Suddenly there was a lot of alarm. I did mention “Life Mapping” in my original description of the class, but it could have been very easy to miss in all the other verbiage. Now, with an entire questionnaire dedicated to the topic, Life Mapping is front and center. Here’s the thing about Life Mapping. It’s a little intense. I’m not going to lie.
I’ve written about my own experience elsewhere, and (except for the fact that, like a friend of mine with whom I was speaking about this, this week, said, “I always liked picking scabs”) if I hadn’t had to life map for seminary credit, maybe I wouldn’t have put myself through it either. But…since I did, I’ve become a “believer,” and I actually genuinely think (like my seminary professor who taught it to me and then went on to get his doctorate for work on it) that Life Mapping can promote almost exponential spiritual growth. So then I posted a video. This is how big a deal Life Mapping is to me. I hate being videoed, but I videoed myself to get my point across.
The whole enterprise has got me wondering about a lot of things, but mostly two:
Why is it so hard for us humans to go back and work on our stuff–even if it’s painful–when we can be healed through the process?
Especially why is it so hard to share within the Church, which I guess probably anymore most people don’t think of as a place of healing, but surely it’s supposed to be?
Feel free to share your hypotheses in the comments, but also, let’s talk about these things some more next time.
And furthermore–if you also like to rip off scabs and want to join the upcoming class, we have space for four or five more people. Fill in the linked document and send it in by Friday, and we’ll see what we can arrange.
For almost a year now (with maybe a few weeks off interspersing, so I could write new studies) the Online Spiritual Formation Group has been reading the Bible together in a private Facebook group, sometimes “discussing” (in the comments) what we read. We’ve talked about the Pilgrim Psalms (the Songs of Ascent), the Gospel of John, the nature of God, and we just wrapped up a long focus series on the “Cast of Characters” with whom we may or may not be in the middle of a Grand Narrative. (I’m going with “are,” rather than may or may not, but I don’t assume everyone in the OSFGroup is always on the same page.)
Having more or less set up the theme of story or metanarrative or monomyth or what have you, and having received some feedback that at least a few people would like something more bonding and interactive than reading and writing comments on static posts, and having finally completed both spiritual director training and CPE, I sense it’s time to open up another way of “pilgriming” together, during which we explore our own stories in light of the larger one.
That’s why, for a few months, in place of a specific Bible study focus, the Pilgrimage will be hosting a spiritual formation class online. Once a week (probably Tuesday evenings, 7-9pm Boston time–but we may run a second group at a different day and time, depending on interest), participants will meet for two hours via video. For half of the classtime, we will learn about and practice lectio divina, while looking at the life of a specific biblical character. During the second half, we will invite each other into our own life journeys as we review our own lives which we’ve each been exploring on our own through spiritual journaling and autobiography. Through these practices, we will notice where God has been present in our lives up to this point, and share with each other weekly, and through a final life map at the end.
The start date for this class is August 8th, from which the class will run for twelve weeks (with one week off in between because I’m going on vacation to see the BroFam), concluding the week of October 31st. That should be interesting.
Anyway–you’re invited. As the first Pilgrimage class ever, the cost is $120–a mere $10 per week of class. If you are already a member of the OSFGroup, please accept a one-time discount of 50% off for this class only. Registration for the class is open now. Payment may be made by PayPal.
I’m pretty excited about this new step. I hope you can come along. Please post any questions in the comments, or via the contact page.
I’m fairly certain the least consistently redeemed aspect of my personality is the part of me that feels a compulsion to correct things–primarily people’s grammar, spelling, pronunciation, punctuation, and general word usage.
Example: recently a professional peer of mine sent me some glowing feedback, at the end of which she said, “you have literally gifted us your pearl of great price.” As soon as I read it, I had an internal clash of emotions. The better part of me felt awed at her kind and affirming words, grateful if even a part of them were actually true, and humbled that she felt the way she described. But then the other part of me said to the rest of me, “Augh! Literally? I haven’t literally given anyone a pearl–greatly priced or otherwise!” I do have this really pretty black pearl which I pulled out of an oyster tank at the Norwalk Oyster Festival in 1996, but that was only $15, and I don’t think there’s enough of it to go around.
