Thursday, April 20, 2006

... on axes ...

The most profound truths come to us in tension. From big theological issues like the transcendence and immanence of God to the everyday issues that come with living for him - like the blog I posted previously on the internally-focused church (alongside the externally focused church).

I find people struggle with truths-in-tension. It feels like a contradiction is going on and they don't like that feeling. A characteristic of immaturity is an unwillingness to embrace the truths 'at both ends'. The possibility of the contradictory actually being complementary gets lost.

Going back to my Easter talks to young adults... Once through that 'door' and wanting to be committed followers of Jesus, they are confronted immediately with all kinds of complicated decisions. It is not easy. They need help. I would argue that virtually all those decisions can be distilled back to working with some combination of what Jesus models (grace and truth) and what Jesus commnds (salt and light).

[NB - I quite like the illustration of the Periodic Table of Elements: just as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen comprise so many organic combinations; so also grace, truth, salt, light are the basic elements which comprise so many missional combinations]

Furthermore a case can be made that 'salt' and 'light' speak of truths in tension with each other: one urging us to participate and be involved, the other urging us to be different and distinctive. Similarly, with 'grace' and 'truth': one feels soft and open and compassionate, the other one is hard and closed and under conviction.

Now to illustrate truths-in-tension I like reaching for the mathematical image of the axes. On this occasion I used two 4m poles and laid them down there are on the stage - with the vertical axis depicting the level of penetration of the salt (from low to high) and the horizontal axis depicting the level of distinctiveness of the light (from low to high) ... and then there are similar axes with grace and truth.

My burden for young adults?
That their decisions increasingly represent the top right hand corner of these graphs ... highly involved (as salt) but also - at the very same time - highly distinctive (as light). So very open and compassionate (as grace), particularly with people; but also so very closed and under conviction (as truth), particularly with ideas - at the very same time. It IS a tension, but it is a tension we must find and live. Be it attending work parties or signing up to sports clubs, be it music or movies, be it relating to gays or to muslims, be it alcohol consumption or sexual activity ... it just goes on and on. Making decisions with an eye on the axes helps so much.

My fear for young adults?
We live in an era when people are pigging-out on 'high salt' (and, to a lesser extent, 'high grace'). Poll after poll says that there is no discernible difference between the behaviour of those who follow Jesus and those who do not follow him. This should not be so. Relevance has become a bit of an idol today. We like to blend and fit in ... and we are losing sight of just how being different can be attractive.

nice chatting



BJ said...

Are you following my sermon themes? Last week it was the Psalm 22/23 thing, this week its the "spiritual growth occurs when we are under tension" thing. Is this a John Malkovich moment?

Anonymous said...

I work at two part-time jobs & have a mental illness (probably medication exacerbated)

These jobs are computers & washing cars - talk about a difference in job-description - tension!

But I'm studying at nights in computing (micrsoft/pshop) & it's interesting meeting all the others who do it too!

Paul Windsor said...

I guess we could do our own movie - "Being BJ" and give John Malkovich the flick... What do I write on next?!