The Word – fun to play with.

I really don’t have all that much to spout on about except a little gem from the footnotes of my bible. It seems the word for ark (see: Noah, big boat, aminals two by two, etc.), tebah, gets repeated one other time… it’s also the word used for the basket in which the baby Moses (see: a shrubbery!) drifts away to safety in on the Nile. I like a God who does great things at every scale… one baby to save God’s people, one ginormous boat to save God’s creation… fun! And comforting.

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.

Assignment: How does pentateuchal criticism matter for contemporary readers?

I was particularly struck by the notion of a kind of “larger narrative” in our readings related to literary criticism, so I want to try and address some of those issues in this discussion. For me as a reader, it is tremendously rich and rewarding to think of a method of understanding all the biblical texts in which the goal is not to “read between the lines” by trying to understand historical and contextual situated nature of the text. Instead, we can think of “reading together lines” which are made up of smaller portions of the text. In other words, the narrative may be not the events described by such and such a story, but the conflict, tension, and dialog between these smaller sections of the text.

This muti-vocality is at the heart of how I understand biblical reading for contemporary congregations, and is really heartening to me. Firstly, I feel that this is model for congregational (and, I wouldn’t mind, generic communal) living. For me: just like these texts, which contradict, and repeat, and sometimes outright confuse (!), our church communities are not magic boxes through which we receive answers and straightforward guidance for life. In the continuing struggle for congregational vitality and membership, it is easy to think of these communities as being the story of a people who agree to live – warmly – together in one act of faith. How much more rewarding to think that the REAL story of our church communities is one of our disagreements, the things we clearly DO NOT have sorted neatly into an axiom that we can all hang neatly on our door, or embroider on a pillow! The various methods that we have seen make one thing very clear to my mind, that the rich gift of scripture is that it is not simple, for surely our communities of faith are not. By understanding that the “message” of a text may simply be its tension and concern over various issues, we receive a model for living together in a way in which we boldly face issues that are important to us, yet realize that we can live together despite tension and disagreement we might face as a result. Definitive “answers” elude us in many of these texts, just as they often elude us in our faith communities.

Secondly, for me, this is just a neat trinitarian process of reading scripture. The text itself is multi-vocal and multi-faceted. As a reader, then, I enter the debate of the text. Very miraculously, I often get some sense of the Spirit moving over this noisy meeting of text and reader, and may even glean some new image, metaphor, or even meaning from the text. Returning to the issue of church communities, it does indeed seem that there may be a resolution to tensions and debates within a reading church. By being fearless in our taking up of difficult texts and issues, and not being afraid to live in the tension and debate, we may occasionally experience the grace of the Spirit moving in the community and find new meaning and union.