Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Being Read

I've given a few accounts over the years of my own approach to reading Scripture, to my insistence that all the canon is open to us, that we need to have the courage to face those places in the Bible that challenge us most deeply in order to name them as such, and the honesty and humility to admit our own limitation when we are reading the Bible. I would like to take a moment now to endorse a position articulated most clearly (if that phrase can be so used) by Karl Barth, that we in the Church do not so much read the Bible, but are read by it. In the meeting of Scripture and ourselves, the questions go both ways, with the question the text puts to us far more cutting, more critical, than anything we can do to the text.

I have always put it slightly differently. I usually talk about "wrestling" with the text. I have in mind the story of Jacob and the angel of God, wrestling all night, Jacob overcome by the angel, yet demanding a blessing nonetheless. We in the Church and the Scriptural text confront one another. We too often get caught up in talking about interpreting or appropriating a given passage, or the text as a whole, without acknowledging the flip-side. The text interprets us, appropriates us, or it is a lifeless thing.

Without getting in to a chicken-egg discussion - is it our experience of God that informs our understanding of the Bible or does the Bible provide opportunities for such experience? - I will say that unless we are willing to forego our sense of privilege vis-a-vis the text, and grant to it demands on us, our reading will always be one-sided. Unless we are willing to admit our own limitations, our own failures, our narrowness of vision, we will always be stuck, and the text will be a dead letter for us. Inspiring, to be sure, but more in an emotive or perhaps intellectual way than something more visceral. When we acknowledge, in faith, that the Biblical text places demands upon us, we are opening ourselves to the Spirit that informs the text. When we as a community of faith hear the words and acknowledge them as the Word in the Spirit, we are accepting the invitation and rising to the challenge the text places before us.

Most of all, when we allow the text to confront us, to question us, to challenge and interpret us, we are admitting that we cannot know everything about a given passage, or the text as a whole. We are also admitting that we cannot know everything about ourselves, that the dark places in our lives are dark because we refuse to shine a light in to those grungy corners out of fear. Just as there are places in the Bible that seem ugly, hateful, or just downright odd to us, we should at least be honest enough and admit there are places in our lives that are so, too. Were we really, really honest, we would admit that nothing in the Bible is as ugly, or hateful, or just odd as some of those corners of our lives we refuse to acknowledge. When light shines upon them, we cringe, we deny, we lie, we do pretty much anything but admit that this, too, is who we are. When we allow ourselves to be confronted by the Scriptural text, the fear is this - we will be forced to own our deepest regrets, our most base hatreds, our deepest sorrows. When we allow the text to interpret us, the challenge we face is the challenge to our best idea of ourselves.

To me, this is what real love is, though. Being beloved of God, expressing our gratitude in loving others includes accepting that we are complete creatures, not only the game-face we show the world, but the scared child we can sometimes be, the mean-spirited bigot we wish would go away, the time we passed the poor woman on the corner and refused to even acknowledge her let alone give her some money, a few minutes of time that really isn't ours to help her, the silence in the face of injustice. When we admit that, at the end of the day, we really are no better than our worst characterization of our worst enemies, only then do we understand what it is to be loved of God. Only then have we shown what it is to be read, and challenged, and interpreted, by God.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More