Thursday, January 15, 2015

Not Exactly Systematic

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them. [Acts 19:1-7]

This was the second lesson on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, January 11, 2015. After the reader concluded with, "the Word of the Lord" and we responded, "Thanks be to God," I turned to the friend next to me and said, "I dare Lisa (our rector and preacher for the day) to preach on that."

Lisa did not preach on that, working the Mark story of Jesus' baptism. Her sermon was complete with the Marcan ripping open of the heavens, the violent escape of God into the world. It's a good text. It preaches. Lisa did well, as she does regularly. Still, the above text was there in my bulletin and it stood out to me.

"Did you receive the Holy Spirit?"

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The Holy Spirit has been on my mind lately, and I'd just pulled from my shelf a book from my seminary days, The Holy Spirit by Alasdair I. C. Heron. I remembered next to nothing about it but thought it would be a good place to start for---well, I'll get to that. 

Heron's book is basically a commentary on mentions of "Spirit" in the Bible and church history. Sunday evening, I looked in it to see if it had, and it does, an index for Bible passages. I turned to the page that commented upon Acts 19. Heron's concern was less with the question of receiving the Holy Spirit and more with the inconsistent ways "Luke" (the writer of Acts) portrayed the Spirit and the manifestations of this receiving.

This made me rather happy, really, and sort of serves my purposes better than I could have hoped for. 

My purposes being this: My blogging, I often say, is my un-edited writing. It's rough draft writing, rambling and informal. It's not "tight" writing. 

Well, that's a little bit how I am, really, but when I submit to journals and whatnot, the writing is tightened up a bit, brought into better focus. I've been wanting to do this with my blog more. More specifically, I want to do a series of entries that explores some basic doctrines of the Christian faith, my relationship with them, how they've shaped my life---for good and ill. 
Note the faint, pencil middle school signature

As a starting point, I found my Catechism, the one I used in confirmation class at Martin Luther Lutheran Church in the 1970s. Flipping through its pages, I didn't feel any particular pull to explore the Ten Commandments or the Lord's Prayer. The Sacraments? Those have a hold on me, but then there's the Creed . . . 

Well, there it is, isn't it? Credo. I believe. 

So over the next year, I'm going to be reflecting upon the Creed. The Catechism only covers the Apostles' Creed, but I'll be referencing the Nicene Creed just as much, as it has superseded the Apostles' in my consciousness and imagination. (I doubt I'll be moved to look at the Athanasian Creed, but never say never.) I'll be going through the creeds and relating memories and experiences and maybe referencing books like Heron's. 

This may begin to take on a superficial appearance of a "systematic theology." Let's not get crazy. Nothing I do is exactly "systematic." I'm really using the Creed as a way to give my roaming mind some containment. 

Furthermore, I see this exploration as a way to explore my own biography, not an attempt at scholarship. I may consult and reference academic sources---I have a few on my bookshelves---but that consulting will be fairly random, mostly relegated to books already in my apartment (although I've never needed much of a reason to go book shopping). I'm approaching this with the intent of doing serious reading, but again the main point is to explore some of my life in the context of these doctrines. I've said before that I think of myself as an experiential theologian, and experience is more about story and anecdote than scholarship. Another way to put it is that this is theology as memoir. Or memoir as theology. One of those. 

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And the Holy Spirit. 

In the story of the Bible and the articles of the Creed, the Holy Spirit always comes third. The Third Person of the Trinity, yes? In my creedal explorations, I'm starting with the last (almost has a scriptural echo, no?). The Holy Spirit seems to be the active, present "person" of the Creed, the one who keeps me involved in a church, connected to the Body of Christ. 

If I'm going to have even the slightest appearance of systematic theology, it's going to be backward.

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Finally, for tonight, I expect to add to this project at least monthly throughout 2015. I expect to also do the occasional rambly post, probably about something in the news or otherwise immediate. To differentiate the posts that are part of this project, I'll mark them NES---Not Exactly Systematic. It's a working title. It'll work for now.

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