Friday, December 21, 2007

What's Jesus got to do with it?

As I was walking back to my office during lunch yesterday, I was looking around at all the buildings and people and a question popped into my head: "What does Jesus have to do with that building over there?" As I continued walking, I asked that same question about other things that I saw: "What does Jesus have to do with that security guard in front of the child development center? Or with the dead vine on that wall? Or with the homeless man asleep by the warehouse? Or with the small business owner standing outside of her shop?" I kept asking those questions without really knowing what I meant by them. I didn't mean to be offensive or secular--I just didn't see how Jesus related to those things at that moment.

Just before I got back to my office, I was finally able to vocalize the big question I was trying to ask: "What does it mean to be truly Christocentric?" Sure, I can put on my pious hat and relate everything I see back to Jesus, mumbling something about redemption and saving grace each time. But I'm not sure that that is any different than a game I used to play when I was little. I'd pick out two very different objects--say, a clock and my toothpaste cap--and try to connect them in as few steps as possible (the clock helps me keep track of time, and it is only at certain times of day that I remove the toothpaste cap so that I can brush my teeth). So perhaps I need to rephrase my question: "In what substantial way does Jesus relate to the woman selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs on the corner?"

I think what I'm getting at is that I'm not sure exactly how Jesus relates metaphysically to the common occurrences of everyday life. Yes, Jesus came to release humanity from our bondage to sin and to reconcile us to God. But I'm not sure that I can identify exactly how Jesus, dead and raised, actively relates to the drunk man on the corner. It's not that there is no relation--I just I don't know how it all works.

Because of the limits of my knowledge in that area, I am compelled to focus on ethics. Perhaps the way Jesus relates to everyday people and everyday events is through the lives and examples of Christians. Since I don't know for sure how Jesus is connected to the rest of the world, I feel drawn to be the connection. I don't know to what extent Jesus works actively in the world and I don't know to what extent he has left that up to us. But it would certainly be a shame to sit around lazily, only to find out later that Jesus expected us to make the connection.

So, what's Jesus got to do with it? Perhaps the answer to that question is up to us....

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Starting with Skid Row

I'm currently in the process of applying to graduate school, so I've been thinking a lot about my future. I'm trying to decide what I want to do with me life, what avenues I'd like to pursue. While theology is definitely what I want to study, I don't like the idea of being cooped up in a stuffy office at some university for the rest of my life. I am convinced that theology cannot be divorced from ethics, and ethics has to grapple with the problems in our world hands on. I relish the prospect of entering academia, but I know that in order for my studies to be worthwhile I must be actively involved in social issues.

Maybe that is part of why I wanted to do social work. Working on Skid Row is not my dream job and it doesn't lead naturally to a career in theology, but somehow it is really important to me. I love the people I work with and the personal connections I get to make with them. I like that I am in the business of providing hope. But I can't pretend that it isn't sad, too.

More than a hundred people come in our doors each day, and all of them are homeless. There are lots of reasons that people end up down here, but the most common reason is bad luck. One thing went wrong that sent them sliding down a slippery slope and they crash-landed on Skid Row. These people have reached a point where they can't pull themselves up by their bootstraps--they need compassion and they need help.

Even though I've only worked here a short time, I know that I will never be able to formulate any sort of theology or Christian ethic that leaves these people out. A gospel of prosperity based on good words and happy thoughts won't do. A message of middle-class individualistic pietism won't cut it. If we are bold enough to call ourselves Christians, we cannot allow the homeless, the drug addicted, the HIV infected, the mentally ill, and the lonely to be neglected. I know that it is something that I cannot ignore, and I'm sure it will influence the direction my life takes. From here on out, my thought and theology will probably start with Skid Row.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Relative Confession

I was thinking earlier today about a conversation I had with a friend in high school. I described to him what I thought was the ultimate goal of intellectual pursuit: to align one's personal conception of reality as closely as possible with cosmic Truth. I understood that we, as humans, are inevitably bound to our limited perspectives, so we are forever faced with the challenge of pinning down that elusive Truth.

I find that I have been endorsing relativism a lot lately, and I feel like I need to make clear why that is. The reasons are simple. First, that is how I understand the world. When I consider difficult problems--moral, theological, and otherwise--I find that I think that way. Secondly, that is the direction that our culture is heading, so it is something that the church has come to terms with. If Christianity wants to be vital well into the 21st century, it has to learn to speak the same vocabulary as the people it wants to reach. It's not that I consider relativism to be superior to or more valuable than other frameworks for theology--it's that we need to learn how to situate ourselves within relativism in order to speak coherently to our culture.