Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Narratives of the Bible: From Bondage to FREEDOM...!

My goal of daily blogging has been temporarily derailed by my creative pursuits in another direction ... I'm gearing up for my first art-show in 5 years - my "west-coast-debut", which launches in 9 (yikes!) days...! I've been painting like a mad-woman, have thoroughly taken over the house with various stages of productivity (priming in the front parlour - plastic sheeting all over the floor; painting in the kitchen - the poor children haven't seen a *real* meal in two weeks; final products have hijacked the back parlour ... and my son's work-out space, aka the garage/carriage-house, has been turned into a varnishing-station. I am SO in need of a real studio! And who needs sleep, really...? (no wonder Van Gogh cut off his ear -- he was sleep-deprived!)

And yet, during my spare moments of reading, my heart and mind are being captured by the words of so many brilliant and insightful sharers-of-concepts-and-experiences (otherwise known as "authors") - albeit folks I was seriously warned to "STAY AWAY FROM" in my "previous life." Nowadays I tend to listen more to the Voice within, than to the cacophony of voices without. And yes, I have discerned that many of them are indeed, without.

So, of course, I must share. I cannot keep this wealth of insight, this challenge-of-perspective, this beauty of transformation all to myself - eGADS! And, quite simply, though I initially internalize what I learn, and allow it to percolate and marinate, I must also bounce it off of others, "outloud", whether verbally or in writing (or both!), in order to better process what I'm receiving. As my friend Kevin Beck says, "we are smarter together than any of us alone." (I'm paraphrasing him - Kevin, if you're reading this, and I've misquoted you, please feel free to tweak what you *actually* say..!)

With no further ado (and I could ado all the day long!), I shall share from yet-another chapter of Marcus Borg's provocative book, "Meeting Jesus AGAIN For the First Time." This was one of those "OMG - Thank You God" chapters ... now heavily underlined, asterisked, bracketed and highlighted -- with pertinent "headers" written on each relevant page! A good book is a much-desecrated book! :)

(Again, his comments will be shared first, with my own comments/reflections to follow in parentheses.)

- We learned about Jesus in the context of the Bible, and our sense of what the Bible is about will affect our sense of what Jesus was about. Scripture shapes our understanding of Jesus.

(This seems self-evident -- though, of course, many folks report having an experience of God, of Jesus, even before knowing much, if anything, about the Bible. It would seem that for most of us, the exposure to the Bible came first. HOW we view the Bible, then, will shape how we view Jesus ... Borg goes into this in more detail in his related book, "Reading the Bible AGAIN for the First Time" - a book I'm now reading, and will likely share on in future blog-posts. I find it fascinating that Borg, who comes from an Evangelical background, and Rohr, who comes from a Roman Catholic background, have come to nearly identical conclusions, via their own experiences and explorations - I am becoming very fond of both of these men, and feel quite indebted to their courage in sharing what they do - which has drawn heavy criticism, and even charges of "heresy" from their mainline, traditional brethren.)

- In the last two decades, a movement known as story theology has called attention to the naratival character of the Bible, or to say the same thing, the centrality of "story" in Jewish and Christian scriptures.

(But of course! How did we previously miss this? Both the old and new testaments were oral stories LONG before anything was written down. We humans are a story-telling species. In fact, much of what we take for "factual truth", biblically speaking, comes more out of the collective story that we believe -- and the current "traditional" story isn't the *only* story that reflects deeper truth!)

- Religious laws speak of how to behave; theology and doctrine speak of how to understand and what to believe; but stories appeal to the imagination, to that place within us where our images of reality, life, and ourselves reside.

(& yet our tradition has emphasized law, theology and doctrine, at the expense of imagination ...)

- My [Borg's] central claim is that there are three "macro-stories" at the heart of Scripture that shape the Bible as a whole, and that each of these stories images the religious life in a particular way. Two of these stories are grounded in the history of ancient Israel: the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and the story of the exile and return from Babylon. The third, the priestly story, is grounded not in the history of ancient Israel, but in an institution - namely the temple, priesthood and sacrifice... reduced to what they have in common ... they claim that something is wrong with our lives as we typically live them; that is, they contain a description of the human condition or the human predicament. Second, they speak of a solution to that problem. To use a medical metaphor, the various religious traditions provide a diagnosis of the human condition, and a prescription for a cure.

