Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Yes, We Read the Bible at Space For God

Space For God (www.spaceforgod.org.au) continued its tradition of experimentalism on Sunday as I spoke from behind a partition to the rest of the gathering to illustrate the debilitating effect of the walls that exist between people and the walls that exist between people and God. It's a big world so I am loathe to say that this is a first, but I can honestly say that I've never heard of any church doing this before. Perhaps you know of such an approach and can tell me where it happened and how it worked at that gathering?

The effect of having a barrier blocking me from the rest of the gathering so that they could hear my voice but not see my face was difficult both for me as well as the rest of the community. I know that in the age of the Podcast this is typical, but the fact that the gathering knew where the voice was coming from and knew that I was so close, yet so far away made it somewhat different. Funnily enough, even though I couldn't see people looking at me, I was somewhat more self-conscious than I would have been if no such wall existed.

We started by looking at the walls that we put up to protect us from ourselves. I pointed out that being human can entail a lot of responsibility towards others, so by refusing to affirm our own humanity, we are able to ignore the humanity in others. It is tough to be honest with ourselves, but this is what we need to do if we are to be of any use in the Kingdom of God.

Our first lectionary reading from Amos 8:4-7 spoke about the walls of greed that prevented the elite in Israel from either responding to the needs of the poor or relating to God. Religious observance had merely become an obstacle in the way of making more money. As soon as these people had gone through the motions of religious observance, they were back in the market. Not only did they neglect the needs of the poor, but they actively sought to exploit their vulnerabilities by ripping them off with dishonest measures. They would then use their ill-gained profit to employ the poor as cut-price labour so as to expand their respective empires.

Our second lectionary reading was the story of Jesus and Zaccheus in Luke 19:1-10. Just like the people in Amos' time, Zaccheus became wealthy through using his position as a tax-collector to rip people off. Presumably, it would have been the poor of the land that were most at risk. However, Zaccheus' wealth came at a price. He had power without glory. Among the A-listers in Jericho, Zaccheus was seen as a social pariah. I suspect that rather than guilting Zaccheus into changing his ways, it would have reinforced his behaviour. After consistently being denigrated as less than human by the social set, I suspect that Zaccheus would have begun to see himself in this way. And if you're not truly human, why are you obligated to act in a truly human way towards others?

Zaccheus had one other wall. He was short. Unable to see over the crowd of people flocking to see Jesus appear, Zaccheus climbs a sycamore tree. (Just as a tangent, it is interesting to note that before Amos got into the business of being a prophet, Amos 7:14 states that he actually looked after sycamore trees for a living. What significance this has, I don't know.) Jesus sees him and decides to invite himself over to Zaccheus' place. This isn't a rude gesture - it's a way to affirm that Zaccheus can be useful. And by affirming that Zaccheus could be useful, Jesus was affirming Zaccheus' humanity. For the first time in ages, Zaccheus was forced to see himself as a human. And as a human he was forced to acknowledge that he had responsibilities towards others besides himself. We don't know the details of the conversation that took place at Zaccheus' house, but it must of had a profound effect on him - Zaccheus pledged to give away half of his possessions to the poor and pay back four times the amount to anyone he had ripped off. And so, in one short day, an entire lifetime of unscrupulous business practices were completely and irrevocably changed.

One of the things that struck me about this passage was the juxtaposition of Jesus' response to Zaccheus with the response of Zaccheus' accusers and the result that each response had. While the condemnation of Zaccheus by his accusers actually reinforced his behaviour, the affirmation of Zaccheus as a person of worth by Jesus actually encouraged Zaccheus to see himself as someone who could actually positively contribute to the lives of others. This is a great challenge to us in the way that we respond to those who oppress and exploit others. By rejecting them as people, we reinforce their behaviour. But by affirming them, loving them and praying for them, we chip away the walls that prevent them from seeing that they are truly human and that they have a responsibility to act in a truly human manner towards others.

12 comments:

CraigS said...

Nicely written. A couple of issues -

1. I'm wondering how much the Emerging movement is dependant upon novelty? The wall is an interesting idea - but what happens when you run out of new and interesting "gimicks" for your meeting? Is it sustainable?

2. I can agree with some elements of your exegesis. Part of the problem I have when discussing the scripture with you is that I never know what your attitude is toward a certain scripture. Some you treat as authoritative, some not. Elsewhere you complained that the evangelical hermeneutic was too rigid, but it seems to me that yours is rather too fluid.

