Theology

Theology, by definition, is: 

1:  the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially :  the study of God and of God's relation to the world

2:  a : a theological theory or system <Thomist theology> <a theology of atonement>

     b : a distinctive body of theological opinion <Catholic theology>

 

3:  a usually 4-year course of specialized religious training in a Roman Catholic major seminary

Did your eyes glaze over? 

Mine did the first time I read the definition. My eyes glazed over several times throughout my theological education. What I learned, though, is that talking about, thinking about, and experiencing God is theology. 

We don't have to do this in a professional setting. It isn't only the graduate student who is experiencing and expressing theology when God is the topic of conversation. We do this in our church settings. We do this in conversation with friends and family. For me, we are all theologians. 

That said, we do need to realize theology is a powerful topic of study. When expressing our perspective and sharing our understandings, we must own the responsibility of what we say. We must be willing to share our resources and we always need to allow space that we alone do not hold the only understanding that exists. We should not use our theology as a weapon to force others to see things as we do, but as an instrument of invitation to encourage seeking to understand one another as we build community.

 

To share our theology with the claim that only our perspective is correct, is to place ourselves above the deep mystery of God. We cannot know more than the Divine, and must remember, there is always more to learn. 

That said, it is easy to see that I also believe that our theological understanding of the Divine--of who and what God is--is as individual as our fingerprint. I'm not trying to convince you that I am right and you are wrong. I'm sharing with you my experience of God and my evolving understanding of who and what God is as that relates to who and what God calls me to be. 

Maybe what I say won't make sense to you. Maybe it will be something different than what tradition teaches. Maybe it won't match the historical understanding you hold of who God is and what it means to follow God. 

That's okay. 

Different understandings and perspectives are what make Divine creation so fascinating to me! And the opportunity to share and listen and learn from one another is what invites heaven to earth--in my opinion. 

I consider myself a Christian--more specifically, a follower of Jesus. But I don't believe Christianity owns the definitions of love and peace and grace. I believe we can learn from the varying perspectives within our tradition as much as we can learn from the perspectives and understandings of other traditions. 

And I think we should seek to understand--I even think it is biblical to do so--it encourages us against keeping our world small. 

I should probably also say that I see benefit to ordering things and creating hierarchies from the perspective of structure. But I find, in my studies thus far, they are dramatically limiting. I hold a stronger belief that most (if not all) possibilities are constructed similar to gradients of color--connected and influenced by one another. 

That said, as I share my experience, strength, and hope, I will use structure--but I will also invite you to consider expanded examples as well as I present them. Also know that I'm not positioning myself as answering all of God's mysteries. I'm simply presenting to you a bit of background as to the "why behind the what" -- why I think and believe and profess as I do. 

With that said, my theology unfolds this way:

 
Can we pray, first? 

Before we go further, do you mind if we pray? I like to begin conversations with prayer--especially theological conversations. What we believe about God and how we perceive and experience God is so deeply intimate and so personal, don't you agree? And I think that's why we sometimes have such difficulty hearing what someone else thinks--because it may challenge what we know. And so, if you're still reading this section, do you mind reading the following as a common prayer between us to our God? 

Holy God, we thank you for the gift of life. And we thank you for the gift of friendship. We thank you for the ability to ponder and speculate and create theory. We thank you, God, that you've drawn us together for this conversation. May we posture our heart and mind into stillness that we may hear your still speaking voice as we consider all that we know against the mystery of all this is yet unknown. Be with us. Let us feel your ever-present comfort and peace. May we follow you into the depths of Hope and Love. 

God Is Love

 

"...for God is love." 1 John 4:8

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of God, or the Divine, or your Higher Power? Whatever name you currently have for God, what is that first thought that comes to mind? 

Is it that God is love? 

It didn't used to be my first thought. And it wasn't even that the love of God wasn't discussed when I was young. It's just that the wrath of God stood out more. In my memory, and as an impressionable young child, the conversations of God's wrath stuck. 

I was baptized at a young age because my mother had been baptized--and I didn't want to ever be without her. 

Of course I believed the stories I was taught in Sunday school: Jesus was God's son, and Jesus loved the little children, and we had to believe in Jesus to get to heaven. 

Why wouldn't I believe that? 