At that point it became pretty clear to me that no matter how sincere she was, the objective truth of her glowing accolades for me might only be skin deep and I am a horrible person.
Be that as it may, one of the biggest word usage peeves I have is the non-literal use of the word literally. I therefore have a really conflicted relationship with using it to refer to how I (or anyone) reads, understands, and interprets the Bible. I have lived, worshiped, and worked with people who call themselves Christians who say with pride that they take the Bible literally. I have also lived, worshiped, and worked with people who call themselves Christians who say with pride that they don’t take the Bible literally. I suspect both sorts of self-identifying Christians (including myself, at one time or another–maybe recently) have also, more or less consciously or overtly, assumed that those people at the other end of the Scriptural literalness spectrum may not really be Christians, or at least not very good ones.
This leaves me and I suppose others like me in something of a predicament if we are trying to talk about the way we read and understand the Bible. I mean…I don’t have a word for it. I believe the Bible is inspired by God unlike any other book is or isn’t inspired. I even believe the specific words used in the original writing of the original books of the Bible are inspired (though I don’t believe God put people into a trance or in any kind of automatic writing as part of the process). Intervening millennia, manuscript fragments and/or variants, and countless translations notwithstanding, I believe that we can still know true things about the real God and about the state of humanity from the Bible that we can’t learn as truly and as thoroughly anywhere else. Tell me I have blind faith, and you may be right, but that faith has been tested in many areas–including in taking the Bible seriously as an authority over my life–and still holds up, even when some of the times I didn’t want it to.
But I can’t literally say I take the Bible literally. Do I believe Jesus’ miracles literally happened? Yes, I do. Do I believe Moses and the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and that said Sea was something more than a puddle? Yep. Do I believe Noah’s flood covered the entire globe? I’m agnostic about that one. I think it could have. I don’t think it has to have, in order for the story to have meaning in both human history and my own life, or for it to tell us something about the progression of God’s relationship with humanity. Do I believe the world and the universe were made in seven 24-Earth-hour literal days? I mean, God could have done it that way, but no, I do not believe He did.
So how do I (or how does anyone with a similar perspective to mine) decide which parts to take truly literally, and which parts not to? How do we decide which rules and laws recorded in the 66 books of this sometimes daunting tome are still applicable to life now, and which ones no longer are? Isn’t it intellectually inconsistent (and maybe reflects inconsistent principles) to pick and choose?
Here’s the thing, though. We all pick and choose. No one is fully consistent–not the most literal reader of the Bible, and not the least. It would take too much time to give examples, but please trust me on this one. I’ve seen it. Those of us in the middle may be in the most danger of all of inconsistency–but maybe (not necessarily, but one would hope) we have some other ways of “getting at” what we’re meant to “get out of” Scripture that might be more accessible to us than if we were bound by the literal versus non-literal dichotomy. I won’t claim that I have “the right” understanding or interpretation of anything in the Bible(although I certainly try to), but I will tell you that there are two main approaches that help it make sense to me, and actually help me to love that Book, even when I am seriously not loving a particular segment I’m reading at any given moment.
The first approach is to try not to think of it as a Book that fits into any one genre of writing that we as humans generally have. I have another entire post (maybe rant) about that, but for the moment let’s just say that although I believe the Bible is a very unique unity in itself, it is full of numerous genres, some of which we don’t even have anything like, anymore. The biblical genres that match ones we do still have 2000 years after the last bit of it was written, aren’t quite like the way we write those genres now. If I can come to the Bible with an open mind, instead of demanding that it fill my expectations as A History Book, or A Rule Book, or A Science Book, or A Storybook–if I can let it be itself–let it self-identify, as it were–I think I am able to get a better sense of what any given part of it is about or for. At the same time, if I can recognize that it has elements of all those genres, and let those genres be their genres, I come closer to understanding the words and why they’re being used the way they are in any given section. Because (big surprise!), I believe the genres were inspired by God, too.
