Our Language, Our Heritage, and Our Problems

So, today was convocation at YDS. One of my favorite professors, Bruce Gordon, gave the address. He squinched up his eyes and spoke passionately about history, which I’m glad someone knows how to do, and made me happy.

Yet the reading that he wanted to work off of was John 3, which is the story of Nicodemus coming to visit Jesus in the night. Prof. Gordon’s point was towards the earnest seeking of truth and new knowledge, and so it was well chosen in this regard. More complicated is the fact that the reading also includes tons of very traditional images for the Gospel of John:

“And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’” (NRSV, John 3:19-21)

I don’t think I had ever really realized how damaging some of our language of light and dark can be in a world in which people have different “shades,” until I heard it in the true multi-cultural notion that  YDS tried to have of itself, where a lot of people boldly jump into discussions about these things on a daily basis. I hope I will this semester some. (What’s up, “Metaphors of Evil” with Prof. Townes?)

I preached on Sunday, and challenged some to re-conceptualize “Pharisee” in a way that helps us move away from some of the anti-semitic horror stories of our Christian tradition. I deeply love John’s poetry, symbolic nature, and deeply intimate story of Jesus and God the Creator, yet the text opens up – and has continued to open up  – many hateful systems of thinking in the world. How do we reconcile these things? How do we preach this most painful and beautiful and sometimes very ugly Gospel? It seems unanswerable, and so, perhaps… very human.

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