Both/And Theology

As you may have recently heard, we just finished cleaning out and organizing the attic in the sanctuary.  If you haven’t seen the highlight video of that process yet, make sure to scroll down to the Stewardship Stream article – you’re in for a treat!  And as I mentioned at the annual meeting, we have plans to do similar cleaning and organizing across the entire campus over the coming months.  All of our houses got Marie Kondo-ed during the pandemic, and now it’s the church’s turn!

I have always loved a good sort and purge, which is a catchy new phrase that I (hopefully) just invented to describe the process of both organizing a space, as well as giving/throwing things away.  I just love the feeling of creating order out of chaos.  And I especially love how fresh and clean the space feels afterwards.  The only problem is, I am also incredibly sentimental, and I express that sentimentality by hanging on to old keepsakes.  When I moved to San Diego, I had four storage bins full of Legos, as well as two other bins of random memorabilia.  Thanks to a few different purges those have since dwindled – I’m now down to two boxes of Legos, and only one box of nostalgia-related items!

Now, some of you might be wondering, how is it possible for a person to love sorting, organizing, and purging, and also be a sentimental packrat?  Aren’t those two personality traits mutually exclusive?  On paper, you’d be absolutely right, and I would 100% agree with you that those two things don’t go together.  And yet, it must be possible because … well … here I am!  The living embodiment of those seemingly contradictory ways of being in the world.

Thankfully, there’s some rock-solid Lutheran theology that helps explain this conundrum – and it is called “Both/And” theology.  As opposed to “either/or” theology, “both/and” theology is a way of understanding contradiction and paradox.  It’s a way of realizing that the world is far more complex than we realize, and that things that seem to be mutually exclusive do indeed co-exist at the same time.  That’s how we can understand that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, or the fact that we are all simultaneously both saint and sinner, or how the kingdom of God both is present now and is yet to come.  And if it can cover those lofty topics, it can most certainly account for my own personal contradictions.

“Both/and” theology is one of my favorite aspects of the Lutheran way of understanding the world.  I mean, how boring would it be to go through life always having to pick either/or, this or that, when instead you can say, “Both!”  Seriously, though, I think that it is a much more realistic way of understanding the world around us.  We live in a world where contradictions and paradoxes are commonplace.  A world that is most certainly not black or white, but rather every blessed color under the sun.  It’s a world that is filled with nuance and complexity.  So thank goodness we have a theology that can stand up to such a wonderful and complicated world!

Your contradictory (at times) sibling in Christ,

Pastor Sam