The other approach that helps me is approaching God. If the Bible really is God’s book, then God must want me to meet Him through it–otherwise, why go to the trouble of inspiring it? If I come at the Bible as a way to grow closer to God, open not just to what the book itself says, but to what God wants to say to me through it–if I ask Him, well, I may still not always get it right, but based on my experience, it seems like I’m more likely to “hear” from God Himself, in what I read, and from there in many other moments of my day.
After all that, I’m still not sure there’s one word to sum up my approach to, or understanding and experience of, the Bible. Maybe you could say I understand the Bible “literarily.” That’s probably not quite right, either, but it seems like it would be easier to have a conversation around what I mean. Or maybe you could say I understand it as an important message from Someone who loves me, and who–partly because of the message in this book–I am growing to love, too.
Over the weekend, I am delighted to report, I (and six others) was graduated from Holy Conversations, the two-year spiritual direction training programme offered by the Anglican Diocese of New England.
We all met on Friday evening at our supervisor’s house, where we had a lovely, relaxed dinner together. Then the next morning we reconvened, walked to a park where we engaged in an exercise of contemplation. After that we walked back to our supervisor’s house for lunch, wrapped up our time giving each other verbal gifts of encouragement (noting both strengths and “growing edges”), prayed together, and–suddenly, it seemed, although it had been at least two years (probably longer, really) in the making–we are spiritual directors.
It’s the contemplative exercise in the park about which I’d like to tell you, though. The idea (or at least an idea) behind this is that once you know the Word-made-Flesh, who was spoken to create the cosmos and therefore somehow infuses it, He should be able to speak to you through anything–including the creation. Off we were sent, each alone, to find something in creation that caught our eye, and then to gaze at it quietly–not analysing, not judging, just gazing.
This time, the object that caught my eye was a little purple flower–a periwinkle. I sat down in the sun and gazed at it, and I was not distracted by thoughts or sounds or events other than the periwinkle, but I still didn’t do so well being inwardly silent, because I felt like I was having a reunion with it, and there was so much to catch up on.
Time was, periwinkles were an important (if decorative) part of my life. I first met them–as I first met so many things when I was younger–in a book, through the person of a grey pony in Elizabeth Goudge’s book, The Little White Horse. The pony’s other name was “Joy of the Ground,” which described both him and the flower quite aptly. I say this because the first time I saw a periwinkle in real life, I knew it was one without being told.
That first time was as a college student. In college I joined a LARPing group and started doing interesting braidy things to my hair, and I would pick the periwinkles near my off-campus house and poke them into the braids. They wilted almost immediately, but I liked to think they added nice pops of color to the braids. I might have been wrong about that, though. They might have just looked like soggy purple tissue paper or something. After college, I made myself my favourite dress out of periwinkle coloured fabric.
I sat with Saturday’s periwinkle and wordlessly reminisced with it about all these things, and then I noticed a couple of unopened buds nearby. A couple of them were brand new, evidently, and weren’t even purple yet, but white. A third had taken on the pigment of the true flower, but was still wrapped up tightly. And then there were some older blooms than the one I had been fellowshiping with. They were starting to look tired, and ready to make way for new, younger flowers, but their hue was deeper and truer than ever.
I thought about this, and about my history with the periwinkle. All of these versions–the buds, the flower in full bloom, and the aging flower–were periwinkles. They fulfilled their periwinkleness progressively, however, and more and more fully as they reached full bloom. All they needed was to stay rooted (and not impulsively plucked and tucked into someone’s hair) to live truly as periwinkles.
Then I thought about my own progression into the calling and professions I’m in now–this place where I’m honoured to help, by God’s grace, look after people’s souls. I’ve always been Jennwith2ns, but I could tell you just what periods of my life I’ve been the timid, pigmentless bud, and which other ones I was showing truer colours but still tightly wound. Now, it seemed to me, maybe I am entering full bloom. I don’t say this with arrogance, but maybe with wonder–and a little relief–and a lot of hope. The quiet momentousness of Saturday–graduating quietly in a park in the sunshine after reminiscing with a simple purple flower–made me feel like the flower itself.
