Be the Pages: story rather than doctrine

I was walking down the old dirt paths and slowly navigating my way through the landmine of pinecones and taking in each snapshot of scenery that dripped with raw beauty. I was taken in by all the things around me. The sweet harmonious melodies of the birds singing in choired unison and the romantic whispered chirpings of the cicadas’ calling me deeper into the forest, deeper into the night. It is this call that leads me to wonder if there is more to life than a book? Is all that life is, summed up in the pages of 66 authors?

I wouldn’t be able to share with you my experience in a captivating forest if all I did was read about the forest. I might be able to give you glimpses and a sort of scientific approach to what it might feel like if I were in a forest, but the experience is vastly different than the science. One is factual, the other is life-altering. This isn’t to say that facts don’t have the ability to change our lives, but studies have shown that one out of one person are always changed by their experiences, whether good or bad. I could have explained to you a map of the forest, but it wouldn’t have given you the contours, colors and outlines that you can only experience in person.

You can sit down and read a really good book. You might even feel like you are one of the characters drifting through each of the pages, but there is nothing like living your own story. If we replace the word living with writing, then maybe what we might be able to say is that all of us are still writing not just our story, but God’s story as well. We get to write with Him. In The Bible: The Biography by Karen Armstrong, she asserts that before the Old Testament was canonized that the Jews had this belief that they were responsible to reinterpret scripture as much as possible so that it was relevant and spoke to the current structures of society. In fact, one place, she even says that they had thrown out certain parts of scripture because it wasn’t relevant to the time. For most, this is a different view to what we have been taught(but just because it’s different doesn’t mean its not true). And if it is true, then what are the ripples in the pond? I think for those who believe the Bible holds all the answers then it seems like an attack rather than an enquiry, because it seems a bit reductionistic to try and make the Bible anything other than the Word of God. Yet, this is isn’t the hope of postmoderns or those with questions. It is to experience God as those in scripture did. So rather than see the bible as trail map to be studied, it is more like an invitation between friends to come and walk with God and discover the raw unedited beauty of the journey. To come and discover God. To “taste and see that he is good”. Both words for taste and see in the Hebrew when translated mean “to experience”. God is inviting us all not to simply read the pages, but live the pages. Write the pages. And Be the pages.

Postmodernism is running through the halls of our churches and fortune 500 companies and classrooms, but is postmodernism the enemy? Can’t postmodernism be a good thing too? It can help us revisit things and begin asking hard questions that maybe aren’t that comfortable but might be necessary to pursue together to find the answers to. Postmodernism is simply asking the question “Is there more to life than this? Is there more to the Bible than this? Is there more to truth than this?” The ancient Jewish followers of YHWH believed it was imperative to ask questions. To be Jew meant you had questions. To be a person who lived and breathed meant you were a person who was driven to seek answers to those questions, no matter how long the journey took. No matter where those questions took you, it was your responsibility as a Jew to make sure you found the answer.

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9 comments

  1. cindyinsd · November 26, 2009

    Hey! I found your post doing a tag search.

    I’d have to agree that there are a lot of good things about post-modern thought. The idea you bring out of living the story, for example. I agree with you that the bible is more than a book of doctrines that we’re supposed to follow to the letter. It’s hard to put into words, but I might say that it could be looked at as a book of examples that show us what God is like, and, when read in a state receptive to the Spirit, shows us examples of what Kingdom life looks like.

    That said, I also believe that a strong case for the importance of the whole word can be made–especially for the Old Testament–in that Paul said to Timothy that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” 2Ti 3:16

    There is, of course, no verse for the NT (there wouldn’t be, would there, unless someone was to write a New NT) ๐Ÿ˜‰ , but I believe God also had His hand in crafting the canon of the NT and that His will prevailed here as well.

    It seems dangerous and haughty to me to go about taking out stuff that we feel doesn’t apply to our day–whatever the ancient Jews may have done (some of them had a bit of an arrogant streak, too–just as we often do).