I was a kid and adults were telling me this was it, the real truth that would save my life and keep me safe from the devil!

Jesus was a good guy. 

And my reference of Jesus was Robert Powell's interpretation and portrayal as Jesus in the 1977 movie Jesus of Nazareth.  

But God?

That was an entirely different subject. 

From what I could understand through the sermons and my own attempts to read the Bible, God was usually pretty angry with us. He was always responding to the things we humans do out of frustration and anger--if we made the wrong move, God's Wrath appeared. 

And I realize now, as an adult, that may not be the message our preacher intended. And it may not even be the message other people heard. It may not be the message you received when you first began attending church, or being curious about God. 

But it was mine. 

And it took many years for me to begin to see God differently. 

At the core of my theology is this statement in 1 John 4:8, "....for God is love."

In context, this message is expressing to us the importance of loving one another, and inviting us to understand that God is the source of all love: that God is love. 

You'll find that I often write this statement in this way:

God is Love.

I give love the capital L. Because I do believe God is Love. And Jesus is Love. And the Holy Spirit is Love. 

I believe all creation is poured through the will of Love. And, as an artist, I know when we create our impression is embedded upon our work. We don't create without placing ourselves in that project. 

In my writing, you hear my voice--my inflections, my emphasis, my particular method of speaking. It's me. It's my mind and my heart I pour into written work. 

When I sculpt, I choose not to smooth away every impression of my fingerprints. You can see them. You can see them after they are fired and the clay becomes fixed in that permanent state--you see me. 

I believe it is the same with God. God is Love and God's love is embedded within all that God creates. I believe every new life, every renewal, every breath the living breathe is God as God continues to create. 

Every understanding I have of God pours from this place: God is Love.

 

Imago Dei

"Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;" Genesis 1:26

 

Imago Dei is Latin for "image of God." There are several resources that expand upon the notion of the concept. A quick Google search will provide several links to information--and I encourage you to read some of them. For me, some of the stuff makes my head spin--especially when they begin to discuss Aristotle and how his concepts influenced Thomas Aquinas, and now we are studying for degrees in divinity when we dive into this part. 

I won't confuse us further with those specifics--at least not here. Over time, I hope the work I do helps us explore these perspectives and expand our knowledge. I do hope we begin to shed some of our fear and intimidation regarding labels and terms--the word philosophy used to make me roll my eyes!

For now, let's concentrate on the fact there are many conversations and understandings about what it means to be created in the "image of God." 

Imago Dei immediately presents us with a need to define things. 

First, what do we mean by image

Our physical attributes? That we have this human form? Form. There is another word that can be dissected in the realm of philosophy! But really, have we thought about what we mean by this? 

Or what God might have meant by it? 

Some say it is our intellect--or our ability to reason--and our free will--our ability to choose--that is like God; not our physical bodies. Because we have intellect and because we have free will, we are separate from all other creation--in theory and historically according to the dominant ideologies of thought. 

Wouldn't that make sense? We are superior to other creation, right? We are over animal and plant? 

This is another point of contentious debate, but I will say I do believe our intellect and free will are the dominant characteristics for our creation to be "in the image of God." 

Not our bodies. And that's really important and a huge distinction we will discuss. 

But I don't believe reason and free will are the only aspects for us being created in the image of God, and the additive I hold is more experiential. Perhaps there are theories that exist that will also say what I'm about to say, I intend no plagiarism of their work. I haven't read it yet. 

What I'm about to add, though, comes from the preceding section: that God is Love. 

I believe the Love that is embedded into God's creation is a replication of Godself in some ways. I don't yet have all of the theory and study behind it to "prove" anything, so, let's follow science and call this a hypothesis, okay? 

Because of this, though, my understanding of what defines God's image is expanded, and I therefore also submit for consideration that ALL of creation is made in the image of God. 

This understanding implores me to respond to all of the world differently. 

I am not superior to anyone or anything. I am journeying forth as I've been created to do along with every other created thing. 

This understanding requires me to change the way I've historically viewed all that is around me. And it's a work-in-progress. 

Micah 6:8

"He has told you, O mortal, what is good; 

   and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness, 

   and to walk humbly with your God?"

Micah 6:8

"He has told you, O mortal, what is good; 

   and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness, 

   and to walk humbly with your God?"

