A Conversation with Carolyn Arends: Theology in Aisle Seven
Another Day Along the Way
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Songs often speak for us. Stories in music reveal our thoughts, our feelings, our questions, our prayers. Carolyn Arends has done that for me. Through her lyrics, her style, and her voice, the songs are personal. Carolyn’s new book does the same. Her stories meet us where we are, or invite us where we should be. They raise issues we often ignore. They provide deep insight in conversational structure. Like her songs, Carolyn’s stories speak to us. Here is my conversation with Carolyn Arends.
Chris Maxwell: Carolyn, please give us a summary of your new book, Theology in Aisle Seven.
Carolyn Arends: Hmmm. A snake, an office supply store, a quest to take up jogging, laryngitis, a grow-op … discipleship, theology, hermeneutics, church history, mystery. And some other stuff! The book features 25 of my Christianity Today columns (written over the past four years), each one somehow exploring the intersection of Christian spirituality and street-level life. My editor points out that 25 chapters is perfect for a month of devotional readings—with a few days off built in!
Chris Maxwell: What do you hope readers can learn and apply from your words?
Carolyn Arends: There are lots of specific personal epiphanies I try to share … but big picture, I hope reading Theology in Aisle Seven is instrumental in alerting the reader to the presence and activity of God in the nitty gritty of his or her own life.
Chris Maxwell: How can we become better at experiencing God in everyday life?
Carolyn Arends: It’s appropriate that Brother Lawrence called attending to God’s presence “practicing the presence of God” –it takes practice! In a chapter called “The Initiator”—about this very challenge—I admit that I have sometimes unconsciously used spiritual disciplines as smoke symbols to try to get God’s attention (as if He were not already present); I’m learning instead that they are ways of simply letting him capture mine. Of course, continuing to stay in conversation with God (through prayer and a sort of alert receptivity) is also critical in those seasons in which I feel like I can’t perceive him at all—they are ways of affirming (and “practicing”) his presence as an act of faith.
Which brings me to a flipside of the “God is present” coin–God is also much more than we can perceive or comprehend, so part of attending to his immanence is learning to accept and celebrate his transcendence. In other words, I am learning not to freak out over the mysteries of God, but rather to see them as proof that he is, in fact, God.
Chris Maxwell: How do you describe spiritual formation?
Carolyn Arends: We are being formed every day by whatever it is we allow to influence us—culture, friends, music, the constant stream of internet data or television programming, etc. The disciple of Jesus is invited to make the Holy Spirit the primary formative influence. So spiritual formation is happening whether we want it to or not—but Christian spiritual formation seeks to be intentional about Who is doing the forming.
Chris Maxwell: Those are powerful words. I will use them as I teach spiritual formation. Also, the words from your earlier song, Seize the Day, had a major impact on my life and ministry. When I starting living with epilepsy, and then speaking for epilepsy groups, that song inspired me to seize every moment. What is the latest news about your music?
Carolyn Arends: Wow, Chris, I’m always blown away when God uses something as simple as a song to do something good—the way he used Seize the Day in your journey with epilepsy. It encourages me to keep at it! My most recent musical project is my 10th CD, LOVE WAS HERE FIRST, which I released a couple of years ago and am still enjoying touring.
I’m halfway through a graduate program at Regent College (a Masters in Christian Studies, concentrating in Spiritual Theology)—so right now that is my primary focus, although the work I do there has a way of finding fruit in songs and columns.
You can find info about my music and tours, as well as ongoing blogposts, at: carolynarends.com.
Specific info about Theology in Aisle Seven is at: http://carolynarends.com/site/theology-aisle-seven
The ebook is currently available for Kindle, Nook and Apple ibooks, with Kobo, and eChristian being added shortly—all the links are at my site.
Chris Maxwell: Thanks, Carolyn. Do you have any other words for us?
Carolyn Arends: It’s popular these days (for good reason) to point out that courage is not the absence of fear, but the will to continue on in the midst of it. I would say something similar about faith—it’s not the absence of doubt but a resolve to stay in relationship with God even when it feels like you’re not getting anywhere. I love the Genesis 32 story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. By morning, it’s dawned on him that he is wrestling with God himself, and Jacob tells him hoarsely, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The biblical witness is so encouraging because it acknowledges that the relationship between creature and Creator can be tremendously challenging on this side of eternity … but that the God of the universe actually wants us to wrestle with him, wants us to hang on tight and not let go … and he wants to bless us with himself.
Along the way,
Powerful Statement: We are being formed every day by whatever it is we allow to influence us. (Carolyn Arends)