19 July 2012

Who's Child Am I Anyway?

Lately, I have had at least three occasions where I have had to reflect more deeply on biblical theology than I am generally want...especially in retirement.  In all three situations, it has almost come down to "dueling scriptures" in terms of "what the Bible says" and the lack of authenticity if not rendering my conception of what the Bible is actually saying the same as the person with whom I am in conversation.  I have to tell you, that this is frustrating for me.  I have a passion for catechetics (teaching and having community discourse) but I don't enjoy debate...especially the kind where someone "has" to be either right or wrong.  In all three of these situations, the manner of engagement assumes there will either be a winner or a loser.   Yuck!!

I have often told parishioners, during my parochial working years that, "if someone begins a conversation with, 'the Bible says,' simply run away very fast."   I don't mean that to be nasty.  The truth is, the Bible says a whole lot of really important and necessary things.  I have found, however, that, when a conversation begins that way, the person saying it has a pre-conceived, totally cooked and unrecantable position of belief about what they are about to quote from the Bible.  The point of fact is, they want to often beat others over the head with their agenda (or axe, as one of my colleagues suggests) at the expense of "winning souls for Christ."  This is roughly the same thing the Jesuits did in the jungles of South America in the 16th/17th centuries (see the movie, "The Mission" to get my meaning on this...outstanding film!).

Let me be totally up front here.  I read the Bible regularly.  It is part of my daily prayer cycle, which utilizes the Episcopal Lectionary for the Daily Offices.  Reading that two year cycle and the weekly Eucharistic readings, one gets a little over four-fifths of the Bible in a three year cycle.  I think I have now read pretty much all the Bible about 17 times since ordination alone.

Oh, I do hear it.  Someone is going to say, "You read it, but did you believe it?"   Lord, Have Mercy!  There is never a way out of the traps.  YES!  Salvation history is the central theme of all biblical literature.  It is the ongoing and unfolding relationship between the Transcendent God and His People.  It culminates in the fullness of that expression in the Person of Jesus Christ.  I started that journey when I was in my teen years, and it has deepened considerably over the years.  I don't have anything I need to prove.  I DO need to live my journey and experience what that relationship means....each day of my life.  So, no more "yes, but..." kinds of inquisitions....please!

The Bible is also revelatory.  What?   It reveals truths and challenges us in the current moments in ways that call us to see the world more like God engages it.  Not much has changed about being human, in terms of the basic questions of life:  Who am I?  Where am I going?  Where did I come from?  Why am I here?  From the first breathe of the first "inspired" human (I'll explain the quotes), those questions have had to be addressed in each person's life.

Each generation of humans brings new information.  We are an evolving people.  Otherwise, we would still be living in caves, using rudimentary implements and being afraid of everything that was beyond our immediate grasp.  Today, we are (allegedly) highly sophisticated, scientifically adept and technologically skilled humans.  We still have the same questions to answer.  It's like the user name and password of life itself for us.

What frustrates me is that we who call ourselves Christian spend almost more time beating each other with proof-texting  than we do engaging the core of our being and learning how to be a righteous and fulfilling community.  The foundation of faith journey...any faith journey that is healthy...is that it drives us (almost literally) into community.  We don't function alone.  When we do, we get way out in a field of psychoses and neuroses that really does define what sin is all about.  Now I have come to the very crux of this blog post.

Read the first five chapters of Genesis...slowly and deliberately.  You will find that there are, in fact, two creation stories.  Why?  Because, as the oral tradition became written, there were four "schools" of hermeneutics (interpretative renditions).  Oral histories use a lot of metaphors and images to help the mind hold the facts encased in those metaphors and images.  Every seminarian can recite the J E P D lines of presentation in the Penteteuch (first five books of the Bible)....Jewish or Christian.

The God of Abraham is a revealed, transcendent God...beyond the scope of our capacity to comprehend.  Yahweh (Hebrew name...."I AM WHO I AM" also, "I Will Be Who I Will Be")
reveals the aspect of human engagement with the Living God.  The story is told.  At the center of the Creation Narrative is the emergence of a sentient being that God basically says, 'This is the one in whom I will manifest my essence.'  Genesis says the breath (Spirit) of God was breathed into this being and filled with God (the moment of awakening).