    God is so much bigger than we can imagine. He’s given us His word to help us get some tiny glimpse of just who He is and who we are. Big as He is, though, there are some things He isn’t and never will be. If it can’t be reconciled with the whole word of God, then it isn’t of God. God is who He says He is.

    Love, Cindy

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  2. travelersnote · November 26, 2009

    Hey Cindy! Thanks for the thoughts.

    I have this friend who we talk about this stuff quite a lot, and we were chatting one day about Paul and the NT writers and how it seems they have been mangled. In the sense that all these writers, including the OT writers were in a specific time, culture and place where they lived and were responding to. And the verse above about god-breathed wasn’t an authoritative statement paul was making…he was referring to ancient art of wrestling/re-interpreting scripture..which is what the jews did in the OT. I don’t think they came from a place of arrogance, having said that, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. But they thought it was their responsibility to make sure it was completely relevant to the time and the day. As I think it is ours as well…and also when the “word of God” is used, do they mean Jesus, the logos or an actual book…most NT verses would lean toward Jesus being the Word. And interestingly enough Jesus and God never points us to a book, but they do point us to a relationship…

    It is interesting how the book, over time, has become the point. when the book was never meant to be the point. it was always meant to point to God, maybe even give occasional glimpses, but more than anything it was showing the readers how other people interacted with God. it wasn’t supposed to be a page by page on how God may or may not choose to work. It shows how he worked in those situations. And sometimes we look at it as a step-by-step tutorial on all things in life.

    Interestingly enough, the idea of God never changing is different to the Jewish mind. Because the word for change is concrete, in their language it means more like someone you can count on or depend on, we think it means he never ever changes…hmmm…thanks again!

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  3. cindyinsd · November 27, 2009

    Hi, George. I see you posted this reply to my blog and also here. Since I just finished answering it there, I’ll just repeat my reply here. I didn’t realize it was a response to my reply above. It looked like it, but when I clicked on your link, it took me to a web page–not this blog. Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Wow! This is going to take a l-o-n-g answer. I can substantiate all of this, but I might not, for brevity’s sake.

    First, I don’t see the NT as mangled at all. I find it a coherent, logical, inspired whole. Yes, the apostles were responding to their world, and at times we need a bit of history to understand what they were getting at, but in my reading, the NT hangs together well, and also completes and coheres to the OT.

    To understand the NT, one needs to read it as it was written–that is to say, the letters to the churches are letters–not collections of individual verses. They need to be read as such if we’re to understand them. And of course they do need to be read in the context of their times.

    Regarding 1 Timothy 3:16 (the one about scripture being God-breathed), looking at the Strongs definitions, I can’t see any reason to suspect it doesn’t mean what it says. Sometimes scriptures do get badly translated, but it doesn’t look like this one has been–of course, I’m not a Greek scholar.

    You said: “also when the โ€œword of Godโ€ is used, do they mean Jesus, the logos or an actual book?”

    I would answer your question this way: Yes! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Jesus told the religious leaders of His day (some of those Jews who worked so hard to make sure scripture was kept “relevant”): “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to Me!” (John 5:39) In other words, He chided them for missing the point. They didn’t see Jesus as relevant to their times–they needed a military messiah, not a Son of God preaching peace and healing worthless poor people.

    While it is true that many have gone overboard in their devotion to the bible, even to the point of almost making it a god, the bible is nevertheless our measuring stick for any other revelation. Otherwise, how can we tell whether we’re hearing error from our own minds or even from some outside interference?

    It’s convenient to assert that God changes with the times, but while God has been known to allow Himself to be persuaded to change a specific course of action (such as wiping out Nineveh), He Himself, in His nature, does not change.

    God is love. His law hangs on love and nothing else. If we become perfected in love, we will keep the law perfectly. Of course, we’re not capable of this, which is why we must live by His life within us.

    Not sure if I answered your points adequately, George, but I’ve tried, and this is getting long. Thanks for the thoughtful conversation.

    Love in Him, Cindy

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    • travelersnote · November 27, 2009

      HI Cindy!

