Walter Brueggemann: “Infallibility” Versus Faithful Imagination

Image #55 (Fall 2007) ran an interview with the notable Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann that led off with some questions on the role of the imagination in Biblical faith. His remarks, excerpted below, could serve as my own manifesto for how I read the Bible as an artist and a Christian. (The full article is not available online, so buy the issue and read their symposium on “Why Believe in God?” with Wim Wenders, B.H. Fairchild, Doris Betts and others.)

…[W]hat we always do with the biblical text, if we want it to be pertinent or compelling or contemporary, is commit mostly unrecognized acts of imagination by which we stretch and pull and extend the implications of the text far beyond its words.

I have come to the rather simplistic notion that imagination is the capacity to image a world beyond what is obviously given. That’s the work of poets and novelists and artists–and that’s what biblical writers mostly do. I think that’s why people show up at church. They want to know whether there is any other world available than the one we can see, which we can hardly bear.

The intrusion of the word “infallible” [into the biblical debate] is misleading and unfortunate. The endless temptation of orthodoxy in its many forms is to receive a glimpse of gospel truth and then try to freeze it as an absolute formulation. I think the creeds of the church and the catechisms are important, until we start treating them as absolutes. Then we cover over all the generative force of the biblical testimony and make it a package that we transmit to each other and use as a club on each other.

Now, I am not finally a relativist: I don’t think that any idea is as good as any other idea. I believe that there are truthful statements, but the truthful statements have to be continually restated in order to stay truthful. I see orthodoxy as an ongoing interpretative process; we never reach an end point in it. I would not want to say that imagination contradicts orthodoxy, rather that it contradicts certain temptations of orthodoxy to freeze and absolutize. If these texts bear witness to the living God, then we cannot freeze and absolutize the good word of the living God.

On a related note, Anthony Esolen at Mere Comments has been watching a lot of Bible movies and wondering why it’s so hard to avoid dreadful sentimentality in Christian music and film:

[S]entimentality — which is but a parody of deep feeling — is deadening. Nowadays, in mass entertainment, it comes in the really noxious form of easy, “sentimental” cynicism, when a banal remark with the form of a sniggering comback is supposed to elicit the cheap thrill of superiority, an easy confirmation of despair and meaninglessness, as of rich kids slumming in the precincts of hell. Yet I think there are connections to be drawn between that kind of sentimentality and the cloying, smothering sort that characterizes bad religous art, including the bad religious music we’ve discussed here before.

How to explain? We also watched a couple of movies by a director who, I think, is a great deal less cynical than he appears to be, as he is instead a fantastic storyteller with a heart for human shame, absurdity, and, occasionally, love and heroism — Billy Wilder (we watched The Apartment and Witness for the Prosecution). There’s no sentimentality in Billy Wilder, but there sure is a lot of sentimentality in what passes for Christian pop, and that sentimentality is the kissing cousin, or maybe the drippy smooching cousin, of easy cynicism. (By the way, I want to preserve a distinction between kitsch, which retains a bit of childlike innocence to it, and the self-indulgent sentimentality of our hymn writers, who do not even bother to affect innocence.) So when Bob Hurd writes, “What are you doing tonight? I’d really like to spend some time with you,” referring to the Son of God as if he were a very nice teenage date, he’s far less honest, and far less reverent, than Wilder is when he dares to show the hollowness of a man who wears decency like a well-tailored business suit (Fred MacMurray), to be taken off when convenient. Wilder is sharp, incisive, dogged; he wants the truth. But bad religious art, like bad art generally, flees from the truth. Wilder may not see what you’d like him to see, but he strives to see, and to show you what he sees.

In my opinion, the difference between good and bad Christian art, just like the difference between good and bad biblical interpretation, generally comes down to trust. Do we trust that the world is infused with Christian truth, or is Christian truth something foreign that we have to inject into the unredeemed facts? Do we believe that by following the road of honest inquiry wherever it leads, we will ultimately find a truth congruent with the gospel (and be forgiven for our missteps along the way)? Or are we so afraid to leave the church’s well-trodden conceptual paths that other outside sources of knowledge, such as evolutionary biology, are forbidden or irrelevant?

