Orginally published on Thursday, October 06, 2005 at 5:00 PM
by Todd Rhoades
Question: Explain the significance of the title Velvet Elvis.
Answer: It's from my favorite verse in the Bible.
Question: Wow, I missed that one.
Answer: No, I'm just messing with you.
I have an Elvis on black velvet painting in my basement. In the corner the painter signed his or her name "R." Just R. Because when you're this good, you don't need to write your whole name.
What if, when R. got done with my velvet Elvis, R. had announced there was no more need to paint? That we've got the last painting, we're done, put down your brushes. We all laugh because we understand the nature of art. We intuitively understand that art is about endless possibilities and infinite arrangements. We understand with art that you keep going. We have to keep painting, keep sculpting, keep writing songs, keep exploring.
Many times, what happens in faith communities is that someone paints a painting that's very compelling and then announces they're ready to put down the brush. The next generation comes along, and says, 'I guess you guys liked the painting, but it doesn't work for us' and the painting ends up in the basement. So I'm exploring theology as an art form.
Question: In your book, you write, "God doesn't change, but times do." From your vantage point, how do Christians know the difference between changing with the times, and attempting to change God to fit current needs?
Answer: Central to orthodox, historic Christian faith has been an awareness that God acts in history redemptively, through people, to redeem the institutions they create and the society around them. God is about being a father to the fatherless, is about the oppressed, those who have been marginalized, forgotten, neglected. If this faith doesn't lead to more compassion, more justice, more love, then it has veered dangerously off course. If what we're exploring doesn't continue this beautiful, captivating, compelling historical redemptive movement ? then we're in trouble. We have lost the plot somewhere along the way.
Question: You talked about how people confuse particular beliefs with God. What exactly is belief?
Answer: In the Scriptures, belief works in tandem with action. Our actions are reflective of our beliefs, but our beliefs drive our actions. So what I'm interested in reclaiming is the importance of these two together.
Sometimes faith becomes all about what people believe, and how you act doesn't really matter. But in the Scriptures, how you act very much matters. Like it says, what does God require of you but to love justice and mercy and to walk humbly? Those are all actions.
There's this great line in the Book of James: "Even the demons believe." So if belief is just about a bunch of stuff in your head that you have intellectually assented to ? well, Jesus really takes religious leaders to the shed over that. At one point he says to a crowd, 'Do what these people tell you, but don't do what they do.' Because they believe a bunch of stuff but it has no bearing on how they actually act.
But if we're honestly going to talk about action, you have to talk about what you believe. They always work together.
Question: In your book you write, "So the way of Jesus is not about religion, it's about reality. It's about lining yourself up with how things are." Explain what you mean.
Answer: In the Letter to the Colossians, Paul says, whether it's a new moon or a Sabbath or a religious feast, those are all shadows of the reality. The reality is found in Christ. So I would say that these symbols and religious rituals are incredibly important, but they help mediate the divine. They aren't the divine.
The Christian rite of communion is this mysterious, ancient meal that we take with this bread and this cup. It's like a portal, a window into the deeper realities of grace, reconciliation, forgiveness, sacrifice. The point is living in harmony as God made us ? caring for each other, forgiving each other, carrying each other's burdens.
Even church, the reason we gather, study together, sing together, is about something much more profound than an hour on Sunday or a particular program or methodology.
Question: You're offering a different way of looking at Christian faith. Are you coming from some personal perspective that perhaps gave you this calling?
Answer: I grew up with Christian parents on the edge of church. My parents are Christian, but very much thinking, questioning, probing Christians. They never bought the whole thing, either.
I would say I've been restless from Day One. I really want to be a part of it. I live in a world with lots of people who just don't buy a lot of it. So these are all things in my own struggle and journey that I've had to deal with. How do you have a brain and take things very seriously, take them with the seriousness they deserve, and be a person of faith?
I don't think I'm doing anything new. The Christian tradition has been filled with questions and doubts, with people rethinking massive areas of the faith. It's just the current dominant Christian worldview that isn't very reflective of the larger tradition it comes from. It says, 'This is the party line,' and if you have questions or doubts you're seen as odd or worse yet as a heretic. But church tradition is filled with people saying, "Hold on a minute, there."
Question: As I've followed the emerging church, there's almost an insistence on being passionate and adventurous and thriving on change and uncertainty. I wonder if leaders are confusing their personal temperaments and aesthetic preferences with, say, God's will.
Answer: Sometimes a movement will arise that says, "We all need to be like this." And coincidentally that happens to be the temperament of the people who started it. But true spirituality, and the kind of life God intends for us, is much more about each of us being who we were made to be, and then learning to love and accept the other, the person who's not like me or who does not look like me.
This post has been viewed 2184 times so far.
TRACKBACKS: (0) There are 9 Comments: