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I am not interested in just thinking about theology. I am interested in living theology.
The first time someone captured my attention about this idea of living theology was when I was in seminary. I was in a study group exploring the ideas of what it means to be missional. I was pushing my colleagues to think more creatively and expansively than we were doing at the time. I could feel in my body that we were not pushing the limits quite far enough and we were playing by a limiting set of rules. Grace doesn’t play by the rules. That is precisey what is so radical about it. I invited my study group to imagine even more provocative ways the Gospel is lived out in ways that we are quick to dismiss. That’s when one of my group members who deeply valued the clean cut nature of rules said, “Jes, you don’t just think about theology, you live it.”
I have heard this phrase from different people describing how they encounter me and my theological processing. I value critical thinking and I value the lived process of theology. I value sitting down with books and making notes in the margins and then trying out those ideas in my life. Theology can’t just stay in the head, theology needs to be embodied. Theology must live below the neck.
I’m interested in living the grace of God that I preach in ways that affirm the here and now and the earthiness of our lives. The incarnation points us in this direction, to embrace our flesh, and it challenges us to rethink who is in and who is out. The incarnation of Jesus expands the circle, a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere. The incarnation teaches us how to live theology.
Which leads me to the brilliance of Reformed liturgy. Our Sunday morning liturgy is not something I’m interested in leaving just for Sunday morning. I’m interested in living the rhythm of confession, assurance, the peace of Christ, the revelation of the Word in life, and embracing that Word in new ways in my everyday living. I’m interested in letting this liturgical rhythm become a pattern in my daily life and not just Sunday morning. When one understands that all of life is held by grace then one need not feel shame or the need to hide or fear.
Grace is found in unexpected people and in unexpected places. To live our liturgy means to be surprised by the ways the Word continues to be made flesh, for this Word of God is still speaking.
On Saturdays I am the pastor to a community of mentally and emotionally healing adults. They are all on a cocktail of medications to help with their mental illnesses. We fellowship together, I teach a Bible study, and then we share a meal. This past week we talked about being honest about our shadow sides and not being ashamed of the dark impulses that we find in ourselves but instead to graciously look them in the face and trust that in Christ all things are held together.
One person told me that I was the first pastor they had that didn’t shame them for their shadow side. I told this person, “If I shamed you, then I would immediately have to shame myself because my shadow side is always with me. I don’t think God is in the business of shaming. God is in the business of grace and telling us we don’t have to hide”
I know that we don’t have to hide because our liturgy teaches us exactly this. Our liturgy teaches us that we do not need hide but we can find rest and a warm welcome of love from God. That’s grace!
Living theology is not always neat and clean. Living theology means that we know in our deepest being that grace covers all. Living theology means that we do not need to be ashamed when we sin – we will and we do. But we can confess our shortcomings, trusting in the assurance of God’s forgiveness.
Living theology means we are asking God to open our hearts and minds and surprise us by the ways God is alive and working in this world. (Or as my partner is quick to say, “The Word made fresh.”) This world matters and is enchanted with God’s presence and God’s grace in unexpected people and in unexpected places.
Yes, I am very interested in the stack of new theology books I just got for Christmas. I can’t wait to read them, engage, and make notes in the margins. But what excites me even more is bringing those paper-bound ideas to life. Because I am not interested in just thinking about theology. I am interested in living theology.