Micah 6:8

"He has told you, O mortal, what is good; 

   and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness, 

   and to walk humbly with your God?"

Micah 6:8

 

There are many truly inspirational, informative, and seemingly directive passages within the Hebrew Bible (known as the Torah, and referred to as the Old Testament by the Christian tradition). At this time in my life, the story given to us in Micah has become not only a favorite part of the text, but also foundational in my own personal theology. 

To understand the isolated quotation in Micah 6:8, it is important for us to examine the context around and within all Micah has to say. 

I use the New Revised Standard Version, Harper Collins Study Bible. I have various other translations to which I refer as well, but the historic information I will provide regarding Micah comes from this version. 

To keep it short, we know that Micah was a prophet. We know oppression was stifling during his time. And scholars tell us Micah was addressing injustice in this literary work. 

In this particular chapter, the scholarship in this Bible tells us this is an example of a case for God against God's people--who are deemed ungrateful (note on 6.1-5). In the text, v1-5, God reminds God's people what God has done for them--such as freeing them from Egypt. 

In verse 6:6, the voice of the texts becomes that of the ungrateful people of God, realizing what they've done, seeking repentance and guidance as to what God expects them to do now to be redeemed. 

"With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

     with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,

     with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my first born for my transgression, 

     the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"

Micah 6:6-7

Maybe this has been a bit too technical in nature--and by technical I mean over-the-head. For some, perhaps it is a bit much. For others, I'm sure it is not yet scholarly or academic enough. 

So, let me just be myself for a minute--the Jeani who seeks to follow the example of the life of Jesus. 

What resonates with me in this particular passages is the people already knew all of the offenses with which God charged them--and if they didn't know, they didn't disagree. At least, not in this text they didn't. 

Instead, they were seeking and pondering and questioning about what they could do to regain God's approval. 

And that resonated with me. 

How many times has it come to my attention that I've failed in my daily mission to honor God by honoring myself and honoring my neighbor where I immediately wonder what I can do to fix it. 

And then comes our reminder:

"He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

     and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness, 

     and to walk humbly with your God?"

Now, please don't misunderstand, I realize our sacred text and our tradition both provide us with other suggestions for repentance as well; and I don't intend to provide a full treatment of repentance in this space. However, I do want to highlight this passage of text as foundational to my own personal theology; and I consider Micah 6:8 as one of the directives to govern my daily life. 

The Way of Jesus

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life."

John 14:6

I will admit, I need to examine this more intensely and I need to read additional scholarship on this particular passage. With that said, I will also share with you my understanding of this passage is becoming. 

Traditionally, for many denominations and non-denominational congregations alike, this passage is one of the passages used to uphold the understanding that Jesus is our personal savior and if we do not believe in him we cannot eternally commune with God in the after-life. 

And, there was a time, I believed this, too. So much that I had "I believe" and "John 14:6" tattooed on my arm above and below a tribal rendition of Jesus and the crown of thorns. 

We can talk about tattoos later. 

As I begin to explain the evolution of thought related to this verse, let me also say, the more I research and rediscover the work of the various theologians and scholars who have helped me develop my hunger to understand the meanings of mystery that dive well below the surface, into the depths of this vast grace we are given, I do not intend to plagiarize anyone else's work or thought. I am happy to update this work on this site with references as they come to me for I know the importance of the work. 

Throughout my studies in Divinity School, I began to wonder if this particular understanding we hold sits upon the surface of the Divine mystery and if there isn't something much deeper being communicated in this brief text. As I ambled through my studies, I began feeling something more when I read these words.

 

"I am the way..."

 

The way Jesus lived his life as documented in the Gospels is a demonstration against the norm of his time. His teachings inverted the power structures held within the religious tradition and certainly beyond it into the secular world around them. Studying this perspective brought me to a question:

What if "the way" refers to the way he lived?

Jesus talked to the stranger. And helped those who weren't bound as kin within the Jewish tradition. 

Jesus expanded the traditional definition of neighbor--and used the Good Samaritan as the definition of neighborly action. 

Jesus didn't necessarily strip all of the rules of the tradition, but made known a greater focus should be paid to one in particular--we will discuss it later. 