I guess that’s the kind of thing that happens when one contemplates the Word in His world.
This post is a continuation of a train of thought that left the station (and has been chugging along subconsciously for quite some time) over here.
The thing I keep wondering is…what if Jesus did write something? Something more, I mean, than whatever He famously mysteriously wrote in the dirt before and after He offered a pack of self-righteous men a chance to chuck rocks at an adulterous woman–if they could honestly claim sinlessness? What if maybe He didn’t literally write something else, but actually wrote something, all the same?
Last year I went to this six-day leadership training retreat for college students–not as one of the college students but as one of the staff. On the first morning we were all sent off to engage in some “personal quiet time,” and I found a dandelion-studded hill, sat down under a tree, and began to ponder. We were supposed to focus on John 1.1-18, where John the Evangelist tells us that Jesus is the “Word of God” and that Jesus was not only with God but was God. It’s one of my favorite passages, so I was assuredly contemplating it, but I was also contemplating the elective I would be teaching later on, which was called “Hide and Seek with Jesus: Finding Jesus in Every Part of the Bible.”
I contemplated the dandelions. I thought about creation. I thought about how John 1 intentionally riffs off of Genesis 1, which describes God creating all there is with a word (a Word?)–“Be.”
I thought about a quote I once read in a book by Donald Miller. I think (but don’t have the book with me to verify) the quote was from a biblical scholar named Tremper Longman III. (If I’m wrong about this, I’ll fix the reference once I have access to the book again. I’ll probably also have to fix the quotation.) He said something to the effect that the most loving thing a perfectly loving Being could do, would be to create other beings on which to lavish that love.
I thought about how much love that must have been, since, as a Trinitarian Christian I believe God doesn’t and can’t get lonely, because God is, God’s self, a community of perfect love which we know as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I thought, “God must have really been overflowing with love to create a race of beings in His own image, and then try so hard to communicate with them.”
So first, He created a world–which He also loves, and was an expression of His love–and through which to communicate Himself to us. Us? Seriously. But…well, we might’ve missed the point a little bit–gotten confused about who was God in the equation (ourselves? the rest of creation?) and done quite a number on creation itself.
So next, God got a little more specific, communicating with and working in and through specific people, inspiring specific people, over centuries and even millennia, so that the end result was not only His Word infused through the now-marred creation, but His Word written down in a book. Now we had something a little more clearly delineated, helping us get a glimpse more specifically of Who God is, what God is like, what God’s hopes are for His beloved image-bearers and the rest of creation. Most of us continued to miss the point (same confusion–or we might more honestly say rebellion), but through His written Word, God began to communicate with more and more people. And then…
4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.
–Galatians 4:4-5, NLT
Or, as it says in that John 1 chapter,
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
–John 1:14, NIV
God couldn’t get more personal–enfleshing Himself, His Word. As Jesus, God showed us exactly how deep His love is, how far His love will go, and what love really looks like. He showed us in real life what His intention for us is, and how humans were supposed to be.
Just as we humans have ravaged creation, just as we misinterpreted and misapplied both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, so we denied His Word–Jesus the Messiah–and slaughtered Him. God knew we would. But He showed up in person anyway, because He loves us.
You may have noticed I quoted two different Bible passages using two different translations, above. There is a lot more to say about the Bible, regarding translations and versions and original copies (there aren’t any), regarding how we read it, how we understand different sections and the different literary genres within it, and how we take it into our lives. All of that aside for now, I think the Bible as a whole is pretty consistent in describing itself as the Word of God, and the New Testament at least (the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, too, depending on how you look at it) is also pretty consistent as describing Jesus as the Word of God, and as God.
And so I guess, even though I couldn’t tell you how God inspired the original writers of that book, I believe He did, in such a way that you could more or less say He wrote it Himself. This is why, though I believe we get it wrong often enough and that different passages in the Bible have (sometimes vastly) different purposes and implications for our reading and incorporation of them–and it’s necessary to discern these different purposes and implications through the “lens” of Jesus (with the help of the Holy Spirit in all of it)–I can’t quite bring myself specifically to weight the words of Jesus as recorded in the Bible as more valid than the other words in the Bible. Because in some way or other, I believe the whole Bible reflects Him. I believe it’s all His words–His Word. I guess I believe in some way or other, Jesus is the Word, who wrote a Book.