Today in church we heard the story of the apostle Thomas (John 20:24-29). We call him “Doubting Thomas” because he famously said he would not believe in the resurrection unless he touched the risen Christ’s wounds with his own hands. This has made him a hero to many liberal Christians, who look at fundamentalist fears of science and the artistic imagination, and see some truth in the secularists’ stereotype of the courageous freethinker versus the timid believer. Interestingly, Christ does show up in response to Thomas’ demand for personal proof, so perhaps he was making a point that healthy skepticism keeps the church brave.

But Thomas also knew when to stop doubting, recognizing the risen Jesus as “My Lord and my God.” He did not remain a perpetual doubter in order to congratulate himself on his open-mindedness; he wanted to know the truth, more than to feel good about himself. Jesus then says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We’ve traditionally heard this as “more blessed”, but perhaps no dichotomy is intended. Somewhere between blind faith and bad faith is Christian imagination, which fearlessly probes the unknown, and submits to the truth it finds.

Speak Up for Gay Rights at the United Methodist General Conference

Soulforce, an interfaith organization that advocates for GLBT rights through nonviolent resistance, will be sending volunteers to witness at the United Methodist General Conference, which will be held in Fort Worth, TX on April 23-May 2. The United Methodists are the second-largest US Protestant denomination. According to Soulforce’s newsletter, under current UM policy:

Local UM pastors have the power to deny membership to gay and lesbian Christians.
UM pastors are barred from performing marriage or commitment ceremonies for same-gender couples.
Openly gay and lesbian people are banned from the ministry.
Transgender people face potential exclusion from the ministry.
Gay and lesbian youth are taught that being true to themselves is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

To sign up to join Soulforce’s nonviolent demonstration on April 25-27, click here. To read more about the debate within the Methodist church, visit the website of Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Concerns.

Kyle McDonald’s “The Rose of Ilium” Now on AudioBookRadio

Canadian actor and writer Kyle McDonald won our most recent Winning Writers War Poetry Contest last year with his masterful epic poem “The Rose of Ilium”, a stirring account of a battle between Greeks and Amazons in the Trojan War. His multimedia presentation of his poem is being broadcast this week on the UK’s (playing time: 23 minutes). You can also watch the video and read the entire poem on our website. Here’s an excerpt:

…Th’alarums sound with direful clarion
And forward races the bright Danàän,
Whose coursers, both bread of immortal stock,
Cause all the lesser steeds therewith to baulk;
Nor Amazon nor Dardan faced the youth,
Fearing an execution too uncouth;
Yet, this did not forestall their bloody fate,
As he with spear sought foes to extirpate:
One caught his javelin beneath the arm;
Another from his blade took mortal harm,
As head from neck was rashly severèd;
His spear recovered, to the fray he sped,
His ruby chariot thundering as he went.
A surly Amazon from life he rent,
Smiting her brains out with his weighty shield,
Her viscid claret plashing red the field.

His prey, like paltry ships upon the sea
Who strive in vain the tempest’s rage to flee,
Or, like the jackdaw flying from the hawk,
Could find no haven from the deadly shock.

Penthesilea cuts herself a path,
Voracious to expunge Achilles’ wrath,
Whereon he sees his adversary fume
And smiles grimly at the chance of doom.
Automedon his master’s manner knows,
And from a solemn nod, begins to close;
Likewise the Amazon her driver guides,
Who o’er the corpses of the fallen rides.

As this redoubtable twain prepared to meet,
The gathered armies stopped t’adhere the feat,
As though the Gods themselves strove on the plain,
Who to exchange life reaving blows were fain.
First she her javelin pitches through the broil
Expecting her fair quarry’s looks to spoil:
A rav’nous hawk could not so swiftly speed
As her sharp spear, careening with blood greed.
But lo! That mordant prong, so oft unerring,
Was thwarted by his shield, not even tearing
The third bronze layer; now his stout reply,
Which her broad scutcheon cannot stultify,
But from her supple arm is wrenched away,
Transpiercéd by his javelin’s assay.
The Queen now marvels at his martial might
Whilst he propels another dart in flight:
Screaming, the pointed tip cuts through the air,
And would have rent her flesh all smooth and fair
But for the valour of her charioteer,
Who placed herself within the point’s career.
The savage blow her eyes enclosed in night,
And in the earth both point and soldier pight.
Penthesilea seized the vacant reins
And sought to vindicate her comrade’s pains
By drawing out her ringing, bronze-cast blade,
Vengeance to visit as she hoarsely bayed.
Achilles from this conflict did not shy,
But towards the Queen he bade his driver fly.
As two contestant rams in wrath will rush,
So those two champions plied the brutal crush;
Towards his chariot she tilts her course,
Meaning to capsize his war-car perforce.
He swings his weighty sword and she evades:
Unto the sullied earth the troop cascades,
As battlecar with battlecar collides;
Automedon rolls clear and battle chides,
Whilst Queen and Prince rejoin the seething fray,
Their scalpels flashing in warlike display.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Alleluia, alleluia! Hearts to heaven and voices raise:
Sing to God a hymn of gladness, sing to God a hymn of praise.
He, who on the cross a Victim, for the world’s salvation bled,
Jesus Christ, in holiness and glory, now is risen from the dead.

