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As You Read Living in The Story Archives - Page 3 of 3 - Living in The Story

As You Read: Week 3 Sin

As You Read this week, you might recall how some preachers or talk show hosts or protesters at funerals will talk about sin. “Some particular kind of people sinned some particular kind of sin and that’s why this hurricane roared through New Orleans or Houston or Indonesia or wherever.”

Mid Atlantic Coast Prepares For Hurricane Sandy...AT SEA - OCTOBER 28: In this handout satellite image provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Sandy, pictured at 00:15 UTC, churns off the east coast on October 28, 2012 in the Atlantic Ocean. Sandy which has already claimed over 50 lives in the Caribbean is predicted to bring heavy winds and floodwaters to the mid-atlantic region. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)

Religious communities have never had a shortage of people who will hurt our ears with their self-righteous judgments about other people’s sins and their consequences.

As You Read Genesis 3-11, you will notice how these stories seem to be set out of time. When we start with Abraham and the Patriarchs next week, we will see geographies and genealogies and will recognize that the telling of those stories are more history-like. But the opening chapters of Genesis tell us primeval mythological stories of origins.

“Mythological” is not a put down. Myth is one way to speak about things that are deeply true even if they are not factual or historical. Consider this description from Britannica:

Myth has existed in every society. Indeed, it would seem to be a basic constituent of human culture … A people’s myths reflect, express, and explore the people’s self-image. The study of myth is thus of central importance in the study both of individual societies and of human culture as a whole.

In recent years, Joseph Campbell has taught and written extensively about the power of myth. Myths are the stories we tell that help us to understand where we come from and what is the meaning of our existence. All of our religions include this type of narrative as a way to point toward deep truth that is unspeakable and unknowable.

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Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically.  But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.”

Modern American Christianity has its own special kind of challenges when it comes to getting “stuck” in metaphor. When we allow ourselves to get unstuck, to break free from literal, concrete thinking, then we begin to discover truth that is wider, deeper and higher than simple facts. If you are interested, you might spend some time watching Bill Moyers’ interview of Joseph Campbell.

As You Read Psalms 5, 10, 14 and compare these Psalms to the opening chapters of Romans, you will recognize how Paul’s treatise on sin echoes the Psalmist’s powerful descriptions. Also note that the consequences of the sins of some people will always infect and influence the lives of other people. We who are bound together within this human community live in a complex inter-dependence that has very real consequences in lives other than our own.

As You Read Romans 1-3, understand that Paul is re-telling the story of humanity. See how he alludes to good creation and a generous Creator. Then he considers how sin twisted and bent this goodness into something ugly and hopeless. In the background of Romans 1-3 hovers the Genesis 3 story. Paul was immersed in The Story and writes the letter to the Romans in order to explore and explain how God – through the Christ – is in the process of redeeming the brokenness and hopelessness of all creation.

Paul cites the Psalms and Prophets freely, mixing and matching their colorful phrases with his own understanding of sin and its consequences. He pounds the pagan Gentiles for their immoral, unethical, idolatrous culture. But then he turns and pounds the Jews for their self-righteousness and hypocrisy. All of us are sinners, Paul announces. Each of us individually and all of us together. Naming, recognizing, owning up to this hopeless dilemma is the only way for us to truly appreciate the radical grace of the gospel made known in Jesus Christ.

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As You Read John 9-12, you may already know that those little chapter and verse numbers were added to our Bibles many years after the authors wrote. But what you may not know is that the New Testament writers penned their gospels and letters without any punctuation marks. So when we read the Greek text, we do the best we can to translate and interpret where the sentences and paragraphs ought to begin and end.

John 9:3-4 shows us how significant this challenge is. “Who sinned?” the disciples ask and Jesus answers: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him; we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day…” That’s the way the translators of the New Revised Standard Version place the markings (the markings, remember, that are not really there.)

Now – read these same words this way as an alternative: Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. He was born blind. (period) So that God’s works might be revealed in him, (comma) we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day…”

What a significant shift in meaning can happen when periods and commas are used one way or another!

We all live in The Story that tells of blindness, brokenness and sorrow. But we must never lose sight of the deeper truth: The Story of God’s presence in the world gives witness to the unfailing, unending work of light, redemption and grace. Each of us individually and all of us together are called to participate in that divine work.

Satellite photo by NASA via Getty Images

Greek text above cites John 3:16.

As You Read: Week 2 Creation

As You Read this week, watch for the confession that God is Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer of all-that-is. Watch for the confession of Israel and Christianity that all-that-is IS good. It was only later in Christian theology that flesh took on a negative connotation; Platonic philosophy and Greek thought taught this dualism: Flesh is ‘bad’ v. Spirit is ‘good.’ The witness of Scripture, however, honors the inherent goodness of the Creation. (In Scripture it is never “nature” or the “environment; it is “Creation” created by the Creator.)

As You Read Genesis 1 and 2, watch for the differences in the two Creation stories; they are different from each other by design. Note how God’s name is different, the order of creation is different, the theology is different. Some students of the Bible are troubled by these seeming contradictions, but when we read the stories side by side—not as scientific reports but rather as theological reflections—then we recognize the beauty of the diverse poetic ways that Genesis describes the Beginnings. (Also note the word play: genesis, generate, beginnings…Watch too for the differences in the two stories of the beginnings of the humans. This is rich; I once spent months studying just these two chapters and it completely changed my understanding of how men and women relate appropriately to one another – in the home, in society and in the church. In the first story, there is no hint of patriarchy or hierarchy; the man and woman are created at the same time and given equal responsibility for the care of the Garden. In the second story, man is created and later woman is shaped from a bone out of his side and then presented to the man as “helper;” the context still suggests equality.