      Yes. Thanks for the thought provokin words.

      “While it is true that many have gone overboard in their devotion to the bible, even to the point of almost making it a god, the bible is nevertheless our measuring stick for any other revelation. Otherwise, how can we tell whether weโ€™re hearing error from our own minds or even from some outside interference?”

      Interestingly enough, the Jews when they canonized the OT they didn’t really have a plumbline like we do.

      The idea of “God-breathed” being an art where ancient Jews wrestled with scripture can be googled, where we might mean it to say that scripture has no error or is helpful, the phrase is specifically referring to a practice used in the early early days of scripture to discover what God was saying, and the only way that that could have been done was to wrestle or reinterpret scripture for the sake of the culture in their day, a good book on this would “The Bible: The Biography” by Religious scholar Karen Armstrong.

      I think it is important to realize while the Bible is important, it is not of the utmost importance. At the end of the day, Jesus, God, Paul, and other writers never point us back to a book. They all point us back to God. Now, interestingly enough, the Church has been quite literally shaped by the Enlightenment, which seeks answers, knowledge and the ways of science (how things should work) and somehow has crept in and stolen the beauty of mystery along with the longing for relationship. Some might seek relationship with God through scripture….but can someone find Jesus without scripture? I would say yes! But even Jesus himself, and this important to take on board, always pointed back to God. So, God is the point, not Jesus. Yes, he is immensely important, but even he focuses all his energies on God. And so sure the Bible is helpful, but it wasn’t God who gave it the pervasive authority it now holds, men/women through the ages have almost created another idol with the pages…

      Several times God breaks his own rules. (Isaiah 55:9) signifying to me that God is not bound to the Bible…and I think even within that culture, for years, the Jews really struggled whether they wanted to write a book on God (the OT) because they thought it might limiting…and this is where I am coming from..if he is bigger, than wouldnt’ we want to find that ‘bigness’ for which there isn’t a plumbline…again, remember, all over scripture, God doesn’t point people back to verses, but back to relationship….even through romantic Jewish imagery God uses metaphors for himself not scripture…thanks again!

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  4. cindyinsd · November 27, 2009

    Hi, George

    I agree with you on relationship. It’s all about our relationship with God and, through Him, with one another. It’s all about love. (BTW, when I say God, I mean the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, who are One.)

    I don’t agree that God breaks His own rules. God’s rule is love, and He never breaks it. It may, at times, look to us like He breaks this rule, particularly when He does things we don’t see as loving, but that’s where your scripture (Isaiah 55:9) comes in.

    Now you can look at some of the stranger commandments in the Tanakh and go off scratching your head because you don’t understand them. We’ll never understand some of them in this world because we’ll never discover the history behind them. Probably the people of the day understood them very well.

    Let me tell you a story . . . I always wondered about this commandment:

    Exo 23:19 “As you harvest your crops, bring the very best of the first harvest to the house of the LORD your God. “You must not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk. ”

    I mean, it just seems wrong from the start, but why on earth would God put this commandment into His law? I’m not sure the kid would know it was being boiled in its mother’s milk–presumably (HOPEFULLY) it has been killed before boiling it–and what’s this about boiling meat in milk? It just sounds dumb on the face of it. What’s this all about? And there are a lot of similarly weird commandments in the law.

    One day I learned something that changed my perception of this commandment (and the whole law). The worshipers in various fertility cults of that day would bring a young goat to offer it to their god(s)/goddess(es), and this is the way they would do it. They would boil it in its own mother’s milk. How perverted is that? :yuck:

    God was saying to His people, “I don’t want to be worshiped in this way. Don’t do that.” Understandable. I realized that those other weird commandments most likely had similar stories–if only we knew the history.

    If, for some inconceivable reason, you decided that cooking young goat meat in its mother’s milk was the pinnacle of epicurean delight (like I said :yuck: !), I don’t think God would consider it a violation of this law (though He might turn down that dinner invitation).

