Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reexamining the Bible Literally

All these years later, I'm learning that understanding the literal meaning of the Bible is a more nuanced adventure than my college friends and I imagined. We'd been blithely unaware that there is more than one genre in the Bible, or that literary context profoundly matters to meaning. We didn't understand that when we read ancient Hebrew prose poems (like Genesis 1), wisdom literature (like Proverbs), or apocalyptic literature (like Revelation) as if they were science textbooks, we were actually obscuring their meaning.

For me, the most negative consequence of all that well-intentioned literalism was the conviction that Yahweh, having given us his straightforward Word, was completely comprehensible. This paradigm both diminished my perception of God and set up my faith for crisis when I discovered aspects of God that remain stubbornly shrouded in mystery.

If you'd told me back then that the language we have for God—even (especially) much of our biblical language—must be understood analogically, I would have prayed for you and backed away slowly. I wouldn't have understood that there are no words that can be applied to God exactly the same way they are applied to creaturely things, no language that can be used "univocally."

- Carolyn Arends
Yeah, this whole article is kind of amazing.  Please go check it out now.

I find this interesting because of the examples she uses and the way she talks about how we use words for God and humans that mean different things when we use them about God.  I suspect the descriptors of God as Father and Christ as Bridegroom fit in this category.

Have you ever had a very "literal" mindset toward the Bible?  If so, are you still there, or are you in a different place now?  Have you ever had a moment of insight about the meaning of a word used to describe God being different from the same word being used to describe a regular human being?  Or is this the first time you've really thought about it?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Forgiveness: Losing: The Screaming and the Silence

"That's what forgiveness sounds like: screaming and then silence." - Carl from Llamas with Hats [Google at your own risk; you have been warned, seriously.]
That's actually kind of what it felt like to me as I tried to control my anger at the federal Office of Worker's Compensation Programs.  It took me misunderstanding the new 10th Avenue North song to remind me again that if I don't forgive, I'm the one who loses out and that it really doesn't matter if they're sorry or not.  My duty is to forgive.
"Father, forgive them; they know not what they do."  - Jesus
A couple of years ago when I was feeling discouraged and helpless and frustrated after a failed appeal, I tried to experiment with this phrase as a way to remind myself to forgive, but I couldn't really do so because, honestly, it felt kind of sacrilegious.  To compare my situation with Christ's on the cross just seemed wrong on all kinds of levels.  The metaphor fell apart for me, and then I felt even more guilty.

When the new 10th Avenue North song "Losing" started getting airplay, I totally misinterpreted the snatches of it I heard.
"Father, give me grace to forgive them 'cause I feel like the one losing." -Tenth Avenue North "Losing"
When I don't let go of the bitterness, it feels like they're winning, like they're beating me, since they're on my mind more than they should be.  When I don't forgive, especially in this situation where the offender doesn't care at all about me or my feelings, I'm the one who is harmed, and I'm doing it to myself.  They're not hurt at all; they don't know or care or lose sleep.

And so this time, when I lost yet another appeal and had to read through a letter wherein the hearing representative sounded smug and triumphant, as though he were defeating the forces of evil with his not-quite-solidly-logical arguments rather than dooming a legitimately injured worker to ten more years of chronic pain (that's how long it will take me to pay off the debt I went into to get the master's degree that allowed me to get a job that can accommodate my disability; after that, maybe I'll be able to afford to continue the search for pain-relief), when I got the appeal letter riddled with incorrect information, assumptions, and slurs on my character, I really was able to let go in a way I hadn't before.  I was still a bad human being to be around for a bit, but even as I sat making notes about the things that were ridiculous, in case the lawyer cared, I really wasn't bitter in the personal way I have been before.

Maybe I've matured?  Maybe I've just given up on them ever caring.  Maybe I've just lowered my expectations sufficiently.  Whatever the reason, I have let go.  Forgiveness, while it doesn't feel like floating away on a cloud of joy, at least feels better than grudge-building and -bearing.  So thanks to not understanding the lyrics of a song, I have embraced the silence after the screaming.

Sigh . . .

Pub Singing with Jesus

It had been a while since I had been to church on a Sunday, so I found it somewhat ironic that I roused myself to go to a gospel music sing at an area pub on Sunday afternoon.  Previously I had been at the pub for sea chanty singing which was done at high volume and with passionate, often salacious, enthusiasm.  The idea of that colliding with gospel music was definitely intriguing . . .

Many of the singers are vocal about their non-religiousness, even the ones who do shape-note singing, so I really wasn't sure what to expect.  I was pleased that even the avowed pagans and atheists seemed enthusiastic.  Louder, actually, even though many of the songs were completely unfamiliar to them.  Many of the selections were from the grand tradition of the rebel Jesus, one that I find myself liking more the more I encounter it, and there were even a few I knew.

One of the best things about these sings, especially when it gets loud is that there are so many notes that you can follow someone else or pick out your own harmony.  Sometimes you can't really even hear yourself singing, so you can't tell if you're flat or sharp or on pitch.  That doesn't matter.  Sometimes I need to be reminded of that.

I think Jesus would have had a good time there hanging out with the sinners (all of us).  And I'm told the beer isn't bad.  Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sometimes love looks like this

“Sometimes love
looks like this:
you go
to the study,
week after
week. You
don’t want to, but
there are those
who do,
so you