I had an Early World History class in college that was taught by an elderly man with the most fabulous mustache you’ve ever seen. It was thick and bristly like a welcome mat, aged perfectly, no doubt grayed by years of deep reflection on the Aztecs and the Byzantine Empire.
At the time mustaches weren’t cool. They were a relic of our fathers and only displayed in black and white photos hanging on your grandmother’s wall, a sign of a curious but forgotten era in time. Our generation could never grasp why one might want a thick patch of fur between the lip and the nose.
That was then…this is now.
Mustaches have shot back into American style like the cardigan. Now two twenty years olds in cut off jean shorts dream of a time in their future when they too can look like an Early World History professor. I think this is what Elton John was talking about when he sang “The Circle of Life.”
I was drawn into this mustache diatribe because I was trying to think of the best way to describe the recent round of Theological conversation I’ve found myself in. Theology is a buzz of the day, like the mustache, and I find myself in lots of deep conversations around theological ideas. Whether it is old college friends, coworkers, chance airplane encounters, or baristas, rare is the day when theological reflection doesn’t happen. I have long been fascinated by theology; I was even drawn to seminary by an annoying tendency to ask questions that don’t have answers. But I must say I am wonderfully impressed at how theology has washed up on the shores of the marketplace.
So I thought I’d share thoughts on how theology is more than a church word. It is an important, life giving practice.
I believe as theologian Stanley Hauerwas says, “Theology is the delicate art necessary for the Christian community to keep its story straight.“ The work of a theologian, whether in an academic setting or a coffee shop, is not so you can argue with someone, it is merely so you can ask better, deeper, more refined questions about what the Christian story is, and how a better understanding of that story leads us to a more informed existence on this earth.
Theology is not like doing a math problem; there are often many sides to the prism. Nor is a theologian an old man who has lots of degrees. When we step into the presence of Jesus, we should begin the work of theology, no matter what our age or background is, asking questions about Creation, the Cross, New Creation, etc, and how all are working themselves out in the here and now. As followers of Christ, we believe the Kingdom of Heaven is constantly crashing into Earth, life is constantly crashing into death, and light is ridding the world of darkness. Theology is just the practice of trying to notice how wonderful it all is. Theology is the art of being able to name it when we see it, and claim the work of God when it moves into the neighborhood.
I love Hauerwas’ perspective, “keeping our story straight” is hard to do. For two thousands of years of church history, we have seen Christians end up on the wrong side of history, whether the crusades or slavery. How did this happen? Perhaps they knew scripture, but they didn’ keep their story, “the story” straight.
Some thoughts for the day. Cheers to you my friends. Especially those of you with mustaches.