Picked up a copy of The Lutheran recently and Peter Marty wrote the opening column in it. I appreciate it when an author can articulate a principle of faith brilliantly, as Marty does in that column. The last time I remember mulling over a bit of theological writing this much was years ago when I came across the middle page of The Lutheran Handbook.
So, what did Marty say? Marty was introducing the theme of his anticipated monthly column entries about being a "Lutheran Christian" as opposed to being a "Lutheran." He stressed a grammatical point, that adjectives are always trumped by nouns. Adjectives serve to modify or qualify a noun. The noun in a given sentence is more crucial, more powerful, more central to the author's meaning.
I'm eager to see how he elaborates on this in the coming months.
His elaboration further in the article resonated even more than the grammatical exercise. Marty discussed his discomfort with some people attaching "Christian" to un-religious aspects of life. The example he gave: finding a contractor who advertised himself as a "Christian Plumber." Marty's quip - that there is nothing inherently holy or spiritual about unclogging a toilet - stuck with me as I repainted the bathroom this morning.
I mulled over the adjective-noun point Marty made. There is a significance in saying one is a "married man" vs. calling oneself "a husband." It's significant that I call myself a "history teacher" and that there is really no honest way of un-nouning the "teacher" part of that statement; it speaks to how central the students really must be.
So, am I a "Christian husband?" I've never used that phraseology before, nor have I ever called myself a "Christian father." It would seem to me that the moral, philosophical, and emotional bonds implied by the very word husband or father make the assertion of "Christian" redundant. Of course it informs and guides. Further, Christianity certainly doesn't have a monopoly on the rules governing those relations. So even though I am a "Christian Father" or "Christian Husband" it seems awkward and unnecessary to glue the words together.
What about "Christian Teacher?" Given that I teach in a public school setting that sets me in a position of influence with many diverse children, there's an ethical problem to overtly advertising oneself as an adherent to any faith. But I hesitate to use Marty's plumber analogy for teaching. There's nothing necessarily holy or sacred about my job, yet lessons from Christianity have unmistakably guided and informed the way I treat colleagues and students. Further, I do often think of teaching (and many other jobs) as a "calling" and I can't dismiss the spiritual components of what guided me into this field.
It's been my fortune to have always bumped into gifted speakers who can articulate deep matters of faith: former pastors, the right kinds of reading, and now, it would seem, Pastor Marty writing in a column of a magazine I half-heartedly leafed through. It's been my fortune to have heard a consistent message that the secular and the spiritual can exist concurrently, that there is room for toleration of ambiguity, and that one can avoid a path of dogmatism and judgmentalism.