“You may be dehydrated right now but not know it. One peculiar feature of our physiology is that the signals for lack of fluid are not immediate and strong. Thus we may feel uneasy or tires when dehydrated but not recognize these symptoms as thirst. By the time we recognize them as such, we have already moved through the early stages of dehydration. Why does this matter? It matters because keeping our fluid levels up is vital for our bodies to function in so many important ways: for energy, for healing, for our immune systems, for electrolytes, and yes, even for sex… One of the basic premises of any spirituality is that our nonphysical selves also thirst. We may not know what we need, and we may try to satisfy our needs with possessions, foods, or relationships that do not satisf and that may bring dangerous side effects. Christian spirituality identifies what we really long for as the living water of God, fresh sparkling and pure.” Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality
And so begins our journey through history to discern not only what has happened in church history but who has happened to be in church history. Why are some figures more notable than others? What are the requirements of sainthood by the Catholic Church? Why isn’t Mother Teresa a saint yet? Are there any saints that come from modern day America? What would it look like to bestow proper reverence to Protestant “saints”? Is that necessary? And why is this necessary information for our spiritual transformation?
At some point we agree that the need for a human model of Christian Spirituality is necessary. While we can never follow another human being (and by the way DANGEROUS to do so), we can learn and glean and model after behavior that we see aligning with the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. This is called discipleship. The beautiful thing about reading through Church history is that we have the vantage point of reading another person’s life that occurred in a different part of the world and different part of the ages. Think time travel here. The trick now is to read the lives of others and the categories of events carefully without reacting as if they were living in America in the year 2008. This will require some effort of the part of the reader.
Let’s try this. If church history is an opera, then you, dear reader, will have to do your own work learning the symphony. The music has been written, true, but you are playing it. What instruments are being played? Who was the composer? How many different composers actually contributed to the piece? Do you even know how to play the flute? Are you going to hand the sheet music to someone else (commentary) or do the diligence required to master the scale yourself? And if you share this with others, who will you invite to opening night? Who will you invite to play in your orchestra?
“None of us is neutral about matters that are important to us” (Holt, p.17)
Infinitely complex are the biases and assumptions that will join you as you read through history. Are you American/European? Than you will likely picture Jesus fair skinned with blue eyes. Are you African/Asian? Than you will picture a dark haired, dark skinned Jesus. It is inevitable. It is unique. It is your bias. Do you come from the Protestant tradition? The Catholic Tradition? Are you Mennonite? Puritan? Orthodox? Wherever you come from , whatever you have been taught, has informed your theology and therefore will frame your interpretation of church history. There are infinite combinations and countless other variables that will inform your biases and assumptions. As you read history, some of your assumptions will be challenged and some will reveal themselves as unfounded. Some of your more implicit assumptions will gain momentum as you read and and some of your explicit assumptions may be challenged to the point that you have to abandon them altogether. This is called transformation. This is very good.