My Lens for Scripture

September 28, 2006

In my Bible class, we were recently asked to complete a rather exhaustive questionnaire helping us to understand the various factors which affect us as we interpret scripture.

One point I made in our discussion of the questionnaire was that while there were questions about how ethnic and gender identity affected our interpretation, there wasn’t a question about sexual orientation.

For me, my sexual orientation is perhaps the single largest factor playing into my interpretation of scripture.

What does that mean?

It means that with every reading, I am looking at the scripture from the lens of someone who has been judged by society to be different.  It means that I am reading it with a focus on how God is asking society to treat those who are viewed as different.  It means that I am seeking strength and reassurance that God loves all of the created, not just the elect, especially when the elect work so hard to make sure that they draw their own lines around themselves so that they are protected from those who are not like them.

It means that the lens through which I read looks for justice coming into this world to correct the brokenness, not in a punitive way but in a compassionate way. Read the rest of this entry »

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What does it take?

September 25, 2006

In posts I have written and the ensuing comments in the last few days, one of the things that has struck me is that it seems to me that sometimes it is difficult for us to acknowledge that we have a threshhold for knowing when or where we might change.

In other words, we all have different points at which we acknowledge that we might be wrong, or need to make adjustments in what we believe. In the thread on “God is Bigger than the Church” it is clear that some of us have a very high threshhold in order to change– I think that is also what I was talking about in my post on “Faith“.

If we have “Faith” and not “Knowledge”, it seems to me like we have a responsibility to ask ourselves where the threshhold is within us that we can be persuaded to change our belief.

Because “Faith” is based on things unseen, at what point can things that are seen influence, shape, and guide us into forming our faith?

In the “God is Bigger than the Church” thread, we’ve been discussing how discoveries, largely of the 20th century have enhanced and changed most scholars views of the Old Testament.  Others have rejected those views, choosing instead to cling to their existing ideas.

So here I throw out the question for reflection, what does it take for you to change your faith?  Do you see that as a good thing or a bad thing?

My answer is that it doesn’t take much, because I see the shaping of my faith as a lifelong journey to which I should be listening daily for input and guidance.

What I hear from others is that faith should be an unmalleable rock, and nothing– seen or unseen– should change it once it has formed.

If this is the case, it is where we have our problems.  To change or not to change.  Embracing new ideas, or turning to the past.  Looking forward, or looking back.

Very different points of view.  None necessarily with a value judgement associated, but each with very different implications on how we interact one with another.

j

Prayer

September 21, 2006

I have a spiritual formation class, in which we discuss lots of wonderful things.  I thought I would share with you this description of prayer from that class.

Our minds are always working.  We spend most of our time playing tapes from the past.  We spend lots of time also imagining the future.

It is very difficult to be present.  Being present– right here, right now– in this moment, not two seconds ago, but right now– is prayer.

Prayer comes in so many different ways.  We may be talking to God.  We may be walking.  Hiking.  Dancing.  Meditating.  Whatever.

But being present, here and now, is what does it.

Breathing is often used in contemplative practices to accomplish being present.  Focus on breathing helps us to be present in the right here and now because we cannot be focused on two things at once, and breathing is right here and now.

Once, in a small group I was in, a participant said she was working on “trying to widen the crack between the past and the future.”  I think that is another way of saying she was trying to make her spiritual life more intentional.

My rector, Ed Bacon, likes to compare it to dirty water, sifting to the bottom.  He even had someone give him a jar full of muddy water, so he could shake it up and watch the dirt settle to the bottom.  For him, when the water was dirty that was like having all of the thoughts, past and future, clouding the mind from the here and now– preventing the soft, still voice from emerging; preventing the light from coming in through the clear water.

Prayer is a wonderful thing.  There is no wrong way to do it.  What a shame we don’t spend more time talking about it in parish life.  My sense is that we can spend a lifetime working on it and still have more to talk about.  May God be with you in your prayer practice.

j

Faith

September 20, 2006

I have begun wondering lately if I haven’t gotten wrong the difference that separates the divide between those who are ready to leave TEC, non-liturgical fundamentalists, the moderates, and those of a more progressive persuasion.

Of course it is difficult to characterize, but I have to date been pretty insistent that matters of sexual orientation, gender issues, and the like are symptoms but not the root cause of the problem.  I still think that is true.  But I’m wondering about something else, although I’m not sure I can articulate it.

My belief– my deeply held belief– is that God is a transcendant God, active and alive in the world around us.  I believe that is manifested in many ways, but let’s just leave it at that for now.

I am now starting to wonder if that is a belief common to us or not.  As I read the creeds, it occurs to me that it is possible for one to believe in the resurrection of Christ and not be particularly spiritual.  In other words, it is possible to believe that the cognitive belief in the historical “facts” of the tradition makes one a Christian.  I am wondering, for those of you leaning towards the ACN and AAC groups, if this is the appropriate way to categorize your faith. Read the rest of this entry »

God is Bigger than the Church

September 19, 2006

SunriseWeek 2 of seminary.  Does that qualify me as an expert yet?

