Calvin Klein Theology and The Other 19


I do not remember a time before I knew the word "theology." When I was a child, the adults tossed it around like a Frisbee in the back yard. "Hey Ron, what do you think about the theology of Grace?" they'd say. Or, "how does that theology account for the spiritual gifts?" It was their best effort to sum up an infinite God, to harness the wind. Sometimes, I'd take a break from my Big Wheeling and listen to their theological banter. I did not understand them, not really, but I remember wanting to tell them that I could hear God whisper in the mesquite trees.

I never did, though.

Over the years I've heard some say that God does not whisper to children in the trees, and  that any allusion to the notion amounts to little more than a syncretistic amalgam of Christianity and pantheism. "God is more systematized, more summed up and proper and he speaks ever and only through his written word," they say.  I'm not sure what to say about that, layman though I am. I suppose I could say, "go read Paul's letter to the Romans." Instead, I'll just tell you that I know what I heard when I was five, and we can leave it at that.


Over the years, I've tried on theologies like designer jeans. There was the season when I wore my five point Calvin Kleins. They were high-dollar blue jeans that seemed to create the illusion of a contoured rear. (Though we're dealing in metaphor here, let me state for the record that I've always been lacking in the proper rear department.) The look of Calvin Klein theology? Impeccable. But if you run those suckers through the wash one too many times, they skinny up in all the wrong places, fit so tight that you cannot sit for fear of splitting the seams.

Don't get me wrong, I've tried on those boot-cut, relaxed fit jeans from the Gap, too. They're hip in different social circles, but I find them to run threadbare too quickly.

Ultimately, I've found that jeans are an imperfect analogy for theology.

Most analogies are.


My mother was a new follower of Christianity when I was a child. She'd gone cold turkey on cold beer and cigarettes, and traded in her Aretha Franklin and Janice Joplin for Amy Grant and Sandy Patty. She carried a red guitar around with her to house-church meetings and vacation bible school, and kept my ear inclined toward the songs about Jesus.

She'd have never second-guessed my notion of hearing God in the mesquite trees. I'm thankful for that.


When I was thirteen, Father Harris taught a class on the book of Luke. He called it the "Gospel of the Underdog," and the "Gospel of Equality." At the time, I don't suppose I realized just how egalitarian all of this sounded. How could I have? After all, the class was not composed of underdog sorts. Instead, the 8:00 a.m. bible class seated twenty doe-eyed, middle-class white kids, most of whom were clean-cut German Catholic and professionally predestined.

I've lost touch with most of those kids over the years. Sometimes, though, I wonder whether the other 19 remember Father Harris' description of the Gospel of Luke, whether they find themselves longing to be an underdog these days.

I do.


My dad converted to Catholicism when I was in the fourth grade. I thought this an odd move, but looking back on it, I think he was always more comfortable with the folks who drank red wine and shamelessly spun their old Crosby, Stills, & Nash records. His church was made up of good, quiet folks like Mr. Lelemsis and Mr. Buergler. They prayed more than just about anyone my father had ever met, he once said. I think he told me this mostly to spite the tea-totaling Baptists across town who were teaching me less about prayer than they were about tossing U2's The Joshua Tree into a bonfire. The Catholics never once asked him to burn a secular record, he said.

My dad never saw the benefit in all of the Fahrenheit 451ing we did. Music, books, art, even football helmets--they were all subject to the fire. My dad wouldn't have it. In fact, pops once hid some of my old comic books to save them from being reduced to ash. The older I get, the more I reckon my father as the best Faber I've ever known.


I still read my bible in the morning. I read it in small chunks. I stop. I listen till my mind wanders, till I start thinking about work obligations, or family engagements, or about the time Jude got a pencil eraser stuck up his nose. Sometimes I inadvertently doze off in those moments, and I'll dream about the prayers I should be praying. When I find myself in these prone-to-wander places, I stop. I recenter, and I say simply, "I am sorry, Lord. Help my unbelief." Then, I look back down to the words in my lap, and I take another small chunk to heart.

Sobering Up

Wake Up

"I stood below the Light, because I was made by it. He that knows the truth knows what the Light is. And he that knows truth knows eternity. And he that knows love knows truth." ~St. Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine

These days, I feel like we are stumbling toward a sobering. It's a slow process, the process of waking.

For the last seven months, Amber and I have been been doing the next thing as best we can--punch the clock, visit the doc, watch our television stories, listen to the right reverend deliver a rousing charge at the Sunday meeting. Lather, rinse, repeat. In some ways, we've been the walking dead, numb to that famous "stuff of earth" that "competes for the allegiance I owe only to the giver of all good things." As things settle, as we find our new normal, I'm finding myself desiring the real.


I'm wondering whether I need to visit the river Jordan again, whether I need to re-sink myself neath the healing, cleansing, flood. But there's a loyalty that's deeper than mere sentiment, or the river Jordan for that matter, and I'm reminded of the once-for-all cost of the cross. I'm grateful for that.

I'm watching this process in Amber, too. She's the fuse on a Roman candle, sparking and fizzing and preparing to fire something beautiful heavenward. She dances to All Sons and Daughters in the kitchen, stomping out the beat with Titus on her hip and sings "wake up, wake up, wake up all you sleepers; stand up, stand up, stand up, all you dreamers; hands up, hands up, hands up, all believers." In the intermissions, she speaks more candidly of her rebellion years, even those years she white-washed with notions of Jesus. She tells me of the Light of her waking, revels in the freedom that comes in the process of seeking conformation to the image of the real.


This sobering is a graceful process, the numb fading slowly, which is a good thing because being conformed is not a painless process. We're both asking hard questions about the kind of people we want to be. And in that, I find myself using words like "Reformed," and "Evangelical," less and less, and I've never used the terms "Progressive," or "Emergent," (gasp) to describe my faith in the first place. This is sure to be a source of great consternation to some. But what when we say that we're trying to live with our eyes fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith? What when we tell them that we're trying to commune with God through the person of Christ? Then what? Perhaps our boiled-down theologies will look less important then.

Somehow, I doubt that.

In my lifetime, I've known a handful of people who have walked eyes-wide-open with God. These were the people who were by-God bent on the cross, on prayer, fasting, and scripture. They were quiet people, graceful, merciful. They took the beatitudes at face value, opined less, loved more. We are not these people yet, but we're asking if we might get there one day. This is the waking dream.

If'n you're here today, and if'n you're willing to share a bit, would you tell me about the people who you knew that walked with God? Share about them in the comments.

*Thanks for suffering my bit of journaling today. For regular updates, follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page. **Photo by Hugo Bernard, Creative Commons via Flickr.