Friday, December 09, 2005

Taking a risk

I'm writing a seminary paper about Christian Education. I'm taking a risk. I don't want to write yet another paper in "seminary-ese." I'm going to write like I want to write. No focused thesis statement, no jargon. No detached third person voice -- all in first person. So here is the first installment. Let me know what you think.

I watch cats. It’s a cheap form of entertainment and probably healthier than watching TV. I have been honored by the acquaintance with two different cats who are little gluttons – always eating more than they need. Squeaky tops the scales at 25 pounds and Hercules at 31 pounds. When these cats play with wadded up balls of paper, it’s not the little pitter pat of tiny cat feet that drum across the floor, but the thud-thud-thud of baby elephants. I had always been told that animals could regulate their own caloric intake. Why then did these cats get so very large? Why didn’t they know what was enough? Fascinated, I watched them for a while and took a “history.” Squeaky had been lost at one point, slipping away from my father-in-law’s car when they were at the vet. He had a collar and eventually was found and brought home, but not until Squeaky had suffered terrible deprivation – he lost more than half of his body weight until the normal 12-pound cat was 6 pounds. For the next year or two, Squeaky ate. Everything that was placed in his bowl and then he would beg for more. After two years of unlimited food, Squeaky topped the scales at a whopping 25 pounds – twice what he weighed as a normal adult cat and four times what he weighed as a lost waif.

Hercules, on the other hand, has always been large. He was born to an inside kitty and he himself is an inside kitty. His weight as an adolescent was a nice big number, but as he became more spoiled and petted, he began to eat. Again, there were unlimited amounts of food in his food bowl and he was bored. As an indoor cat, he had no prey. Cats are predators. Their essential nature is one of a hunter. To stimulate their body and mind they chase paper balls and milk-cap rings off our gallon milk jugs, but indoor kitties are thwarted. They cannot express their essential nature. They cannot fulfill their God-given purpose. So Hercules ate. Perhaps I am anthropomorphizing the cat, but maybe Hercules is trying to fill the void left by eliminating his routes of expressing his essential nature – his God-given purpose.

Our society is a society of gluttons. We never have enough. We don’t have enough information. We saturate ourselves with CNN, internet news services, newspapers, magazines, periodicals. We purchase every book that is published. We consume information. We never have enough information. We also don’t have enough money. We never stop to consider the essential nature of money – what money is and what it represents in our lives. We are greedy for more – trading away essential parts of our nature for the pursuit of little bits of cold cash. We are an overweight society, a self-anesthetized society, drugging ourselves with food and alcohol and drugs both legal and illegal. We try to fill the void. Some great theologian called this void a “God shaped hole” – I don’t remember who, I’ll have to look it up. Some try to fill that hole with a God shaped after their own image – this is the way I think of some Evangelicals and Fundamentalists – and the way I think of some Liberals, too. A God-shaped God might be too radical. A God-shaped God might require more than mere consumption. This sort of God might call for formation and transformation of ourselves and a transformation that is uncomfortable and one that is alien to our society.

A radical God might require radical transformation. Radical is a funny funny word. On one hand it comes from the Latin word “radix” meaning root or source. So a radical God would be a God that is rooted – one that is rooted in creation, rooted in the nature of the universe, rooted in something perhaps we cannot express except in blinding flashes of art or poetry – a God that is truly the source of all that is. On the other hand, radical means departing from the usual or customary. A radical God would require radical transformation. Transformation that is neither usual or customary – a revolutionary change in the way we do business, even the business of doing education and church.

We are a society that over indulges. Squeaky and Hercules occasionally both overindulge to the point to which they vomit. Most of the food they eat comes right back up, mostly unchanged. Moistened a bit, chewed a bit, but unchanged. The little that does make it to their digestive system does become changed. The food becomes transformed into energy for the cat’s bodies, changing the raw elements of the food into raw elements of transformation itself. The food nourishes the cat and becomes transformed into chemicals and sugars that course around in the Cat’s bloodstream, imbuing change in every part of the cat. Fueling the cat, giving the cat life.

We consume. How much of what we consume becomes something that transforms us? How much is spewed back out essentially unchanged? Moistened a bit, chewed up a bit, but unchanged? How much of what we gorge ourselves on is essential to life? How much is not even capable of being digested? Are we filling ourselves up with things that can truly nourish us? What does this mean for those of us who are ministers? What is essential for spiritual growth? What is needed for true transformation of life and spirit? How do we feed our people? Who should we try to feed? What do we feed them? Do we give raw information? Are we facilitators, educators, force-feeders? How do we communicate?

This exercise is one to explore these questions and probably more. This exercise in and of itself is not transformation but is one that I hope can move me along the path a bit. There are some ultimate questions I will tackle here – How can a Christian Educator, a Christian Minister or Preacher or Pastor approach the task of Christian Education as transformation? Especially, how can we move our people along this path of spiritual transformation in this age of overindulgence? What shape then is our vocation as we, ourselves, move along this path? Join me as I indulge in information -- perhaps some will reach us at our core and maybe, just maybe, we can encounter the transformative power of a radical God.

Places to go from here:
Richard Feynman – map of a cat to A critique of Candler to American Education System to Richard Foster
Digestive system – waste products – As I Lay Dying
Bobo’s in Paradise/ 7 deadly sins to Your Money or Your Life to Wesley
Circle of Simplicity
Nature of God/ Westminster Confession to Rick Warren – Purpose driven life to Wesley
Communion – theologies of/ discussion of free will etc.
Spinning into Butter and discussions on life/world views
Discussions of theory vs. practice I.E. What do you call a prayer study that doesn't pray?

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