A common theme from the small amount of Emerging teaching I've seen is "love one another". This is one of the great commands of course. But I can't help but feel that Emergings are often just moralising a story.

To make a great generalisation, Evangelicals believe the bible is the story of a rescue mission, Emergings believe the bible is an instruction manual on love. This influences our respective approaches to the teaching of Scripture.

David Castor said...

Hey Craig,

Thanks for your response.

1. I'm wondering how much the Emerging movement is dependant upon novelty? The wall is an interesting idea - but what happens when you run out of new and interesting "gimicks" for your meeting? Is it sustainable?

Well, I'd suggest that there is structure as well as novelty. We follow the lectionary readings. We are developing a form of consistent liturgical practice, albeit somewhat different from many other traditions (while still embracing certain elements of different church traditions). That said, we are experimenting with different styles to see what works well within the community.

2. I can agree with some elements of your exegesis. Part of the problem I have when discussing the scripture with you is that I never know what your attitude is toward a certain scripture. Some you treat as authoritative, some not. Elsewhere you complained that the evangelical hermeneutic was too rigid, but it seems to me that yours is rather too fluid.

To be honest Craig, I'm still working out my hermeneutic. I would like to think that it is a work in progress.

A common theme from the small amount of Emerging teaching I've seen is "love one another". This is one of the great commands of course. But I can't help but feel that Emergings are often just moralising a story.

To make a great generalisation, Evangelicals believe the bible is the story of a rescue mission, Emergings believe the bible is an instruction manual on love. This influences our respective approaches to the teaching of Scripture.


I can't speak for others in the community, but I definitely see the Bible as a rescue mission. Indeed, as you would well know, Christus Victor quite explicitly focuses upon the cross as God rescuing and restoring humanity. I suspect our difference lie in the manner that we believe God rescues us.

David Castor said...

Or should I point out, I see the Bible as being the story of a rescue mission.

CraigS said...

But how are people saved? From reading Bell's book, I got the idea that it was through loving each other and imitating Christ more and more perfectly.

Also, what do you think people are saved from? I know you were once something of a universalist - is that still the case? Bell, I noticed, believes in Hell. From what I could understand, he believes that those who reject the path of love end up in Hell - almost by definition.

David Castor said...

But how are people saved? From reading Bell's book, I got the idea that it was through loving each other and imitating Christ more and more perfectly.

I should point out that it has been a good twelve months or so since I read Bell's book, so my memory isn't wonderful.

I think the concept of "salvation" really is tricky. But the root word for salvation means "to heal". So, in short, there is no salvation if there is no healing. This is why I reject the evangelical bifurcation between justification and sanctification. While my understanding of salvation is by no means works based, I believe that we are only truly saved when our lives testify to that. A legal declaration is rather empty unless it also carries with it real change.

Also, what do you think people are saved from? I know you were once something of a universalist - is that still the case? Bell, I noticed, believes in Hell. From what I could understand, he believes that those who reject the path of love end up in Hell - almost by definition.

I am both a universalist and believe in Hell. However, unlike Bell I believe that Hell is purgatorial and that in line with Church Fathers like Ireneaus and Origen, all will eventually be restored to God. Indeed, I believe this is the perfect demonstration both of God's love and God's sovereignty simultaneously.

CraigS said...

So for you, salvation is the process of being transformed into perfection. Everyone is saved ultimately, because everyone is made perfect - eventually?

David Castor said...

Yep - exactly. Because God is sovereign he can do so. Because God is love he chooses to do so. And because God chooses to do so, we cannot resist.

CraigS said...

Because God is love he chooses to do so.

Ok, Scripture says "God is love", so that's fine.

However, where did you get the second part from, the idea that he chooses to save everyone? Do you just see that as the logical implication of God being love, or did the idea come from another source?

David Castor said...

Well, I think it is the logical implication of God being love, but I also believe that Scripture witnesses to this fact at least a dozen times. And no, I'm not going to engage in a spot of proof text tennis for the entertainment of the gallery.

CraigS said...

And no, I'm not going to engage in a spot of proof text tennis for the entertainment of the gallery.

Lol - well I guess there is nothing more to be said then!

David Castor said...

Lol - well I guess there is nothing more to be said then!

Yeah, it's just that these kind of battles don't seem to go anywhere productive. Someone gives a few verses and explains why that supports their position, then the other person disagrees, reinterpreting the verses and giving a few verses they believe support their position. Then the first person disagrees and finds a novel way to interpret the verses, and so on. I'm sure you've seen it a million times before.

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