Friday, December 5, 2008

At The Crack O' Dawn

The environs were, in some ways, worlds apart from their usual and preferred meeting places, but then again, so was the time of day. They had barely sat down and ordered their food from the taciturn waitress when their usual lively dialogue began.

"You've got to be kidding," exclaimed the Younger, laughing, "it's 6:30 in the morning, and you're already talking theology?"

The Elder paused in pouring a cup of coffee from the plastic carafe, eyebrows raised in feigned shock. "Why not? Are you suggesting you're a shallow thinker until sometime at mid-day?"

The Younger rolled his eyes in dramatic yet silent rebuke. "Well, at least until after I've had some decent coffee, anyway," he muttered darkly, "which doesn't seem likely at this fine culinary establishment."

"Oh, hush," chided the Elder as he filled his friend's mug. "Roadside diners are a taste of history."

The Younger leaned forward, "Yeah, but is the food equally a taste of history?" He leaned back in his duct-tape-dependent chair; "Okay, so what early morning doctrinal mayhem do you have in mind?"

The Elder smiled as he stirred the tepid liquid in his coffee cup. "Well, don't blame me -- you're the one who got the new job promotion with the crazy schedule. Being retired does give me a certain level of flexibilty, after all."

Shifting his weight in the ancient chair, as the skies hinted vaguely at the possibility of sunrise, he continued, "Well, since we're having such an early breakfast -- again, in deference to your new work schedule -- why don't we have a 'chicken and egg' discussion?"

"Which chicken and which egg?" countered the Younger, warming to the familiar rhythm of dialogue that they often enjoyed.

"Theo-chicken and theo-egg," replied the Elder, managing to keep a straight face, although a hint of a smile teased at one corner of his mouth. "Specifically, which comes first -- or dare I say, should come first -- the chicken: orthodoxy, or the egg: orthopraxy?"

"Nice try, my friend," replied the Younger, a knowing smile spreading across his face. "It's early but not that early. The chicken and egg should be in tandem, and if you'll pardon the alliteration, in tension. It's more like having two rails under the train, really, instead of a chicken/egg distinction. The two really can't -- or shouldn't be separated."

"True enough," conceded the Elder, nodding. The Younger was a little surprised at how quickly that had gone, until he realized it was only a momentary pause as their waitress, slightly more relaxed and smelling strongly of a recent cigarette break, arrived with their breakfast specials.

"But if you had to pick a starting point," continued the Elder, now all business as the Younger prodded the contents of his plate with a wary fork, "which would you choose? Knowing that they must be held in tension, still, is there a starting point?"

The Younger swallowed hard, whether from the slightly-congealed bit of bacon, or as a result of some quick deep reflection. "Well," he began slowly, "you're the one who is always on about the issues of justice and being an incarnational presence, so it seems odd that you'd want to pursue this line of thinking now. I mean, the lack of connection between orthodoxy and orthopraxy is one of your favourite pet peeves, isn't it?"

The Elder nodded, smiling in agreement as he vigorously stirred the various elements on his plate into a mash before taking a mouthful. "And you, being a proper postmodern-influenced thinker, are also wondering if I'm having a flashback into binary oppositions a la Derrida, and perhaps raising the dark spectre of foundationalism, as well. Well, Derrida isn't God, and foundationalism, for all its modernistic flaws, cannot truly be called 'a doctrine of demons', eh?"

As the Younger remained silent, the Elder continued, raising his fork as if it were a baton, and he were a conductor, "But if we truly believe that this is all about Jesus' story, and our part in it, doesn't it make sense that we have a proper understanding of His Story, before we attempt to find our place in it?"

The Younger frowned as he did battle with the bacon on his plate, using the opportunity to do some thinking. "Well, I suspect you're still going to insist on orthopraxy needing to be held as strongly as orthodoxy. And I guess if we are thinking chicken-and-egg, then starting with orthopraxy would mean that we were reinterpreting theology based on our actions."

"And in the extreme, we could run the risk of allowing our praxis to dictate what we believe more than theology or doctrine," the Younger concluded, finally putting down his fork, conceding defeat to the contents of his plate. "Honestly, I'm not sure that that's such a bad thing, in practice. Dry doctrinal theology doesn't do much for anyone, as far as I can see."