*I know. “Word Down” isn’t–and never has been–a thing, but it’s part b of the other post, and…I think you know what I mean.
One time, when I was doing kind of a test run of the OSFGroups separate from the church where I “invented” them and before the Pilgrimage was a thing, a friend of mine who was also one of the participants asked a question that I have been mulling over ever since. (That’s about two years, by the way.) Here, more or less, was the question:
If Jesus is God the Son of God, doesn’t it make sense to give more weight to the words that the Bible tells us He actually spoke, than to other parts of the Bible?
Yes and no. Maybe.
When my friend first asked the question, it quite appealed to me, as did the concept of Red Letter Christians–the movement that promotes a similar perspective–when I first heard of it. You may or may not know that in various ways and various times, and maybe now more than ever, Jesus has been kind of an obsession of mine. Naturally I would be drawn to a movement that takes His words extra seriously. I agree with much of what the Red Letter Christian movement presents, in particular this second item from their statement of values:
Jesus is the lens through which we understand the Bible… and through which we understand the world in which we live.
As I’ve mulled this over for the last two years, however, I realize I believe Jesus is a bigger lens–on the Bible and the world–than simply the words He spoke (sometimes printed in red) as recorded in the Bible. The reason I think this is because of something that has been impressing itself on my mind and heart for even longer than my questions about Red Letter Christianity, and that is the mystery we encounter when we contemplate that both Jesus and the Bible are described as the Word of God.
In the pre-my-Paul era when I was regularly discussing (arguing?) theology with agnostics (usually single men; I didn’t really date, I theologized), I was once or twice presented with the argument that maybe I should calm down about this Jesus guy, because let’s be honest–He may be a major character in the Bible, but He didn’t even write one page of it. I don’t know that that’s a particularly weighty argument for or against Him, but if you want to get technical about it, it is admittedly clear that Jesus didn’t ever sit down with a stylus and a piece of parchment and start writing His ideas down–He simply lived them.
I think this attempt at an anti-Jesus argument, while not so effective at its intended goal, ends up working pretty well instead as an argument against giving Jesus’ words, per se, more weight than any others in the Bible. Because, if there’s even a hint of some of the parts of the Bible being somewhat more or less “errant” than others…well, how do we really know which is which? We can talk about Jesus’ words being the most important, but if He Himself didn’t even write them down–well, I mean, then we have to have faith that the Gospel writers recorded them correctly. We have have to have faith specifically that the Gospel writers were therefore more inspired than, say, the apostles Paul, Peter, or than Jude or James.
I guess some of us truly might like to say that, but how do we really know? I’ve a hunch (even though, if we looked at some of those “red letter” words we might find some, no matter what side of what aisle we’re on, that make us squirm, if not outright run out the door) such an assertion really comes down to the fact that we like the Gospel writers’ presentation of Jesus as a character better than the apostle Paul’s interpretation of the implication of Jesus’ life–in which case, it’s probably better just to be honest about where we’re coming from. And while we’re being honest, we might also add that in that case, we may well be putting our personal preferences at a slightly higher level of authority than Scripture itself.
There is, of course, another side to this coin, and more to the idea of Jesus as a lens to the Word and the World, and more to unpack about the written word/living Word mystery, and more to say even about the “Jesus never wrote anything” argument. But we’ll flip the coin, and “clean” the lens, and unpack the mystery, and say some more on another day. For now I’ll leave open the uncomfortable suggestion of honesty, above. I’d hate to prevent any of us from “wrestling with the angel” if we have the chance.
*Apologies for the title. Clearly I am a middle-aged American white woman, from that segment of the middle-aged American white demographic which continues to appropriate outdated slang from the African American community, and will not let it rest in peace. I would have tried to restrain myself, but it seemed like the right title for this content–and it will lead in well to the title and further content of the next post.