Christ is risen, Christ, the first fruits of the holy harvest field,
Which will all its full abundance at Christ’s second coming yield:
Then the golden ears of harvest will their heads before Christ wave,
Ripened by Christ’s glorious sunshine from the furrows of the grave.

Christ is risen, we are risen! Shed upon us heavenly grace,
Rain and dew and gleams of glory from the brightness of God’s face;
That we, with our hearts in heaven, here on earth may fruitful be,
And by angel hands be gathered, and be ever, God, with you.

Alleluia, alleluia! Glory be to God on high;
Alleluia! to the Savior who has gained the victory;
Alleluia! to the Spirit, fount of love and sanctity:
Alleluia, alleluia! to the Triune Majesty.

Words: Christopher Wordsworth (19thC)
Music: Wurzburg (18thC)

Sing along at The Daily Office. Happy Easter!

Thousand Kites Launches National Criminal Justice Project

Thousand Kites is a community-based multimedia project that advocates reforms to the US criminal justice system, using live performances, film screenings, radio broadcasts and the Internet. This month they hope to arrange a hundred screenings of the documentary “Up the Ridge”, a film about one community’s experience using prisons as economic development and the resulting human rights violations.

“Up the Ridge” takes you inside the super-maximum-security Wallens Ridge prison in Virginia, and looks at the personal devastation and racial conflicts that resulted when hundreds of thousands of inner-city minority prisoners were transferred to this rural facility, far from their families and neighborhoods. Click here to order the film, which comes with a guide to setting up a community screening, and other bonus tracks.

This outreach effort supports the American Friends Service Committee’s STOPMAX Campaign to abolish torture and solitary confinement in US prisons. Read prisoners’ own stories of physical and mental abuse at the STOPMAX Voices blog.

“I was strapped into a restraint chair for a few hours or so just to harass me. I have seen people forced to relieve themselves in their clothes because staff refused to let them go to the bathroom while strapped in the chair and also chained to various tables in waiting/holding areas. They would be screaming and begging to be allowed to go to the bathroom and staff would not let them. That is why I attempted suicide. I was done with watching the beatings, torture, and horror and done with the harassment 24-7 and the continuous torment and torture- fingers wrenched out of joint while applying handcuffs, handcuffs clamped in the skin against the bone, the leg chains clamped on so tight that my feet turned purple, constant various threats by staff, being woke up all during the night for various reasons- to deliver mail at 2AM, deliver the paper at 3AM, wake me up to ask me if I am asleep at 4AM. I was done.” –Prisoner in Maricopa 4th Ave Jail, Arizona

Uncertainty and Christian Writing

The new literary journal Relief: A Quarterly Christian Expression continues a trend begun by Image and Rock & Sling, providing a home for creative writing that takes Christian faith seriously without sacrificing literary and moral complexity. My novel excerpt “Bride of Christ”, about a young woman torn between loyalty to her gay brother and her evangelical family, will be published in Relief later this year.

In this interview on their website, guest editor Jill Noel Kandel shares some perceptive advice about what separates Christian literature from doctrinal or inspirational writing:

Relief: A number of our nonfiction submissions are more like articles or even sermons and not what we at Relief think of as creative nonfiction. How can writers be sure their work is appropriate for Relief before they submit?

