Apparently, the quizzes I posted last night, were quite popular. And I wasn’t the only one that wasn’t totally thrilled with all my answers. I wasn’t totally thrilled with the classic movie reference, since it basically pegged me as an egomaniac. Yikes. As far as being like Ganhdi in leadership style….well, outside of some diagreements on Christian views, as well as some other things, he was a great leader. Apparently some of my friends weren’t too thrilled to be likened to Bill Clinton though.

Fun stuff.

But all these quizzes have had me thinking. From the quizzes determining which theologian are you, to which fantasy/sci-fi character are you, to what classic movie and famous leader are you…..they have a common theme. They try, with a handful of questions, to reduce a person into a certain stereotype. With twenty questions, you are told that you fit best here, or there. And if you read the questions in these quizzes, well there isn’t a lot of ambiguity or grey area, which some of you like. You are given a hardline question, and based on how you answer that question, will put you in one of a few camps, without the possibility for some movement, or some ability to debate the legitimacy of the question. If you have taken these quizzes, then you know what I mean. If you haven’t, well, let me see if I can give you an example.

In the which theologian are you quiz, they ask the question, “All Christian theology must begin with the revelation of Jesus Christ.” And so you have to basically agree with, or agree against that statement. You can’t agree a little with it, or a little against it. Saying yes to it, will definitely throw you in one camp of theologians. Saying no, will put you in another. But then there are many who would say yes and no.

But aren’t we more complex than that as people. Maybe some of us don’t like greyness or ambiguity, especially where theology is concerned. But aren’t we also as people, given to ambiguity and multiple thoughts, situations, etc. at any given time? What we believe is not always capable of being reduced to yes and no questions.

Why am I bringing all this up? Well, mainly because I have been thinking a lot about the complexity of people. We often think we have people pegged down, that we know who they are, what they think, and how they will act. We often judge people based on our perceptions, while failing to take in account all sorts of other variables. This could be deadly to a relationship or a situation.

Let me give you an example. My wife loves watching the tv show Lost. I had never watched the show before, because I have college group every Wed night. And I’ve always had a weakness for Smallville anyways. But now that we have Tivo (which is unbelievable by the way, especially since I don’t watch much TV), we have been recording everything. And I have been watching Lost, and I am hooked. I am hooked, mainly because the show is so mysterious, and the people are so complex. There is a lot of mystery surrounding the characters, and you are given a little bit of insight into their story in the episodes. Enough information to gather some pieces regarding who they are a little bit, but not enough to say with any definite tone that you have them pegged as people. I think that is the genius of the show.

Well recently we have been going back and watching the episodes, and a bit out of order. And I have been having a hard time with the father Michael Dawson, and the way he is with his son, Walt Lloyd. That was until I began to get more pieces about this relationship. I had missed the crucial episode that showed Michael going over to Australia to bring home his son Walt that he had not seen in 8 years. So I had always assumed that Michael was not a very good father. Then I saw more, and his complexity, and the complexity of the relationship, and the history began to unravel more and more. It is then that I realized, wow, this situation deserves more than my quick analysis and placement of people into certain categories and boxes, where they can forever live out their existence in the roles that I have defined for them.

This is an interesting issue. Rob Bell in his book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, talks about the issue of identity, and the idea of the “mystery behind the mystery”, which he takes from Susan Howatch and her book, Glittering Images.

Rob Bell, in a chapter called “Movement Four: Tassels” tells beatifully the story of his journey in life and in the pastorate. He talks about the complexity of himself, and how this complexity was created by so many things. Things that happened to him when he was thirteen. Things that happened to him when was going to seminary, when he went into the ministry, when he began to try and be what he calls “superpastor.” He talks about this person, and the multiple layers, and how “superpastor” was basically killing him, but that there were so many layers, so many “mysteries behind the mystery.” He says:

“In addition, there is always a mystery behind the mystery. There is a reason we do what we do, and often it is the result of something that is a result of something that is–you guessed it–the result of something. What happens is we try to fix things, but we stop at the first or second layer. We’re stressed and so we make adjustments in time management. But a better question is, why do I take on so much? But an even better question is, why is it so hard for me to say no? Or even, why is that person’s approval so important to me……But that’s not even the real issue……What I have learned is that the deeper you go, the more painful it gets……We have to be willing to drag everything up…….”

