A New Genesis for Genesis…

If you notice under the Archives heading to the right, I haven’t written on this particular blog since 2010. While most of the ideas in the former posts I still hold to, five years of reading, thought, and plain old life have influenced my understanding of Genesis. For instance… there are two different tellings or stories of the Beginning. One which stretches between Genesis 1:1 and 2:4, while the second takes up in the end of 2:4 and runs through chapter 3.

Two voices…

Two Storytellers…

Two perspectives…

which are kind of unwieldy in their connection by the editor.

Ok….

Authors and Editors?

It sounds like I am talking about some publishing company, right? But THIS IS THE BIBLE…..THE BIIIIIIBUUUUULLLLLLLL….(imagine a deep, resonant voice which makes the walls shake…oops…I think the light over the dining room table just blew a bulb…)!

The voice and message of God, right?

Divinely inspired….right?

The Rule against which all things are measured….right?

Weeelllll……Ok…..

But….

I think it is really more important than that.

The fall of 2010, I started classes at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. My purpose was to earn a master’s degree in Spiritual Formation.

(People often asked me what I wanted to do with the degree. I responded that I have a Bachelor’s of Arts degree with a major in Psychology, so I just wanted to get another worthless degree…..b’dump bump.)

My first semester I took Introduction to Old Testament from a wonderful teacher, and even better man, Steve Delamarter. This class revolutionized the manner in which I read, interpret, and understand the bible. First, the class seemed to be more a lesson in literary criticism than theology. I can still hear Dr. Delamarter’s words ringing in the caverns of my mind: “What in the text leads you to that conclusion?” We spoke of how the text leads us to question the intention of the writers. We had text books that informed us of the cultural context of the writers, and how knowing something of the cultural structure could help us better understand those possible intentions. I began to understand that if I wanted to know what the writers meant, I needed to hear their words with ancient ears, rather than my own. To do this might mean a little detective work on my part, and even a little…imagination…gasp!

(In fact, one of my favorite authors and theologians, Walter Brueggeman, titles the first chapter in an intro. to Old Testament textbook: Imaginative Remembering: The Theological Witness of the Old Testament.)

To drive this point home, Steve asked us to choose how we imagined the process of writing the bible to look. He then acted out two scenarios:

The first was the author sitting at a desk with a pen….ok, a quill… with the quill in one hand feverishly writing on parchment, head tilted with one ear pointed to the sky cupped by the other hand….

OR….

The same guy…sitting at a desk… with the quill laying on the desk…

now with both hands massaging his head, deep in thought…

now standing up and pacing, with one hand behind his back, the other thoughtfully stroking his beard…

now standing with head bowed, eyes closed, lips silently moving…

now seated at the desk again, when his face brightens…

now quill in hand writing at first quickly, then tentatively…

So….were the writers essentially acting as an amanuensis taking dictation from God, or something entirely different?

What do YOU think?

Maybe the writers could give us clues in the pictures they paint with words. For instance:

Genesis 2:18-20: The picture is of God creating “every animal of the field and every bird of the air” out of the dust, and bringing “them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” So…a collaborative act of creativity in which God and man (in this telling) both express their creativity, but in which God is the initiator.

Or, what about this picture:

Genesis 32:24-30: Jacob is alone at night, after sending his belongings and family across the river to where his rival brother is. He is alone, afraid, with no resources and…”a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.” But even though the man/angel/God tried to leave, Jacob kept hanging on asking to receive a word…a blessing…from him. The co-combatant relented and renamed Jacob: Israel. Struggle…wrestling…persistence until a word is heard.

One more:

Exodus 3:1-10: Moses…wandering in the desert…bathed in sheep dust… notices a “flame of fire coming out of a bush,” but though “the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.” A man going about mundane work, discovers a surprising, even`unnatural event through which he hears God speak, and the natural becomes holy.

Maybe the way scripture was written depended on the writers…

Maybe each one interacted with the Mystery in different ways…

I am convinced that the bible is God’s…

um…

message…

or words….

probably the best word I could use is God’s principles which are layered and speak about God, and others, and us, and….

me….