Jill: Christian writing has many avenues. Doctrinal, devotional, and magazine article writing seem to be prominent. I would say that Relief wants to publish fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that is out of the Christian mainstream. If a piece is something I could read in Guideposts or Christianity Today for example than it probably isn’t right for Relief. I think that what I am looking for is of a more literary quality.

Relief is trying to do something different. I love the definition given by the Relief staff:

Relief- An architectural term referring to a raised projection of figures on a flat surface. It is an image of a reality caught halfway between 2D and 3D.

This is precisely the type of writing that I will be looking for. Writing that reflects the reality and honesty of the world we live in tempered by the hope given to us as believers. Leave the cotton candy at the fairgrounds….

Relief: What is it that makes a piece of writing absolutely Christian?

Jill: As a writer I am still trying to learn how to write faith. As Christians we walk by faith and not by sight. To write faith is not to write sight. What I mean is that as Christian writers we tend to want to write the end of the story, heaven, and angels wings. Throw in a little victory celebration. But as human beings living here on this earth we are often like Joseph sitting in Pharaoh’s prison. He didn’t know the ending of his own story. I try to write what I know today to be true.

I think I’m going to post that last sentence over my writing desk, with an emphasis on “today”. How do I know what is true? Try something and see what happens. Sufficient unto the day is the writer’s block thereof.

Holy Week in the Blogosphere

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, and this weekend, unbelievable as it seems to us in the Northeast who still see snow instead of crocuses on our lawns, will be Easter. Lent is my favorite season of the Christian year, a time when I can get serious about some spiritual problem or slackness of will. Since it’s only forty days (and it seemed shorter this year, somehow), I’m not daunted by the prospect of an open-ended vow, the promise to “never do that again” which undermines itself from the start by its very implausibility. It’s like Anne Lamott’s cure for writer’s block: rather than sit down to the monumental task of “writing your novel”, she suggests that you resolve every day to write as much as will fit within a one-inch picture frame.

Well, I didn’t do that, but I did more or less keep my Lenten resolution to stop talking to my novel characters instead of Jesus. What I discovered, when I no longer had my imaginary friend telling me “Girl, you look fabulous, and I love your defense of the Trinity!”, was that I still use others’ approval as a substitute for faith that God will either (a) bring to completion the good work He has begun in me, or (b) use my failures and humiliations for my spiritual growth and that of others, if I let Him.

My faith this year has been largely about “Not-That”. God is not Eros, not morality, not intellect, not the church, not my opinions, not others’ opinions. God is only authentic in the absence of all concepts about God. This is, after awhile, a dark and confusing space to inhabit. My plot problems, it seems, were really life problems, as I had fallen into radical doubt about all methods of knowing the right path.

That feeling found a companionable echo in Hugo’s latest post about his hiatus from church. I too have returned to the words of that old Negro spiritual: You’ve got to walk that lonesome valley/You’ve got to walk it by yourself/Ain’t nobody here can walk it for you/You’ve got to walk it by yourself. I keep wanting others to walk it for me, or at least with me, so that I can feel more confident that I am “right”. But only Jesus can make me right, or rather, lead me beyond rightness to God’s love. Jesus walked that valley for me, so why do I need anyone else to do it?

Kim Fabricius has posted a bracing Palm Sunday sermon about how the death of Jesus invites us to step into that emptiness, the place of not knowing and not being comforted:

So: for one Holy Week forget about the suffering of Jesus, the courage of Jesus, the wickedness of it all. Forget even about the dying of Jesus: it is not to the crucifix, or even to the deposition, that I would direct you – no! Rather look at the man – dead – gaze upon the corpse of Christ, fix your eyes on his cold and rigid body, laid out on a slab, already showing signs of decomposition. I am thinking of Hans Holbein’s painting “Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb”. The Russian author Dostoevsky saw the painting, in a museum in Basel, stopping on his way to Geneva, and forever after it haunted him like a nightmare. He describes it in his great novel The Idiot. The character Prince Myshkin says: “Why some people may lose their faith by looking at that picture!”