    If that’s what you’re talking about when you say the bible needs to be “changed” to fit the current culture, then I’d agree with you. However, I wouldn’t call that “changing” the bible.

    I wonder whether the way we do Christian music concerts (and often, church services) today isn’t akin to worshiping God the same way the world worships rock stars? This might be a current, socially relevant interpretation for a weird old commandment. Don’t be offended–I’m just musing, and I’m sure there are better analogies than this one.

    The problem with changing the bible for no reason except that it now offends society is obvious. Finding the story of what was going on at the time constitutes discovering what God wanted when He said that.

    Here’s an example . . . Let’s say you got angry and I said to you, “Don’t go getting all bent out of shape over this.” If you were a very literal minded person, and if you hadn’t heard this expression, you might be confused. I think that’s often what happens to us as we read parts of the bible that we don’t understand. Clarifying stuff like this isn’t “changing the bible.”

    Jesus, however, complained that the Pharisees, in taking things literally and then taking them to extremes, did change the bible. (For example, the friction He had with them over the Sabbath and His complaint that they strained out gnats and swallowed camels. (Matt 23:24)

    Most of His conflict with them was over their disregard for the true law of God, which is love. They had missed the point. It wasn’t that the point needed changing–it was just that they had never gotten it.

    Sorry for writing so long, and enjoying our conversation.

    Love, Cindy

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  5. cindyinsd · November 27, 2009

    Oops! In trying to shorten what I said, I made one of the paragraphs unclear . . . this is what I really meant: ๐Ÿ˜‰

    The problem with changing the bible for no reason except that it now offends society is obvious. **However** Finding the story of what was going on at the time constitutes discovering what God wanted when He said that. **This isn’t changing the bible–it’s clarifying it.**

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  6. travelersnote · November 29, 2009

    Hey Cindy!

    Thanks for this.

    When I refer to changing scripture, I am using the idea that the ancient Jews thought it was their responsibility to reinterpret scripture so it spoke directly into the current society, even at the expense of scripture, they thought it was important that it deal with issues, I understand that you can disagree with this, but this is not an opinion I made up, it came from someone who has spent their whole life in the scholarly side of religious study.

    The reference in God breaking his own rules can be found in the OT (there are quite a bit); for example, in the 613 of the mitzvots (hebrew word for commandment; which actually when rendered correctly means desire; which is great, because most people think of commandments as thing you ‘have’ to do, but God was essentially saying is that it comes down to your heart)– God says touching dung is an abomination. Then later on he tells the prophet Ezekiel to touch dung, and at first, Ezekiel backs off and reminds God of the law and God tells him to still use it as a prop for his dramatic scene. God does this quite a bit. See, I think within modernism there is this idea that God is bound by scripture. But even the prophets said he wasn’t. And God never once points people back to the Torah, Jesus never does this either. It is all about the relationship aspect that becomes central to the story that all people have been invited into. Would we be willing to say that all of God is encapsulated in 66 books? And if we say ‘no’, then we have to accept the reality that the Bible as the ‘all-encompassing’ book that so many people claim is the ultimate book on God, actually isn’t what WE have said it is. Again, Karen Armstrong gives more details on the human canonization of scripture in the OT and how the Jews at one time were scared to even think about putting who God is down in a book, most likley because people would try keep him to it; or would try to understand him only through this book or minimize who he is, unfortunately we have done that throughout the ages and even now. God is bigger than pages. And it is that invitation that he invites to follow in. To be the pages. Sure, learn from them, but they also lead to living life, not doctrine, not theology, not systems of belief, but relationship which does not make sense in a mechanistic way, it only makes sense being in relationship…

    thanks for the conversation!

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  7. cindyinsd · November 30, 2009

    Hi, George

    So do we disagree? I’m not sure we do except that I don’t have a lot of regard for the ancient Jews anymore than I have for any other blind guides.

    God told Ezekiel to use dung because it was an abomination. That was the point. And Jesus used scripture all the time. He told the Jews that scripture pointed to Him (which it does). Of course God is bigger than the pages, but God is not other than the pages. Yes He is beyond them, but no, He is not contradictory to them. He may at times seem so to us–if He does, this is because we have completely misunderstood them and Him.

