Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Having Ears, Do You Not Hear?

This ancient practice takes us beyond merely studying the Bible, and into the wonderful world of listening to it.

A friend recently sent me a link to this interview with Eugene Peterson. It has some excellent points for discussion. Go take a look, then come back here.

Done? Okay.

The article talks about the "poetry of scripture," and how the "Bible is not a textbook. Nor is it a manual to be studied, mastered, and mechanically applied."

Make sure you get through the whole interview (it's fairly short), because my first impression of it was less-than-stellar. Because when I think of "poetry," I think of something that looks and sounds nice, but has very little real-world application.

And that's not what I believe about the Bible. But it's also not what he means when he says "poetry."

Peterson talks about this Lectio Divina ("spiritual reading"). "Engaging in the Bible reflectively." Slowing down, reading, listening, and allowing the mind to descend into the heart. Immersion. It's nothing terribly complicated. In a group setting, it's taking a passage, different people reading and listening to it, hearing the poetry of the language, the sounds, and the message, and discussing and sharing thoughts on it. My first thought was poetry of the language? It wasn't written in ENGLISH.

But again, that's a misunderstanding of what he's talking about here. Part of what he's saying is that the Bible was written in street language, common language. Most of it was oral and spoken to illiterate people -- they were the first ones to receive it. "When we make everything academic, we lose something." (Emphasis mine.)

And at the end of the interview, we get this:

As a pastor, I'm not a theology policeman. Of course there are going to be misunderstandings—that goes with language. How many times in a marriage do a husband and wife misunderstand each other? And those misunderstandings don't occur because they used incorrect grammar.

But if we are part of a community where the Scriptures are honored, I don't think we have to worry too much. The Spirit works through community. Somebody will have a stupid, screwy idea. That's okay. The point of having creeds and confessions and traditions is to keep us in touch with the obvious errors. Because we have those resources, I don't think we have to be anxious about it.

Hmm. Interesting point of view. Alright, you fine group of commenters. What say ye?


Joe B said...

Petersen models this same approach to scripture without the four steps and the cool Latin name in his great book (with a crummy title) "Christ Plays in Ten-thousand Places: Conversations in Spiritual Theology".

The word of God is about creating and renewing, as much as it is about knowlegde. It generates new life in us and through us.

It is important to know what you're talking about. But ultimately what matters most is Who you know, not what you know.

"This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." [John 17:3]

Tonya said...

As I read the article, I was struck by two things. First, my recent "refresh" with God has me studying the Bible every evening, and this has been my approach. Read, read again, read out loud, read in a different translation, discuss with my daughter and journal my thoughts. I was doing that Latin thingy without even knowing it. PS, Petersen's translation, The Message is definitely a fun one to use in your meditation on God's word.

The other thing that came to mind was that Petersen was describing the same kind of methods we use in consulting for project management. There is a team of people reviewing an assigned task (say, implementing a new operational program), discussing it in different voices (sometimes we agree, sometimes we don't), mapping our interpretations and ideas (not Venn diagrams, Joe B, but close), figuring out what it means to the people it will touch (the stakeholders) and determining how to implement it in a sustainable way (we are consultants, we do eventually go away). Those who have studied up are the true leaders in these group sessions. If a team member comes to a meeting without having already reviewed the statement of work, he's not going to be so helpful during group discussion -- and it will be reflected in his performance evaluation.

Why is it that we have these methods mapped out in business (ref: the 400+ pages of the Project Management Book of Knowledge), and we can see that they are successful, sustainable and repeatable, but we don't think of life that way? What is the most important project you will ever implement in your life? Doing the will of God? Executing His plan for your life? You might want to review the charge He's given you, the project He has assigned, with a few people who can help -- the community. You won't always agree, but you should take the time to review, share, talk, draw, write about the word of God. You can't do that with 800 people at the same time. You have to reach out to a smaller community, including non-believers(!), to get the most out of that exercise.

The one church I've been to that seemed to have 'gotten it right' was only about 70 members, but we too held small group meetings throughout the week to do exactly what has been described -- dive into God's word, talk it out and apply it to our lives. Why I'm a member of the unChurch is because I am not finding an institution that encourages (teaches!?) the community to do this very thing. Many churches today, even small churches, focus on attendance, tithing and 'good living' as the measure of success. I would like to remind them that this will be reflected in their performance evaluations.

My husband and I built our own community in our living room at one point, out of sheer necessity. You *do* need other people. You should not be living your life without interacting with the the world! Now, through the miracle of the interwebs, I can do it virtually with the saints and sinners of the unChurch. Is it different from Sunday morning among the throngs of people jockeying for the last pew? You bet. It is supposed to be that way.

Joe B said...

The Word is way more than words. And the fellowship of saints has to be more than words too. The unChurch has a blog, but it is not in itself a blog. We are a tight little covenant community, a little subset of the Body of Christ. Some unChurchies are scattered. Their mission is the same as ours: to colonize their cities, their churches, their workplaces, their karaoke clubs...with squeaking-tight, up-close, personal, and $ubstantial communities of Jesus.

"The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened." [Mt13:33]

It's gotta be real. Whether it's church or unChurch, it's gotta be real. Amen? Oh, yeah.

RMW said...

Poetry is read to the heart and the soul as too should be the Bible. That is the problem I have with so much of theology, it strips away the heart and soul and attempts to reduce things to logical order and rules.

It strikes me that it is like watching a great movie, one frame at a time. You miss nothing but lose everything in the process or it is like reading a love poem reduced to form. Here we are in Iambic Pentameter.

Irregardless of whether the theology is correct it leaves off the passion; the essential parts which speaks to our core being. That is why I am so often conflicted by some theology. I'm unable to point to the error but everything inside me tells me it is wrong.

Joe B said...

Provocative thoughts RMW

"As the body without the spirit is dead" theology without living faith is you-know-what.

Eutychus said...

Good thoughts, and I love the post and the Peterson interview.

The new post is on the same subject more or less. Lets put the new comments of the new article so people will all see them. People don't always look back