This sermon doesn’t have three points, it’s got three words: Lose your faith! (I warned you I would be sacrilegious.) Yes, lose your faith. Lose your faith in God. For as the French mystic Simone Weil insisted, there is a kind of atheism that is purifying, cleansing us of idols. Lose your faith in the god that the cross exposes as a no-god, a sham god. Lose your faith in the god who is but the product of your projections, fantasies, wishes, and needs, a security blanket or good-luck charm god. Lose your faith in the god who is there to hold your hand, solve your problems, rescue you from your trials and tribulations, the deus ex machina, literally the “machine god”, wheeled out onto the stage in ancient Greek drama, introduced to the plot artificially to resolve its complications and secure a happy ending. Lose your faith in the god who confers upon you a privileged status that is safe and secure. Lose your faith in the god who promises you health, wealth, fulfilment, and success, who pulls rabbits out of hats. Lose your faith in the god with whom your conscience can be at ease with itself. Lose your faith in the god who, in Dennis Potter’s words, is the bandage, not the wound. Lose your faith in the god who always answers when you pray and comes when you call. Lose your faith in the god who is never hidden, absent, dead, entombed. For the “Father who art in heaven” – this week he is to be found in hell – with his Son.

No one puts it more starkly – or more honestly and truthfully – than Bonhoeffer. We must recognize, he wrote from prison, “that we have to learn to live in the world ‘as if God were not here’. And this is just what we do recognize – before God! God himself compels us to recognize it… God would have us know that we must live as men and women who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us… Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world and onto the cross” – and then down from the cross and into the grave. “He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us.” God a Super-Power? That god is a demon, the Devil. If that god is your Lord, this week is a call for “regime change” (Walter Brueggemann).

So, yes, lose your faith! For as with life, so with faith: only those who lose it will find it. Or rather may find it. Faith is a risk, and discipleship demands that we learn to live with insecurity and uncertainty, setting out on a journey without a map, with companions who are as lost as we are, following a leader who is always way ahead of us, beckoning mysteriously, “Follow me!”, and then vanishing just as we arrive. God is mystery, ineffable mystery, naming a reality that we know, but the more we know, the more we are forced to un-know and rethink everything we thought we knew.
In an older post, Christopher at Betwixt and Between reflects on how Lent’s call to humility is heard differently by members of the dominant group versus those who are out of power. Traditional Christian rhetoric about “dying to self” has been addressed to those who already had a fully-formed, privileged self to lose. Without a nuanced understanding of the audience being addressed, this theology may further oppress those (such as women, children and sexual minorities) who have been forced to submerge their selfhood to the powers of this world.

Finally, Kittredge Cherry at Jesus in Love is running a Gay Holy Week series of readings and artwork that retell the Passion narrative with GLBT imagery.

Jendi Reiter’s Chapbook “Hound of Heaven” Forthcoming from Southern Hum Press

My poetry chapbook Hound of Heaven was a runner-up for the inaugural Women of Words Award from Southern Hum Press and will be published this fall. Thanks, Southern Hum! I’ll include a purchasing link on this site when the book is out. Below, a sample:

Hound of Heaven

            for Fran

It had been raining days when the voice
asked me to pull over by the river.
Not a voice to be heard but simply a must:
the arm moves with the thought, no word says Move.
The branches cocked like muskets, spearing the sky,
were soaked black, clouds wind-whipped dogs
cringing like cavemen placating
the weather of doom they thought was God.
Is that all I am, that bared animal neck?
I had let the pearls roll from my hands like water,
thinking anything precious could save itself.
I was silently wed to the clever,
dazzled by small explanations.
Still I turned the car, slowed, stood under the fall
of cold silver needles like a sick child praying
be good and it’ll soon be over.
There were the reed-clotted banks and the fists of trees
and in the river only a projected world
no gentler, no more likely to change.
Till a soft wind, someone, ruffled the waters
and the trees cracked apart, lovely as first tears after a death.



Most deadly, most delicate, the jewel-toned frog
like a crown behind museum glass
tempts a perverse grab. Once name it rare,
monkey-mind will do anything for more.
The tiny scarlet body barely breathes,
on limbs like sapphire mined from colonies
to mount in a tourist-dazzling diadem.
Is power in the plough and jungles hacked
and spill of oil like pavement on the sea –
or clinging softly underneath a leaf
as our murky water, crowded air,
flows through the tree frog’s bright defensive skin?
Beauty-mad, how could we not lick and stroke
and die? Soft as a fruit and berry-red,
it tempts us to devour what we love,
to steal the crown of knowing everything.

        first published in The New Pantagruel (2005)

Sara Miles on the Idolatry of the Family

Poet and journalist Sara Miles, whose conversion memoir Take This Bread has just been released in paperback, preached this sermon last summer at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church (San Francisco) about an all-too-common misunderstanding of Christian “family values”. Just as in Jesus’ day, “family” is not merely a sentimental tableau; it is a circle of power that defines who possesses status and purity, and who does not.