    I’m not certain where we disagree except with your regard for the ancient Pharisees. What is it that causes you to hold these men in such high esteem? They were a bunch of misogynistic, legalistic despots. They added heavy burdens to the law for no other reason than to enhance their own power and promote their own agendas. Jesus didn’t think too highly of them. He said:

    Luk 11:46 Then He said: “Woe also to you experts in the law! You load people with burdens that are hard to carry, yet you yourselves don’t touch these burdens with one of your fingers.
    Luk 11:47 “Woe to you! You build monuments to the prophets, and your fathers killed them.
    Luk 11:48 Therefore you are witnesses that you approve the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their monuments.
    Luk 11:49 Because of this, the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute,’
    Luk 11:50 so that this generation may be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world–
    Luk 11:51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. “Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible.
    Luk 11:52 “Woe to you experts in the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge! You didn’t go in yourselves, and you hindered those who were going in.”
    Luk 11:53 When He left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to oppose Him fiercely and to cross-examine Him about many things;
    Luk 11:54 they were lying in wait for Him to trap Him in something He said.

    I dunno–it doesn’t sound like Jesus approved of the ancient Jewish lawyers anymore than He did those of His day. In fact, He sounds pretty harsh here. That’s why it’s hard for me to comprehend why you, a follower of Jesus, keep referring back to these people as your example? I’m not arguing that they did what you say. I just don’t understand why you would think that their having done it makes it a good thing to do?

    Other than that, Yes! Be the pages. Otherwise, what’s the point? The theology and doctrine and belief follow along after. They are not the master, but the servants. Jesus is the Master. (And keep in mind that in Him dwells all the Godhead bodily, so when I say Jesus, I’m not leaving anybody out here.) We live by His life.

    And yes, He gave us His written word to help us stay on track. We have a real enemy who really is smarter than us, who has fooled smarter people than you and I. We need God first of all, and He will supply all of our needs. That said, I believe He does expect us to use all the benefits He’s given us, and that includes the written word if we have it.

    Not to be too inquisitive, but is there a particular doctrine or doctrines that you object to?

    Love, Cindy

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    • travelersnote · November 30, 2009

      I would say we subscribe to different narrative versions of scripture. To me the Bible isn’t a car manual or any type of manual. But a collection of stories of people who were found by the divine. And he wanted to show them how they could be like him.

      I would also say I object to the idea that any doctrine is authoritative, inspired and or has the last word on God. I get nervous when people are sure about things of God when they themselves are just as human as I am. Some people might call this confidence ‘faith’. But without questions, you wouldn’t need faith. We need questions and uncertainty to make faith what it is. I have come to a place in my life where I think life is more about the questions and mischevious wonder (this is what i think Jesus was talking about when he was referring to being like a child). I am advocating the understanding of the Pharisees. I am more passionate about putting scripture back into its proper context and some of that includes understanding a lot of how the Jews viewed God and Jesus. But you agree that some of them got it wrong, which also means that some of the scriptures we might hold so dear might be easily misunderstood by us who didn’t live then or interact with God then. We have a library of stories of people who interacted with the divine. This, to me, is more the point of scripture. Not about how he works, or how we should wait for his answer, or how we should create a system of theology. Through his prophets, God reminded the Israelites that it is incredibly faulty ground to try and creat answers that we understand and then to fit God in them (Isaiah 55:9)…Jesus used to scripture to point out who he was. But he did not force or mandate that people go and read scripture. like a friend of mine pointed out, Jesus spent time with 135 people, only twelve of those relationships were either in the synagogue or connected to them. This tells me a lot about Jesus and who I am supposed to be. I would encourage you to Google these words: ‘Satan’, ‘Zoroastrianism’….I think too often we are more than enemy than anyone or anything else. I see God as this massive blanket that covers all people and he is there whether they believe or see him, but as a blanket he will never smother them…

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