Considering this question might lead me into the deeper waters, I began to examine the life of Jesus--the example Jesus provides us as he interacts and responds to the world around him. 

And this--as incomplete as it is, and filled with wonder to be discovered--became embedded into my personal theology.

 

Sin Causes Death

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Romans 6:23

In some denominations, there is an obsession with sin. It seems sin is the only topic of discussion: what is sin? Who sins? How do we get rid of sins? What do we do with sinners? 

And, at the other end of our constructed continuum, we have the denominations (and non-denominations) that avoid discussing sin like a discussion of it will bring a plague of demise. 

I believe we are so polarized on this topic because it is so deeply misunderstood. I believe we've placed disproportionate attention on sin and that attention created an aversion to discuss it. 

Has anyone ever wielded this verse against you? 

Have you ever made a mistake in your life--no matter how big or how small--and had someone quote the first portion of this verse as a way of "getting you back in line"?

I have. 

And I know how painful that can be. Specifically when the flinging of this verse is aimed at an aspect of your personhood. 

More on that later. 

This is an area I want to study in greater detail as well. Soon, you will see a pattern--if you've not already noticed it--I have more questions than answers, more assumptions than assertions, and more work to gain better understanding. I hope you're okay with sharing this journey. 

The reason this piece of scripture is included in my theology is because I believe it is true. I do believe sin brings death. Sin brought about the death of Jesus--not his sin, but the sin of the world. 

So, what is sin? 

In my understanding, sin is that which denies and disrespects and denounces life. And, quickly, we see, now we need to begin defining additional terms. 

What do we mean by life? Whose life? Which lives? Do lives have stages? Are there certain lives that don't matter, are less-than, should not be considered? What about flourishing life? Is there a difference between existing and flourishing? What does flourishing mean? By what standards? According to what culture? 

Maybe this is why preachers don't like to mention sin. 

I want to explore these questions with you, and we will during the weekly work I will do. You will find it on the content page of this site. And I'm happy to dialogue with you as often as I can. You can write to me via our contact page. 

For now, let's consider the sin that lead Jesus to the cross. The social sin that surrounded him. Corruption in the priesthood. Corruption in the oppressive power system that governed the region. Leaders with an insatiable hunger for power. And a tremendous amount of fear toward this man who touched thousands of lives with his grace, his mercy, his kindness, his teaching, his life, and his love. He spoke with confidence, authority, and power they could not contain. 

Those in power, feeling threatened and afraid of losing their power, did what the powerful do in these situations: they plotted to eliminate the competition. 

They planned their sin. 

Jesus was unjustly convicted and placed upon the cross after enduring brutal torture and he died because of sin.

Any time I type those words, I need a few moments to pause. That phrase renders me speechless--and I usually have something to say about most things. 

We will examine this more in the days ahead. 

 

God said, "No."

"...He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay."

Matthew 28:6

"...He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him."

Mark 16:6

"...Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen."

Luke 24:5

I still get goosebumps when I read the verses telling us about the resurrection. And, to be completely honest with you, the resurrection, atonement theology, and the like are still mysteries to me. I still have so many questions and tremendous studying on this I want to do. 

So, what do I mean, "God said, 'No.'"?

I mean to say:

 

To sin and death and separation from God,

 

God said, "No."

To endless suffering and political and religious corruption and Empire and oppression,

 

God said, "No."

To hunger and sickness and loneliness,

God said, "No."

God said no to all of these things when God raised the one who lived a life counter to each. Jesus fed the hungry, he healed the sick, and he spent time with the lonely. 

Jesus challenged the powers of his time--inverting the priorities of the people when speaking about the economy of the kingdom (going forward, I will use "kin[g]dom" for this word as "kingdom" is a term of empire, and empire is designed to benefit only the elite.)

Jesus suffered an unjust prosecution and conviction by religious and state powers. God overturned the death sentence.

As I continue to study this particular aspect of theology, I will provide additional comments and notes for resources from other theologians and scholars who invite me to consider these points. 

 

All Things New

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Romans 6:23

For these last two sections of my theology, I do have an understanding of what I mean, however, I want to study a bit more and provide you with more information to consider. With that said, these final two sections are a work in progress and more will be provided soon!

 

Created to Love

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