a theology of houses and tents

Back in my younger days I was quite the camper. My dad and I did a lot of camping with the boy scouts. Many weekends during my pre-teen years I would spend in a tent at a campsite. As I have gotten older, I have not really lost the desire to camp, but really have lost the time to do so. As my boys get older I am looking forward to continuing this tradition with them and teach them about God’s great creation.

But, back to the tent. Anyone who spends a lot of time in a tent understands it is not really created for luxury. It is utilitarian, really built for the task of shelter. It isn’t particularly warm nor comfortable, but it enables the user to travel lightly and stay wherever there is free space on the ground. And, most tents are pretty strong. Now, they can’t stand up to a limb falling on them, but most can hold up to a strong wind or storm – bending but rarely braking.


As we have been talking about boundaries and theology this week, I am thinking about the ways my own theology (or thinking on God) has changed over the last twenty years. As a teenager I was pretty black and white about the world and thinking about the church. I had a rather rigid system of thinking about religious, moral, and ethical issues. Most of these views were from my church background and I had relatively few tools in which to evaluate these viewpoints.

Back then, I lived in a theological house.


Now, I won’t point out the obvious differences between a house and a tent, but rather point out the obvious similarity – they are both used for shelter. Houses are built to be permanent and comfortable. Once a house is set upon it’s foundation, it is incredibly difficult to move and really tends to serve those who live within its walls. But, a tent is made to be portable and flexible. It goes where you go and keeps you safe from the elements without needing to be permanent.

For so many, our theological boundaries are built like fortresses to to guard us and keep us safe from the scary world we inhabit. We don’t want to feel the cold or heat, the wind or rain, the blistering sun or the piercing darkness of night.

So when we build our theological boundaries more as a solid house we end up serving ourselves and becoming hard and unmovable. We are insulated to the pain and suffering of our world while feeling quite comfortable with our setup.

But, what if we set up our theological boundaries more like a tent? While not nearly as comfortable or desirable, we are more flexible and can see the world as it is – complicated and devoid of easy answers. When the winds and rains come, we feel it. While we have the safety of the tent, we cannot deny what is going on around us. We cannot hide from the world we live in when our boundaries are flexible, purposeful, practical, permeable, but strong all the while.

Boundaries are meant to keep us safe, but are not meant to isolate and keep others out. They give us a boundary in which to work, but are never meant to be permanent. Things change. We grow and see the world in a new way. We can change and not feel like we are abandoning what is true and important.

You see, I am really drawn to those who live this way. I think of those who push me to think differently and see the world and God’s kingdom differently as mentors and teachers. Those who just want me to be safe and stay at home don’t fill those roles.

But what I really admire about folks who have a “tent-like” theology is how they are viewed by folks who live in theological houses. They are seen as misfits and pariahs and as people who are the problem. And those living in the tents keep loving and pushing and growing. Just like those who live in tents, they are looked down upon by those who live in houses. But, they don’t seem phased.

And, I love them for it. And, I want to be like that.

So, let’s go camping together. Let’s step out of our theological houses and find a good place to explore together. We have our tents and each other.


What is there to fear?

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