Thursday, January 18, 2007

the mask of oz


remembering how at bible school, one prof was notorious for tearing apart the presuppositions that these prairie kids fresh out of youth group and high school ISCF groups brought with them to their study of the scriptures...

by the end of the first term, there were always fewer Christians on campus! ha ha.

although at the time i found this incredibly challenging, i came to understand, over the years that followed, what this guy was doing... he was trying to coax us out of our warm, cozy caccoons where the inside walls were lovingly papered with old sunday-school papers from the 70's and pages from the comic-book version of the bible published by david c. cook in 1973. outside of that happy place was the real world. a place where real people had real questions arising from troubling everyday experiences- a place where a theological bumper-sticker bandaid just wouldn't stop the bleeding.

however, the thing that i still wrestle with today, just like then, is balance. on the one hand, i subscribe to a faith that, because all of the facts are not yet in, does not need to completely reason and qualify all ideas in order to exist; yet on the other hand, i cannot let myself become so accomodating that pretty much anything goes. steve taylor, a singer in the 80's described it well when he said 'you're so open-minded that your brain leaked out.'

i know that i'm not qualified to speak of higher criticism except as an observer. i work hard to qualify the things i teach, sure, but i recognize that this is simply my responsibility as a preacher... it has not been my life'swork. On any theologian's bookshelf there are whole books written by people who can read the ancient languages, who are well-versed in the ancient traditions, and have sat under the teaching of people who have entire wings in seminaries named after them. me? i have books written by people who have read books written by people who attended those seminaries. i understand this.

however, from my acknowledged place as an interactive observer, i have also seen how higher criticism has done much to strip the Bible of its authority among common people and scholars alike... it bothers me that we are so good at talking ourselves out of belief; so ready to be cynical; so eager to take the side of the sceptic rather than the mystic.

why is that? i have an opinion- but it's probably wrong because it oversimplifies things. here goes: i think that most of us are just not interested enough to actively pursue God's truth. it takes too much time and effort. too much reading. too much listening. too much praying. pick any spiritual discipline and you will probably find that it requires too much of us who are kinda comfortable where we are.

so 'when the weight of this world crashes down on you' (mark heard, circa '82) we are ill-equipped to face the barrage- defaulting instead to the sceptic's view, sitting with our face in our drink concluding 'there is no truth.'

actually, there is. the problem is that we are so unfamiliar with his revelation due to our lack of discipline that it is easier to speak of the mask of oz than to seek the face of God.
***

i realize that this post is incomplete-
but that is, after all, the freedom of a whole nother blog...

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16 Comments:

Blogger bjk said...

I liked the simplicity of your opinion......

1/18/2007  
Blogger Cinder said...

there's nothing wrong with simplicity...especially when it carries powerful conviction.

1/18/2007  
Blogger BrotherKen said...

"however, the thing that i still wrestle with today, just like then, is balance. on the one hand, i subscribe to a faith that, because all of the facts are not yet in, does not need to completely reason and qualify all ideas in order to exist" (jb)

i completely disagree. sorry if i am blunt here but the faith i have is based on fact. as far as i can figure, the "factual basis" for evolution is a thousand times weaker than the facts i based my decision for this faith on.

side point: i was in to a lady doctor yesterday talking about my weak back. she says that it happens to many because we are not meant to walk upright because we are four legged animals, lol.

i could go on about my amazing faith that few others have (joking!) but seriously, i think the christian faith is a faith that is based on actual real events that are historically recorded with integrity written all over it. news and magazine articles nowadays don't compare. but things were a bit different in the days these writings were made. these things were wrote by authors who knew they were putting their lives on the line.

whew! that was a real high horse?!

"i think that most of us are just not interested enough to actively pursue God's truth" (jb)

you hit the nail on the head. but guess what. ya i'm going to be brave and tell ya something :-) you don't have to worry too much about the ones that don't get deeply into the teachings. i have found out (and you can trust old kenny can't you?) that some of us are elected? to be shepherds and some sheep. it is a good teaching because it just kind of relieves the burden off the teacher/student relationship.

now if you mean the leaders of the faith, then yes there is a problem when the study of the faith is not disciplined and thorough.

