July 26, 2011

light and darkness

As I stated the other day, I'm going to be posting some thoughts on the nature of the church. To launch into this, let me begin by taking a quote from a wonderful Anabaptist missiologist, John Driver, in his book Images of the Church in Mission:

The church is the??human??community that experiences and??communicates??the saving intention of God. Often this vital sense of identity, inspired by the biblical images, is missing; then the church's vision dries up, its missional activity is deformed, and it falls short of following God's saving purposes for all creation. (p. 12)

I think John is right. When we start to mess with the images and metaphors that are intended to give us our identity, we often miss the point. Mixing metaphors can be??disastrous: you never want to mix up "cut the mustard" and "cut the cheese" ... bad. In their fantastic book, Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argue that word images shape how we view our world, what is called our "conceptual system." They also argue that when new metaphors are introduced, they can often not only shape the present but how we understand the past as well.

Okay, enough introduction the importance of word images. Let's get to an example.??I'll start with a passage of Scripture in which Jesus uses a metaphor that is often??taken out of the context. We therefore might miss the implications--from a missiological lens at least. I don't mean to imply that this is done intentionally. In fact, I think it is often done subconsciously. But it goes to show the power of metaphors. I simply hope to point this out and see where it takes us.

On Sunday afternoon, I had the privilege to speak at??United, a church that my friends,??Dan??and Jeya So pastor. What follows is partially informed by what I talked with them about and partially what I wrote about for one of my classes last week.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:14-16

We imagine ???light??? in a time and place with electricity. In our era, we are able to produce an amount of lumens in absolute darkness that was unimaginable in the first century. We have technology which allows darkness to be completely washed out. Could this possibly warp the intended metaphor used here by Jesus? A city on a hill, with small oil lamps lit in each window would be a signal to those lost in a dessert, but darkness would still abound. Or take one of those oil lamps in one house, and while you can see much more than you did before it was lit, there is still deep shadows. Light still remains quite localized. When we talk about being a light unto the world, I wonder if we imagine something that would not have crossed Jesus mind when he decided to use this metaphor. So, let me mess with the metaphor a bit...

Have we embodied this metaphor properly if all "darkness" is washed out? Indeed, what is it that we imagine the darkness to be when we read this? Or could it be that this is a plea to those that would call themselves the church to stand in the the darkness undeterred?

Read this bit of a great conversation from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe between the children and the Beaver's:

???Then [Aslan] isn???t safe???? said Lucy.
???Safe???? said Mr. Beaver, ???don???t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ???Course he isn???t safe. But he???s good. He???s the King, I tell you.???

We like life to be awash with "light." It makes us feel safe, secure. I crave it. Something about being a father struck something inside of me that I never had before: a sense of danger. I think my wife??appreciates??this. She used to tell me about how underdeveloped my sense of fear was. I want my family to be with safe, sane and well-behaved people in secure, predictable environments. Who doesn't!?

But that simply isn't what Jesus' metaphor implies. He, like Aslan, is a King of risk and danger. Once things are awash with light--with things familiar and comfortable--are we being the church? Certainly, I don't think God abandons us. But have we abandoned God? Is God to be found in pure and??pristine??environments with people just like us? Or out there, reaching into the darkness and waiting for us to come along???

Light-then-and-now

Enough for now. If you wish to, share your thoughts.

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