"Exactly, exactly!" exclaimed the Elder, punctuating his words with swift gestures of his fork. "And what keeps theology from becoming dry and doctrinal? Orthopraxy, plain and simple. Faith in action. St. James would be proud of us, eh?", he grinned. "And let's be honest, using or allowing orthopraxy to dictate what we will believe is what we old-timers used to call 'proof-texting' -- making up your mind first, and then finding or making Scripture back it up."

"But at the same time, how do we know what praxis, what actions are truly what Jesus would have us do as we participate in the advancing Kingdom of God?" Before the Younger could reply, the Elder answered his own question, "Theology Proper: the study of God. We need a 'chastened epistomology', yes -- I'd be the first to breathe a sigh of relief to see it -- but we still need epistomology. We need to know how and why we believe a thing to be true. And that means the theo-chicken of theology does come first. Our understanding of the Kingdom, our understanding of the words and works of Jesus, our understanding of our participation in His Mission -- all flows out of our theology. Our praxis-eggs are completely, absolutely necessary -- but I don't believe they come first. Not for a second."

The Elder suddenly glanced around, setting his fork-baton carefully back onto the table, realizing how animated he had become. "Guess I got carried away with the chicken and egg metaphor, didn't I?", he observed sheepishly, as several nearby diners subtly shifted their chairs to create some distance.

"I'm tempted to make some kind of Dr. Seuss-inspired wisecrack right about now," smiled the Younger, "but I'd be afraid of mixing metaphors."

And then, as both noticed that the sun had risen and time had flown, they quickly settled the bill and prepared to leave. "One last thing," said the Younger, as he shrugged into his jacket, "next time, I'll pick the restaurant, agreed?"

The Elder spread his arms, nodding in acquiescence. "Can I pick the time?", he dead-panned as they headed into the street.


  1. Wonderful :)

    Oh, how we need each other...

    As someone who learned the theology first and is only now learning to really own the praxis side, this gives me the big, undiluted smile that comes with recognition of truth... for both my head and my hands :)


  2. If this discussion of the chicken and the egg remains on the table too long, you'll probably end up inviting Sam & Ella to participate. I don't want to be rude, but they are not my friends. It might be for the best to put the chicken and egg back on ice and serve some bread and wine instead. It worked for Jesus.

  3. I love this series! I tried writing something similar a few years ago, but couldn't pull it off. You have the skills!

    Not to disagree with you, but I started considering the chicken/egg analogy and couldn't help but look at them in reverse. That is, the egg being orthodoxy and chicken being orthopraxy. Beyond the literal aspects of the analogy (with the chicken being far more equipped to DO), I was thinking about process.

    The egg contains the DNA, the raw material that comes together to inform the being, the incarnation that is becoming. Orthodoxy is absolutely essential, but still represents for us only the potential of incarnation. However, genuine orthopraxy reflects the actuality of incarnation. It, of course, can only be actual because of the orthodoxy which formed it.

    However, as actuality trumps potentiality, that would suggest that orthopraxy came first, which puts us in a bind, as orthopraxy cannot form with orthodoxy, as stated above. So I was stumped.

    Then it hit me: I was addressing the question purely in human terms- that is, in respect to our own engagement of doxy & praxy. However, I had failed to include the Creator in the process. After all, theology is discovery, not invention.

    At any rate, this is not to share any of my cleverness (as it fails to be that), but rather to demonstrate what you have done to my brain this morning!!! Thanks!


  4. Ray,

    And that balance is oh, so sorely needed, isn't it? Glad it brought a smile to your face. :)


    If I could figure out some metaphoric spiritual truth based on Canadian back bacon, could I serve it alongside theo-chicken-eggs?


    Wow, you took this one and ran with it! I hadn't even considered those aspects of the chicken/egg relationship. Great insights -- even if it (pardon the pun) scrambled your brain a bit. :)

  5. I spent the whole time reading this googling definitions of Orthopraxy.

    I have now learned a new word!! In my simple mind, they have to co-exist because you cannot have one without the other.

    Cheers, Neil