The bible speaks powerfully in every generation. Its messages speak volumes about our tendencies, and the intentions God has to partner with us, while we often respond in regrettable, yet predictable ways. Its message is both timeless and timely for our day, and the days to come. The bible is more a collaborative painting with different artists applying a variety of colors to the canvas separated by years, sometimes centuries, in dissonance, yet also in harmony. The resulting painting is a portrait of God we call scripture. Yet we also find scripture in the natural world  around us…another portrait of God.

I have been thinking a lot about how the bible is interpreted. There are so many different voices, which clamor to be heard with the expectation that THEIR understanding of the biblical message is better, or MORE TRUE than another voice. And…to be honest…I have certain prejudices that I hold dear, too.

But what I am hoping, is to keep searching scripture and God, so that I can move past interpreting scripture, and into allowing scripture to interpret me!

THAT’S why I like the bible….

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Fascinating Rhythm….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bmhnb34XAcc&feature=related

From my earliest childhood, I have LOVED rhythm. I played the drums in my early life and still remember my father allowing me to play a drum solo in church during a service. I must have been 3 or 4, when I wasn’t as easily embarrassed by doing something in public which I loved but at which I wasn’t very good. Drums just seem very primal to me. Our very life is based on the biological rhythms of a living body:

The beating of our heart…

Breathing in…

Breathing out…

Awakening…

Sleeping…

I think that is why human beings relate so strongly to music and dance. We feel the rythm deeply and move in response. Rhythm is innate to life and our experience of it.

The first 24 verses of Genesis are rhythmic in both their succession and process. Like a marching band drumline laying out a cadence beginning with the bass drums and adding successive instruments in an orderly cacophony of sound, motion, and color. Each day takes fundamental elements of the previous day, and builds on them. For me, knowing how the process works or understanding each element isn’t as important as feeling the growing rhythmic patterns deep within. That’s the point. I begin to feel the need to dance with the music. It is part of me and I am part of it. That’s not to say I am not a distinct individual, but the rhythms of Creation include me in the syncopated jam.

“And God saw that it was good.” vs. 24

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqF6IaGekE4&feature=related

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And the Earth was Formless and Empty…

I think one of the things people get hung up on when approaching the bible… where arguments first start… is the time frame of Creation. It seems to me, however, that to argue over time is to miss the point entirely. I mean, really, when most of creation occurred, there was no such thing as time. Time is a man made structure which is a measurment of the rythmic cycles created by the gravitational relationships between the earth and sun. For instance, where does an hour come from? Why are there 24 hours in a day? I understand where months come from, the regular, rythmic cycle of the phases of the moon. And even the year…as the earth changes its relationship with the sun, so the path of the sun appears to vary from the North to South in a regular pattern…. And day and night….Why would one day end and the next start in the middle of the night? People have formulated methods to measure the changes in natural activities. But primarily, the methods have been for our benefit… so we might have some control within the natural processes. For indiginous peoples, the need to measure from harvest to planting, or how long winter would last before food would become more plentiful, would be life saving. However, the measuring of natural rythms changes depending where on the earth you are. Climate, length of day, types of plant and animal life… all these lived within natural balance. People learned to live within the natural balance, and measuring these changes helped them adjust their  actions to stay in balance.

But in the beginning, when there were no people…no plants….no animals… no climates….no planets….. no light….. no heat…… no molecules…. there also was no time. Therefore, arguments regarding time and the creative process are meaningless!

So, why talk about the beginnings at all? Even if a detailed description could be made, and I believe God could certainly do it, it would be too large for us. We couldn’t take it in. So what’s the reason? What’s the point?

The point is: Who. The story of Creation is outlined in order to tell us that we aren’t alone and that all was made by an intellect that loved beauty. A social being. God. And we can’t look away from the enormity of it. I am also amazed at the manner in which it was communicated. The bible speaks using pictures which were understandable to a culture living in balance with the natural world. For instance, it is interesting how the writer uses “water” as a describing word for seperate physical properties:

“”Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it.”

I have a theory that one of the ways God translated the events of Creation to the writers of Genesis was through visions. Basically a visual experience where the writers described what he saw. Later in the bible, the same communication tool is use with the prophets and in The Revelation to John.

