Clay and Iron

Phil Shepherd, the “Whiskey Preacher” recently had a short video posted to Two Friars and a Fool, regarding what he calls a “posture of clay.”  Such a posture is described as one which allows us to be molded and shaped by God, one that allows God to shape us into new forms so we might be used for new things.

The central message of the Whiskey Preacher’s talk is one I fundamentally agree with.  One of the most disturbing things that I have seen as a student of Theology is the stagnation of thought that permeates many minds who find a particular stance and then cease to expand their understanding of the broader and ever new voice of the Church throughout time and location.  Our understanding of what it means to be Christian, what it means to relate to the Incarnate Word who spoke in a language and culture not our own, who has been interpreted by billions in languages and cultures not our own, must be open to voice after voice who cries out “I know Him too!”  Thus we must allow our theology to be fluid, moving, and adapting, growing and every growing to see more and more of God, hear more and more voices of the Image of God who all have something to add to the great chorus of the Christian Tradition.

This involves not only what we believe to be true, but also in how we express our worship.  We must be willing to change, must be willing to take from God’s hand as it is given.  I remember when our church was flooded several years ago, and we were “forced” to take up residence in a Methodist church down the street.  Some of the congregation grumbled, thinking it humiliating, some thought about how uncomfortable it was to have to have our mass in an unfamiliar building.  I strove to see the event as an abundance of grace, in which our Methodist brothers and sisters shared Christian charity with us, and we were able to receive it.  I also saw it as a way of God breaking us of the all to0 Episcopalian tendency to love our buildings in the wrong way, not as transitory and convenient and often beautiful places of worship, but instead as “the house of God” with all of the expectation of permanence that that entails.

So I agree that we must be always ready to take from the hand of God what God is offering, right then, and not to batter it away with our own assumptions about what God is capable of handing out.  However, there are some points that I would like to address with Shepherd’s view that I think are of some concern.

First, there is nothing here about the Imago Dei.  Human beings are made to be particular images of God, not merely tools that are reshaped and recast to be whatever the whim of God might be at any given time.  I am a particular image of God, undergoing the master craftsmanship of the most excellent artisan imaginable.  It is very true that the image that I think I am may not be the image that the great Master has in mind for me, but let there be no mistake, He has an image in mind.  The Lord is not willy-nilly shaping a theologian one day and a pop-star the next.  I am being made into the image of God that God has specifically, uniquely, and eternally in mind for me.  There may be bits that are coming along very well, and God wants them to set, and others which are in need of more water, more Spirit, to be more malleable.  If I try to dampen the first, I am not doing the will of God.

As well, to address a question asked by Two Friars over Twitter (on July 7), this applies in many ways to how we interpret our central doctrines, but not to the truth behind the doctrines.  I was having a conversation the other day with a wonderful friend of mine who is a Roman Catholic Priest.  We were discussing the use of the words “Father” and “Mother” for God.  He was insisting that as Christ taught us to refer to God, so we must continue to do.  Thus, Christ refers specifically to the first person of the Trinity as Father, and we should not change this.

As we discussed it, we turned to the concept of historical context.  The word Jesus used for Father had a particular meaning in His day that did not merely extend only to the generative aspect of the first person of the Trinity to the Second.  Along with it is the idea of nurturing, love, kindness, and goodness.  We know this because of the particularly familiar way of referring to God not simply as “Ab” but as “Abba.”  I suggested that if we want to get to all of the meanings packed up in “Abba” we may, in our present day, especially to cultures where caring fathers are incredibly rare, need to use the word “Mother” as well to convey what is hidden in Christ’s “Abba.”

This must all be done, in my opinion, with a certain level of fear and trembling, for we break with the great traditions of the Church when we do so.  Yet, for the needs of those who have never known a father, but have had the steady rock of a mother, the Truth of Christ may truly abide in such language.

And thus there are things we must take a posture of clay about, but we must not be malleable in our affirmation of that truth packed in Christ’s teachings, and in the mysterious Triune God who stands behind them, speaking through them.  We must not mince words that this Jesus, the Jewish Rabbi who looks nothing like our Aryan Jesus displayed in so many churches, is still the God of the Universe, incarnate and hypostatically united, God and Man.  For these are the feet of iron which keep us from crumbling.  These teachings, infinitely expressible in the tongues of men and women throughout the ages, are solid foundation of Christian faith, hope, and love.  To be men and women of clay is good, but to have feet of clay, as scripture has shown us, is to be very poorly made.

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