1/18/2007  
Blogger Cinder said...

"you don't have to worry too much about the ones that don't get deeply into the teachings. i have found out (and you can trust old kenny can't you?) that some of us are elected? to be shepherds and some sheep. it is a good teaching because it just kind of relieves the burden off the teacher/student relationship." (brotherken)

i know that when you look around, you can see that some are technically 'elected' to be shepherds and some to be sheep, but i don't think that's set in stone forever. just because you are a sheep at one point, doesn't mean you'll be a sheep forever. my thinking is, that as soon as you make that commitment, you become a student of the Word. we are called to be His witnesses in our Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and really the only adequate way we can do this, is to study and know His teachings.

"so 'when the weight of this world crashes down on you' (mark heard, circa '82) we are ill-equipped to face the barrage- defaulting instead to the sceptic's view, sitting with our face in our drink concluding 'there is no truth.'"
(jb)

really, this is one of the biggest reasons for the studying in the first place. life's not easy and things do crash down around you sometimes. if we're being diligent students, then we'll be prepared for the tests which come our way, so that when the smoke clears, we'll still be on our feet.

that being said, i have a long way to go on it...maybe i'm also completely off-base, but that's my take on things at this point.

1/19/2007  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

Okay the genius is back - clap later please.

"it bothers me that we are so good at talking ourselves out of belief; so ready to be cynical; so eager to take the side of the sceptic rather than the mystic." (JB)

My latest blog kind of mentions this same ideal - were getting to damn liberal - so liberal - we'll believe almost anything besides what we we're originally taught (and some of it likely pure garbage) - but then again some of it isn't. But are our brain's leaking out - ya!

I have found that a lot of people are fighting against their former 'evangelical faith' - which I have little problem with - but when they leave church, bad-mouth those people (to pretty much pure sh*t), have no use for the church, and believe all kinds of leniant things about their faith - well - that's all explained by psychology - and I am asking those people to be better than psychology even (the reverse kind).

I think I dis-agree with the a lot of the tenets of the faith (in general) but I don't disagree with the church - which a lot of times does good for others and provides some people (even these liberals - including myself) with a basic paradigm to begin the discussion of faith (or even just live a better life). Things are quite simple - I have found we complicate the whole ideal.

The whole literary thing and looking at the basics behind the written words - well, I have very little problem with it - after knowing more about the beginning of the alpha-bet and oral tradition. I find a lot of things coming out of the Jesus Seiminar is pure BS and exists for the questioning - or the doubting of the original line of questioning (mostly evangelical viewpoints). I have found tonnes of people that just want to dis-credit this faith and I am 'cool with that' - they don't have much to say that makes sense to me anyways or in the way of hope. Those same people don't live in the 'hood' and self-righteous pinheads with an axe to grind - I say you can use my skull to sharpen your sword.

I also just read a recent medical study about the decision making process and how we can make better decisions. The report revealed that people that use some intuition as a basis for making a final decision - usually make the better one. It seems stupid and irrational - but in fact it was the most rational way for humans to make the best decision. And they tell me having 'faith' is a crutch - seems to me it's rational.

I am not against speaking your opinion (even in church), I am not against debating your faith, I am not against leaving church to discover yourself, I am not against questioning the validity of your faith, I am not against being liberal, I am not against you.

I am for unity. I am for the church. I am for you.

1/19/2007  
Blogger hineini said...

It probably comes as little suprise that I feel compelled to post in reply and maybe you even have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to say. I usually like to play a bit with expectation, maybe offer something unexpected but I think I'd like to take the safe money on this one and write a bit in defense of "higher criticism". The major disclaimer being that I am a member of the acadamie and so am very much open to the pejorative label "academic"

As a bit of an autobiographical note. I experianced first hand my profs "tearing apart the presuppositions that these prairie kids fresh out of youth group...brought with them to their study of the scriptures..." (jollybeggar) and admittedly it wasn't a lot of fun at the time.