I’ve gotten in trouble for my views on the Bible before.
It turns out that it’s no longer very popular to think of the Bible as a book fully and perfectly inspired by God, unlike any other book, no matter how awesome any other book may be. It’s not very popular to use words like inerrant or authoritative when you’re talking about the Bible. (Maybe it’s not so popular to use those words ever, because we don’t believe in the concepts themselves anymore–especially the first one.)
I guess I can see why, too. First of all, there are plenty of people who describe the Bible using those words who are scary jerks. I would like to think I’m not one of those people, but maybe I have been, or maybe I still am some of the time and don’t know it. If scary jerkitude is the automatic and inevitable result of believing the Bible is inerrant, authoritative, and uniquely divinely inspired, then those beliefs themselves must be wrong, right?
But also, while the Bible contains many passages of strength and comfort, it’s a pretty good bet that every person on the planet (including the person writing this) is into something that the Bible says we shouldn’t be into. I don’t know too many of us who like to be told what to do–or what not to do. The Bible communicates some pretty uncomfortable standards and “preferences” no matter what perspective you’re coming from. It would be much more convenient and easier if I could say that the Bible is a book like any other, maybe a notable example of world literature, maybe with some interesting characters and some glimmers of great wisdom, but also largely outdated and humanly flawed as all books are.
It would be, but here’s the thing. I just don’t believe it. It might seem like more of a stretch to assert what I do assert–that the Bible is a book God intentionally inspired a whole bunch of people a long time ago to write, over the course of centuries and even millennia, and that it still has a bearing on my life, and all life, now. But I do believe that. As time goes on, I believe it more strongly than I ever did, in fact.
I think and I hope, though, that the more deeply I am coming to see this as truth, the more gentle and gracious I am becoming as God’s Holy Spirit uses His Word to transform who I am from the inside out. I know others who hold this belief in the unique truth of the Bible, whose lives are also being transformed into a beautiful expression of who they were really meant to be all along. So maybe scary jerkitude is not necessarily the automatic and inevitable result of believing the Bible is inerrant, authoritative, and uniquely divinely inspired. To be sure, we might still not prefer everything that is communicated in that book’s pages. But maybe the true implication of those ideas (inerrancy, authority, and inspiration) is something entirely different–love- and life-giving. Maybe we’ve been using the words wrong. Or the Word wrong.
Actually, I don’t know that much about the hilarity of Heaven, but it sounded like a thing. In fact, I believe it is a thing, contrary to what some of you may have supposed I thought, after you read last week’s post.
I should probably state clearly, while this blog is still relatively new, that I have not the ability, inclination, nor authority to blog forth new doctrines, so when I start saying things like, “I wonder if humans ever would have found things funny if we hadn’t sinned first,” I’m doing just that: wondering. I do think that, in a loving relationship with God which I never even initiated, it’s both safe and even important to ask questions and wonder about things, and I guess I’m inviting the so inclined to wonder along with me. Part of why I do this in public is because, while I believe God’s Word is the final authority on life and practice, and that the Holy Spirit helps us to understand it over time, we need the Holy Spirit in each other to help us understand it, too. That’s part of what the Church is for…but I digress.
All that said, I can see why people might have gotten a little twitchy about that last post. For one thing, I guess it could have sounded like I was saying all humour is bad. If the only reason we can have jokes is because we sinned, and sin is not good, then does that make all jokes not-good, too–even the seemingly innocent ones? Is it a negative effect of the fall like death, and futility in our God-given work, and pain in childbirth, and lording things over each other? Of course it isn’t!
Not that any of us were there to really know, but sometimes it kind of seems like it has take the Church the better part of two millennia to acknowledge that humour can be good, and so I guess it’s not too surprising that we might get a little defensive about it. There’s enough in this world about which to be serious. It would be entirely unbearable if we couldn’t laugh some of the time.
