A book both human and divine

I have been reading Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, as part of Kelley Nikondeha’s transit lounge book group, Kelley writes,

After posting my reading strategy for 2013 I discovered some of you wanted to read along – even after seeing the kind of books I intend to read. Glory – I found my tribe! So I agreed to convene a book club based on my growing reading list.

The idea of reading in community makes me giddy. Reading and learning are tandem passions, the opportunity to do that alongside kindred spirits exponentially heightens the excitement and, I believe, the experience.

So I announce the reading in transit book club! I believe we all are in transit when it comes to our understanding of spirituality and praxis, the Biblical text and our global context, our embodiment of the revolutionary Gospel of Jesus in our communities. So let’s read, learn, converse and engage together.

This is not a book review (for that see the link to Rachel held Evan’s blog at the bottom of the page). This is a personal reflection with a link up to other readers via Kelley’s blog.

Transit Reading

“Mum, what is Q?”

Jonathan has been reading from the pile of books by the sofa, an odd assortment of commentaries, biblical studies and 1980s theology, some volumes I have been buying in second hand shops because they remind me of my student days.

“Well I say …”, I’m trying to remember biblical studies from before he was born, “Q is a hypothetical source for the gospels…” and I hand him a well used copy of Throckmorton’s parallel gospels from the shelf. He however has found the Wikipedia page for synoptic gospels and being a quick reader he already knows everything I have forgotten and more.

And though I am proud at his curiosity, his pursuit of answers to his own questions and his intellectual mastery of knowledge beyond his year, I’m feeling a little panicked at the  situation emerging here in the sitting room on a perfectly innocent holiday morning because this is not suitable material for children, its not suitable for any Christians. I should  not have brought it into the house. Whilst I should have been teaching him from 2000 years of orthodoxy, I’m filling his mind with 200 years of critical scholarship. After all this is the child who at the tender age of ten suffered an existential crisis so great he wept every night for a month. Too scared to sleep at night, he was facing the possibility of a world without God and it scared him witless.

My boy found his faith again and it wasn’t in anything I did or said or in any  book he was given to read. He found his faith in the presence of God and in worship and that is where he stands every Sunday and many times in between arms raised, eyes heavenwards singing as if no one is watching.

So how do we deal with the tricky questions that Bible scholarship and everyday Bible reading present us with? Questions like,

  • How can a book written by human authors be the Word of God?
  • How can 66 books written by diverse authors over thousands of years contain one cohesive message?
  • How do we deal with external evidence that suggests what we read in the Bible is not trustworthy?
  • How do we deal with internal theological inconsistencies in the Bible?
  • How can we read this book and know anything for sure about God?

Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, encourages me in pursuing these questions.  I listen with faith and hope and this is what I hear,

It is not wrong to ask questions

“God honours our honest questions. He is not surprised by them, nor is he ashamed to be our God when we pose them … as all children do, we ask a lot of questions.”

Defensiveness and polarisation does us no good

“On a popular level, a defensive approach to the evidence tends to dominate the conversation (on biblical scholarship) … Much of the evangelical theological landscape of the twentieth and into the twenty-first century was dominated by a “battle for the Bible.” The terms are familiar: liberal vs. conservative, modernist vs. fundamentalist, mainline vs. evangelical, progressive vs. traditionalist.”

I must not squeeze the Bible into my own mould

“I have found again and again that listening to how the Bible itself behaves and suspending preconceived notions (as much as that is possible) about how we think the Bible ought to behave is refreshing, creative, exciting, and spiritually rewarding.”

The answer is always Trinitarian/incarnational

“In the same same way that Jesus is – must be – both God and human, the Bible is also a divine and human book.”

“It (the Bible) was not an abstract, otherworldly book, dropped out of heaven . It was connected to and therefore spoke to those ancient cultures.”

“The human marks of the Bible are everywhere, thoroughly integrated into the nature of scripture itself.”

We read the Bible best when we read it backwards

“The New Testament authors take the Old Testament out of one context, that of the original human authors; and place it into another context, the one that represents the final goal to which Israel’s story has been moving.”

