Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Identical strangers

Catholic theology is centered on "the Church". Catholics try to co-opt discussions about the church. The church is less central to Protestant theology, not because the church is unimportant, but because the church is the effect of other things. In traditional Catholic theology, the church is the source of grace, whereas in Protestant theology, grace is the source of the church. (That's a bit overstated, but it highlights a fundamental difference in orientation and theological starting-points.) 

But this doesn't mean that the church is peripheral in Protestant theology, or experience. One of the striking things about the Christian faith is the Christian community. How you can go to different churches, in different parts of the country or the world, run into people who at one level are complete strangers, yet you share the same core experience. How God draws folks from all different backgrounds and walks of life. At one level they all have different stories, but at a deeper level, they have the same story. Same spiritual encounter. Same inner life. Same experience of God's call. 

Like accounts of identical twins separated at birth, reunited in adulthood, who are startlingly as if one and the same person in parallel worlds. Raised apart, in different settings, and yet they exhibit preestablished harmony, like synchronized clocks. Vacation in the same places. They share an invisible, intangible affinity. 

This is true in time as well as space. When we read Christian literature from different centuries, or sing their hymns, they tell a common story. Awakened at different times and places. 

Or, to vary the metaphor, like a lighthouse that draws people from all different directions to itself. From north, south, east, and west, the lighthouse guides them to the same destination. To a family reunion. As we meet on the journey, as we find each other, we discover that we're bearing on the same destination. We started from independent points of departure, but are converging along the way, as we head to our journey's end. 

Or to vary the metaphor yet again, like people on the same wavelength. A radio frequency that's inaudible to outsiders, but something insiders can hear. By grace, we've been tuned into the same channel. 

Or to vary the metaphor a final time, like homing pigeons released at different locations, that return to a common location. Somehow they sense the way back, through an inner map. 

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