(I found what he unpacks here to be amazing! Stay with it, and see what unfolds in your own thinking -- see how it lines up with your own experience.)

- For the people of ancient Israel, the story of the exodus from Egypt was their "primal narrative." It shaped their identity, and their sense of God. Around this story, the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible, also known as Torah, or Law) came to be. This story was remembered and celebrated again and again, preeminently in the annual festival of Passover. What is the story about? Most basically, it is a story of bondage, liberation, a journey and a destination. The destination of the journey is the promised land, which symbolically is the place of God's presence. As a story about God and us, what is it saying? Our problem, according to this story, is that we live in Egypt, the land of bondage. It provocatively images the human condition as bondage, an image with both cultural-political and psychological-spiritual dimensions of meaning. It invites us to ask: "To what am I in bondage, and to what are we in bondage?"

(Borg then suggests that we're in bondage to many things: to cultural messages about what we *should* be like, and what we *should* pursue, messages about success, attractiveness, gender roles, the "good life". We are in bondage to voices from out of our past, and to addictions of various kinds. The Pharaoh who holds us in bondage is inside of us as well as outside of us -- who is this Pharaoh? How are we enslaved - what means of fear and oppression are being used as tools to hold us in bondage? Who or what is trying to remain in control of us? Take a moment and consider the ways in which you have been, or still are, in bondage...)

- If the problem is bondage, the solution, of course, is liberation. In the Exodus story, the liberation begins at night, in the darkness before dawn. It involves leaving that to which we are familiar - leaving the kingdom and dominion of Pharaoh, passing through the sea to the other side, a passage from one kind of life to another.

(I've experienced, and have heard others state, that this leaving the old and familiar safety of bondage can feel like a death ...! It's terribly unsettling and frightening to leave the familiar and known, even if that which is familiar was leaching the life out of us. The unfamiliar, the unknown is frightening to us. It speaks of a lack of control, it allows our fears to rise to the surface ... it can, and often does, cause us to run headlong back into the security we used to know ... willing even to pay the price of bondage, in order to feel "safe." How have you sacrificed freedom, in order to feel "safe"?)

- But liberation is not the end of the story. Rather, "the way out" leads to a journey through the wilderness. As the place beyond the domestication of culture, the wilderness is a place of freedom, where God is encountered and known. Yet it can also be a place of fear and anxiety, where we erect one golden calf after another, and where we sometimes find ourselves longing for the security of Egypt. But the wilderness is also a place where we are nourished by God. The journey lasts a long time - it's destination is life in the presence of God. Yet God is not simply the destination, but the one who is known on the journey. It is a journeying toward God that is also with God.

(I love this! For quite a while now, I've been saying, "God is both our Guide and our Goal" - what a delight to find the same sentiment expressed by someone else! What a wonderful confirmation of my own experience! I find that very many folks want to rush the wilderness-phase of the experience -- we humans, or perhaps human sin the modern mindset, seem to prefer the destination, and thus discount the journey. But it takes what it takes - nothing is wasted, noting is trivial, nothing is to be regretted or despised. I see the sp ritual life about the journey ... living in the moment of *now* - the only moment we actually have. When we hyper-focus on the past, whether by regretting it, or by glorifying/romanticizing it; or when we hyper-focus on the future, whether in fearing supposed apocalyptic events, or by longing for a utopian fulfillment, we utterly miss the moment-at-hand. God, the great I Am, is in the now ... He's not the "I Was" nor the "I Will Be". Of course we are to learn from the past, and we are to plan for the future ... but we cannot forfeit the now-moment, the only moment in which we can engage the Spirit of God, His very Presence - He is HERE, NOW. If we are in the wilderness, let's really BE in the wilderness. It's not a God-forsaken place, but the place in which He leads our transformation. The very symbolism of 40 years is about transformation -- all of the "40's" in scripture speak of moving out of one "place" (or mindset) into another. It speaks of a cleansing, a stripping-away of the old, in order to ready for the new. It's about transition, about letting go, about dying, rising from the ashes of the old.