Using scientific observation, we now understand that different physical forces travel in waves. Earlier cultures could understand waves in water, yet not in energy, or sound, or light, etc. So although the words may not have been technically descriptive of  the action, it is visually descriptive in a manner consistent with real physical events and in a way people could understand them. In a way, it is God speaking to us in a language we can understand.

God comes to us.

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In the Beginning, God…

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There is Truth. There is a Reality. And it is a Mystery. Mysterious in that none of us can show with certainty what the nature of Reality is. We each have to come to Truth, Reality, Mystery through faith. Faith as defined as believing something we cannot prove in our finiteness. So we reach into the Mystery through experience, trying to find where we fit in the Mystery. Most of the time it isn’t a conscious effort of intellect or action. We just wake up in the morning and go about our day, hoping and striving to make our lives meaningful.

When I graduated from high school, our yearbook staff asked the seniors a series of questions about our hopes for the future. A common answer was “to be happy.” If you were to ask each of us to define what “being happy” meant, I suppose the answers would have been as unique as each person. However, I also expect there would have been similarities between the answers. For instance:

To love and be loved.

To have a nice home in which to live.

To have reliable transportation.

To have financial resources sufficient for our dreams.

Most of our answers would most likely revolve around our perceptions of what “The Good Life” would look like. Some would want to be a positive influence in their community and maybe the world, for the more ambitious of us. Others might be mainly concerned with their immediate families. Ultimately, though, each of our answers would stem with our belief systems regarding The Mystery.

Does anything we do have meaning or doesn’t it?

Is all that exists an accident or was it designed?

If there is a designing force, is the force personal or impersonal?

Each of us answers these questions by our actions which come from what we believe. If we can be honest, what we believe can be traced back to stories we have heard from someone we trusted. As we each lived our lives in  the light from these stories, our experience lead us to question the stories. Are the stories true? Partially true? Or false altogether? Did others who believed the stories live honestly in light of the stories, or were there inconsistencies in their actions? So we found that we had to decide for ourselves regarding the veracity of the stories, for time and life keeps going, whether we understand Reality or not. We are left to choose between the options we have seen or heard. But, our choices don’t affect Truth. It is what It is.

Truth is either knowable or it isn’t.

There is either a Truth teller, a Source of Truth, or there isn’t.

We are left to either search for Truth or not.

So, what does this have to do with the Bible? The Bible purports to be a book of stories beyond all stories. It has been one of the most revered and argued about books of all time. Cultures have been set up around its tenets. It has also been seen as so subversive that citizens with it in there posession were treated as enemies to the state. It has been translated and re-translated through centuries so that it could be more easily understood by current readers of the time period.

While there is severe discussion by readers of disparate opinions regarding everything from the authorship of the many stories to the nature of the stories themselves, the nature of Mystery and humanity’s attempts to approach or respond to it are within its pages. It remains one of the best selling and historically most influential literary works ever compiled.

But, as with most stories, the best way to learn about it and make an honest judgement about the controversy it stirs in polite and impolite company is to read it. One thing must be said, however. It is straight forward. The stories told can be enlightening, embarrassing, emphatic, endless… The stories encompass characters from all economic strata of society. Sometimes the stories contain less information than we would like to know, but sometimes more. The reader  is often struck by how similar to themselve the characters are. But often, we are amazed at how different they are and question why they would make the decisions they made.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, though, we always come back to the  original faith answers we have lived by. Actually, that is the value and danger of the book. It leaves nobody’s belief system alone. It calls for a response of our will. It inspires questions sometimes more than answers.

So, lets see if we can talk our way through it, shall we? I will give a title for each post, and then list the referential chapter and verses. I hope this will not become a monologue, but rather a conversation. If you have a question or comment, please comment about them. We’ll then talk about it.

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The Ground Floor

I would like to use this blog for a couple of purposes:

  1. As a place to record my reactions to a “talking  through” of the Bible. It will kind of be an aid to my personal reading and study of the Bible as a means to facilitate my own faith journey.
  2. As a conversation, hopefully, with other people trying to re-define the components of the Christian faith. My hope is that we can talk through how the Bible applies to life in our own skin and culture.

I hope you who read will find a place worthy of your time and interest. I further hope it can become a place for discussion.

Thanks for your time,

Larry

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