Sunday, June 15, 2014

That Which Actually Is

The last post didn't really get at everything I wanted to get at. I got sidetracked by some railing at people who want to deny my existence. But there's something more underneath that.

Some years ago, there was some discovery that put something in the Bible or tradition in question. It might have been the James ossuary, the burial box with the disputed inscription suggesting that it belonged to Jesus' brother, James. It seemed to me, at the time, that a great deal of effort was put into denying it's authenticity. By that, I mean, there was a lot of effort put into defending the tradition that Jesus was the only child of Mary and the mention of Jesus' brothers in scripture were referring to male relatives, not actual brothers as we think of them today. While the scientists and scholars were investigating the thing, so much print was spent on saying how it had to be a fraud. A quick Google on the topic tells me that the authenticity remains mostly in dispute. And that's a bit beside the point.

What I remember thinking was: so if this is a real thing, what does that mean to Christianity? What does it mean with regard to biblical scholarship? Just how much does it change the life and message of Jesus? For me, who has little at stake in the tradition of Jesus being an only child, it didn't really affect my understanding of the Christian faith but was all kinds of fascinating for the part of my brain that grooves on "historical Jesus" information.

But the even larger question is: why is new information so threatening to faith? From heliocentrism to climate change, we want to deny information that challenges nothing except for, possibly, some analogies told in a mythological way for purposes other than scientific education. Certainly, there is nothing that is central to the Gospel challenged by this information.

I remember the urge to get defensive and it still rises now and then. People I loved taught me things and it feels like a betrayal to realize they were not completely on target on all things.

But knowledge is accumulative and dynamic and sometimes we're just wrong. It's useful to practice humility around the things that "everyone knows."

But this is less about scientific facts than it is about people. And here's where I come to some basic presumptions I have about people, chiefly that we are made in the Image of God and as such God works self-revelation through the people we encounter. This is messy and uncomfortable and can deeply disturb your notions about God, particularly if you want to subscribe to the god who is unmoved, unmovable, static through all time and space. I would ask, however, that you consider the messy, uncomfortable God who lets go of power and empties self and dies shamefully in deepest humility (Philippians 2).

So you walk into a room. There are people of all shades of skin, from light pink to dark brown, there are male and female and some that fit neither category comfortably, there are gay and lesbian and straight and bi and asexual.

Judgments rise immediately, how they're different from me, how they're broken, how they're unpleasant or not.

What if I looked at a person, an image of God, and looked for what God was self-revealing to me in the moment?

What if what I initially saw as damaged was the vulnerability of God?

What if bad choices were showing me the freedom of God/

What if survival of brokenness and bad choices were showing me the redemption and restoration of God?

What if all this led me, as it apparently did for Jesus, to have compassion?

I'm not saying I do this. I'm not saying you can watch me in every situation and see me putting these questions into action. I am vulnerable, free, and broken, too.

But back to the many recent attacks on LGBT folk (I forgot, last time, the Oklahoma politician who agrees that it's acceptable to stone us).

There are gay people. There are people whose bodies do not match their gender identity. It is mysterious and not easily explained. It is surprising, even. But we are made in the image of God, as surely as straight folk, and even as it befuddled and upset and surprised this farm boy from central Texas, it has also expanded and deepened my understanding of who and what God might be.

We have this relic from the past. What might it tell us about  our history and can we ask that question before making judgments based upon doctrine?

We have these people before us. What might we see of God in them and can we ask that question with compassion and without moral judgment?

These are questions, I believe, are crucial if the church is going to have any claim to Good News in the future.

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