One of my challengers skips over this and comes directly to chapter 5 of Genesis and says that we are created in the image of Adam.  Well, sorry to say, the word 'image' used in the creating narrative and the word 'image' used to define the son (Seth) of Adam are different words in Hebrew.  One denotes spirit and the other is flesh.  One superimposes itself on the other so that the Hebrew writer can say, in summary, that all children of Adam had everything given to Adam....flesh and spirit.  Bingo.

Now comes the truly sticky part.  SIN.  I hate this word.  It is troublesome and abused in so many ways to make it imcomprehensible.  What we call sin is not really sin.  Sin is not a separate entity created by an evil being.  Sin is a part of our "equipment" and is actually the result of God's gift to us.  It begins as Divine Prerogative, which is God wanting a relationship with us.  Sin is us refusing to return the desire or respond to the gift.

Sin is not a condition so much as it is a working out of relationships.  To be created in the image of God gifts us with the ability to engage creation at a level of making choices and 'naming' things.  To name is to have some level of authority.  When we chose to misuse that authority, we "bend" the relationships...both with God and the offended person(s) or element(s) of creation.  The Cain and Abel story is a teaching on what happens when we begin to place ourselves in the position of God.  It can get ugly very quickly.

Here's the next part:  Every single human being has the same DNA, which means we come from the same place.  This is now not just a function of biblical creation story; it is a function of scientific investigation.  Read Francis Collins, who, at the completion of the human genome project said, "We have seen the fingerprint of God (in the fundamental genetic formula) in humankind."  There is a homo sapiens "Adam and Eve" in the sense that all humans on earth share the basic gene pattern that marks our beginning.  The Y chromosomes in males is passed from one generation to another without replicating.  Only occasional markers (kind of like "typos") occur that can tell us which path from the root we have been on.  It's the mitochondrial DNA in females.  Good stuff!!

So, yes, we are in the image of Adam; BUT, we are each bearing God in our fundamental Self (true Self)...or soul.  We come from God; we go to God.  Now, we may get caught off the path a little by how we engage God.  We can (and do) minimalize God by trying to make Him over into our image (this reversal is the basis of the sin of "hubris"....spiritual pride..."my god is bigger and better than your god"...that is no God at all...just a rude projection of small "s" self...ego).

All of this is why, as I have grown older and , hopefully, a little wiser, I am far less inclined to make a wall around my conception of who is "in" and who is "out" when it comes to faith journeys.  It is why I cringe deeply when I hear someone say "me and my God" or simply, "my Lord."  God is the God of all creation.  Jesus is the Lord of Heaven and Earth...we are all sons and daughters of God.

If we have gone awry anywhere, it is that we have privatized our spirituality into tight little groups of like minded folks and call it "religion."  Religion is not spirituality.  Religion, at its worst, is a mutual admiration, ego-feeding, celebration of what is "Mine."  Spirituality is the inward journey that experiences the Love, Forgiveness and Joy of God...and the mutuality of that as we look into the face of another human being.  That's at the heart of the worst of us.  Our sin is what we have put on over that Truth.  That can get might ugly as well.

A perfect example appeared in a headline today:  George Zimmerman, who murdered Trayvon Martin in February (Sanford, FL) told reporters that it was "God's Plan" for him to kill Trayvon.    Ooooh my!   It reveals hubris and a self-absorbed definition of God.  It reveals the sin of narcissistic cultism.....NOT faith or spirituality or the humility that comes with encounter with the Living God.

I close by saying that I engage every other individual and faith tradition in a manner that, to the best of my ability, seeks to seek God within them.  I have found God in remarkable places.  How do I know?  Because, when I do that, what I experience is a deep love that is incomprehensible to me.  It just is.  That's because it's God, not me, doing the loving.

My love in Jesus,


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