Fuzzy Theology

Once while I was traveling in a van full of mendicants through North Carolina I had what can only be described as a once in a lifetime experience. We were on the interstate somewhere between Winston-Salem and Greensboro looking for a turn-off to find some little camp in the High-Point area. It was the middle of the night, had to be two or three in the morning. We were hoping to get close enough to our destination that we could find a motel room and crash until mid-morning then make the show and do our thing. It’s the sort of itinerary that musicians take great pride in and normal people have the good common sense to never attempt. But there we were anyway.

We used to travel with a little TV/VCR combo in our van. We used to call it the time sucker because it could make a fifteen hour drive seem like eight. I had made a little wooden shelf that had two front legs and in place of the two back legs there were these two little finishing nails which stuck down a few inches. They would fit down into a little storage space about knee-high in the center of the dash and the whole thing was remarkably stable. The TV set sat on that shelf. That way, I’m ashamed to say, the driver could watch the movie along with the rest of the passengers. I must have watched 200 movies from that driver’s seat over the course of 7 years. This shelf was somewhat of a conversation piece when we would meet up with friends new and old on the road. It was a fine piece of jimmy-riggin’ if I do say so myself – the perfect invention – the right tool for the job.

We were in the middle of some movie, the title escapes me, when our road manager David switched off the power to the radio, (we piped the sound through the radio so everyone could hear). We could all hear the tell-tale sound of a tire going down on the right rear of the van. We pulled over and hopped out to survey the damage. This was nothing new to us. We had changed at least a half-dozen tires over the years of traveling. But we soon realized that we only had only one flashlight in the van and it didn’t have batteries. It was overcast so there was no moon to help us out. The strobing headlights of the oncoming cars had this blinding effect on us, closing our pupils when we needed them wide open. It wasn’t looking good.

Holding our assembly of cell phones together we tried to illumine the tire to no avail. The blue glow was a bit mesmerizing but was no real help. “What about the T.V.,” somebody suggested. The next thing you know, four grown men are standing alongside a major interstate highway in the middle of the night trying to change a tire by the light of a T.V. “Put it on the white-fuzzy stuff, that’s about the brightest thing there is,” certainly this was the next nugget of wisdom from the Einstein whose idea it was to pull the T.V. off it’s notorious perch, stretch the cords as far as they would reach and point them toward the right flank of the vehicle.

I remember thinking that if we didn’t die from getting hit by some rubber-necking passerby trying to figure out what show we were watching, we were going to get arrested for being stupid. But we got the tire changed and finally found a place to crash. As it turns out, TV fuzz saved the day.

Two things I learned that night. First, don’t buy your tires at Wal-Mart. This lesson was further confirmed a few weeks later while our drummer was backing out of a parking space in some crappy Taco Bell somewhere in Southern Arkansas. I was riding shotgun and saw the impending issue coming. “Hey watch out for that th…” the rest of that sentence went unnoticed because of the loud whooshing sound coming from the general direction of our right front tire. I’ve never heard air escape from a tire so fast in my life. It wasn’t like a popping sound or a little hiss, it was all of the air in the tire releasing in about two seconds and the van literally dropped 4 inches on that corner. Backing over a four inch piece of angle iron will do that. Cheap tires will contribute. We bought four new “real” tires later that week.

Anyway, back to the two things I learned. The other thing was this. If you are doing to do things like change a tire by T.V. light in the middle of the night in North Carolina, you better do it with your brothers. If I would have tried that by myself I would have been terrified and frustrated and who knows how many commandments I would have broken. As it stood, my main problem was trying not to let fizz from my Diet Coke come out through my nose as I was laughing so hard at the whole spectacle. It’s the stuff of life, a community like that. It was a total disaster and a great joy all at once.

I heard Miroslav Volf say once that boundaries are important because they make a “thing.” One needs to recognize the boundaries to tell that this is this thing, and that is that thing, and this thing is not that thing, and if there are no boundaries then there is no-thing – chaos. I do not advocate having no boundaries. Boundaries are important. I think the brass ring would be proper boundaries and if that means “no boundaries” for awhile in certain areas while on our way to proper bounded-ness then I’m OK with that. When you are doing theological discourse, sometimes boundaries need to be stretched or erased for a time in order to see things from a different perspective. But this requires some grace and some loving latitude during the project.

For such a long time I only knew this little group of guys and a wife that way. But I’m beginning to see that there are so many more. My church is like that. My marriage continues to be that as well – many of you who read this blog, you are like that brother and sisterhood for me now.

I cannot help but admit that my mind is rather like TV fuzz sometimes. My IQ doesn’t break the bank but this is what I want to do so I work hard at it. I try my best and I spend an inordinate amount of time reading books. I also cannot escape the feeling that what I’m trying to work out and describe and do and be in this theological quest of mine is rather like changing a tire by the light of the TV fuzz. I’m out of my depth and beyond my pay-scale for sure. I’m so glad to do it with you guys. I’m glad to be in the van together, even if I’m not really sure how to get where I’m going.

I cannot help but think that God likes it when we do crazy stuff like what happened in the middle of the night in North Carolina. It must appeal to God’s sense of humor and at least in some creative way I think our ingenuity gives God glory, if not at least a laugh. I think our theological discussion might do that as well.

Some people don’t like the exhibition. Some like to drive by and honk, or even fly the finger on their way by – but they are not my brothers and sisters, though it’s not by my choice, I wish they were. I wish everyone were in on the joke. But alas, folks like me don’t get to make those sorts of decisions. All I can do is pray that they are released from the bondage of their rotten boundaries. So I’m going to keep plugging away and some small part of what I’m thinking will keep appearing on this blog. To my friends who enter in to the conversation, I will keep on posting your comments and I’ll be forever grateful to share the ride with you guys. To those who just want to argue for argument’s sake and take pot shots at me and say mean things or write letters to my boss and try to get me fired. I’m not going to post your stuff, sorry.

Peace of Christ.

About Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is a pastor, writer, and musician. He is the author of several books: Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), and An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade Books, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals. Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. He has planted three successful churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13160980421661902529 yicare4u

    great story !! i thought your boss was ,you know,God.he would never fire you. he had a hard enough hiring you! God has and does use you in so many wonderful ways .if we ever knew how many we would have to repent for a year of sundays,just to get humble again. so God spares us. peace to you my friend, a peace that never ends.


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