Of course not.  I just hope this one doesn’t come off as too boring and… well, seminary-like.  It’s a long one too.

One clear pattern is emerging in my studies, though.

The idea that a single point of view binds us together as a people is just plain wrong.  It never has, and probably never will be a single point of view that can define us as a particular people of faith.  Look at stanza 3 of The Church’s One Foundation:

Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed;
yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, “How long?”
and soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

We don’t even like to talk about differences– even singing about them apparently gives us the heebie-jeebies since this verse is typically “opted out of” by congregations when singing this wonderful song about the institution which binds us together.  Of course it doesn’t take the most hopeful view about differences, either. 

I knew before coming into seminary that the Old Testament gives a somewhat distorted picture of what life was like before the end of the Judean monarchy.  Reading the first dozen or so books of the Bible, we are given a picture of a life that matched a clearly uniform picture of a people rallying around a single rule of life; worship of one God (or punished when they didn’t worship one God); clear lines between what is perceived to be good and bad; and what one might even consider to be ‘orthodoxy’ of pre-Christian times.

Of course, what is not very often talked about from the pulpit is the fact that much of this history and narrative as documented in the Bible is a revisionist history.  It was not put into written form at all until after the fall of the Judean monarchy and the exile into Babylon.  Prior to this gigantic event in our faith history, the faith of Israel was much more fluid than is represented in the texts as we know them today.  There were no sacred texts; monarch and land were the important aspects of daily life (national identity was equivalent to their religious identity).  There was not a High Priest as such; priests were locally supported.  Perhaps most contradictory to the written text is that while a small minority of Israelites held to a “Yahweh only” view of the world, most Israelites saw local gods as manifestations of God and worshipped accordingly.  There was a plurality of views towards God manifested in multiple ways in pre-exilic Israel. Read the rest of this entry »

Reading the Bible

September 14, 2006

Gutenberg BibleThis post is probably going to get me in trouble.

I’ve been in seminary for all of 3 days now, so I’m by no means an expert on the topic about which I’m going to write.

But, more and more I believe that there are really no “experts” on Biblical interpretation; only those with stronger opinions.

I’ve been learning this week to put some language around Biblical interpretation, another word for which is hermeneutics.

I’ve learned about the hermeneutical circle.  (Every time I hear that, for some reason I start bursting into song in my head to the tune of Elton John’s “Circle of Life” from the Lion King.)

Anyway – the jist of the hermeneutical circle is this:  We have the text of the Bible, we have what lies behind the text (the author’s intent), and we have what lies in front of the text (all of our own psychological, cultural, and other stuff that causes us to read the text the way we do).  Without getting all fancy and trying to draw it, the circle would look something like this:

our modern view->text->ancient “truth”->text->modern view

One hermeneutic we can use is to use what we know about historical facts and cultures to get “behind the text,” understanding the ancient intent of the text, then apply that to the modern view.  That’s what my Bible professors want us to do.

That’s great.  I like it.  Sold.

But wait, there’s more.

Just as I believe so fervently, and articulated here, I don’t believe God ever works in just one way.  If the text only has one meaning, what makes Holy Scripture different from any other text?  What makes it sacred? Read the rest of this entry »

Safeguarding God’s Children

September 11, 2006

I recently had to attend the Episcopal Church’s class on sexual predator awareness.  I have attended it before, but thanks to my acute organizational skills I was not able to find my certificate proving such so I had to attend again as a part of my seminary experience.

For those of you not familiar, it consists of a couple of videos produced by the church’s insurance group entitled Safeguarding God’s Children.  There is some discussion, and then you are considered fit to be a safe minister to children (assuming you have the requisite background checks, etc.).

I was struck by the difference in the reception of the program by the audience in my home diocese of LA and the audience here in Austin.

Granted, this is a scary topic to talk about.

Scary topics are always hard to deal with.  It is hard to ensure that responses to scary topics come not out of fear, reaction, or self-preservation, but out of love and compassion and what I call “prudent prevention”.

There is a quote in the video that sums up my experience of this program.  In it, one of the priests talking says that he is often accused of “taking the heart out of ministry.”  Bingo.

Its not that I think we don’t need to be careful.  I think we do.  But we also need to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of setting rules that lose the intent of what we are trying to accomplish.  I’ve heard stories of dioceses where parishioners are only allowed to see priests 2 or 3 times for pastoral counseling and then must see someone else for fear of being perceived as having something inappropriate contact.  I can tell you that if I was only allowed to see my priest two or three times at home then I would never have gotten far enough in my journey to accept my call.  God can’t work when people set arbitrary limits. Read the rest of this entry »