Here are ten more top experiences that have influenced my theological thinking.
The Making of a Platypus, Part Two
11. Romero. The whole movie was great, but the scene that has had an abiding influence on my theology is where Archbishop Oscar Romero, leading a procession of worshipers, is stopped by the police. (They were on their way to some sort of demonstration, but I don’t recall the details.) As he is stripped and about to be beaten, Romero begins to celebrate the Eucharist. He begins the Sursum corda and all the demonstrators behind him respond accordingly. There are ties here to the the scene where Romero is eventually assassinated while saying Mass. A couple of things moved me about that scene. First, on a very basic level, was the sense of connection with a tradition. The people “knew their lines.” They didn’t need to refer to a printed bulletin. Second, I was awakened in many ways to the whole connection between Eucharist and the themes of sacrifice, participation in the life of Christ, and the centrality of the bread and the cup as symbols of Christian identity over against a hostile world.
12. Writing a dissertation. This one involves reading books, but I’ve got to include it anyway. Not content to leave well enough alone, I chose a dissertation topic that forced me to interact with various writings on the topics of myth and ritual. I know more about Siberian bear-hunting rituals than anybody has a right to—and I wish to God I had found a way to import some of it into the actual final draft of my dissertation! The exercise helped me to look at faith issues from the outside, to bracket myself out of the equation and wonder why we do some of the things we do. At the same time, I think I’ve learned a bit about how to approach other faith traditions with a bit more charity than perhaps I could have mustered previously.
13. My wife. She’s practical, down-to-earth, and deeply in tune with the needs and feelings of others. I’m…well…not. I talk about my beliefs; she just lives hers. Most of the time, it’s a blessing for me to be able to see the world through her eyes. Sometimes it’s a challenge to resist throwing words at a problem and understand the people involved.
14. Being a husband. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is the same thing as #13. Connie could teach anybody a thing or two about the practical outworking of theology! But being a husband has taught me some unique lessons about love, partnership, and mutual submission.
15. The church that wasn’t meant to be. We thought we were heading to Michigan. We were within half an inch of putting down a security deposit on an apartment. Then we learned the church had decided otherwise. It doesn’t matter that (as we later learned) the negative vote was more a referendum on the search committee than on me. It still hurt. You know all those “warning signs of depression” they tell you about on the public service commercials? Between us we had just about all of them. And yet, from a distance we realized that the church we were hoping to pastor would not have been a good place for us. This and other unanswered prayers strengthen my faith (when they don’t nearly blast it to smithereens) and challenge me to avoid glib answers about “God’s will” when people are struggling with grief and disappointment.
16. Being a pastor. Sermon preparation, preaching, leading worship, praying with folks, visiting them when they’re sick, comforting them in their grief, helping them to maybe grow a little closer to Jesus… How does that not have an influence on your theology?
17. Being a pastor. Living in a fishbowl, being talked about behind your back, trying to lead people with absolutely no interest in spiritual growth, putting up with entrenched power blocs… How does that not have an influence on your theology?
18. Robert Webber. I’ve attended his worship conferences whenever I could. His vision of an “ancient-future” church gives me goosebumps. He’s a witty, engaging speaker and an apt worship leader. He has sharpened my sense of ecumenism and introduced me to the taproots of Christian ministry and worship in a practical way that few have equaled.
19. Being a dad. Being a dad puts many things in perspective. What kind of world do I want to provide for my little girl? How do I want her to remember me? What core values and convictions do I hope to instill in her? Plus, you get to answer interesting questions like, “Is God a boy or a girl?”
20. Having sleep apnea. I don’t sleep without technological assistance. I’m fine now, but four or five years ago, before my condition was diagnosed, it nearly ruined me. I can’t tell you how many people I had failed—beginning with my wife and daughter—because of my constant fatigue, memory lapses, and depression. My condition has taught me never to take the simple things for granted, to trust in God alone, and to appreciate the love and steadfastness of people who love me.