Friday, May 8, 2015

Beginnings, again

Interesting to come across a new book on Genesis and the questions of origins from an Evangelical who has taught at two well known Christian colleges. I went to one of them and I did not get my Old Testament foundation from anyone like this! Evangelicals have changed. At first when I heard of this book I wondered why we need another book on Genesis to go over the same territory Evangelicals have fought over for years. Then, upon reading a couple reviews, I decided to take a look. This book is different. John Walton who wrote,  The Lost World of Adam and Eve, is a careful Old Testament scholar who goes where the text leads him. He does not read his Evangelical theology and traditions back into the text. He does not believe Genesis needs to be read as six literal creation days. Adam and Eve do not have to be the first human beings. The serpent does have to be the personification of satan. And Eve may have tasted fruit outside the garden and the temptation may have taken place there, as well. Walton is not afraid of asking the questions that are in the text and coming up with non - traditional answers - for an Evangelical. That is refreshing. Walton knows the world in which the Old Testament stories circulated and he frequently refers to those non - Israelite stories and the influence they may have had. I was pleasantly surprised by Walton's book. I am sure he will take some flack for it. I was also somehow dissatisfied by it. It is technical, academic, learned and a bit dry. It's the facts and the explanations and the cross cultural references but I found myself wondering where the mystery had gone. After a close analysis of Eden the big picture got lost. What does it all mean for me, for us?

Evangelicals have read Genesis (and the Bible) not closely enough usually depending on what the experts tell them is ok to believe. They have not read it imaginatively which is too bad because it is such a wonderful story. It is said the text cannot mean what it did not mean to the first readers (Walton makes much of this). So, when we are reasonably certain what it meant then we can know what it means so we can apply it to our situations. The problem is the Bible as a whole story of God's dealings with humanity for our good can mean things that the first readers would not have heard and that does not make the interpretation a bad one. Our applications can be different from what "theirs" were and how do we know what theirs were anyway?

The tendency of Evangelical scholars like Walton is to read the text so closely so they can say, definitively, what the text meant and means and how it is to be applied. That can inhibit creatively engaging with the text, too. We Evangelicals who are people of the Book, may be slightly intimidated by the Book and afraid to come up with a "wrong" interpretation. We have been warned about the likes of Bruggemann and Crossan and Borg. Except when we do read them we find our imaginations opening up. The text is saying something surprising to us and that is a good thing. The ten commandments may have been written in stone but the interpretation of the Bible was not. We can hear God speak to us today.

I am going to take a Bible (probably The Message) and start reading in Genesis. I am going to keep a journal and take notes on what I'm reading. I want to hear God's word anew, afresh, and not read it as if I know already what it means. I am going to take a guy like Bruggemann or some one else who is outside the Evangelical mainstream or who is not quite so Eurocentric and see what he has to say about the text. The stories in the Bible, as Bruggemann says, are not there to aid us in our theologizing but to "catch us in our living." I want to be caught.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Prayer helps

I led our congregation in the prayers of the people. I gave a short talk on prayer to introduce it. I talked about my struggles in prayer. I said I was not very good at it even after so many years as a pastor. Being a pastor does not make it any easier to pray; there is no "direct line" from the Rev. to God like some people believe. Pastors have more practice in public praying and they can sound more eloquent some times but eloquence does not automatically make a prayer good. Many pastors like many people find themselves dissatisfied with their prayers. They should go longer, deeper, be more spirit filled, and effortless. Instead, praying can be like pulling teeth except when you're done you don't even have the teeth to show for it. So, I went on to share a little of how I deal with my feelings of unfulfilled praying. Afterwards, one of our members thanked me for my words and told me he felt like he he had been in a prayer drought for like ten years! I am certain other church leaders could say the same.

I shared some stuff from a book I had been reading, Long Wandering Prayer, by David Hansen. It was written in 2001 and is out of print. That's too bad because it is a good book on prayer by another pastor who struggles with it. The book, while short, is wandering like the praying he proposes in it. He is all over the place but it is the kind of book I like. It's like a hike in the woods when if you are paying attention you can uncover all sorts of cool things. Hansen suggests that maybe we try too hard; we have ideas of prayer that are more about how we are doing than what God is doing. We evaluate them by how we feel about them when we don't have a clue what God was thinking. Hansen confesses he has a hard time sitting in one place and praying. He can manage about ten minutes of that. So, he often wanders: hiking, fishing, walking around town or the church facility. As he wanders, he prays. As Hansen gets visual clues from his surroundings he prays for them. Some people might say he is goofing off but he says he is praying. I have found that praying when you are not "praying" can make for some of the best prayer times. Maybe that is what Paul meant when he talked about praying without ceasing. When I force myself to sit, or attend a long prayer meeting with what seems like interminable prayer lists, I become bored and agitated. But, when I walk and pray the time almost flies by. When I wake in the middle of the night and pray instead of tossing, I have found a better use of time. When I take out the Psalms and pray through a few I can find words for my prayers that I usually don't come up with on my own.

I know I need to pray and I want to pray. Left to my own devices I don't do too well. With the help of books like Hansen's I am encouraged to try less hard and actually pray more. With Scriptures like the Lord's Prayer and the Psalms as mentors, I can pray better.