“It is only by understanding the Old Testament on its own terms, so to speak, that the church can appreciate the impact that the death and resurrection of Christ and the preaching of the gospel had in its first century setting.”

But what has been encouraging for me was risky for Enns.  He lost his job writing this book.

Some of us wrecked our faith asking these questions and others of us wrecked our faith by not asking these question and I wonder: what is the real difference between those of us who emerged faith intact or strengthened and those of use who were left bereft?

All quotes from, Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation

Readers may be interested in reading a review of this book in Rachel Held Evan’s series entitled, Learning to love the Bible for what it is, not what we want it to be

Peter Enns blogs at Patheos

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Looking for rest and I’m not alone

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Rest has become the biggest little word for me.

Rest.

Not just an absence of activity or a slowing down but a freedom-space at the very heart of our life in Christ.

Rest.

A good news word for those of us caught up in needless religion, rules, expectations and a pace of people-pleasing that leaves us drained.

Rest.

A sharp bladed knife of a word that cuts to the heart of the gospel where the completed work of Christ is all in all and quite enough.

Today I echo Paul’s question to the Galatians, a question for all those times when we slip out of our rest,

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? (Galatians 5:7 NIV)

 

… and link up to some pieces around the web that encourages us back to our place of rest, trust and peace.

Micha Boyett, The Pursuit of Enough

Shauna Niequist, Anti-Frantic

Sarah Bessey, Start small, start sabbath

Kelley Nikondeha, ShePonders: Sabbath

AnnVoskamp, A Life Plan When You’re Overwhelmed: Sanity Manifesto

OneWord2013_Rest150

Five Minute Friday

What is Five Minute Friday? Five Minute Friday is a weekly link up from mom blogger Lisa-Jo Baker.

We write for five minutes flat. All on the same prompt that I post here at 1 minute past midnight EST ever Friday. And we connect on Twitter with the hashtag #FiveMinuteFriday

No extreme editing; no worrying about perfect grammar, font, or punctuation.

Unscripted. Unedited. Real.

Today’s prompt is, ‘What your mama did that made her yours …’

Five Minute Friday

“You only remember the bad things about your childhood, don’t you?”

My mum says this to me one holiday time sitting round the lounge, everyone there, reading, playing board games, nursing little ones, watching TV.

It seems in my memory that everyone stopped and looked at me to see what I would say. I made hard work of my past in those days, all through college, into my marriage and the first years of my first child. A habitual picking at the bone and an axe to grind, grind, grind. A free floating anxiety that I tried to anchor down to a miserable childhood that I could barely find.

In my childhood the summers were hot and for most of the time I was in trouble. But memory is not always correct. It selects what it likes from a catalogue and pieces it together, bespoke. Memory has its own director’s cut, its own radio edit. When it comes to memory we can exercise choice.

I’m so glad she had the courage to ask and I’m so glad I replied, “No, not at all mum, I remember lots of good things.”

And suddenly I did: hair ribbons and clean sheets blowing in the wind, fresh strawberries in a colander, a small brown bird caught in the fruit cage.

Hours with colouring books and spelling lists, costumes for shows, the jam pan on the stove, flip flops, sun beds and having my fringe trimmed with the big dress making scissors.

Cherries in a paper bag, the click of her knitting needles and the whole caravan shaking us to sleep, library books and walks on the beach, Scramble, Mastermind and TV dinners, sandwiches in the garden, rag dolls and home sewn dresses, dancing lessons, piano lessons and all that hard work with the Hoover and the duster, Radio 2 playing in the background, dust particles catching the sun light streaming in the front window.

Let those of us with pain in our past deal with it quickly and deal with it well. Let us get help where we need it and make haste. Let us be decisive least our pain comes back to haunt us and our children.

Let us give thanks where we can and forgive who we can and when we can not let us ask God for more grace because we owe it to our mothers and to the mother we want to be.

We are bigger than bad memory and so is He.

STOP

A gift

There were no sloes this year in the place we usually gather them: a few feet of hedge, mainly hawthorn with a couple of stalks of sloe. Maybe the blooms were trimmed in the spring or maybe some unusual weather stopped them coming.

