church

The Chaos Between

I’m going to share some fairly controversial opinions about the Bible later in this post. For those with a healthy blood-lust for controversy, be patient; I have some prefacing to do before I begin picking that yet-to-scab wound that was reopened when Michael Gungor had the unholy audacity to speculate that some passages in the Bible are not intended to be taken literally. So please, be patient.

Have you noticed that so many of the clichés we get tired of hearing have become clichés for good reason?

“Ignorance is bliss.”
That one’s been pecking at my insides for several weeks now.

For me, part of growing older has been accepting the reality that I don’t know very much. I think that realization comes to most of us more easily than the next: the fact that nobody knows very much. I’m unsure what age I was when this cold truth hit me, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with a doctor, and I somehow sensed that this doctor was flipping a cerebral coin inside his highly educated brain in order to deliver a best-guess diagnosis.
This guy doesn’t know! This guy’s just as stupid as I am!

Something in our nature craves certainty.
We want to think there is a step-by-step answer to problems, and that people exist in this world who can deliver these answers.

This is probably why so many of our church sermons are delivered in enumerated fashion:
4 Steps to a Better Marriage
3 Ways to Hear God’s Voice
5 Tips for Beating Addiction
(Personally, I like my enumerated lessons kept to fewer than five bullet-points. Any more than five, and I’m checking Fantasy Football stats to keep from nodding off.)

I’ve been enjoying talks about science quite a bit lately, because I’ve begun to see there is beautiful mystery in science. In science, it seems to me, we far more willing to admit ignorance than we are in the Church. Here is something cool I learned recently:
Scientists can observe the particles that make up all of matter, including the stuff that comes together to make you and me – I’m talking beyond the atoms with their protons and moving electrons; they can actually see even further than that, down to these sub-atomic building blocks, but this is where it becomes quite mysterious. These particles, they move from one place to another, and nobody can figure out how or why they get from one point to the next. The result is that tiny bits that once were part of you could now be tiny bits of me or of your dog or of the table where you eat your breakfast. Yet, somehow, some way, you are still you and I am still me, and that table is still your table, right down to the scratches in the finish. This means that there must be something beyond the particles that construct the World around us. There is something that binds these particles together, and gives them meaning.

It is here, within the chaos of the particles, that discussions and stories of God and Faith must come in.

And this is where the “Ignorance is Bliss” cliché has become a worm, tunneling its way through my mind. Sometimes, I wish I didn’t know about the spaces – the chaos between the particles – and how apparently fragile is this reality we call our World. Sometimes, I wish I didn’t know how little anybody actually knows. When I get like this, I am thankful for Stories.

I’ve come to see Story as a clever way of cheating the system, of seeing above and beyond the chaos. I think old Clive Staples Lewis understood this well. He understood it so well that he authored some of the most powerful stories ever written, and furthermore; he understood that this was the true point of the Bible. But, in a mission spearheaded by a bunch of misguided, European white guys, we screwed it up. We missed the point. We changed the Bible into a paper construct, which it was never meant to be. It was meant to be a compass – its needle crafted in Story; it was meant as a map – not the sort designed with care to exact scale – rather, it’s the kind of map a Friend might sketch out for another, for the purpose of leading the way to his home. The purpose in drawing such a map is not to ensure that one inch equals precisely one mile, or that a southwesterly road is reflected exactly as such on paper. Such a map reads much more like a personal note: “As you walk down this road, you’ll see an old woman spinning yarn and a couple Jamaican street drummers – when you see them, you’re close.”

But here’s what we do: rather than focusing on the destination – the gathering at the home of our Beloved Friend – we obsess about the map. There are others on the streets with us with slight variations of the same map, and we spend a great deal of time arguing over how the thing is supposed to be read.

The recent furor over Michael Gungor’s “confession” that he does not take the book of Genesis literally is extremely disheartening to me. Somehow, the same guy who’s written and performed beautiful and engaging songs which have served to encourage many of us in the Church, has been labeled a heretic by many in that same Church. Why is this? Are his ultimate conclusions all that different? In the end, he still arrives at same conclusion: Jesus Christ, God incarnate, Savior of the World. Who cares if he doesn’t believe Noah actually floated his ark over a literal, world-wide flood? Who cares if he believes humanity came to be via evolution, rather than a snap of God’s omnipotent fingertips?

When we obsess over these things – the individual words of the Story – we miss the point of the Story entirely.

Ever since I realized that nobody knows very much, my life has become rife with many “I don’t knows”. If you are one who leans toward an “I do know” way of thinking, you’re ok with me, and I hope I’m ok with you, as well. At the end of all things, I think we’ll all be surprised by what we do and don’t know. In the meantime, there’s this eternal Story that the Creator of all things has set to repeat, over and over again.
Perhaps we can give it a new listen.
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3 replies »

  1. “When we obsess over these things – the individual words of the Story – we miss the point of the Story entirely.” What I think about this is both “yes, I agree” and “no, I don’t agree”.

    Yes, because on the one hand is see the quibbling over a small verse or perception or interpretation of scripture that turns into Calvinists vs Anabaptists – predetermination or free will? Or Pre-Trib, post trip. All the ways that the church has been torn as asunder by differences in understanding of the small things, while somehow forgetting the big thing: That God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son… I think that there are two current issues that would fall into this category: ‘what to do about homosexuality’ and ‘what to think about evolution and/or the creation story’. These are divisive, with people having strong opinions and beliefs, both based on history and tradition as well as a deep understanding of scripture – on both sides of the issues. I think that when we focus too much on the details of that, that we lose focus on what is more important: loving God and loving your neighbor.

    but…

    No, because I think the words matter. I am one of those people who cannot read the Bible in a year. It is just too much for me to digest. I prefer to take my time, to read and meditate on the characters, the attitudes, the instructions, the descriptions. I like to read what words mean in Greek and Hebrew – that has lead to some life changing realizations and epiphanies. I am always awed by who God is and what he has done, what his attitude towards us is. But I come to those places of change by reading and thinking on the ‘individual words’. Like last week I was reading in Romans 8 where Paul says that the Holy Spirit is the ‘first fruit’ of all that God has for us in Christ. I needed to mediate on the word “first fruit” – to ruminate on what it means and what it implies. And from that, came the revelation of God’s character. If I hadn’t taken the time to mull over the words, then I would have missed what God wanted to teach.

  2. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Michael Gungor is not the only one who isn’t sure about Genesis… Even the Catholic church has no official position on the creation story (literal or not?) and evolution. Not that they are the gold standard for our faith or something, but there are a lot of Catholics worldwide.

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