feared outside.

♦ weekendswell ♦

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