The sun doesn’t rise after all
During my recent travels, I saw a lot of sunrises and sunsets from the road, some beautiful, some obscured, some at dangerous angles to the driver. One thing I kept thinking about as I witnessed the journey of the sun across the sky each day was how we talk about what we see.
We speak from our own perspective. The sun rises, it moves across the sky, and then it sets. This statement is true. This statement is an accurate description of how we experience the sun. This is what we see. Everyone in every culture in every location in every age since the beginning of the world has experienced the sun this way, and I think it’s safe to say that everyone would generally agree that the sun rises, moves across the sky, and then sets.
Except it doesn’t.
The sun doesn’t move at all. The Earth is what moves. We move, not the sun. Science and astronomy teach us this truth. It is an accurate description of reality, but it does not describe how we experience the relation between sun and sky. This is not what we see. Everyone in every culture in every location in every age until at least the 1600s would call this truth a fantasy.
How easily we assume that our experience is not only true but also the only capital-T-Truth. How quick we are to dismiss a truth that does not match our experience as fantasy.
Our truth that the sun moves across the sky is true, except that it isn’t. It describes our experience accurately, but it does not describe what is very accurately at all. In fact, it describes quite the opposite of reality.
So now, when we talk about issues of faith, spirituality, God, and religion, I think about the sun. I think about the language I use to describe my experience and begin to consider that while my language is true to my experience, it might not be true to reality.
Maybe when we speak of God’s unchangeability, it is really we who are unwilling to change. Maybe when we speak of God’s unfailing, unconditional love, it is really our desire to be loved that we express. Maybe when we speak of God as male or masculine, it is really we who experience power and control through a paternalistic cultural lens.
The point is that we don’t know everything. No one holds the capital-T-Truth. We all hold pieces of the truth, and if we’re lucky, we are able to recognize more pieces of truth in others and hold onto them all. Until we’re willing to consider the possibility that we could be not only not completely right but also actually completely wrong, we will never be able to consider that someone else might hold a piece of truth we don’t have.
This is the value of ecumenical and interfaith perspectives. We look for our commonalities. We build bridges on our pieces of truth. We rub up against people whose experience is different than our own, people who dare to suppose the sun does not actually rise and set as it appears after all. We learn together. We grow.
We’ve come a long way since the 1600s. Everyone in the educated world, especially those who have access to telescopes and higher-level math, now agrees that the Earth moves and the sun does not. But not a single one of them would argue that the sun does not rise, move across the sky, and set every day, either.
One truth defines reality; the other truth defines experience. Both truths are pieces of the capital-T-Truth that we are all grasping for and falling short of regardless of our intelligence, education, or experience.
Next time you find yourself in debate about who is right, who is in, who holds the capital-T-Truth about faith, spirituality, God, or religion (or anything else for that matter), take a breath, look up at the sun, and remember to start with the pieces of truth we each hold — and build on that.
The Voice of Love
On Monday, we took a look at what Nouwen has to say about The Compassionate God in Part One of his book Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life.
Today I had planned to dig into Part Two: The Compassionate Life, but I haven’t been able to get past the end of Monday’s post:
The obedience of Jesus is hearing God’s loving word and responding to it. (34)
We are poor listeners because we are afraid that there is something other than love in God….[Jesus] came to include us in his divine obedience. He wanted to lead us to God so that we could enjoy the same intimacy he did. (38)
We are poor listeners because we are afraid that there is something other than love in God. We do not listen for God to speak because we have somehow internalized the lie that God does not love us, does not want our best, does not care infinitely more for us than we could ever hope or imagine.
We see ourselves in our sinful state, like Jeremiah’s filthy sash, unworthy of God’s mercy and forgiveness. We see God as full of empty promises, all rules and demands and impossible standards.
We think we are not worthy, not able, not enough. We think God is not faithful, not gentle, not loving.
But God has a different message for our ears. God has a different truth for our hearts. We are enough, enough for God. And God is loving, more than we can comprehend. Our God is the God of chesed and lovingkindness, of agape, of John 3:16.
When we listen — really quieten our hearts and minds, still our bodies — to hear the voice of God, do we expect to hear a voice of love?
Maybe we expect judgment, condemnation, demand, criticism, disappointment, unforgiveness. But these voices are not the voice of God in our lives. These are the voices of the world, of culture, of people we know, of our own harsh expectations and guilt and shame, of the lies of the enemy.
When we listen to hear the voice of God and truly hear the still, small voice — that voice, the voice of our gracious and merciful God, is a loving voice.
Jesus shows us by example what it looks like to hear the loving voice of God and respond with obedience. In the same way, we are enabled by our adoption into the family of God to hear that same voice — the loving voice of God — and are called to respond with the same obedience.
Dear lovely reader, if you hear anything other than love in the voice of God, if you are afraid there is anything other than love in God, know that there is freedom in accepting the truth of who you are and the truth of who God is.
The truth is that you are worthy, capable, and enough because you are a child of God.
The truth is that God is faithful, merciful, and loving.
The truth is that y0u can hear the voice of God — anyone can hear from God. And that voice is trustworthy and gentle and full of all the chesed and agape you can possibly imagine.
[Jesus] came to include us in his divine obedience. He wanted to lead us to God so that we could enjoy the same intimacy he did. (38)
Let us allow ourselves to be included and led so that we can enjoy intimacy with God as we have been designed to do.