Jesus says, I’ve come to bring fire to the earth and destroy your family. Do you think I’ve come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. What’s burning up here isn’t just money, as it was in the Gospel last week. It isn’t just religion, as it was two weeks ago when poor Peter tried to make a shrine to the ancestors to protect him from the blazing fire of the transfiguration. What Jesus is burning up in this reading is the past, and the future of the world as we see it in human terms. He’s replacing it with the fire of the perpetual present: the fire of Christ, the fire of baptism through death. The fire of new creation. He is burning down the house….

In our cold postmodern capitalist world, family sometimes seems like the only place we’re safe. It’s home. It’s love. It’s a minivan full of blond children. But Jesus is not talking about a cozy, affective private household: he’s talking about a system of power.

In Jesus’ time, family ruled as much as the temple did….or the soldiers of the imperial army. Your very name, your identity, was determined by whose son or daughter you were. Your role in life was completely circumscribed by your position in the family. Your freedom as an individual was negligible in the family, and in the network of families that made up tribes and nations. The father ruled the mother, the mother-in-law ruled the daughter–in-law, the elder brother ruled the younger brother.

And central to the construction of family, of course, was who was outside it. Families existed—in fact, just as they do now—to define outsiders. Widows and orphans, illegitimate children—these people had no power, no authority, no place. They were not full humans, because they did not belong to a family.

Jesus is gonna burn that sucker down.

And, to the extent that we still think families are about private life, about controlling boundaries, about maintaining an inside and an outside, they are over. When we think they’re about knowing who isn’t family, who isn’t our brother or sister, they’re over. God wants to smash even our enlightened, modern families, and replace them with something new. Because family, to Jesus, is not just the family you’re born into. Not the family of history, but the whole human family Jesus is born into, the family he remakes in his own image. Family contains everyone who is a child of God. It is love without conditions. And that smashed-up family, the new creation, is what Jesus gives us to live in, once he’s burned down the house of exclusive, man-made families.

Visit Sara Miles’ website for more sermons, interviews, and an excerpt from her new book.

Jesus the Oyster-Man

Today in the Anglican cycle of prayer we commemorate the brothers John and Charles Wesley, whose revival movement within the Anglican Church gave rise to the Methodist denomination. James Kiefer at The Daily Office tells this story of one Wesleyan preacher’s creative misreading of the Bible:

[A]lthough Wesley found it natural to approach the Gospel with habits of thought formed by a classical education, he was quick to recognize the value of other approaches. The early Methodist meetings were often led by lay preachers with very limited education. On one occasion, such a preacher took as his text Luke 19:21, “Lord, I feared thee, because thou art an austere man.” Not knowing the word “austere,” he thought that the text spoke of “an oyster man.” He spoke about the work of those who retrieve oysters from the sea-bed. The diver plunges down from the surface, cut off from his natural environment, into bone-chilling water. He gropes in the dark, cutting his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. Now he has the oyster, and kicks back up to the surface, up to the warmth and light and air, clutching in his torn and bleeding hands the object of his search. So Christ descended from the glory of heaven into the squalor of earth, into sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with Him to the glory of heaven, His torn and bleeding hands a sign of the value He has placed on the object of His quest. Twelve men were converted that evening. Afterwards, someone complained to Wesley about the inappropriateness of allowing preachers who were too ignorant to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on. Wesley, simply said, “Never mind, the Lord got a dozen oysters tonight.”

God bless the human mind that brings order out of chaos, a humble imitation of God’s own creativity. Because he understood the heart of the gospel, this preacher wrestled with a text that initially appeared absurd, finding meaning, and birthing a fresh and powerful new image of salvation, where literalists would say there was only a mistake. How is Jesus like an oyster-man? (What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?) Poetry begins with the kind of deep seeing that such a conundrum provokes.

One of my favorites among Charles Wesley’s 6,000+ hymns is And Can It Be . Sing along at CyberHymnal.