It was another average Friday night with friends; sitting around a table with a board game spread out, sushi rolls long-disappeared, chips and salsa, and a rousing debate about the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. If this isn’t part of your life, I daresay I pity you; nothing goes with sushi like discussions about theology. As long as both are worth chewing on.
We even got out the Greek Lexicon. Deep waters, my friends.
Happily, it wasn’t a debate pivoted upon proving a point, but rather about seeking truth. Together.
As we discussed and researched the historicity of the claim, the Biblical and extrabiblical support or lack thereof for it, the implications of it, etc, we were eating and I was breastfeeding and any number of our combined eleven children were popping in and out of the room. “When did the doctrine first appear in writing?” (Baby grunts and poops, husband and wife banter about who will change the diaper) “What did the early church fathers say about this?” (Child needs help finding pajamas) “Were Jesus’s brothers Joseph’s sons from a previous marriage?” (Munching of chips)
The focus whiplashed from the micro to the macro and everywhere in between, and that is precisely right and quite good. Have you heard it said with a note of disdain that we shouldn’t worry about fine points of doctrine, but rather we should focus on Jesus and loving others? As if the macro precluded the micro? That both couldn’t be important? I’ve heard it a lot, especially in the evangelical world. But maybe it’s possible, and important, to care about all of it? To find both orthodoxy and orthopraxy of equal weight and worth? I read it somewhere, how Christians these days are always trying to give truth a crew cut, to get down to the “essentials of the faith”, as if Christ Himself weren’t as complex as they come.
I’m studying Byzantium at present, at day’s end when quiet enfolds our home, and I burrow into some soft corner of couch or bed with my book and what remains of my cognitive functions. What caught my attention is how much the Byzantines cared about theology, even the finest, most micro points of it. And not just the clergy, but the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, so to speak. The micro mingled with the macro in the market.
I’ve been told that I think too deep about things, as if it were a miserable condition that hopefully I could be cured of. But isn’t God infinitely deep? Aren’t His mysteries just so? Isn’t it quite right that we yell down a well to test the depth? Don’t we shine small lights into vast caverns to see what we might see, even knowing that we don’t see more than a fraction of the grandeur? If we photograph a landscape with a wide-angle lens, a broad sweep of the Grand Canyon for instance, don’t we also find a world of beauty in the wildflower clinging to the rocks at our feet? Can’t we adjust our focus and find in all of it a glory to behold?
Yes, I daresay, we can!
We can care about the Filioque AND the homeless man begging over by Kmart. We can debate the implications of the Council of Chalcedon AND attend to the spit-up streaming down our respective shirts. We can share Jesus’s love in simple ways and simple words AND analyze the early church’s beliefs about His mother. One focus doesn’t kick the other out of the room; together they bring the whole room into view.