Okay, next time we really will look at Part Two: The Compassionate Life.
Why Jesus Taught In Parables
Yesterday we looked at how story can be used to share truth in a way that can be more easily received or just more beautifully and creatively shared. Today, let’s look at the example Jesus gave us for sharing truth through story: parables.
There are a lot of scholarly arguments out there for why Jesus spoke in parables, and I encourage you to study up if you’re interested in further analysis. For my purposes regarding holistic body theology and what we do with our bodies in the world, I have four reasons to share with you today.
Jesus spoke in parables…
1) so that only those whose hearts were ready would understand. Part of Jesus’ reason for sharing truth in parables was to fulfill the Isaiah’s prophecy that some would hear and not understand (Is 6:9-10; Mt 13:13-15). In fact, Jesus even used a parable to explain why he spoke in parables in Luke 8:4-15. As he later explained to his disciples, the hearts that were ready to hear God’s truth would understand, and the seed of truth would take root in their hearts and grow (vs. 15).
Sometimes we’re not ready to hear a truth from God. Maybe we’re locked in sinful behavior. Maybe we’re overcome with guilt and shame. Maybe we’re already wrestling with different truth from God, and adding one more would be too much all at once. God knows us intimately, from the hairs on our heads to the deepest secrets we won’t even admit to ourselves. God knows just when to reveal truth to us, when we’re finally ready to receive it and make use of it in our lives, and that revelation will never come too soon…or too late.
2) so that there would be more room for people to relate to the story in different ways. Most of the time, when Jesus told a parable, he was speaking to a crowd of people. These people were made up of both men and women, children and adults, poor and wealthy, religious leaders and laypeople. Often when Jesus was teaching, he had a different message for each audience, but rather than address each group individually, which would have taken forever, Jesus told one story that would teach each group a different lesson.
Take, for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37). Now, Jesus is speaking to the “expert in the law,” so the most obvious meaning of the parable is directed at people who fit in that category. But not everyone listening to the story was an expert in the law. Should they have just watched a fly land on some bread or pick blades of grass while Jesus was teaching a lesson that didn’t apply to them?
Consider the characters in this story:
a traveler – the victim of multiple crimes
a group of robbers – the perpetrators, motivated by greed (maybe hatred or anger) but not brave enough to act alone
a priest – the “man of God” who was more concerned about keeping the letter of the law (blood was considered “unclean” and required purification rituals) than showing compassion
a Levite – the member of the “priestly” clan, see above, also a man of importance and influence in the community
a Samaritan – the member of a group hated by Jewish people for their conflicting beliefs on correct worship of God who provided sacrificially to help the traveler despite racisim
an inkeeper – the man who provided the means to help the traveler heal, but only because he was paid
Ask yourself, who would you be in the story? Be honest. Maybe you take advantage of people when they’re vulnerable. Maybe you feel working with victims is beneath you or too much trouble. Maybe you are willing to help, but only if you get something back.
Jesus’ parables are multidimensional, multilayered, and designed with every member of the audience in mind–not just the people present on the hillside that day, but the people who have been reading the parables for centuries after.
3) so that he could get to the deeper truth behind the black-and-white Jewish law in a short time. For all his 33 years on earth, Jesus only spent 3 years in ministry. In only three years, Jesus had to squeeze in all the truth and promise and love available to the community of God in the present time and in all the time to come. Jesus had only three years to usher in the kingdom of God. And that was before the Internet and Skype and media and blogs and all the technological advances of our day. Jesus had only three years to bring the truth to the world, and he had to depend on human minds and hands to remember his teachings and write them down for future generations.
At the time that Jesus was teaching, Jewish law had expanded from the 10 Commandments of Moses’ time to hundreds of detailed, specific laws for every daily action, word, and thought. If Jewish law were a funnel, the 10 Commandments would be at the broad end at the top, and the law in Jesus’ day would be the little tip at the bottom. They had a law for everything, an exhaustive list of dos and don’ts that spanned a person’s entire existence from birth to death. So when Jesus showed up in town and started teaching, the experts wanted to know what laws Jesus was upholding, what laws he was breaking, and why.
But Jesus reminded his listeners in Matthew 5:17 that he had come to fulfill the law, to bring God’s truth for righteous living to its fullest completion, in freedom. That’s a tall order for only three years of ministry. Jesus’ parables were a way to reach down into the deeper truth of God, cutting through the black-and-white theology of their day. By refusing to engage in endless debate, Jesus was able to leave a timeless message of love, grace, and mercy through story.
4) so that human beings with human ears could through a human story relate to the divine truth in the human/divine Jesus. More than anything else, Jesus’ parables are a reflection of God’s choice to relate to us through the Incarnation. God sent Jesus–the Truth–in human form to walk like us, talk like us, and be like us. Jesus, the divine/human being, chose to speak to us in story, with human characters and a divine message. Our Emmanuel, this God-with-us, chose to bridge the gap between divine truth and human understanding with stories that allow us to meditate, ruminate, debate, delve, dwell, and finally discover some kernel of the Truth that God loves us, knows us intimately, and designed us to love and know God and each other in just the same way. The story of God is more than just written words in the Bible; the Word of God came as living flesh to live out the story of God among us.
If that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at how we can follow Jesus’ example to love and know intimately our brothers and sisters in the community of God, the body of Christ.