I'll share in a professional workshop for pastors called Shepherd's Advance for the Pittsburgh District on Friday. I've decided to talk about how context matters in what it means to be the church. In many ways, it's the other pole in an elliptical tension with theological identity. Note that it's "poles in tension" not a polar opposite.
Theological identity tends to be communicated as something centered, sometimes associated with the core with everything else--history, polity, practice, mission--radiating outward. It's not my view.
Theological identity is woven throughout a group as threads in a tapestry. I remember visiting the Bayeux Museum that showcases a tapestry, a 200 foot long cloth stitched with colored threads telling the story of the Norman conquest of England. The front side of the tapestry only shows small points of each thread. The bulk of each tread is underneath the surface of the story being told--hold on to this thought. The tapestry originally embroidered about 1000 years ago, rediscovered hanging on the walls of the Bayeux cathedral in the 18th century.
The history of the tapestry, as you can imagine with something this old, is as fascinating as the historical events depicted. The story of the tapestry is one of being told again and again, patching the holes, knitting together loose threads, displaying the story in a way that is accessible to as many as possible, and seeking some fidelity to the original events and participants.
Theological identity needs context to make sense. The surface of the theological story being told has another side--go get that thought I asked you to hold on to. There's more to what is usually seen and told, a patchwork just beyond. The telling of the story has a story to be considered. Each thread has a contribution and is something that is sometimes hidden in the background that just might bring about a better understanding. The weavers of the tapestry tell a story through the centuries and into the lives of admirers in much different times. The story once told needs to be told again. In each telling the threads--the textiles--bring text into a new context while taking the risk of falling into disrepair. The context might alter the text--to disintegrate or reinvigorate the text. The hearers become the tellers, and new threads are woven in the tapestry. The context becomes part of the text.
It's not a paradox to admit that context matters in developing one's theological identity as a group, whether it is a denomination or a local church; it's never an individual task. And, this elliptical tension between theological identity and contextual matters should be something to keep in mind this week during the MVNU L.E.A.P. Seminar on Theological Identity led by Scott Daniels on Thursday, registration starts at 9:00 a.m. in Ariel Arena.
Looking forward to a rich and insightful rest of the week on campus and on the Pittsburgh District.