The central point of jollybeggar's post, if I may be so bold, seems to be his phrase "higher criticism has done much to strip the Bible of its authority among common people and scholars alike" (jollybeggar). And I would like to agree with him, in fact I think this is a great insight into one of the purposes higher criticism serves. I do, however, think that my agreement hinges on a somewhat different understanding of the word "authority". I want to come back to this in a bit but first I want to respond briefly to the following phrase.

"it bothers me that we are so good at talking ourselves out of belief; so ready to be cynical..."(jollybeggar)

"Belief" here, seems to point back to the word "authority" in the preceding phrase but it makes me ask just what beliefs are we talking ourselves out of; just what authority is being stripped.

What I would like to offer is not a defense of higher criticism at the expense of faith or belief, not a trumping of the "mystic" by the "cynic" or, heaven forbid, the rationalist. What I'd like to offer is a vision of higher criticism as a valuable (even necessary?) discipline of the mystic who, like Jacob, wrestles with beings both human and divine; higher criticism as a journey that just might, if we're lucky, pass through "Peniel" (face of God).

What I am getting at (other than the obvious, that I just read the story of Jacob) is that higher criticism need not be seen as merely a threat or enemy of faith. I understand this is not what jollybeggar meant in his post but I think, at times, especially those times when we feel vulnerable or uncertain, we see enemies in every closet.

I would like to point out briefly that higher criticism has been an ally in many cases for those who have been feeling vulnerable and this returns us to "authority" which I promised to return to. At the risk of adding one simplicity, to what you have also labeled a simplistic view of things jollybeggar, I'd like to point out that higher criticism has not only been a tool for understanding the "gospel", the good news of freedom and emancipation, but for many, especially those on the margins, those who struggle against structural and institutional oppression and discrimination, higher criticism has not only been a tool but has been the very good news that we live in expectation for, the liberation that is the lifeblood of hope.

I've gone on too long and have only scratched the surface of the hopeful contributions of higher criticism, only hinted at how higher criticism might actually be "God's truth" or the "face of God" for many of us. So I join you in urging everyone to continue to strive, to continue to realize that it will always be "too much time and effort. too much reading. too much listening. too much praying" but that we have no other options.

1/19/2007  
Blogger BrotherKen said...

"to continue to realize that it will always be "too much time and effort. too much reading. too much listening. too much praying" but that we have no other options." (hineini)

I agree to the point that criticism is *needed* is where system breakdowns are dire. If it works don't break it but if it don't work try to fix it. I would also like to add to what hineini says here is that it doesn't have to remain broken. I do see the possibility of love and peace among differing and opposing beliefs. Maybe it would take another two thousand years to undo the damage done but it would be worth it.

1/19/2007  
Blogger BrotherKen said...

"..the only adequate way we can do this, is to study and know His teachings." (cinder)

Do you thinks so cinder? I think the following text kind of says that we can adequately be of service to God in various ways other than being ready and able to teach;

"for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills." 1Cor 12:8-11

Many people blow me away in their ability to show love and kindness but have little interest in the chatter I do here. Yet, it takes people of all sorts, with varying gifts, to raise up one person in the ways of God.

1/19/2007  
Blogger Cinder said...

"Do you thinks so cinder? I think the following text kind of says that we can adequately be of service to God in various ways other than being ready and able to teach;" (brotherken)

hey brotherken, i wasn't meaning to pounce on you and as i said, maybe i'm also completely off-base, but that's my take on things at this point...trust me this week's been an off-base week. for ME, right now i know i need to be in the spiritual disciplines more than i am, in terms of me being able to stand my ground and find peace in Him.

