Almost every Sabbath morning, I share with my Twitter network a series of tweets rooted in an aspect of faith or religious ethics. These tweets, tagged #SabbathWisdom, are often inspired by study conversations or sermons at my church. This morning’s series was far more extensive than usual, and I decided to share it with you as well.
Much appreciation to everyone who participated by reading, favoriting, retweeting, or replying—especially @runtodaylight, Peterson Toscano (@p2son), Karl Nova (@KarlNova), Mx A. Hooker (@awhooker), and Bryan Berghoef (@bryberg).
Texts and Responsibility
When I read the Christian scriptures as the collection of texts it is, I see both exclusive and inclusive elements.
I’ve been reading that collection all the way through since I was 13 years old. It isn’t a one-theme library.
I’m being deliberate in this thread about not calling it “a book.” Packaging aside, our “bible” is a library, not a book. The library doesn’t have a single author, a single story, or a single theme. Whoever tells you it does is selling something.
So given the diversity inherent to the Christian scriptures, we have an awesome—full-of-awe—responsibility as readers.
We have the ability to express more wholeness or fragmentation through the stories we tell and the dogma we choose. We have the capacity to advance integrity or promote demonization through our reading and reciting. We’re part of a text-centered religion. The God we invoke from our scripture reading will overshadow everything about us.
Earlier I quoted Greg Boyd, a pastor + open theist who writes about how our God-images & reading train us for life.
“There is now a wealth of research demonstrating that violence in literature that is considered sacred is a powerful force in motivating religious violence. It can only be negated by being renounced.” —Greg Boyd, March 7, 2013 (and March 14, 2013)
He argues that our meditations on violence presented as moral in scripture trains us to accept violence as morality in life. (This isn’t an idea original to Boyd; he’s just said it well recently!)
So we who read these ancient stories and draw insight from them for our lives—our responsibility is indeed awesome. Our moral authority doesn’t come from our libraries. But interpreting and applying them is a moral act. We’re accountable.
I’ve learned I have choices in how I read my library, how I interpret its stories, how I apply them to the world about me, how I apply insights to myself & others, whether I wield my library as a machete, what collateral damage I accept.
And I’ve learned to judge my choices by their outcomes in my relationships and my influence on the world I live in.
When I was a child going to Sabbath School and singing songs with the other kids, two songs really touched me.
The first one was “Oh be careful little eyes what you see.” In retrospect maybe it should’ve felt like the Panopticon? But it didn’t. It gave me a sense of universal benevolence and safe presence in this world that I’ve never lost.
It also taught me that what I reflected on, what I did, how I lived mattered and shaped me. Taught me awareness.
The second was “This is My Father’s World.” I’ve felt like an exile in many countries and groups, but never on this planet. This song taught me a sense of belonging, co-ownership, & hope. I haven’t lost that sense either, despite religion’s best efforts!
“This is my Father’s world: Oh let me ne’er forget That though the wrong seems oft so strong God is the ruler yet…
“This is my Father’s world: The battle is not done: Jesus who died will be satisfied And earth and Heaven be one.” —Maltbie D. Babcock, 1901
Yes: My opinions about some of these themes have changed a lot since I first started reading the Bible for myself. But that doesn’t scare me. It’s proof that I’m not a dead thing. Life requires change, and growth requires learning.
Reading our scriptures & living them out w/ others merits care.
Insist on being humane in your exercise of religion.
I think this was the longest #SabbathWisdom thread I’ve ever written. Thanks for hearing me out, y’all. I welcome feedback.
I respond in italics.
From @KarlNova: “I love your tweets. I love your heart and mind. I appreciate your train of thought.”
I love you too, Karl. 🙂 *hugs*
From @runtodaylight, re. sources: “Yes, if I recall correctly theologians call this ‘source criticism.’ It’s especially evident in canonical gospels: Matt & Luke both know Mark, plus Q. John’s Gospel is MUCH different than synoptics, but in ‘closing canon’ the early Church deemed all four ‘canonical.’ Not so with other gospels, Peter, Thomas, which have a lot of same info. IMHO. The Westar Institute’s Jesus Seminar is a very reliable resource.”
It goes well beyond source analysis. There is multivalence (many-sidedness) even in works thought to have single sources.
@runtodaylight: “Agree. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise (link on Biblical criticism).”
What I’ve been talking about this morning isn’t so much who wrote what with which informants, but how we make sense of the themes and values within these stories, whatever their sources, and how we apply them now. Walt Whitman’s line “Do I contradict myself?” is apropos here. 🙂
The study of our texts is so powerful in part because we are multivalent, both as speakers/writers and as hearers/readers.
From @awhoooker: “I enjoyed that you talked about how you used your ‘library.’ Important that our faith stories come from the voices of many.”
Thanks! I agree it’s important for more of us to share. Because of experience, I don’t resonate with the text drive-by model. So I want to encourage more text-religion folks to consider alternate and perhaps more healing ways to treat their texts and peers.
@awhooker: “I think a lot is lost when we come to the texts thinking that God spoke them word-for-word from heaven.”
Agreed. Yet even if God had done so, that speech is now mediated through us. And we can’t blame God for our translation work. (When I say “translation” here, I mean both translation of manuscripts and translation from text to life.)
@awhoooker: “If Christ is the Word of God who imparted the Spirit to us after his death & resurrection, I think we are the living words. So, yes, in a sense, our faith lives are translations of what we read, see, hear, & experience.”
Agreed. My communication background teaches me: We are the “speech acts” of God. 🙂
Thanks to everyone who read, faved, retweeted, or responded to the #SabbathWisdom thread this morning. You all enrich me!