LIVING THE BIBLE THROUGH MANY PATHS

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It has been many years since the Bible was compiled. Many more years have gone by since any of its components were written. And many, many more years have passed since the events documented in the Bible transpired. You would think with all that time, we would have gotten a handle on interpretation by now. But it seems that as time has passed, things have only gotten messier in this regard. Any topic or specific passage can evoke countless views. To make it more simple I will regard to this plethora of views in two overarching groups: the fundamentalist and the progressive. Those that look to follow the texts verbatim, as done in biblical times, and those that factor in the passing of time and the evolution of human culture.

I will agree with fundamentalists on the belief that all lessons in the Bible have purpose, especially in establishing the full spectrum of Christian practice or lifestyle. It is determining how this knowledge is implemented and lived-out that my mindset starts to differ from the fundamentalist, and continues to find exception from there. For one, fundamentalism thrives on absolutes. It does nothing to account for discrepancies or shades of gray created in seemingly paradoxical scripture. The result is usually some scripture be quoted incessantly to make a point, while others excerpts are almost completely ignored.

I am a firm believer that the Bible needs to be regarded holistically, rather than in sound bites. It is full of wise and powerful lessons, not to mention comfort and inspiration. But I think one of the most important lessons the Bible has to teach us comes not from a certain book or chapter. But the composition of the Bible as a whole. Its equal treatment of varying viewpoints and themes encourages critical thinking and discernment. The contradictions, especially the vividly different themes between the old and new testament, show that Christians should be wary of absolutes and instead thrive in the gray areas between.

Further the messiah teaches us to live outside the harsh absolutes of the old testament. In his day, Jesus was in many ways a radical. He was often butting heads with the Pharisees for speaking against or acting outside of traditional Jewish law. Jesus, God among us, lived on earth and did not blindly accept and enforce the ways of the past. But instead thought of what could be, and worked bring God’s heavenly kingdom to this world.

Christians of all denominations are called to continue that work. That work does involve policing and maintaining notions of right and wrong. Again, where things get sticky is the ‘how’ bit. Fundamentalists often look to punish or shun those in the wrong. Progressives no doubt fall into this as well, but fundamentalists have more formal structures for these means. Instead, we need to draw people to right action by example and with compassion. This doesn’t mean watering down Christianity, or giving into modern times. If anything, it means we need to emulate Christ more. We need radical love. We need to be teachers. We need to act on faith and open our arms and hearts to those of us who stumble on the path or who are lost. It will not be easy, navigating the shadowy shades of gray. But with thoughtfulness, wisdom, and goodwill toward all human kind, we can get there.

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THE MYSTICAL & BOUNDARY BREAKING TRINITY

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In Western society, the root of much thinking comes from a history dominated by the Christian tradition. Up until very recently, and perhaps in some places still, Christianity provided the basis for what cultures consider normal. And often the normative quickly becomes regarded as regular, bland, and even boring. But all one must do is delve beyond the surface and participate in Christian worship or celebration, to find a mystical world full of intricate symbolism and meaning. There is nothing ordinary or boring about it, its awe-inspiring and mind-bending.

For those that think Christianity is dull or vanilla, one need look no further than the Trinity for a sharp example to the contrary. This monotheistic religion finds one in three and three in one. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The divine is expressed in three separate notions, and yet simultaneously viewed as one, ultimate power. To outsiders the Trinity could be regarded as a gross impossibility or contradiction. But to me it’s the ultimate source of mysticism in the Christian tradition.

There is nothing simple or straight-forward about this. For Christians, it is a truth that can boggle the brain. Or it can be an exercise in faith. For believers, it is a reality that does not allow for easy answers. There are no neat categories here. This is a story that cannot be told in only black and white. It’s an area of murky mystery. Rather than absolutes, this is a both / and scenario. God is both three and one. God is both fierce and loving. God is both high above and here with us. God is spirit and flesh. It’s an illustration of the divine’s complexity and all-inclusiveness, its prevalence in every aspect of life and human understanding. The Trinity diminishes the relevance of our human-made categories, and provides the foundation of Christianity’s boundary breaking. Christians are charged to continue this work of boundary breaking: welcoming all to God’s table, working to bring in God’s heavenly kingdom on earth. Christianity is far from simple. It takes on the unexpected with both its practice and its theological roots. Christianity is not a bore, but an intriguing mystery down to its core.

MANY SEASONS

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Advent brings with it a new church year. The church seasons set the mood and take one through the roller-coaster of Christianity. The seasons bring with them the highs and lows, scripture passages that are awesomely inspirational, those that are hardest to hear, and the pieces we would rather forget. The most dramatic being the narrative of Jesus, following him through his birth, ministry, death and resurrection. But through these up and downs, God’s unfailing love and peace through prayer remains the underlying theme that holds people together.

The church seasons mirror the seasons passing beyond their stained-glass windows. For some, these passing seasons are the main event, rather than an appropriate accompaniment. For those that find the earth sacred and her bountiful support miraculous in itself, their calendar follows a cycle of highs and lows as well. Through the plentiful summer, to the barren winter, through the death of autumn, to the awakening of spring. All the while trusting the earth will provide, and working to emulate the balance of the seasons.

Whether you’re a pagan following the cycles of the earth or a Christian following the narrative of Jesus, both cycles prepare believers for the whole of the human experience. An experience full of highs and lows, but somehow constant with an underlying sense of contentment and joy. To fully appreciate each season, we must open our hearts to all of them. One cannot bear one’s full effect without its opposite. Even the lows must be given their time. We need them as much as the high moments. In this balance, we find patience, respect and excitement for the full spectrum of life and spiritual experience.

THE RELIGIOUS / SPIRITUAL SPECTRUM ACROSS THE RADIO WAVES

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I recently read an interview with Krista Tippett. She hosts a weekly radio program centered on spirituality, faith, and personal growth. The interview raised some interesting points on the modern climate in which people explore and live into their faith. Where in the past one’s faith was inherited from one’s family. One might convert upon marriage, but primarily one’s religion was fixed and decided by someone other than oneself.  In the West, it’s only been in the past 50 years that cultural pressure has lessened, allowing people to choose their own religious devotions and spiritual expressions. This opens new opportunity for experimentation, a whole world of opportunities to be navigated.

Further, Tippett discussed the breadth of involvement on her radio show by those not tied to any religion. Without religious boundaries, the conversation fluidly moves to areas before unexplored. Previously locked in alternative culture, new spiritual topics are working their way into the mainstream. Tippett identifies the common ground among all participants on her radio show, to be an ethical concern for others. The well-being of all humanity and compassion seems to be the strongest commonality for religions and the spiritually inclined.

It’s a great wide world of spiritual and religious experience, and we’re in a time where we get to discuss, share and experience the whole spectrum of it.

 

Kambic, Randy. “Krist Tippett on Our Evolving Spirituality: Why it Evokes Hope”, pp. 22-23. Natural Awakenings (December 2016, East Michigan Edition).