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Category: Bible

Knowledge

02

I’ve spent my life in the Church. Almost 38 years of worship and service. For the past 20 years, I’ve had a variety of teaching ministries. I’ve read the Bible. I’ve studied the Bible. I’ve talked and written and debated about the Bible. But about two years ago, I started taking seminary classes, and something really important happened: I discovered that for all these years, I’ve known next to nothing about the Bible.

I’m still a long way from earning any kind of degree, but I have a pretty good sense of what the effects of seminary can be on a person, what it’s like to learn about the story behind the story behind the story, how it feels to have information that, previously, I didn’t even know existed.

First, there’s exhilaration at having access to important new information, all of it – so much! incredible! mind-blowing! – suddenly available to me. Second, almost as fast as that first feeling, is a sense of lost-ness, of foolishness for having studied, written, talked over and debated what the Bible says, what other people say the Bible says, without having known this information even existed. Even worse, many of the people I debated – in public, even – knew that I didn’t know. In particular, I feel silly for having written what I have in front of people who knew what I didn’t, especially knowing that they were patient with me, that in some important ways, they protected me in my ignorance.

But the feeling of foolishness doesn’t last long. Once I started learning, it became nearly impossible to remember that there ever was a time when I didn’t know what I now know. Instead, I’m mostly aware of the fact that I know what most others don’t. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with how big the task is of helping others to see what I see, knowing that it’s far more likely that they will resist rather than welcome what I share (mainly because it challenges and sometimes contradicts so much of what they believe).

In addition, I have this fear that not too long from now I’ll become aware of the limitations of what I’ve learned. There’s so much to know, and my ability to take in, comprehend and remember is limited. And there’s so much we don’t yet know. There’s so much yet to be learned. There are inaccuracies that may not be corrected for hundreds of years. There are things that remain invisible, that we don’t even know we don’t know. That we don’t see. Can’t see. Might never see.

But that takes a while to learn.

Admitting it doesn’t mean that I’ve learned it.

In the meantime, it’s becoming harder and harder for me to learn from people who don’t know what I know. Even as I listen to what they say, I find myself thinking: “How would this argument change if they knew what I know?” Sometimes it just seems sad that they hold on to the untenable. I have become more judgmental. Just thinking about my thinking as I’m thinking has become such a difficult mental exercise that I almost just want to give up and stop listening.

But I can’t.

Because I know that once I stop listening, I will begin to treat others as objects, entering every theological conversation as a kind of game in which my only goal is to say what I must in order to get the other to believe what I want him to believe, to have him go away with the impression I have created. I will have become manipulative. A liar.

Tragically, I also will have become a kind of moron, incapable of listening, incapable of being challenged, incapable of learning from others whose personal experience of God differs from and potentially transcends my own.

May God protect me.

Just thinking about my thinking as I’m thinking has become such a difficult mental exercise that I almost just want to give up and stop listening.

Androgyny

07

The two creation accounts in Genesis have largely been read as separate stories; but the fact that they are next to each other demonstrates that someone thought they should go together. Rather than arguing over the differences, we would do well to consider why they have been treated as they have, what this paradox of placement reveals about how the texts are meant to be read and experienced.

What if the first story is vertical, emphasizing the relationship between God and the cosmos? The second story, then, is lateral, focusing on human existence in God’s creation. Notice how the two stories hinge on Sabbath, a point at which the first story of “the heavens and the earth” is flipped and projected into a future story of “the earth and the heavens.” The ending, then, of God’s creation – Sabbath – offers a transition into a new beginning, a new creation, a time in which human work and God’s plan coincide to start the long-term work of cooperatively creating.

The problem with this reading – as seductive as it is – is that the texts don’t present a unified view of humanity. In Genesis 2, the relationship between man and woman is unequal, a major difference from Genesis 1 in which God creates both man and woman in God’s image. In Genesis 2, inequality of the genders is demonstrated in the order of creation (man first, woman second), the quality of creation (woman derived from a man-part) and the purpose of creation (woman created as “a helper”).

The two texts were put together. But why? Maybe there’s a question left un-answered in the first, a problem that has to be solved. Maybe it’s a question we can’t see because of the cultural expectations (and assumptions) we bring to both texts. We do have a key, however, and that key is the work of P. A. Bird, work that makes clear the terms used for male and female in Genesis 1:27 are “biological, not sociological.”

What if, instead of reading these stories as poetry or historical narrative, we try the genre of mythos? What if these two accounts are meant to be read as potentially fantastical stories that answer questions of identity, purpose and morality? The fantastical part, according to Jennifer Wright Knust, the part we miss, is the possibility that “male and female” is referring to one, not two. If she’s right, then like the Native American story about how the chipmunk got its stripe, the second creation account answers, among other questions, why we are no longer androgynous.

Crazy? Only in that it controverts the way we’re used to reading the stories. And if we aren’t willing to let our perspectives be shaken, we’ll never really learn to see.

And if we aren’t willing to let our perspectives be shaken, we’ll never really learn to see.

Image of God

05

Do I worship God, the giver of all good things? Or am I beholden to an idea, an image, a concept? How might I know which it is? How might I study my own actions and thoughts, my comings and goings and doings? How might I discern whether my worship is real?

In “Unsaying the Word ‘God,’” David James Duncan suggests that the way in which I use the name of God reflects on my relationship with God. Do I love God’s name? Or simply use it as an object of power (threatening power)? Duncan further suggests that my attitude toward the name of God reveals the integrity of my relationship with God. Am I in awe? Am I humble? Or do I simply seek to humble others? Finally, Duncan claims that my experience of Creation reflects my experience of God. Do I bask in the warm sun? Or am I prone to spend my energies calling others from a sunny spot, futilely striving to get them inside my own circle of sunlight? Do I truly enjoy what God has made? Or do I set aside enjoyment in order to advertise what I’ve yet failed to appreciate?

And what is the source of this enjoyment (of my very being)? Olivier Clement insists in “God, Hidden and Universal,” that God is love. That God is life and light and breath. That God has always been and always will be. That God is mystery.

Am I beholden to an idea, an image, a concept?

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