-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I was reading a commentary on the Book of Hosea last week, when a parallel hit me. Remember how this moment feels. In forty years, people will be asking us why we didn’t know.
When I was in Grad School we were using Karl Barth to understand the idea of Systematic Theology.
Systematic Theology is basically consistency. If you say A about one idea, it will mean the same thing whether you are talking about B, D, or even Z. To say someone has a systematic theology is to say they have connected the dots. It’s not a piecemeal set of thoughts. Every way the theology works should be interconnected.
I say, “should,” because breaking a systematic theology is all about finding even one time it does not. Like pulling a bad loop from a metal chain, the whole chain loses its tension and becomes worthless. Then, you can’t just decide to work with a smaller chain, because the theology is systematic, it must include all.
It’s actually for that reason I’d consider myself a Systematic Theologian. I’m never done. It’s a thought process that can continue to evolve and layer itself, as I understand more about myself, others, and the world around me.
Theology in General
What you believe, and how you believe is important no matter who you are. Theologies are not the sole property of religious groups. I know, for those of you who know how theology is defined, that might seem backwards, but hear me out.
A theology is the study of the nature of God and religious belief.
Now, you might hear that definition and completely discount my above statement. However, there are many ‘studies’ that still fit the definition while not including the subject of the study. Here are some examples:
I’m sure there are hydrologists (those who study water) studying the lack of water at Lake Mead right now.
There are atmospheric scientists (those who study the atmosphere) who are interested in the lack of atmosphere on other planets.
There are food scientists very aware of food deserts, and are trying to figure out how to change them.
Even those who talk about religious experience, delve into the subject of what it means if God did not exist.
The problem with Atheistic views on the Divine, is it takes extreme points of view. Either, a lack of God would be total depravity (the religious take on a universe without a God), or an enlightened utopia (the Atheist take on a universe without a God). Let me put it this way, I have yet to see a solid Atheistic Theology. Either it’s Christian demonizing Atheists, or it’s Atheists demonizing Christians. When the person writing the theology is doing so with the express purpose of demonization, you are bound to find yourself in some sort of hell- whether it’s utopian or depraved. I personally don’t like hanging out in man-made hells.
I’m getting off track. I believe everyone, Atheist or Religious, needs to openly consider what they believe. If one does not openly seek those answers, other people can take advantage, and sneak their belief systems in.
This is actually my major issue with just going to churches just for their programs. The theology of the institution influences everything. You are going for the sweet Children’s Programming, but the programs are where some of the worst theologies are introduced. If I had the means, I’d purchase every VBS program out there and just rip them to shreds in videos.
I think our modern fractured nature is one of the biggest issues we have today. We don’t consider the consequences. Good actions could lead to bad effects. Bad choices can help certain people. An action for or against a specific person could actually be for or against a large group of people. It would help us so much to just see the systematic nature of the world around us. That’s not going to happen.
Kinda off topic, but go with me. Have you ever seen a factory explode? If you haven’t, here is a short video highlighting an actual factory explosion of the Imperial Sugar Plant, in Savannah, Georgia.
If you don’t read anything else, read this.
You might feel unhinged. You might feel broken.
In the above video it was failure to collect sugar dust and dropped sugar that led to the Imperial Sugar Plant explosion. Everything was working correctly EXCEPT for dust collection. That one issue caused a complete failure of the entire plant.
The world is a giant machine. We have creation, distribution and consumption down to a science. In 2020, small pieces were broken. Those small pieces, even though you might not see them or even be near them, are related to each and every one of us. Up until recently, those small pieces only caused small inconveniences. Perhaps you didn’t get the good you wanted at the grocery store, or you had an extra long wait at the hospital. Maybe your school did a digital learning day because they couldn’t find the bus drivers to drive the kids. We felt those things, and that small break, broke us a little too.
Now, in 2022, there has been a huge break. What Russia did, and is doing, has done more than kill the Ukraine people. It’s an act of destabilization. The United States is openly talking to China in talks to not give Russia help. This is why the recent trip of Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, completely counter to what China wanted, is something we need to remember in the coming months.
You feel these actions. Even if you don’t follow the news and actively try to avoid it, these are systemic issues that are playing out in the world around us. If you are thinking, “I feel broken, but I’ve been good about self-care, and setting healthy boundaries,” that’s because this is all like a factory explosion. It’s not you, it’s the world. You’re broken because the global machine is broken. Now, whether it grinds to a halt or explodes is the question.
Systematic Theology and me
Here’s the thing, I don’t just do things. Oftentimes, I’m secretly acting behind the scenes to move people in the right direction. It still baffles me that people don’t ask me why I act a certain way. Unlike many cultish leaders, I don’t want death and destruction. At the same time, unlike many passive leaders, I don’t want to avoid the subject matter either. It doesn’t go away just because we’ve refused to look in its direction. In many cases, it only gets worse if we don’t see it. In this climate, I can’t listen to all hope and joy, because they're empty. Is that what you want? Sorry, I’m out. Despite how all my work towards creating an online ministry looks, I’m the mayor of Realville. I’ve seen too much ignorance in my own childhood to be peddling beautiful lies. Beautiful lies are often laced with poison.
That’s why it all has to connect for me. Christ died for my sins, and I’m called to act in Godly love because of it. Love is not always fun. It’s not always joyous. Love is in the trenches, speaking truth to a world who has forgotten what is real. That is all.
Yes, I feel it. Yes, I know you feel it too. Every day is a chance to do what God has called you to do. You do your part just day by day. Maybe you’ll meet someone else doing the same, and then you can work together. Maybe those groups can join up, and then you have the beginnings of a new machine, a machine that can bring this fractured world back together in healthy ways.