People say to leave the sloes until the frost has burnt them, but I never do. I want to strip the branches bare before anyone else gets there. I like to watch my children round the table with darning needles puncture each hard sour fruit and throw it in the kilner jar: the kilner jars, with their orange rubber seals and pantry shelf ethos. I like burying the fruit in grainy sugar and watching the purple juices bleed. I like pouring the macerating vodka or gin and taking the jar from the shelf each day to shake up the liquor. The sugar dissolves and the sloes shrink to the size of peas and the ruby liquid grows darker and more intense in colour. We make our own food and we work hard to do it.

The year I remember must have been two or three years ago. Warm, late August, we walked out with our friends and a whole tribe of kids, along the lane by the school, dads with boys on their shoulders and little girls dragging sticks and snaking precariously on bicycles and scooters. Then up ahead we saw that the tar of the road was plashed and stained and we stop to see over ripe plums had fallen and spilled their contents there. As we stood they kept on falling like heavy rain drops on a day begging a storm. Buried deep in the six foot wide hedge was a tree nearly toppling with the weight of fruit and we’d never seen it there before. So the men and the boys climb into the branches and shook a little fruit down and we collected it in the bags we brought for the sloes. Some local children stopped and watched, ‘Can you eat those?’ they ask and we demonstrated that you could, putting the stretched-to-bursting skin to our teeth and breaking through into the golden flesh. The fruit was ripe and fell off the stone like roasted meat from the bone. The children cycled away but soon returned with their own receptacles. There was plenty for everyone: us, our friends, all our children, the children of strangers, fruit to eat, fruit for jam and fruit for pies. The rest we left for the birds and for the passer-by.

I remember this day so well and not just because of that too-much-to-carry-harvest stumbled upon right there in the road, but becauseof  a conversation later, round the kitchen table over coffee and cake. There we all are basking in the glory of a summer holiday, no school, no cares, nice weather and I announce to those assembled a new plan to free myself from the rush of work and not-enough-time and everyone stops because we are on holiday and we all know how much we need more rest.

I am more convinced than ever that we find rest within and that we find rest in God. I am more convinced than ever that rest is something that can not be found in an absence of activity or a re-ordering of our external plans. You can clear you diary and learn to say ‘no’. You can pay someone to clean your house and have your shopping delivered to the door. You can live a stripped down life, in a minimalist interior. You can sell everything you own, give up your day job or move to an island but true rest comes from the radical reordering of the inner you which is a true work of God.

The world is full of hard task masters, deadline dictators and slave drivers. The world will work you every waking hour and rob you of your sleep. It will set you sky high targets and when you achieve them, by way of gratitude, it will raise the targets higher and laugh that you ever thought there might be satisfaction in a job well done, for this job is never done.

As Pharaoh said,

“Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!”

“Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working.”

“You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.”

“Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw.”

Exodus 5:4-18 NIV

Pharaoh dug his heels in hard. Through plagues, destruction, disease and death he grew more determined to hold on. Yet the Lord kept vigil during that dark time to bring the Hebrews out of Egypt and when he did he did it gloriously. As Moses stretched out his hand, the waters of the red sea parted, making a way and they walked out of that sweat shop of a land, treading the dry ground of a freedom shore. They had a new Master and He led by clouds of glory and fire. They no longer fed themselves by their own bruised and calloused hands but God fed them a heaven supply of manna and quail that couldn’t be earned and could not be stored away.

This is our salvation rest: that God, having seen our labour, leads us out through the waters and from the opposite shore we see our old slave masters swallowed up by the waves. In this new land we no longer work for our living and our new master grants us rest as a gift.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 NIV

Something lovely for the weekend

The whole weekend stretches out before us. I pray that it is returned to you as blessing and rest.

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

John 3.16 The Message

 

When I was sinking down,

Beneath God’s righteous frown,

Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.

William Walker, 1809-1875

I hear, ‘Rest!’

It’s Ash Wednesday and it’s snowing outside, first small flurries blowing around in the air and then the flakes get larger and settle. I’ve been bringing spring bulbs into the house for several weeks now, hyacinths, daffodils and tulips, like a woman with a mission to bring all of God’s flowers in from the cold. The spring is not here yet but it is in our sight.  We can bring a little of it inside and keep it in a vase, there’s no harm in that, but when it really comes in all it’s shooting budding gladness there will be no containing it.