Then, of course, there’s the other reason people might have gotten twitchy. It could have sounded like I was hypothesizing that, if humans wouldn’t have found things funny if we hadn’t sinned, and humour can be good, then maybe sin isn’t so bad? Or maybe it was good that we sinned? But that isn’t what I was saying, either. I do believe, however–and this isn’t a hypothesis or original with me–that there are things that are true about God and ourselves that we would never have been able know experientially if we hadn’t sinned.
One of those things, the thing, The Main Thing, is grace. Grace, like humour–or really, like any of God’s good gifts–can be abused or made into something it isn’t. Grace can become meted out, regulated, conditional–in which case it isn’t grace. Or it can gloss over or redefine what is, in fact, something that needs to be acknowledged for what it is. That’s not grace either.
What I know is, I’m not proud of my rebellion against God. I’m not proud of giving the authority of my life to things that aren’t Him. I’m not glad when I put myself ahead of others. But I wouldn’t have even the tiniest glimpse of the loving forgiveness that is part of the essence of who God is, if I didn’t need it so desperately.
I guess I think there’s something about humour that is part of God’s nature, too. I guess I wonder if humour isn’t itself sometimes a manifestation of His grace.
This afternoon, after church, my Paul (that’s my husband, for those of you who haven’t been around a Jenn blog before) and I went for a drive in the windy sunshine. We were talking, as we tend to do, about a strange mixture of topics both serious and frivolous, and at one point I started thinking of a song we had sung in the church service that morning.
I like almost all the songs we sing at our church, but I have a long-standing objection to this one in any context. You might think said objection would be theological, or at least stylistic, but it isn’t either. “The thing about it is,” I said to my Paul, “that it doesn’t matter who sings it–it always ends up sounding like everybody’s saying, ‘How grey is our Gah.'”
“It drives me crazy,” I went on. “So then I spend the whole song–which can also often be very repetitive–trying to over-enunciate ‘greaT’ and ‘GoD,’ and then I realize that I’m not worshiping at all, but I just can’t because it’s so annoying.”
“So,” he said, deadpan, “Articulation is your golden calf.”
There was a pause. Then he said, “Moses comes down from the mountain, with his two stone tablets, and there’s Jenn, going ‘t-t-t-t-t! d-d-d-d-d!'” We both burst into laughter, and then at intervals over the next probably fifteen minutes, I continued to giggle.
Don’t worry. I don’t expect you to find this as funny as we did. We spend most of our down time cracking each other up, but I understand that in most cases, “you had to be there,” and in most of those, I’m not sure even being there would help. I’m telling you all this because a question arose afterward.
We started talking about whether we would feel free to engage in this kind of humour if Jesus were visibly and physically present in the car with us (we were pretty sure we would). But we also acknowledged that there might be something not quite right about it that we just aren’t aware of in our not-yet-fully transformed or sanctified state.
Then I started thinking about humour itself–and started wondering if what makes something humorous in the first place is that something is “not quite right.” CS Lewis (among others, probably) talks notably in the Screwtape Letters about various kinds of humour, some of which is free and good-hearted and some of which is mean spirited, and I think there’s validity to that observation. Also it’s a pretty well-worn cliche–which, like many cliches, I may resent for being a cliche, but also basically agree with–that God has a sense of humour. But it seems to me that what makes things funny is the element in the joke or the circumstance of something being “off.”
If you read the story about the golden calf in the Bible, you can see that God did not find that episode very funny. I guess He probably doesn’t find my idolatries all that funny either. But I sense that He does have a pretty highly attuned sense of irony, if for no other reason than that He so deeply loves such easily distracted and inconsistent creatures, and I feel like if He were riding in the car in the physical person of Jesus, He would have found our joke funny for the very reason that it gently and humorously pointed out both the frequent ridiculousness of human nature in general, and my own foibles and idols in particular.
So then what I started wondering was this: if humanity had never become enticed away from God by other created beings and objects and even ideas–if nothing had ever become out of joint, or “off,” would humour be human? Would it even be a quality we possessed, let alone could get our brains around?
I’m asking. What do you think? And can you think of anything funny that doesn’t reflect something “off”–a disconnect, or an absurdity, or an unmet expectation–in the human experience?
