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Category: Bible

Where God Fills All Things

I’ve been reading biblical genealogies: Genesis 5, 10, 11, 22, 25, 36, and 46; Numbers 3 and 26; Ruth 4; Matthew 1; Luke 3.

I’ve noticed a pattern.

It’s a line. A man penetrates a woman (usually unnamed), and another man emerges, grows up, and goes on to penetrate another woman. Another man emerges –

Each son is a new man, and in a certain sense, a replacement for the man who came before.

I see a similar pattern in the rise and fall of civilizations, as illustrated in Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

I see a similar pattern in much of white, American Christianity, and I think it is because we do not believe in resurrection.

Christianity without resurrection isn’t just focused on the death of Jesus. Christianity without resurrection requires death. Any religion requiring death brings death.

In order to survive, Christianity without resurrection needs for its “competition” to be utterly annihilated (or erased through conversion and assimilation). Christianity without resurrection seeks the end of the world so that it might escape the world. Christianity without resurrection functions on earth as a system of violation, of oppression, of destruction, and of murder.

This pattern is the pattern of human history, and we find that this is an ancient pattern, present in all our systems, evident even in creation. But this is not the only pattern.

Each morning the sun penetrates our world, breaking into our consciousness as it rises above the eastern horizon. Each evening the sun penetrates the underworld, sinking down through the western horizon, leaving behind – at least for a time – its gentle afterglow. Every day, it is the same sun.

God also rises and sinks, penetrating both what is above as well as what is below.

“Therefore it is said,

“‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.’

“(When it says, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)”

I’ve read that last line several times. If God fills all things, then God doesn’t need to delete anything in order for there to be space enough for God. The very existence of God disrupts our efforts to conquer and vanquish.

God even interrupts human genealogies. God penetrates a woman’s womb. God emerges from the same womb.

This, then, must be why it is that the Roman centurion – a living representative of the empire that has penetrated the Promised Land – is also the eyewitness as darkness comes over the whole land. As the sun’s light fails. As the curtain of the temple is torn in two.

God breaks into the world. God also breaks out. And God returns: in the garden, in the upper room, on the road to Emmaus, on a beach cooking fish over charcoals.

The line of domination is broken. And we are called, not to destroy hell, but to break in. We are seeds, nurtured in the belly of the earth, growing up into trees large enough that the birds of the air might come and make nests in our branches.

Then, as the morning sun penetrates our world from the eastern horizon and slowly but surely climbs the sky, all people might gather together beneath our branches, where God fills all things.

Not with a Pure Heart

A few years ago, I began an experiment of reading the Bible with a dirty mind. I had been working with middle school students for years as an educator and as a youth minister, and it dawned on me that much of my work to correct their misconceptions about Scripture was based on my own assumptions about how the Bible is supposed to be read.

For instance, I expect time to move from a single point, along a line. Also, for instance, I expect that because the Bible is moral, it must of course reinforce the mores of my own culture. But I know from experience that time is not a line. Our memories are not like signposts along a road – fixed reminders of what happened and where. They are more like goats in a meadow – hungry, sociable, curious, and constantly in motion (part of why they’re so hard to grab hold of). And I know from experience that my cultural mores are not necessarily aligned with those of other cultures.

Not even close.

My expectations about time and morality were blinders, keeping me from seeing what the text has to say. To remove these blinders, I knew I would have to practice seeing what I am not allowed to see, what I’m not supposed to see. I needed to learn to read the Bible, not with a pure heart, but with a dirty mind.

What did I notice? I noticed so many things. Here are a few:

I noticed that it is better, in the Old Testament, to marry a family member than to marry outside the family. This noticing reminded me – as if I didn’t already know – that the Old Testament isn’t inherently Christian. Nor does it belong to Christianity. It is a collection of texts that Christians have adopted and adapted.

I remembered that humanity is created in the image of God, and I recognized that I’d always assumed this as the source of my potential for creativity. But what if it means that God has a body? Is God male or female? What if God is both male and female? What if God is neither male nor female? What if God is more than male and female? What parts does God have? This seemed like a dangerous question to think, so I embraced it. Might that have been the problem of the golden calf? Or of the bull at Bethel? Were they anatomically – correct?

Plato tells how original humans – being male, female and hermaphrodite – were bisected by the gods, and I thought of God making a woman out of Adam’s side. They are cut in two, male and female. But because the Scripture has them coming together as “one flesh” (something new), I wonder what this does to Adam’s maleness. Does a healthy marriage water down a man’s masculinity? Or require him to give it up altogether?

I thought about that problem between Noah and one of his sons (the one with the feet). I considered Jacob’s smooth skin and his skills in the kitchen. I thought about Moses’ relationship with God, especially the parts where the texts suggests that Moses has authority in the relationship (definitely a step beyond Abraham’s efforts to cut a deal at Mamre). I wondered about Potiphar’s lack of children and his relatively tame response to the accusation against his slave, Joseph. I took notes on all the women who remain silent. I tried to count how many don’t even have names.

As it turns out, once I started reading the Bible with a dirty mind, I noticed things. I saw things. I wondered.

And I’m not done yet.

Not even close.

On Hunger

Sexuality is theology. My desire to know and be known is physical. My need revolves on questions of vulnerability, of openness, of intimacy, of nakedness. Both mystical union and communion are full-bodied experiences – the bread and the wine and the ecstasy. Why, then, is sexuality so tightly bounded by our weekly Sunday morning discourses? Are we attempting to protect God? To control God? Are we afraid?

I’ve heard the stories of a sterile, effeminate Jesus – pierced but never impregnated. “Who touched me?” God asks. And I look around confused, not because there is a crowd here and everyone has come into contact with Jesus, but because We. Do. Not. Touch.

Except we do (at least in secret), and I am ashamed. Ashamed to admit the truth of my desire. Ashamed to let others see who I am.

In worship I’ve learned to cover myself with fig leaves and hide in the bushes. God enters our meetings, calls my name and yours, but I’m hiding. “Who told you that you were naked?”

I close my eyes, feign meditation, and hope he’ll just go away.

But Jesus stays, determined to undress my oppression: economic, political, theological.

Jesus upends decency.

“How can you ask me for a drink?” she asks.

“He would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is,” he thinks.

But they had forgotten that even David entered the house of God, took the consecrated bread, and ate.

I, too, am hungry.

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