OneWord2013_rest

I should be working hard today but God says ‘Rest!’

I hear this a lot at the moment.

I’ve been up in the night with a sore throat that would not let me rest.  Edward is off school with a temperature and headache.  I want to make schedules and book appointments, set up meetings and hatch plans. I want my diary to be full, I want the alarm on my phone to ring all day, to remind me and anyone else listening how busy I am. As if the busier I am, the more certain I am of my own existence and value.

More often than not I plan a full day with targets and measures of achievement, only to find circumstances beyond my control mean I can’t complete; a cancelled meeting, my CRB lapsed, snow, someone is sick. I can’t get my work done and God says rest. It is like I begged for rest but when it comes as a gift I’m too scared to take it. When I see rest in its true expansive glory I just want to fill it with activity. I have a God who is not scared of hard work but he tells me rest.

It goes against every fibre of my hard working self.  I have this battle ever since I gave up my full time teaching job.  I went form a 6am start and a 6pm finish, work at home in the evening and through the weekend. I managed staff and pupils and various academic subjects their deadlines and schedules, stretch targets, classes back to back, before school catch up sessions and after school revision, detentions, yard duty, resources to make for the less able, for the most able, PowerPoints, worksheets and card sorts, pupils to chase up, colleagues to see (because I don’t like to do business by email), meetings and marking to follow, eleventh hour memos and unpredictable pupil interruptions, teenaged angst kicking off at every corner, mastered, managed and recorded, parents to phone, governors to impress, visitors to meet and filing, lots of filing.  Now I teach  part time and on the other days my hard work is rest and pray, read the word and spent time with some of the best people on the face of the earth; real good time, whole lengths of quality time. Then rest, pray and read some more.  The contrast is too much!

I don’t like resolutions, they are slave drivers. This year I find the asceticism of giving something up for Lent does not appeal. God has told me rest and this is one of the things I  choose to rest from.  I’m still learning to live blessed, to enjoy God, to cherish his unconditional love.  There is freedom in knowing this: there is nothing I can do to make him love me more and there is nothing I can do that will make him love me less. There is no better reason to rest. I’m rejoicing whilst the bridegroom is here.

But I do have a Lent project: learning the red letter words of Jesus. I started today for real, two verses, very beautiful, and today they are my rest.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

For they will be comforted.

Matthew 5.3-4

The kingdom of heaven does not belong to the bold and the sure. It does not belong to the busy or the indispensable. It does not belong to those who have worked hard for everything they have or to the extra mile, purpose driven, ladder climbing ambitious types. It does not belong to the ones who hold the mic and write the books. You can not buy a ticket for its concert tour and there will be no t-shirt or souvenir programme. It does not have money or fame or celebrity headlines. The kingdom of heaven is not scared of your failures, it does not blink when you say, ‘I can’t go’ on. It does not turn away from you disappointed when on your knees you cry out, ‘But I have nothing more to give’. The kingdom of heaven has never been discouraged by mental health problems, depression, self hatred or self harm. It knows that sometimes you feel scared, intimidated and lack the courage to do the simplest things. If you loose your job or get passed over on promotion the kingdom of heaven does not shrink back. The kingdom of heaven loves poor and broken spirits. It loves them when they are well dressed and healthy and it loves them when they are in rags.  There is no escaping this upside down, flipped reality of rest.

Last night I read Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God, some of it in silence and some aloud.  I found the reading of the words of Mother Teresa hard, like walking on a narrow ledge and needing something to hold on to.  But the words were good. Where she says ‘silence’ I hear ‘rest’,

We need to find God and he can not be found in noise and restlessness. God is a friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grow in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence.  Is not our mission to give to the poor in the slums? Not a dead God but a living loving God. The more we receive in silent prayer the more we can give in our active life. We need silence to be able to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say but what God says to us and through us. All our words will be useless unless they come from within.

Mother Teresa (from Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God)