Sunday, March 1, 2009

The little plane and the cloud

When I learned about parts of speech in elementary school, my teacher taught me that a preposition was any word that would fit in the blank in the sentence "The little plane flew _____ the cloud." Over, under, into, through, at, to, toward, and so on.

As I began to read Faith and Human Rights: Christianity and the Struggle for Human Dignity by Richard Amesbury and George Newlands, I had a flashback to my elementary school lessons. Even in the introduction, I realized that Amesbury and Newlands had adopted a kind of "prepositional" role in understanding the church. In other words, the authors had taken the church as the "little plane" that could somehow relate to the world--what it could tell, offer to, inform the world about.

One example, from the very first page (and I promise, I have read past the first page), comes from a question at the end of the first paragraph: "...or do religious traditions harbor moral resources that can be invoked on behalf of human dignity?" (Introduction, vii).


I am willing to concede that the asking of this question was probably an appeal to the broadest possible readership, in hopes that perhaps unchurched advocates for human rights would be persuaded to read on, and discover what Christians had to "offer" to the struggle for human rights worldwide (and, here, I begin also to think of Reinhold Niehbuhr.) But, I wonder, as I continue to read, will I be able to understand what this book says to me--because I believe God created the notion of "human dignity." I don't think this book is a study of comparative religions, but rather a study of Christian beliefs about huan righs. So, I am tempted to go ahead and answer the question right now: Yes, Christianity has a moral resource to invoke on behalf of human dignity. It is called discipleship.

I have wrestled a great deal with questions about the church, and its relationship in, to, under, around, through, over, out of the world. And, to stretch my analogy to the point of snapping your patience, I have come to think of the church as the cloud, not the plane, with apologies to Reinhold Niehbuhr (who was also, I say with respect, a bit prepositional in his ecclesiology).