Monday, February 14, 2011

Egypt is a reminder

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, people are clamoring for justice, freedom, and peace.

In theological terms, theirs is a cry for the coming of the Kingdom of God or Heaven, depending upon which gospel writer you're reading.

We in this country--with our material abundance and our freedoms and our dysfunctional democracy--would do well to pay attention to the protest movements abroad.

People abroad are tired of autocracy. They're tired of oppression. They're tired of slavery under harsh and heartless rulers. They want to know that they will have what they need for good, healthy, and happy lives for themselves and for their children and grandchildren.

It's a worthy desire, even a timeless one, and it's at the heart of the prophetic tradition of biblical religion.

A few Sundays ago, Christians who follow the Sunday lectionary heard the prophet Micah tell God's people, especially those who had forgotten the deepest part of their faith in God and faithfulness to Him as His servant people.

To paraphrase Micah, God requires of all His people--Jews, Christians, Muslims, people of all faiths--that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

Would that Mubarak in Egypt had done so for the last 30 years of his rule. Would that the leaders of Yemen, of Jordan, of Algeria, of Iran, of Afghanistan, of Iraq would do so.

I hope all the world's leaders, including those in this country, are paying attention to protests.

Would that every ruler and every political party heed the words of the prophet Micah and all the prophets and realize that their loyalty is not to party, not to ideology, not to rich contributors, but ultimately and fundamentally to the God of justice.

Those in positions of authority are God's servant on earth, and as such, they are also servants of God's beloved children. All of them.

When we see that kind of governance--and perhaps it's beginning abroad--we'll see the Kingdom of God or Heaven emerging on earth, which is God's intent.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reading the Bible through many eyes

When we read the Holy Scriptures through our own eyes only, we see only part of what God wants to reveal to us.

But when we read the Scriptures with others, through many eyes, then we more fully see what God wants to show us about Himself, ourselves, our relationships, and the world beyond our doors.

The theme of this year's Trinity Institute at Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street, which I recently attended, was "Reading Scripture through Many Eyes."

This year's lectures and discussions were illuminating. Two lectures in particular were helpful in broadening my understanding of reading and interpreting the Bible.

In the first lecture of the institute, Dr. Walter Bruggemann, a retired professor of Hebrew Scriptures at Columbia Seminary, traced the history of biblical interpretation over the centuries.

He started with the literalist reading and interpreting of the Bible and then moved on to the historical/critical method of the 19th and 20th centuries and concluded with a call for what he described as a post-critical reading and interpretation for today.

This post-critical method employs the best of its predecessors--the spiritual devotion often found among the literalists, the questioning rationalism of the modernists--and unites it with even more perspectives: psychology, sociology, trauma and gender studies, political theory, and more.

In a more rounded, even global view, readers more fully see the living Word of God amid the words of these sacred texts.

During the last lecture of the institute, Dr. Gerald West, a Biblical scholar from South Africa, looked at ways to involve church people in a deep and thorough process of Scripture reading and reflecting.

This approach sounded a lot like the African Bible study method or the Liberation Theology approach of reading and responding to the Bible in Base Communities.

West urged readers to gather around the Scriptures, to respond to the Word through our many and diverse experiences, and then to share with one another what we hear God saying to us--what God is calling us to be and to do, in African Bible study language.

"The Bible," West said, "belongs to the whole community." He urged readers of the Scriptures to listen not just to one another, but also to "people on the margins," including the poor, the homeless, the sick--whoever the marginalized are.

From church history, I know that when the church has been its most vital, it is because it has reconnected with its ancient roots in the Holy Scriptures. Out of that encounter with the living Word, Christians have renewed, even revolutionized the church and society.

Look what happened during the Protestant Reformation. Remember what inspired the Abolitionist Movement in Britian and in this country during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Today, what if we church people started reading the Bible together, inviting everyone to participate, including the marginalized? Reading the Bible through many eyes, we might get a fuller picture of the living God and His relationship to us and to the world.

We might even say, "We're reading the Bible. Watch out church and world. Change is coming."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Let it snow

I'm in my study watching waves of snow blow past my window. Streets are empty. The only sound is that of the wind whoosing through the trees. It's a time when the feverish pace of life, including my own, slows. A time perhaps when God whispers: Be still and know that I am God.

Today, if the snow confines you, or reduces your activities, or at least forces you to pause amid your usual hurry, thank God for the gift of snow. Seek its blessings. Pray for those who are poor and poorly sheltered, that God will minister to them. Remember those must work amid the storm.

And instead of cursing the snow, contemplate this wonder of God's creation.