formation

Passage of Scripture

Christians talk about scripture passages or, in the singular, a passage of scripture. The emphasis is on the phrase is the word scripture. And understandably so. Scripture the first authority (not the only authority) that Christians use to make sense. There is wisdom in the scriptures that often remains hidden to us until we prayerfully engage and wrestle with it. But I do not have to extol the importance of scripture, but rather I wanted to highlight the other word: passage.

Scripture offers us different passages, different ways, different paths to see and understand the world. There is the prophetic passage. The pastoral passage. The priestly passage. There are more passages of scripture than we can list here to be certain. These different passages of scripture guide and lead us. Like other passages in our lives, scripture passages also have many things to see and notice that are just as important (sometimes more so) than the destination the passage takes us to.

Most people who read the Bible tend to journey such that a set of passages are more worn than others. This does not mean the other, less journeyed passages are unimportant, only that through discernment we attempt to find the well worn paths. Jesus preferred the passages of Isaiah and the Psalms over, say passages of Numbers or Nehemiah. We all have passages we walk and make clear for others to journey with us.

Some say that we are to take each section of the Bible with equal weight. I find this almost impossible to do. Even Jesus had his preferred passages. And so, if Jesus is our teacher and he says that we will do things greater than he (John 14:12-14), then is it possible that we too will have preferred passages of scripture?

Reading the Bible Like a Zacchaeus

Canadian Lutheran theologian Jann E. Boyd Fullenwieder wrote in Proclamation: Mercy for the World:

Like Zacchaeus of old, we climb up into the scriptures, a great tree of life grafted to the Crucified One’s cross, that we might see Jesus. There we discover that we, too, are seen, named, invited, and welcomed to share the life of God, whom we spy through the branches and leaves of scripture, even as Christ has already spied us.

Photo by  Jon Asato  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jon Asato on Unsplash

First of all, can we just admire the beauty of Fullenwieder’s language?

Reading the Bible is much less about learning all the nuances of the leaves and branches and much more about an encounter with the Divine. It is less about knowing how to understand the Bible as it is about seeing and being seen by Christ. If our engagement with the scriptures lead us to know more about the Bible but nothing about Jesus Christ then we are just studying dead trees.

If our Bible study is interested in “going deep into the word” then we may very well miss an encounter with Christ as we are busy with our heads in the book.

Perhaps the reason reading the Bible for many of us is boring is that we are reading it like we read a map: for information. Scripture reading is less about the information in the tree and more about looking for God, who knows your name and invites you to join in the journey.

You are Growing or Dying. Shenanigans.

We have all heard this idea that we are either growing or dying. We hear if people are learning a new skill or if they are becoming a “better” person then they are “growing”. We also hear that organizations that rake in profits or create social change are “growing.” If there is a restaurant that has a line out the door then that restaurant is “growing” in their market.

Photo by  Wang Xi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash

Conversely, people who are getting older or have stopped learning are thought of as “dying.” Organizations that are not expanding then they are “dying.” Businesses that no longer have that line around the block are “dying.”

Because you are either growing or dying.

The Truth is, nothing is growing OR dying. Everything is growing AND dying at the same time.

Every person, regardless of age or stage, is growing and dying at the same time. The one who is learning a lot may be growing intellectually but they also are experiencing a death of previously understood ideas. The organization that is growing in numbers is also dying to previous ways of doing things. The business that is growing in market share is also dying to the intimacy they had.

Philosophers such as Hannah Arendt describe a “natality.” In addition to how philosophers speak of natalities, we may begin to think of natality as the other side of fatality. Where fatality is about dying, natality is about birth. For every fatality there is a simultaneous natality and for every natality there is a simultaneous fatality.

The question is not are you growing or dying but how are you growing AND dying.

The Church is beginning to embrace the very message that she has proclaimed for 2000 years in that the Church is not dying. It is dying and being born. It is declining and growing. It is contracting and expanding.

WWJD is less helpful than WIJD

WWJD bracelets were common place when I was younger. The effort in this movement was to encourage people to consider a choices and actions through the question, "What would Jesus do?" It is noble to think about what Jesus would do in different situations and I have asked this question myself. 

I am sure this question has given numerous people reason to pause maybe make a wise choice. However, from what I know about human beings, the chances are greater this question was used to justify a decision already made or to guilt someone to a particular action. So while it is a helpful question, it is less helpful than "What is Jesus doing?"

The obvious difference in WIJD is the verb tense. It is a question asked of the present, not of the past. What would Jesus do is something we often have to guess at. What is Jesus doing can be brought into greater clarity with spiritual disciplines and community.

Practices like discernment, prayer, reflection and contemplation are all helpful for us to pause and consider what is Jesus doing right now. In our midst, at this moment. 

Christians of all denominations believe a wide variety of things about Jesus, but there is at least one thing all Christians can agree on. We all want to be where Jesus is. We all want to be where Jesus is going. We all want to be on what Jesus is doing.

So lets start asking.