Friday, February 20, 2009

Transfiguration: Seeing or Hearing?

It's simply gorgeous! I'm sitting on my back patio in the late afternoon sun of Santa Barbara. It's been in the 70's all day. Now I hear the chirping of birds as sun spills through the oak trees and makes shadows on the whitewashed walls. There are fifty shades of green all around me set off by terra cotta tiles and ceramic pots. I'm a visual person. Most of us are. We take great care with how our personal spaces are designed and arranged. Some people focus on their houses, others their gardens. Some have their one, special room: garage, study, work-room. Still others maintain their car as their one personal space. One good friend's only real space is his laptop screen, that he guards and designs with infinite care.
Since our teaching time at the Midwinter on altar-pieces, I've had a number of intriguing conversations with educated and thoughtful people who minimize space over sound. It's the Word; sung, read, spoken and shared that carries all the power, not the space. Religious space for them should be minimal, sparse and spare. The visual (except for video) is unnecessary, wasteful and distracting. It could be better employed in mission and ministry, not decoration and sight.
Maybe that's the residue from our Reformation based anti-catholicism. When I speak of robes and stoles, some of these friends instinctively flinch.
Maybe that's why the Transfiguration plays so poorly in the evangelical world (except for the command to "Listen to Him.") and so strongly in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox world.
What do you see? What role does your seeing play in your believing, obeying and faithfulness to Jesus? How does seeing Moses and Elijah with Jesus help your faith? Do any visuals sustain your faith? Some time ago I blogged on the ever-presence of the cross in worship, as back-drops to most screen lyrics. Maybe our only visual is the cross. What does that say? Should we expand our visual repertoire beyond an empty cross?
What will you see this Sunday as you worship? Where will there be signs and signals of transfiguration? Look, listen.


At 7:28 PM , Blogger James R Hawkinson said...

Thouightful piece, Don. The poverty in too much curremnt religious practice lies in its divorce from everything that it sees as "impractical." Suppose God, who created the luxuriants of nature in which you found yourself so full of wonder,decided to strip nature of all that? Surely what he has done in nature and biblical history requires sight as well as sound. That's why he gave us both eyes and ears, in each case twice the number of mouth.

One can certainly argue that God is in favor of what is essential. But being God, he surely is not thrilled over what we come up with as essential. I could imagine him saying to the likes of us as preachers, "Was that all you had to offer your people this morning?"--even while stopping by Svensk Tenn in Stockholm to say to some imaginative designer of linens, "Waht a beautiful tribute to the creative power and energy I have offered my people, if only they would use it like you have!"

Your other piece on World Relief finds you wondering about what is practical there as well--and one could argue for such thinking outside the box. Yet something in me these days cautions against too facile a devotion to "cutting expense." Community building--not to mention spiritual formation--will always demand working out from where we are as Christians, and where we come from as children of God. If anything, the Covenant has modeled more than most its generosity in giving to world need, not least in monitoring for us the dependability and reliability of those through whom it is channeling funds.

What troubles me is that local churches are being swept more and more into a kind of insular mood that, not without pride (call it "overhead") of its own, assumes it knows better than the whole body to which it belongs.

Have you noticed that in the aggregate percentage giving to the denomiantion has gone down from 6% to 2% in recent years? And that Companion subscriptions (costing under $20) have gone from 28,000 plus when I was there to something around 10,000 now? Those are not long-term economies of scale if we truly believe that faith is communal. No doubt the revelution in internet and other technologies are forcing us to rethink creatively our communication patterns. But we ought not baptize every new incentive as if it will ensure a more thoroughgoing meetings of the minds at the depths we need.

Our long term strategy should head rather after modeling the depth of God's extravagence, in our worship as well as our work. And creating a multi-ethnic communal space in this world, as we are in fact doing, could well be our best strategy moving forward. I view it as irresponsible that so many are prone these days to abandon their communal ties, using the Covenant rather than honoring and supporting its important role in their lives and getting under its burdens.

Too much rambling, but its straight from the heart on a Friday night at home.


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