The New Theology

Now there’s a snappy, attention grabbing title.  Although, it’s not completely honest.  I’m not really here to present any revolutionary new theology that will change your life.  I am here to do a slight redefinition of theology that will, at least it has in my opinion, make theology a lot more relevant and understandable.

But first.  back on my tumblelog (opens in a new window if you don’t have it open already), scroll to just below the link to this post, and play the audio file while you read this.  

Tonight I attended a talk about the life of John Coltrane, and the struggle he went through to explore his relationship with God through his music.  A funny notion to many people.  Music is nice, but that’s not where you look for God.

Three quotes kept popping into my head through the talk, and it’s taken me a little bit of effort to string them together, but with a bit of prayer, it seemed to click.

First from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

…like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.

Second from the play Underneath the Lintel:

Would you recognize a miracle if it was on your doorstep?

And lastly, the greatest commandment of them all:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

God works in funny ways.  He works in places you don’t expect Him to.  He works at times when you don’t expect him to.  He works in ways you don’t expect him to.  He likes to shake things up and take you by surprise.  The thing is, often, it’s easy to overlook it.  What Annie Dillard says really resonates with me; if you open your eyes and allow yourself to see it, you will see God working everywhere.  And once you start seeing His work, you just notice it more and more.  It’s inspiring and gives me great reason to be thankful.

But that’s just it.  Do we recognize it?  Is it easy to recognize?  No.  It can be very, very difficult to see God’s work at times.  There are times in life where I’m sure it’s hard enough just to be sure that He exists, let alone to see His works all over the place.  So often, though, so often He is standing right in front of us on our doorsteps, waiting for us to invite Him into our houses, into our lives, but we cannot see Him.  We cannot see past the struggles in this world that blind the Lord from our sight.

But we try.  It’s always important to try.  The greatest commandment of them all tells us to love the Lord our God with every ounce of our being.  Put everything you have into it.  It doesn’t give us a checklist of things we have to do, there is no bar that we have to surpass, we simply have to give it our best.  And God recognizes when we are trying.  And if you try to live for God with every ounce of your being, He has the grace and generosity to give us gifts that instill in us peace, that refresh us, that secure us, that allow us to love, that allow us to minister to others.  If you just try your hardest, He will reward you with rivers of living water.

But, these things are not easy to do.  This is why we like going to Church and hearing explanations of how scripture reveals to us both the character of God and our relationship with Him.  It is not a small topic, and it is not an easy topic.  In generalities, the institutional church has created somewhat of a definition of what “theology” is.  Usually, it’s writings that reveal God to us in some form or another, and the state(s) of our relationship with Him.  There are lots and lots of books on theology if you’re interested.  However, what if I presented this thought to you?  That the “rules” of what theology “is” and “isn’t” are so strict that there’s barely any room left for God?

The arts are one of the greatest forms of human expression.  Writings such as novels, prose, and poetry can have profound impacts on our lives.  Music touches all of us in some way or another.  The visual arts such as painting often can express and evoke emotions unexpectedly and abruptly.  There’s a beauty in the arts that is rarely found elsewhere; an inherent layered characteristic that makes everything say far more than the face value.

But more interesting than the art is the artists.  These are people who (for the most part) put everything they have into what they do.  They throw themselves headfirst into their art, desperate to get it out, to get a part of their being into some form of medium.  

Do you think a person has to be a believer in God for God to work through them? 

When you love with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul, you are loving for God.  And I think that God sees that.  And I think God works through people who throw everything they have and they are into something.  Can God be in a painting?  Can a saxophone melody be as much of a prayer as any words are?  Can colors and tones and textures reveal God?  I think they can.

We’ve fallen into a bit of a rut.  We look to writings for theology.  We look to writings to see God’s words and work.  I think it’s far more prolific than that.  Great theologians have a gift that God allows them to explore and explain their relationship with God through words.  It’s not an easy thing to do, and it takes great talent, patience, and love.  But, why just writing?  Why can’t we discover just as much about God through a painting?  Why can’t we relate to somebody’s longing for inner peace through an instrumental?  Why are these considered to be secondary supplements to writings?  Artists, writers, musicians, they all pour their entire beings into what they do.  They have to.  So why single out writing?

I have a challenge that I’m going to undertake, and I suggest that everyone else does too.  Open your eyes.  Look for God.  That struggle you’re having; look for answer your heart needs to hear not only in words, but through visual and auditory arts as well.  Look and listen for that desperate calling out to God for redemption that many artists, not just writers, express.

God gifts us all in special ways.  Some people can write.  Some people can take pictures.  Some people can play music.  Some people can paint.  Some people can love in extraordinary situations.  Some people can tell stories.  Some people can counsel.  Some people can pray.  Some people can make pastries.  Some people build bridges.  Some people can listen.  The point is, God has given them all gifts for his Glory to be exercised in different ways.  So next time you see that painting, or hear that saxophone solo, or eat that piece of bread, or see that beautiful building, or read a book, think the uncommon thought that what you hold in your hand might be a gift made out of love as service to God.  Writings are wonderful, fabulous gifts that we have, but I think often we make the mistake of thinking that’s the only place where God’s words are recorded, when really, it’s all around us, everywhere, every day.

And that is something to be truly thankful for.