It’s hard to see the Hebrew word plays when we read chapter 2 in English, but recognizing the puns gives the story whole new meaning.

Continue reading “As You Read: Week 2 Creation”

As You Read. Week 1

Living in The Story Week 1 begins our year of reading the Bible by looking at the big picture: considering the nature of Scripture. Charlotte asks the question: “what kind of book is the Bible?” and you are invited to ponder that question as you read this week.

What is your basic understanding of where the Bible comes from and how it functions? How were you taught or what did you absorb as you were growing up? How have you changed your views over the years? What questions have shifted your thinking?

Anaïs Nin has said: “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” This is important. We all interpret. We all interpret everything.

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There is no such thing as uninterpreted awareness.

We all have a lens through which we see the world. We all have a framework with which we make meaning.

This is as true of the biblical writers as it is true of us readers. The authors of these ancient texts began with faith. They started with a confidence that God was somehow in their story and as they collected and recollected the stories of their life together as God’s people, they sought to understand its meaning. The biblical writers are not, for the most part, apologists – arguing for their faith in a way that was designed to convince nonbelievers. Rather their writings were intended to confess their faith within a community of faith.

As You Read Deuteronomy 6-8

This week’s readings from Deuteronomy are key for the self-understanding of God’s ancient people, Israel. Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Torah, traditionally and poetically called “the books of Moses.” The stage is set at the River Jordan as the descendants of Jacob recall their recent liberation from bondage in Egypt and their forty years in the wilderness. Moses is the revered leader, calling them to remember God’s past faithfulness and urging them to entrust themselves to God’s ongoing fidelity.

But consider that the actual historical setting of the story of Deuteronomy is probably juxtaposed within the setting of Israel’s current dilemma centuries later in 597 BC. During the time of Deuteronomy‘s composition, the nation was once more in exile, this time in Babylon. God’s people were seeing their past history through the lens of their current captivity and recognizing they were standing on a precipice.

Either they will learn from this experience. Or they will be lost.

So Moses’ challenge to their ancestors to “hear” – to remember, recall, take heed, obey – is a current word for Israel: Love God, the One God, God Alone – this is everything.

All the rules of the Law – all the codes and commandments and ethics and devotion – everything that is written designed to shape them for love.

As You Read Psalm 119

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As you are reading this week’s psalm, consider its form as well as its message. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and it is written in a familiar Hebrew poetic acrostic. This long hymn is shaped according to the Hebrew alphabet: the first stanza begins with aleph, the second stanza begins with bet and so on. The singer/ psalmist waxes eloquent about God’s Law in an alphabetical cadence.

Notice all the different words used by the psalmist to describe God’s way. I would add one more: the Tao.

Other ancient wisdom from numerous wisdom traditions speaks of A Way that is The Way of the cosmos. A Way that flows from the unity of all things, that lives in harmony with all creation, that coincides with the core Truth that binds the universe together.

The Psalmist is steeped in the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law handed down from Mount Sinai and revered as God’s definitive word for God’s chosen people. Much of this Law was shaped by the culture of the people, the times in which they lived and their own unique circumstances. But the Psalmist also seems to sing in celebration of the Way, the Tao, the Word that spoke the world into existence and continues to sustain the world by its power. A Law, a Truth, a Way that binds all things together. The Psalmist seems to begin with faith that this kind of Truth is the foundation upon which all other just laws are founded.

As You Read the John 5

As we read chapter five of the Gospel of John, we see John’s Jesus countering religious leaders who have lost the sense of this Overarching Way and have limited themselves to the smaller ways of codes and rituals. It appears as if they are literalist followers of the Law of Moses: toeing lines, dotting i’s, crossing t’s, scoring points. Jesus, however, challenges this lesser way of reading Scripture.

“Moses wrote about me,” John’s Jesus claims. Writing at the close of the 1st century, maybe 70 years after Jesus, John offers an intriguing interpretation of God made known in Jesus Christ. For John, Jesus IS “the Word made flesh” (1:14). For John, Jesus IS the holy Temple where God’s glory resides (2:18-22). For John, Jesus IS God’s Way/Truth/Life embodied (14:6).

John and the other New Testament theologians make an astounding claim: it is not a book, a Bible, a Scripture – no matter how holy – that is God’s eternal Truth. It is a person. One particular person in one unique way in history embodies God’s Way.

As You Read Second Timothy 3

We know Timothy was a student of the Apostle Paul and probably these letters of Timothy were written in Paul’s name by second generation disciples. It was nearly 100 years post-Jesus and the Church was mushrooming all across the Roman Empire. The original Christians were all Jews, but as the movement spread, many Gentiles, non-Jews, came to claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

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There was no New Testament during this time. There was only the Hebrew Scripture and other writings, numerous letters and various gospels. So the exhortation of Timothy to continue in “the sacred writings” was a call to honor the tradition of these ancient texts. “All scripture is inspired by God…” has to mean the Scriptures of the Hebrew people. “All scripture is inspired by God…” has to mean that God’s Breath, Life, Presence, Word – somehow, in some mystery – can be encountered within these very human words.

Within the Christian tradition that has followed from Paul and John and Timothy, we continue to acknowledge the wisdom of Scripture that can and does “instruct, teach, reprove, correct, train, equip…”

But even as Christians revere and respect the Holy Scriptures, Christians will only worship and follow the One to Whom our Bible gives witness: Jesus, the Word made flesh who continues to dwell among us.