As you might have noticed, I often compare the adaptive qualities and ever-changing nature of faith to that of evolutionary biology. This is one of my favorite metaphors, in part because it is provocative, controversial, and delightfully ironic given my location, but also because few comparisons are as colorful or as spot-on.
I was reminded of the similarities the other day when I happened upon biologist Jerry A. Coyne’s observation that “evolution is like an architect who cannot design a building from scratch, but must build every new structure by adapting a preexisting building, keeping the structure habitable all the while.” (Why Evolution is True, page 12)
You could say the same thing about vibrant faith, which survives change (be it cultural or experiential) by continually reassessing, reforming, and rebuilding upon its current structure. In fact, if I had a second favorite metaphor to describe what my faith journey has been like over the past few years, it would probably have something to do with a construction zone. Theologically, I’ve been tearing down walls and putting up new ones, rerouting plumbing and rewiring electricity, tossing out blueprints and sketching plans out in the dirt.
We touched on this a little bit Friday, when several of you encouraged me to focus less attention on deconstructing fundamentalism and more attention on moving forward in the reconstruction process—good suggestions for bringing more life and focus to the blog.
Truth be told, the defensive part of me wanted to respond, “But I am rebuilding! Haven’t you noticed? I’ve written posts about moving from absolutism to openness, from eschatological escapism to kingdom-building, from propositions as fundamental to love as fundamental. I’ve written a whole book about embracing change and learning from doubt. I’ve reviewed N.T. Wright and linked to Scot McKnight.”
But as I reflected on your comments and on my own insecurities and fears, I realized that what you’re really asking for (and what I really need) is not an end to the theological construction zone, but rather the assurance that the structure remains habitable, that life can go on in the midst of all the drilling and sawing and hammering.
You see, sometimes I get so consumed with the remodeling process that I neglect to actually live in the house and make it home. I forget to invite people in, to prepare and share food, to rest, to take shelter, to beautify, to do the laundry, to wash the dishes, to throw parties, to play music, and to take off my shoes. I guess I just assume that I can finish all the construction first and start living like Jesus once I know exactly what that means.
But this is misguided. Imagine what the world would be like if Jesus had waited for his disciples to figure everything out before using them to launch the Kingdom!
So what does living amidst a construction zone look like?
I’m pretty sure that a few things are about to force me to figure that out:
1. The first is the possibility of partnering with some old friends to start a new church in Dayton. (I should note that this is not a for sure thing, but rather an idea still getting tossed around.) So far, the time I’ve spent talking with Dan and others about our visions for what a church should look like in this community has been invigorating, inspiring, and absolutely terrifying. If anything is going to force me to put my crazy ideas into practice, it’s this project. As we talk together about caring for the poor, loving our neighbors, following Jesus, and living in community, I am confronted with the fact that it’s easier to hang out alone in the construction zone when you’ve got a living room full of broken people with all kinds of different opinions and ideas and needs inviting you to join them in conversation and service. Something tells me that the next few months and years are going to be beautifully uncomfortable and life-changing.
2. The second is the increased exposure that the publication of Evolving in Monkey Town will certainly bring. As I contemplate speaking topics, article ideas, and future book projects, I am continually reminded of the importance of a) providing people with practical ideas for how to respond to my calls to action, and b) practicing what I preach by responding to my own calls to action!
3. The third is the possibility of starting a family. Seeing as we are both approaching 30, Dan and I know that children are in the not-too-distant future. According to our friends, kids force you to get practical. I think we’ve finally let go of the idea that we need to figure everything out ahead of time before we raise kids of faith. But kids will undoubtedly change the nature of how we go about our faith construction, because they will require a safe and secure home.
What about you? What does it mean for you to live in a construction zone? In what ways have you learned to love and follow Jesus in the midst of theological change?