8/4/2017 07:55

Tri-partite Thinking

The storm was slowly flowing north and the domestic carnivores were all sleeping (or nearly sleeping) in anticipation. The man was feeling those same sensations plus the effects of having had to get up a couple of times during the night. (Sometimes pets are almost like little children in their demands.) Therefore I stretched out on the bed, thinking that an extra little nap would do no harm, and began to think.

I know. It is a curse of my nature. I think when I am awake, I think when I am falling asleep, I think while I dream, I think as I rouse up, I think when I'm in conversation. I even think when I write an email (which is why it can take 30 minutes or more).

I began to think about Moravian study programs, a topic which had been recently raised, and that led me to think about The Bequest of the Dying Mother by Jan Amos Comenius, which led me to remember Moravians' three categories as carefully elucidated first by Luke of Prague. I remembered that Matthew Spinka translated these differently from Craig Atwood, although I didn't quite have his choice of word in my mind. (Spinka actually chose "fundamental, instrumental, and accidental" when translating Comenius.) I adopted "fundamental", "instrumental", and "incidental" and was soon, in my imagination, preaching on the topic from the pulpit.

But the pulpit didn't work. I needed a visual aid: Three cardboard boxes, one for each of the conceptual boxes. And into those imagined boxes I began to sort a variety of objects, to illustrate the power of the concept but also the power of explicitly applying the concept.

I took a little copper cross from when the copper roof was replaced. I said, a cross is merely incidental. Even the cross is incidental: the means by which God's action occurred, yes, but not God's action itself. That a cross was involved at all was incidental to the time and place, a Roman province near in geography and in history to the Seleucid Empire's perfection of human torture. What is fundamental is God coming to us, joining human and divine, turning the human wholly toward the divine. You can't put God's action into a box, but we may sometimes choose to place of symbol of God's action into the box to serve as a placeholder. So I put the cross into the "fundamental" box also. Not a little copper one which stood for the roof, of course, but one of the others that stand for the action of God.

Into the "incidental" box I put a candle. I used a beeswax, red fringed, Moravian Christmas candle because even though it makes us feel good and connects us with history and worldwide community, a candle is just a candle. What is fundamental is God, whom we experience (I actually said this in my imaginary sermon) as wick and flame and radiant light. And so I put into the "fundamental" box the Christ candle as a placeholder for God being present in our lives.

Then, before the Bible, because in a half dreaming state you are allowed to reorder time if you decide you left something out, the church. Into the "incidental" box I would put the entire building if the box were big enough. But we know that the building is not the church, and the real church is too big for any box I might have to illustrate a sermon, so I had papers passed out and asked each person to put their first name on the paper and then we gathered them into the "instrumental" box as placeholders for the whole church (because theologically the church gathered at any place contains and is contained by the whole of the body), and I began to talk about how the church is instrumental to the fundamental work of God and to our fundamental response.

So then the Bible. The printed, bound Bible is just a book, wholly incidental. Bibles on scraped sheepskin, Bibles in electronic media, Bibles with Cyrillic letters -- it doesn't matter; they all go into the "incidental" box. The books. But the content, the stories and the teachings, the meaning conveyed by those incidental formats, is different from the physical book. And so we put one Bible into the "incidental" box and one into the "instrumental" box, because you can't actually put the media one place and the content in another.

If I hadn't roused up into a more nearly waking state (and you may decide how awake I really am) I would then have expounded on how the words of the Bible draw us, instrumentally, to the active and living Word of God, which is fundamental.

I like the sequence "fundamental", "instrumental", "incidental" partly because of the poetic harmony. It's almost like the wordplay of the Psalms. The words "fundamental" and "instrumental" share phonetic and rhythmic attributes, and so do "instrumental" and "incidental", so the words themselves are teaching even before the exposition begins.

And now the rain is falling and the thunder rumbling, and I am quietly thinking. It is my curse. I am always thinking.