- Thus, as an epiphany of the human condition and the solution, the story of the exodus images the spiritual life as a journey from the life of bondage to life in the presence of God. Though we find ourselves in bondage to Pharaoh, it proclaims, there is a way out. Through signs and wonders, through the great and mighty hand of God, God can liberate us, indeed wills our liberation and yearns for our liberation, from a life of bondage to culture & religion to a life as a journeying with God.

(What more could I add to that?!? It's become clear to me that the rest of this amazing chapter would best be broken down into two more blog-entries ... so as to not overwhelm, and to allow for digestion. If we bite off too much at once, we may choke!)

Next: Narratives of the Bible: The Story of Exile and Return

Shalom, Dena

7 comments:

graham old said...

Hey Dena!

You might have noticed that I haven't blogged in ages (on *either* blog, shame on me!). Anyway, I just wanted to say that I'm tempted to publish a quick post just to tell my reader(s) to check out this series of posts.

You said to someone that you're just repeating Borg, but you're doing more than that. This is rich and good stuff.

Thanks for reminding me how insanely exhilarating you are! :-)

dena said...

Now you've gone and done it, Graham -- you've got me sitting here, grinnig like an idiot...! Thte kids want to know what's "wrong", LOL!

Thanks, my friend ... you touch my heart! Feel free to share the blog-link ... I'm still way off the radar, just lil' ol' me, sitting here and typing (ok, and painting ... and reading).

Which reminds me -- I tried to link to your blog here, but it wouldn't let me. Must try again -- you're SO worth reading (& perhaps this will give you incentive to share more!)

Much love to you!

(insanely exhilerating, LOL! You sound like Mark!)

Shalom, Dena

MysticBrit said...

I would just like to be associated with the remarks of the first speaker. 'Insanely exhilarating' sums you up perfectly, Dena... wear the badge with pride! You're like a shot of caffeine, but without the side-effects;)

I wrote a piece once, sometime before The Great War, about the prisons we put ourselves in, and how we are the door-keepers of those prisons and can set ourselves free. I'll have to look it out again. Would you like to see it if I unearth it? I'd probably change some of it now.

Thanks again for your insatiable intellect and joyful spirit of inquiry!

dena said...

Oh yes, Harry - I'd love to read that! (like you, I'd likely tweak a great deal of what I've previously written ... but it's a handy chronicle of how a life is transformed no?)

(actually, I see the whole of Scripture the same way -- the unfolding of collective consciousness about God, and therefore, us ... moving from darkness into Light -- we've gotta stop glorifying the dark parts, LOL!)

Share a link to your article here, too, if you want to!

Shalom, Dena

MysticBrit said...

I found that I touched on this in three articles I wrote for the 'church' mag when I was editor about 10 years back, Dena, and I would rewrite all of them! (The gist of them is still true for me though...) They're not online, but I'll put them on Google or wherever when I've rewritten and combined them. I'll post a link.

And yes, I totally agree with you about scripture and how it reflects the way humanity's view of God Who Is Love has matured and become more en-Lightened. Let's walk In The Light, as Children of Light... Party Party! I hope I get to burst a few Balloons! And will there be Cake?!:D

graham old said...

'Which reminds me -- I tried to link to your blog here, but it wouldn't let me. Must try again -- you're SO worth reading (& perhaps this will give you incentive to share more!)'

Thanks. That's kind of you to say.

My blog addresses are:
http://anabaptist.lifewithchrist.org/
http://www.thinkhappy.org/

graham old said...

Dena, thanks for the link!

I've noticed that the link to Leaving Munster doesn't show the latest posts. What link are you using?

I don't know if the following change that:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/leavingmun
http://anabaptist.lifewithchrist.org/index.html
http://anabaptist.lifewithchrist.org/index.rss
http://anabaptist.lifewithchrist.org/atom.xml

I thought you'd like to know.