I just “got back” from a conference of a bunch of New England Christians. I put “got back” in quotation marks because I didn’t really go anywhere–it was right in Our Fair City. It was called the GO Conference, and was put on by and for mainly Christians who consider themselves to be Evangelical.
When I was in my 20’s or something, “Evangelical” used to be the the Jedi to the “Fundamentalist” Sith, but now the two seem to have merged, at least in the public consciousness, and it’s a little awkward (at best) to self-identify with that label these days. I haven’t fit into all aspects of Evangelicalism for probably over a decade, and I like to think I draw from all streams of Christianity in my self and my practice, but the Evangelical stream is the one I grew up in, and even though I discovered this weekend that it is really tough for me to worship with smoke machines and people telling me to raise or clap my hands (I’m more likely to do that without invitation)–though that might be my own problem–and even though I might have some other differences in certain other arenas, too, I still consider this people my people, and we still have a lot in common. By which I mean Jesus, mostly. He’s a lot.
I was impressed and in some cases pleasantly surprised by the speakers and the content of the plenary sessions and the workshops. The focus of the conference was a passage in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) book of Micah, chapter six, verse 8, which enjoins the people of God to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Below are some of the speakers I heard and some of the particularly quotable things that they said.
“Don’t forget who you belong to.” Jesus didn’t tell you specifically what to do or give a list of rules—just a reminder of whose you are: Let mercy, justice, and humility mark you out. –Neil Hudson
The role of the Spirit when it comes to racial healing…This is not a philosophical topic…It’s one thing to have a headache. It’s another thing to have chronic headaches and to be kicked in the head repeatedly. –Jo Saxton
Without the stories, all we’re left with is assumptions. –Jo Saxton
“When I heard you speak,” he said, “God convicted me of the hatred in my heart—my sin—and I’ve come to ask for forgiveness.” The healing for me came from hearing him call racism sin, instead of insensitivity. There is a Cross that can change and redeem sin… –Jo Saxton
Women in the Church…It’s not just an issue—it’s people…Embody a way to disagree beautifully. –Sarah Bessey
The safest, and most emancipated, place for women in the first century was the Christian church…Paul cared about the gospel being preached, period. Including by women, not as tokens, but as powerful contributors to the work of the gospel. The church knew right from Pentecost, that the dehumanization and mistreatment of women in any way was not part of God’s plan—ever. –Sarah Bessey
What’s your standard of mercy to the repeat offenders, to the annoying, to authority, to spouse, to people on the opposite side of the aisle? –Ruth Graham
Your faith is the sum of anything you hang onto, and everything you’re willing to let go of. –Bob Goff
How you’ll know that God is really into you: Jesus. –Bob Goff
I’ve spent my whole life trying to make faith easy, and it isn’t. If you do it right, it’ll kill you, or so I’ve read. But I do want to make it simple. –Bob Goff
Nothing scares a terrorist more than a girl with a book. –Bob Goff
Love everybody, always…and start with people who creep you out. –Bob Goff (This guy was definitely the most tweetable.)
Just bring Jesus…Don’t dumb faith down. Don’t tickle people’s ears. But speak the truth in a way people can understand. Tell them who they are, not who they were…Make your faith simple, not easy. –Bob Goff
Handing them opportunities was only half of what they needed. The other half was love that they could trust. And when things got harder, I loved harder. –Lisa Fenn
I became a Christian when I realized that EVERY area of my life had to come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ…It’s not true that you convert to Jesus as Savior and then sometime later–maybe–you surrender to Him as Lord. He’s ALL LORD. –Neil Hudson
God has not placed us in His world just to get angry, just to bemoan what we think is happening, just to say it was better in the old days. He has placed us in His world that we may become His means of blessing. That YOU may become His means of blessing. –Neil Hudson
Do not try to impress God with your extravagance. Live the life to which He’s called you. The people in Micah’s time wanted the privilege of being God’s people without the responsibility. The 6:8 challenge is for the real world. –Neil Hudson
I’m going to be mulling these over for a while. Feel free to mull with me… May the mercy, justice, and humility of Jesus permeate my life–and, if you want it, yours, too.