Pyro-Theology: Consuming But Not Consumed

Worship is canceled tomorrow because of hurricane Irene. So in lieu of a sermon, I thought I would offer a blog post. The lectionary reading this week is from the third chapter of Exodus (1-15). Moses was keeping the flock for his father-in-law when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush. The bush was blazing but was not consumed. God called to Moses from the bush and Moses answered, “Here I am!”

Those of you who follow the South Congregational-First Baptist Church Facebook page know that I have recently become enamored with Peter Rollins. I’m not quite sure how to classify him, philosopher, theologian, new-monastic, prophetic voice in the emergent church? I know he is a beer drinking Irishman and that is good enough for me! His book Insurrection: To Believe is Human, to Doubt is Divine will soon be released, and reviews, interviews and excerpts have recently appeared on Facebook and Twitter.

In Insurrection Rollins speaks of what he calls pyro-theology. He coined the term based on a quote from a dead Spanish Anarchist named Buenaventura Durruti who said that “The only church that illuminates is a burning one.” Of course Durruti was advocating for the destruction of the church as an institution. On the one hand Rollins accepts Durruti’s critique that the church today too often fails to illuminate anything or anyone. On the other hand he appropriates the image of the burning church to demand a faith that is on fire, that is all consuming. Rollins grounds this pyro-theology in radical confession of doubt and unknowing. Doubt and unknowing should be the starting point for our prayers, our hymns and our services of worship. Only then will we make room for an authentic experience of the divine. Here is Rollins’ fellow Irishman Pádraig Ó Tuama giving beautiful, poetic expression to such a confessional, pyro-theology in his song Maranatha. Note, the song includes “the eff-word” so you may not want to play the video in the presence of young children.

We worry that if we admit our failures and limitations we will be consumed by our doubt and unknowing. In fact the opposite is true. When we, like Pádraig Ó Tuama, confess that we are weak, that we are tired and give up, that we have screwed it up again, and that we have made our home in Babylon, Holy fire will kindle within us, and the church will again blaze a path for a hurting world. Alleluia!

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