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

 

Choosing Headlines

A protestant friend recently invited us to a service project.  He briefly mentioned the details then told how he last served there alongside some “Roman Catholics”.  While huddled in preparation these Catholics were praying the rosary to Mary – he went on to say – so he just observed and silently prayed, “to the living God,” repeating this last part twice.

Hmmm.  His story had all the facts, but his headline seemed to be theological correctness rather than, say, how beautiful it is when people of varying faiths unite around a common cause.  Or focusing on the cause itself.

His headline seemed to be theological correctness

A different friend had a big stage-event to share his music and the next day I asked him what it was like.  “It was so hot up there,” was his reply.  But how was the music, I probed, and he replied that it just was so much work to setup instruments on the outdoor stage.  I was hoping to hear what he liked about the experience, but he chose discomfort and work as his headline.

He chose discomfort and work as his headline

Newspapers may have their own reasons for choosing headlines (see this example¹ of a same-day, same-paper rewrite). WSJ-newspaper-annotated

But when it comes to your personal stories, do you realize the headline you’re publishing?

Of course, the majority of our days are spent down in the body of the article.  We can’t always choose the who, what, when and where of our day, but eventually a few subtitles bubble up as themes. Finally we settle on a headline, sometimes only if asked.  If we’re not reflective, we immediately grab onto the most recent thing, or strongest feeling, and print it as our headline.  

Granted, we take relational context into account when we share, and in fairness, my two friends may have assumed our same page-ness when they focused their headlines.

For instance when my bride and I share about our workday, we don’t usually start by saying, “I’m so thankful for my job and overall my co-workers are great,” even though that is our long-term mindset.  We tend to jump right in with the most frustrating thing that happened that day.  But in this familial context we may consider large swaths of days as one body of work, knowing that on the weekend, or on our next vacation, we’ll reflect again together how good the work is.

And that is our chance to reset the headline.

We once again pull ourselves out of the body – with its small paragraphs and many quotations – to summarize the story we are living.  Writing this I am reminded that headline selection is a key role that meditation and prayer can play in our lives:

A few breaths to let go of being in charge and remember Who is.

A few readings from timeless scriptures to see how transient our troubles are.

A few moments to stop talking to the temporary and instead listen to eternity.

How do you set your headline?

♦ weekendswell ♦

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¹Image source: http://www.jantakareporter.com/world/different-story-wall-street-journal/59948/:

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”

Time Travel

I can’t really remember exactly when I became convinced that we had it all Right.

That somehow we – the independent protestant church, and me – had been able to travel through time directly to the early disciples, skipping all the blemishes and growth from church history along the way, without owning or thanking those who’d gone before us.

We are re-creating the infant church – the New Testament church – but not the adolescent church of the 5th or 10th or 15th century.   Never mind the crusades, indulgences, overruling of science, manifest destiny of America, slavery, treatment of women –no, that church got it wrong, but not our church.

That church got it wrong, but not our church.

When we’re so willing to correct yesterday’s practices, how can we be so incorrigible today? Continue reading “Time Travel”

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