"Many people blow me away in their ability to show love and kindness but have little interest in the chatter I do here. Yet, it takes people of all sorts, with varying gifts, to raise up one person in the ways of God." (brotherken)

you are right...we are all parts of His body and play a variety of roles. that's what makes it so unique...we all have strengths, weaknesses, gifts and when brought to the table, they make a very beautiful creation.

i guess i really need to learn to shut my mouth and simply read when my perspective's skewed...less hurt is thrown around that way.

1/19/2007  
Blogger BrotherKen said...

cinder, I wasn't offended. I hope your week improves :=)

1/19/2007  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

Did sombody shoot the teacher - is that what this is all about?

1/19/2007  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

although silence is a blessed discipline, in my case, it's just been that things are still a bit whirlwindish and i haven't been at leisure to post or comment. no discipline here that has not been externally imposed by basic life stuff. anyway...

"the faith i have is based on fact. as far as i can figure, the "factual basis" for evolution is a thousand times weaker than the facts i based my decision for this faith on." (brotherken)

bro-ken, i stayed up late on thursday night labeling all of the posts on this blog so that they could easily cross-inform each other topically. that way all i have to say now is 'click on the evolution label' for my response to this statement of yours... actually, click on any of the labels for this post to find stuff that is related in some way.

anyway, when you speak of facts i feel one eyebrow move suspiciously up towards my hairline, while the other begins to sink under its own weight... facts? they are so hard to come by. i mean, so much of what we take away from scripture is dependent upon what we bring to it, right? if one brings the doctrine of biblical inerrency to the reading of God's Word, then of course everything is both literal and factual- this doctrine requires it to be. however, if we address God's Word with all the philosophical strategies of higher criticism, then the words seem to shimmer and shine like distant stars do as the light they bear travels across thousands of light years to reach our eye. we know that they are bright- we just don't know how big they really are, or how far away in time, space and circumstance.

the challenge for me is to recognize that it is the Word that tests me, i don't test the Word. my responsibility is to divine from what i have been taught and what i have discovered through experience, just what God is saying to me today in this or that passage, recognizing that although the message is as consistent as the God speaking (and in this, of course, i recognize that the details and directions of it will change slightly with every new reading. we've never arrived at definitive understanding.

this is why i think that douglas adams' words (cited recently in another post and copied/pasted here) are so good...

***
Alright!" bawled Vroomfondel banging on an nearby desk. "I am Vroomfondel, and that is not a demand, that is a solid fact! What we demand is solid facts!"

"No we don't!" exclaimed Majikthise in irritation. "That is precisely what we don't demand!"

Scarcely pausing for breath, Vroomfondel shouted, "We don't demand solid facts! What we demand is a total absence of solid facts. I demand that I may or may not be Vroomfondel!"

"But who the devil are you?" exclaimed an outraged Fook.

"We," said Majikthise, "are Philosophers."
***

"I am not against speaking your opinion (even in church), I am not against debating your faith, I am not against leaving church to discover yourself, I am not against questioning the validity of your faith, I am not against being liberal, I am not against you.

I am for unity. I am for the church. I am for you." (societyVs)

well said, man.
***
"What I am getting at (other than the obvious, that I just read the story of Jacob) is that higher criticism need not be seen as merely a threat or enemy of faith. I understand this is not what jollybeggar meant in his post but I think, at times, especially those times when we feel vulnerable or uncertain, we see enemies in every closet." (hineini)

i think that hineini has just spoken in agreement with exactly what i was going for, actually. i believe that too often the scriptures have been treated like this magical palantir that apparently does all the work in revealing God to the common person. in my view, higher criticism allows the faithful and the hungry to find keys to the mystery behind the mystery (i'll let you guess who came up with this phrase- it's not mine).

my anxiousness betrayed in the quote that hineini saw as the epicenter of the post has to do with the fact that sheep will eat anything anywhere without discernment. they will even eat dirt and excrement once the actual grass is gone. they are in need of shepherding. likewise, it seems to be a tendency in people (just as when some read the scriptures and conclude that eyes need to be given for eyes and teeth for teeth because "it's right there in the bible") to be like sheep- eating whatever is placed in front of them indescriminately. which means, in this argument, that people will accept an argument of higher criticism as 'evidence' to support a glib notion that, because there is a minor contradiction here or an historical inconsistency there, the whole of scripture is balderdash... simply because someone has said it, not because those in the audience are actually seeking truth and are trying to experience this passing through 'Peniel' (thank you for this word) as the point of the journey.

i'm not sure i'm ever very clear about what i'm thinking. seems like i try to use more words and still drown in my own rhetoric.

anyway, blessings all.