This is part of a great chapter on one’s identity. It is one that everyone needs to read, and it is especially relevant to those in the vocational ministry, as he talks about identity in this capacity as well, and I found myself nodding up and down the whole time I was reading. In fact, I have received two subsequent phone calls this week (unbeknownst to each other) from friends in the ministry who had just read this chapter. It hit them hard, and that’s what they have been thinking about.

People are complex. There are many layers to them. This is something that we should keep in mind when we are before others, in relationship with one another, sharing community with one another. This is something that I must keep in mind as a pastor as well. I have been re-reading a book by Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger, called Theology and pastoral counseling: A new interdisciplinary approach. She takes a very cool, Barthian approach to therapy and counseling. By the way, her husband is the theologian George Hunsinger, who runs the Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary.

In her Barthian approach to therapy she identifies a three-fold way of looking at people. I will describe very simply, what is actually more complex, and what she can do justice to, and I cannot.

She takes an approach that allows one to look at a person from a very trinitarian view. When one comes into contact with a person,
1) we should remember that they are someone that is made in the image of God; Divine Image Bearers
2) that they are someone who Jesus Christ came to earth for, died, and was resurrected, offering salvation
3) that they are a person that the Holy Spirit is continually forming and guiding; working on

Talk about the complexity of people. This view has helped me enter into relationship more effectively with people in my ministry, friends, etc. They are complex and unique in many ways.

I urge everyone to think about this issue, and the complexity of people, and to not take for granted the relationships you have in your life.

Last, I urge everyone to read Susan Howatch. In my opinion, for whatever it is worth, she is the greatest living novelist. She has written many books, but the ones that I am referring to are what is called her “Starbridge Series.” One pastor stated that his pastor friend told him that this is a six-pack that no pastor can do without (referring to the six books in the series. I agree. These books are unbelievable, and I have read most of them twice, and am now re-reading Glittering Images for the third time.

These six books are Glittering Images, Glamarous Powers, Ultimate Prizes, Scandalous Risks, Mystical Paths, Absolute Truths. Now, if you are looking for non-complex, easy reading, these are not it. If you are looking for santized characters, where they always do the right thing, and the clergy are always looked upon with the highest favor. These are not it. If you are looking for cleaned up people, where no one makes mistakes, and where pastors don’t have vices and don’t commit very undiscerning acts. These are not it. If you think contemplative spirituality, or mysticism, or monastics, or Anglican theology is a crock. Then these are not for you.

But if you love great writing, and you want plots, and characters that are as complex as could be. These are the books for you. If you want fiction that is similar to real-life, and deals with the struggles of people, and those in ministry. Then these are for you. If you want books that transform you. Then these are for you.

The three books after these, The Wonder Worker, The High Flyer, and The Heartbreaker, are great as well, and follow some of the characters from the original series. And they are a bit more gritty, especially the Heartbreaker. Craig Williams says this about The Heartbreaker:”Recommending this book isn’t easy. It’s offensive. But necessarily so. I was captured by the story. And challenged deeply to consider if I’m up to the task of loving my neighbor, whoever it may be. Definitely rated R, but it’s not graphic – merely honest.”

So enjoy the reading, and exploring the complexity of people, and “the mystery behind the mystery.”

Below is a bio of this series, taken from Wikipedia written on Susan Howatch.

“The Starbridge Series

Howatch’s most popular work is the Starbridge series. This series of six books (later expanded to seven) sets out to tell the history of the Church of England through the twentieth century. Each of the six books is self contained, and each in narrated by a different character. However the main protagonist of each book also appears in the other books, allowing the author to present the same incidents from different viewpoints.

The action of all six books centres round the fictional Anglican diocese of Starbridge, which is supposedly in the west of England, and also features the Fordite monks, a fictional Anglican monastic order.

The three main characters in the Starbridge series represent different wings of the Church of England. Charles Ashworth reprsents the conservative wing; Jon Darrow the Anglo-Catholic wing and Neville Aysgarth the liberal wing. The first three books of the series (Glittering Images, Glamorous Power, Ultimate Prizes) begin in the 1930s, and continue through the Second World War. The second three (Scandalous Risks, Mystical Paths, Absolute Truths) take place in the 1960s.

The Wonder Worker (UK Title A Question of Integrity) picks up the story of a major character, Nick Darrow, fifteen years after the events of the Starbridge series. The High Flyer and The Hearbreaker use some of the same characters from that book as minor characters.

Howatch has used some of the profits from her novels to found “The Starbridge Lectureship in Science and Theology”, a professorship at Cambridge University devoted to linking the fields of science and religion.”