13 January 2006

Both/and

This post was partly inspired by my friend Israel's post here, and also by a post in a Yahoo Group from my friend P3T3, in which he argued for the relative importance of "the means" over "the ends". And the little picture to the left is of a painting called "Either Or, Both And" by Cynthia Tom, which I've used without her permission because I really like it and she doesn't have any copyright info on her web site. Click it for a bigger version. Cynthia, if you'd like me to remove the image, please let me know.

So here's the situation. In this blog, and in the comment sections of blogs belonging to friends, acquaintances, and strangers, I have a tendency to prattle on about theological topics. Many of you have, no doubt, noted this about me.

Due to certain aspects of my personality (if you choose to call them "defects", I won't argue with you), I also have a tendency to want to figure things out. No, not just that - I tend to want to draw some mental lines and boxes, construct some mental structures that I find appealing, wordsmith some nice language around it, and act like I've figured something out. Because that makes me feel better. Because that satisfies my need to reduce something complex and make it controllable. Because when I can control it, it's not threatening. All this is a particularly dangerous personality trait for someone who's theologically inclined. Because when the thing I'm trying to reduce and control is the gospel, then I'm in the land of some very grave sin indeed.

To balance this, I've been blessed with a group of blogging friends and acquaintances who help to hold me accountable when I take a trip to that dark land. They are frequently quick to point out when I seem to have something a bit too figured out, when my carefully constructed theory is leaving out something important. (Actually, I think we all do this for each other. Also, I've noticed - or I think I have - that when I go really far down this road, my friends tend to signal my complete departure into koo-koo-land by utterly ignoring me. I may be wrong about that, but if I'm not - I get it!) :-)

Anyway, what I wanted to do in this post is to present some "both/ands" that I feel I mustn't ever leave out when I'm talking about God and the gospel and the Church. I'm doing this mainly as a corrective for myself, but also as a road map for my corrective friends, and finally as an invitation to add some more to the list. So here are some items that I think are "both/ands" when thinking and talking about God and the gospel. Conceptual constructs that leave out (or greatly minimize) one side of these or the other are, to my mind, reductionist and incomplete. And I realize that by laying this stuff out so neatly like this, I'm only doing it again. Three years as a Buddhist didn't lead me to let go of my love of neat little well-constructed concepts, and probably nothing will.

now AND later: the Kingdom of God and eternal life, two concepts that were central to Jesus' thought, are both about this present time and place, and about "eschatological" or "end-related" things - both this life and the end of this life; both this time and the end of time.

individual AND community: the individual's personal calling, mission, walk with God, etc. is important, and these things are also important at every level of community.

church AND world: the church of Christ exists to love and serve God's people both inside itself and outside itself.

Truth AND truth: absolute Truth and relative, "customized" truth.

Mission AND mission: both the overall, glorious "Mission of God" and "Mission of the Church" and each person and community's individual missional vocation.

being AND doing AND saying: but chief among these (I would say) is being. Being, doing, and saying witness, love, compassion, etc.

ends AND means: where we're going and how we get there are both important, though on balance I agree with P3T3 that the means are probably more important.

truth AND love: we can't sacrifice either one and also live lives worthy of the calling to which we've been called.

So friends, please add to this list if you want to, and also consider yourselves officially requested to whap me upside the head with the rubber chicken of healthy self-doubt if the stuff I write seems to lean so hard toward one side of those tensions that it leaves the other side out. Thanks in advance!

6 comments:

Israel said...

yea, Mike... not sure who these on balance blogging friends are, but I notice when you don't get many comments on a blog it's more fixed topics with static questions like "what is" or "how does" or "where can". Rather than "what if" "who could" or "how about" or "where would." Perhaps your blogger community is fascinated with the possible rather than the safe?

I think when you statically reduce stuff into a systematic theology level, you take the mystery, unpredictability and frankly the FUN out of God.

I really tried for years to get into systematic theology but my soul kept screaming for more mystery. Now I do believe in balance so maybe I'm trying to add one to your list... predictable knowledge AND unpredictable mystery...

now for the one I appreciate you for living more than me: individual AND communal... that's one that you model to me. (and you call me on my imbalance toward the individual) thanks! And I've enjoyed watching you and Tina relate as a married couple. You're teaching me things and I don't know what... it's a beingness... and I don't want to figure it out. But it's affecting me in a good way.

Mike Croghan said...

I think you're right about the static thing. It occurs to me that part of it's just politeness. If I lay out a carefully constructed argument, the only way you can respond to it is to criticize it: either you disagree with something in it, or if you add to it you imply that my lovingly engineered baby doesn't go far enough. Nobody (well, nobody who hangs out here, anyway) wants to be needlessly critical, so politeness dictates just leaving these architectural marvels alone. Which is all well and good, because often they're at best useless (Sonja's good at noticing this) and at worst sinful attempts to reduce and control God.

So I like it: predictable knowledge AND unpredictable mystery.

And it's funny - I think of you guys and gals at MHC as a model of "communal" for me! :-) A lot of people think Tina and I have a weird relationship. :-) Maybe it is weird, but I like it.

aBhantiarna Solas said...

Wow ... I'm behind reading your blog. Sorry about that.

Here's something I would add, because of a conversation between Ross and I the other night.

How about grace AND accountability? Grace alone leads to co-dependence. Accoutability all by itself becomes a bludgeon. And there is necessarily tension between the two ... how much of one or the other do you need in any given situation? What is the right mix?

Mike Croghan said...

Yes! Definitely.

aBhantiarna Solas said...

Sonja's good at noticing this

Ouch!! Sorry about that ... it's the result of my family of origin ... endless (friendly) debates. The true sign of love is finding the hole in someone's argument in my family. In the larger world, not so many people appreciate that ;-) I grew up in an environment of "iron sharpening iron" in all the ways that you can imagine ... but none of them had God at the center. Bizarre, but true.

Mike Croghan said...

Oh, no no no!!! No apology necessary - that was completely intended to be a grateful compliment! I want - I really, really want - someone to point out, as you sometimes do, when I may have constructed some nice-smelling idea that is of little or no apparent practical value to anyone. Sonja, I *cherish* that feedback, from you and others. Please don't ever change. (Well, of course, change for the better - that's what Christians do - but don't ever suppress your gift for pointing out naked emperors. If you didn't do it in a loving way, that'd be one thing, but you do, and it's *so* valuable.)

Thankfully,
Mike