Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: Theology in Aisle Seven

Just submitted to Amazon:
What do a fenced-in backyard, a fraudulent E-bay transaction, a headless snake, and a bad case of laryngitis have in common?  Through the eyes and pen of author and songwriter Carolyn Arends, each becomes a spiritual signpost, pointing ever nearer to the mysteries of God.  Using these and myriad other everyday occurrences, Carolyn marks her path as skillfully as a sailor marks the stars. And, after reading this collection of columns, the only conclusion the reader can draw is that we are constantly standing on holy ground, and nothing and no one ought to be overlooked as ordinary in this grand adventure of Christian life.  
The title of the collection sort of sums up the thread binding each column to the others.  Theology in Aisle 7 refers to an experience in that hotbed of potentiality: the office supply store.  In Chapter 7, Letting Go of God: Trying to Organize a God who Transcends, Carolyn relates her purchase of a desktop file sorter (Organizational Supplies, Aisle 7) with her then recent decision to pursue a Masters in Theology.  She writes, “On the same day I bought my new organizer, I decided on a concentration in spiritual theology.  I’ve been longing for more structure, not only in my office but also in my faith.”

A friend teases her a little, asking whether a part of her was looking for more control in her course of studies in systematic theology.  No, Carolyn realizes, not part of her – all of her!  She writes again, “I really don’t like it when God behaves unpredictably, when he seems to be as much about mystery as about revelation, and when he refuses to fit into the slots I have labeled for him.”  She longs for a tidier faith, a PowerPoint presentation God, a concise, inarguable exposition of God’s will and man’s work.  Like anyone else who grapples with the Holy One, she is left strengthened in her weakness, knowing that, “We have a God who both transcends our messy lives and incarnates himself in them.  That reality is hard to organize, but it is the best news there is. . . .Praise God, there is not a thing in Aisle 7 – or in the universe – that can contain him.” 

The whole of this collection reminds me of a sermon I recently read by the extraordinary George MacDonald (Phantastes), wherein he writes about our desire to shove God into a clearly marked box and be done with Him: “Sad, indeed, would the matter be, if the Bible had told us everything God meant us to believe.  But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged.  It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth.  The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God.  It is Christ 'in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,' not the Bible, save as leading to him.” (Unspoken Sermons, “The Higher Faith”) This is why, unless we wrestle daily in Spirit and Truth and find our hips dislodged and our hearts broken, we will never revel in spiritual renewal -- that wholeness of what God desires for us.  This collection is one way that Carolyn Arends offers us insight into her journey and encouragement on ours.

So, if you go looking for Theology in Aisle 7, what you’ll find instead is a meandering path of constant wonder where every footprint is filled with grace.  Do not be deceived by its switchbacks and unexpected turns; it has a defined destination that is no less than the very heart of God.  Happy travels!
P.S. Thanks to Flicka Spumoni for the heads-up on George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons.  Wow!


Bernie said...

I've been reading (and loving) Carolyn Arends for a long time. And that there last paragraph you wrote is about the best dang thing ever said about how she wrangles words. Mighty fine. Mighty fine. I think your review will send a lot of folks her way. And I'm glad she sent me here! Between her insights and yours, I'm fairly awash in writerly richness, elbow-deep. As Madge the TV-ad manicurist once said about Palmolive soap, "You're soaking in it!"

Justine said...

Hey -- wow! -- thanks! You're not the Bernie I met in San Francisco after a concert are you? The one who we're taking to Ireland with us to play with Sadie? :-) You must be! Maybe . . .

Hope all the reviews at Amazon will convince as many people as possible to read her marvelous words. You're too kind to me; but, no superlatives could ever do justice to the writings (lyrics or prose) of Mrs. A.

Thanks for stopping by, turner-of-a-fine-phrase-herself-Bernie. Always a treat to get the input of others in the tribe. And, I'll glow in pink all night from your generous comments.