Intriguing Scriptures, Part Four: Dr. Craig Detweiler

As Dan concludes our summer series talking with friends and colleagues about Scripture passages that intrigue them, he is joined by Dr. Craig Detweiler, President of The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, to talk about the transfiguration narrative in Luke 9. In orthodox traditions the transfiguration is a pivotal moment in the Gospel narratives, but many present-day conversations, particularly in the West, shy away from it. Our discomfort with this story may have something to do with its insight into our core human desire for transformation—the desire to be remade.

Craig: “I see so many efforts to remake what God has given us. […] We’re uncomfortable with our bodies, we’re dissatisfied with how we’ve been created. And here’s a story in the center of Scripture where Jesus takes on a new appearance.”

Dan points out how relevant this conversation is to Craig’s newest book, Selfies, which ends with a reflection on the transfiguration. Craig explores how technology allows us to reimagine our appearance—to take on selves—in unprecedented ways. But so often our self-imaging focuses on what’s ‘wrong’ with us: nip this, tuck that, airbrush our flaws. No wonder the story of the revelation of Jesus’ glory might make us uncomfortable.

Craig: “We are more comfortable with our sin than we are with our glory. We’re more comfortable wallowing in what’s wrong with us than embracing what’s right about us. This is a chance for people to see what humanity at its best, fully lifted up, fully restored, fully manifested, can look like. That should inspire us.”

I’ve focused on this because of the longing I see in our culture for transfiguration in our lives.

Craig argues that, when people project an aspirational image of who they could be, it might be a form of inchoate prayer: this is how I’d like to be seen. It is a beautiful longing, to have the goodness and beauty within us witnessed and affirmed, yet in some Protestant circles we don’t allow for that desire. Desire is seen as dark. It’s easy to denigrate selfies, but it’s harder to bear witness to the deep cry of the heart for the aspirational hope that is embedded in self-imaging.

Craig: “For some of us, it’s hard to even imagine ourselves as approved and embraced and being perfected.”

Dan points out that the transfiguration comes as part of the movement toward Christ’s death. In Luke’s telling it is sandwiched between Jesus’ predictions of his own death, and it’s preceded by the troubling imperative, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”

Dan: “We’ve been written and created with a glory that is actually meant to be enhanced by death.”

The conversation also touches on the inherent humor in the story: the terrifying holiness of the mountaintop experience, coupled with the disciples’ untimely sleepiness and Peter’s frantic, almost comedic efforts to build huts and prolong the moment. It’s a reflection, again, of our discomfort with glory—our need to do something rather than sit in the midst of that which reveals who we were created to be.

Craig: “We don’t know what to do with glory. We don’t know how to enjoy it. We want to box it, sell it, turn it into a carnival ride, or it’s so overwhelming that we can’t even go there, so we deny ourselves the beauty and wonder.”