Metaphor for Practical Theology

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Practical theology is faith in action. It’s how one integrates all the tiny pieces of belief, learning, and practices into a life of discipleship and faith.  For Christians, practical theology is how one follows Jesus. Practical theology influences, and is influenced by, history, culture, and experience.

Stained glass is a metaphor for practical theology. Some may suggest that stained glass is an antiquated art, whose stories are dull, dusty windows to times forgotten. As a metaphor for practical theology this would mean that faith engaged with the world is a relic of the past. However, when one considers the materials, development, and use of stained glass, one finds a dynamic metaphor for practical theology today.

Sand, lime, and various minerals are combined and manipulated in different ways while being heated to create different colors and styles of glass[1]. The heat represents God, the creator, who provides the materials for a life of discipleship (e.g. sustenance, love, grace, intellect, wisdom, skills, opportunity, etc.) The artist shaping and ordering the materials for various effects represents a disciple living out her/his faith in different ways. The lead solder used to give the stained glass pieces structure and internal support represents Jesus Christ and his teachings. Light is needed to appreciate the full impact of stained glass. Light represents the Holy Spirit working through each person. Where a stained glass piece is located or positioned also impacts how one experiences it. This represents the influences of our unique contexts, cultures, and experiences on our lives of discipleship.

A place of worship is central to a disciple’s faith life. Naturally, the prevalence of stained glass in churches lends itself well to the use of stained glass as a metaphor for practical theology. However, stained glass is not limited to worship settings.Ninety percent of stained glass in the world is used in secular, non-religious architecture[2]. This represents the aim of Christian discipleship to live faithfully according to Jesus’ teachings, not just in the church, but in the world.

If one traces the artistic development of stained glass from the first examples of glass beads in 2750 B.C.,[3] to its first use in windows of Christian churches in 400 A.D.[4], on to its contemporary presence in myriad forms and structures, one finds that styles and designs of stained glass change over time. Artists’ commitment to and skill with the craft vary at different periods, as does the art’s popularity or acceptance. These differences reflect artists’ various engagement with the raw materials, as well as their integration into a particular time and place in history. Likewise, what a Christian does with the raw materials of faith, her/his reliance on Christ and his teachings, and how receptive one is to receiving and sharing the Light of Christ in the world all impact how one lives out faith, and may change over time and as he/she interacts with his/her context and culture.

Refurbishment and care of stained glass is required[5]. Sometimes the incorporation of brand new materials is needed. This represents our dependence on God, and God’s ongoing creation in the world. Disciples care for themselves through infusion of new learning, experiences, and spiritual practices, and edification through the Word. Furthermore, reorientation of one’s focus, thinking and practices in relation to the world around them can reinforce discipleship.

Stained glass is accessible to all, much like practical theology. When churches started creating stained glass murals of Bible stories and representations of scripture, they did it educate and include the illiterate masses[6]. Practical theology impacts others in this world, including the “least of these” in society. Stained glass was made for communities, yet interpreted and understood both individually and collectively. Practical theology, too, is both an individual and communal process. Today, the creation of stained glass is not limited to specially trained artists. Kits and lessons for beginners are easily accessible, demonstrating that everyone is, or can be, a practical theologian. Finally, stained glass lets us ponder the past, be mindful of the present, and edify our imaginations for the future. Likewise, practical theology considers the past, speaks to the present, and lives into the future.

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[1] “Stained Glass.” Encyclopedia.com.  http://www.encyclopedia.com/manufacturing/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/stained-glass  (accessed December 9, 2016).

[2] “Stained Glass.” Madehow.com. http://www.madehow.com/Volume-2/Stained-Glass.html  (accessed December 9, 2016).

[3] “History  of Stained Glass.” Stained Glass Association of America. http://stainedglass.org/?page_id=169  (accessed December 9, 2016).

[4] Sherriff, Nathan. “Interesting Facts About Stained Glass Windows.” Steve Sherriff Stained Glass Specialists. https://lead-windows.co.uk/interesting-facts-about-stained-glass-windows/ (accessed December 9, 2016).

[5] “Stained Glass Repair.” Steve Sherriff Stained Glass Specialists. https://lead-windows.co.uk/stained-glass-repair/ (accessed December 9, 2016).

[6] Sherriff, Nathan. “Interesting Facts About Stained Glass Windows.” Steve Sherriff Stained Glass Specialists. https://lead-windows.co.uk/interesting-facts-about-stained-glass-windows/ (accessed December 9, 2016).

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