1/20/2007  
Blogger BrotherKen said...

JB, yeah I was a bit off topic. I kind of came in a stomped around a bit, I apologize. I do see your point and it is important to watch for that which is not fruitful, to be a bit kind. Any time you think I am out of line just smack me one :-)

1/20/2007  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

ha ha- you call that stomping?

this is a pretty open forum- one of the things that i feel is that we all grow from knowing each other, right?

it is not as important that we agree as it is that we understand... that's probably challenge enough.

1/22/2007  
Blogger curious servant said...

I am going to chime in here, but it is going to be a bit briefer than I would like because I am having the worst headache I have ever had...

First, a side note about faith and science... I do not see a problem with what science says about nature. The evidence seems pretty strong, and I do not see the difficulty in how it fits with scripture that many seem to find... perhaps I am missing something, though I have read quite a few books on the topic.

But to what I see as the primary point of the post which prompts this dialogue...

Faith is hard work.

I had a very strong faith, a very strong belief, in my Lord and the Truth that is behind our faith when I was only five. I do not believe that the faith I have today is any stronger than it was then. Just better informed.

But it isn't enough for me to accept the sacrifice of my King. To be honest, and faithful, I must continue to recognize where I fail and to be obedient to Him.

This is where the work comes in.

A few posts back I offended someone here because of a comment I made. I was not clear enough that I was referring to myself and I made another feel that I was attacking him.

That is where I believe I need to grow the most.

It is far too easy to soften up my own sin by using vague terms such as when I wrote: "I think most of what we say, most of what we think, is foolishness".

Of course I meant that I take myself too seriously. The grand truth, the full reality, is both beyond my understanding, as well as being simple enough for that fiver year old I once was to understand.

But by say what WE say and what WE think I was softening the blow to my own ego.

That is true of all of my sin. I will say things like, “I made a mistake” or “I screwed up there,” or similar pap.

But the truth is that I need to take ownership of my sin in a James 4:6-10 sort of way and simply claim where I need to grow up a little.

And I think that is where I see a real truth behind the above post.

My faith is hard work. It is on me to resist the devil and draw close to God. He will then draw close to me.

Even this comment is full of bluster and high-sounding statements delivered as if they are wondrous truths.

In the end... I know, and secretly always knew, that I am a small servant in a grand army of believers. It is enough to simply sit by His fire and work on sharpening my own weapons for the battle.

1/22/2007  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

"I do not believe that the faith I have today is any stronger than it was then. Just better informed."
(curious servant)

that's interesting. let me just try to get my head around it...

see, i think that i've always thought of my faith growing in terms of strength with every new dawning... floating from epiphany to epiphany feeling somehow better equipped to deal with whatever comes next as a result.

but if informance isn't impactive upon one's faith in terms of strength, then i'm challenged to find the terms that are to be used to describe how the impact of our day to day experience is registered upon our faith.

this is a good challenge.

Jesus speaks of the faith of children and what a precious thing this is. yet somehow it does not appear as though he is speaking about either naivete or discernment; he seems to be going for something different there- something that we've somehow lost along the way...

i'm not looking for answers from you, cs... however, i'm really interested in hearing what you mean, that i may grow in my own faith- er- somehow.

as an afterthought, i believe, however, that the terms that we use to describe our faith experience are probably crucial in how we express that growth, applying it to everyday life thus completing the informance loop.

life informs faith
faith informs life

and faith is just one lens through which we view our experiences, right?

1/23/2007  

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