Sunday, October 4, 2009

Some strange symbolism…

I did it. I’m a lemming. A sheep. And you know what? I don’t care! If I had it to do over, I’d do it sooner. I hope we can still be friends. But I thought you should know- I read Dan Brown’s new novel.

Maybe, just maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about. Perhaps one or two of you haven’t heard that Dan Brown, (in)famous author of the 2003 smash hit novel The Da Vinci Code, has FINALLY published another book. I was in seminary when Da Vinci came out, and the blowback was stupendous. Multiple professors spent entire class periods giving unannounced lectures on the theological and historical inaccuracies of the novel (my seminary took itself a bit too seriously, at times). Across the nation, both theological liberals and conservatives joined forces in condemning this “appalling work of absolute fiction”, albeit for different reasons. All this attention did exactly what the publisher hoped for: I got interested enough to read it.

I’m glad I did. It was a fun book. Not very careful about church history, but entertaining. A buddy of mine, after I finished Da Vinci, lent me two of Brown’s earlier novels, and I devoured those as well. So when I heard recently that another Dan Brown adventure, titled The Lost Symbol, was out, I got it, and within a week my Dan Brown fix was fixed.

The book, you should know, doesn’t have those mind-blowing speculations about Christianity that made The Da Vinci Code controversial. But there’s stuff that will get folk a bit heated, which is partly why I like these stories. They get folk thinking about religion. Being a pastor, that makes me happy. Surprise, surprise. Also, they encourage folk to think about religion in atypical ways. I like that too, despite my hesitations with Dan Brown’s theology. My reason for that is I think we often struggle to keep our thinking about God and religion from turning stale. That goes for both churchgoers and the church averse. With all that’s going on in our lives, it’s easy to get afflicted with the “I believe what I believe and that’s all there is to it” syndrome. People stop searching for fresh insight. Curiosity about God diminishes. Wonder and mystery lose their fascination. So I love it when something pops up that sparks new thinking about God. It could be a book, movie, an archeological find; it might challenge, or reinforce, fundamental beliefs. Whatever the case, when folk start re-exploring religious stuff, I believe that opens space for the Spirit to enter in and get to work.

Which relates, interestingly, to the book’s title, The Lost Symbol. Religion and symbols go together. But there’s a difference with the symbols in a puzzle (Brown’s specialty) and those used in religious worship. To the religious, a ‘symbol’ is more than a metaphor, more than a picture that represents something else. A religious ‘symbol’ takes a faithful person beyond herself into the presence of something greater. Religious symbols invite folk to interact with, and not just look at, that which is symbolized. So when I call Jesus, “King,” I mean more than, “Jesus is like royalty.” That symbol invites me to recognize and accept Jesus’ lordship over life. When I call God “Mother” or “Father,” I’m more than describing God. I’m acknowledging the very real relationship I can have with my Divine Parent. And remember, God is so great, no one symbol says everything there is to say. So it’s important we use multiple symbols to speak of God. We don’t want to worship an idea of God, or one symbol, in God’s place. Still, what’s cool is when we seek to speak more creatively about God, God’s Spirit shows up.

Regardless, Dan Brown books are fun adventures. If you plan to read it, I got a copy you can borrow. We can chat about it after, explore the symbols and plot twists together. If you don’t read it, I pray you’re finding something else to nurture your wonder about the God we serve. And that we all discover new symbols to describe our limitless Lord. In all things,

Grace and Peace,