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There are many who would convince that they are defenders of a faith when they are merely using texts to buttress up cultural ideology. We share a limited amount of experiences as humans, still our responses to those experiences are not monolithic. There are those who think that there should be only one narrow response to those experiences through a particular misreading of holy texts. Yet, because of the situational nature of each context it is imperative to never create new texts by merely piecing together the old texts together think that is the solution to making the road straight.
To a certain extent this is an impossible task. We are continually striving to be faithful to a set of beliefs that are characterized to us through a prism of written texts handed down and “corrected” by scribes over the centuries. Plus, some have bore the mark of generations of oral traditions before they were actually compiled into liturgical scrolls. What is is there for us but to string these texts into new scrolls that give answers to vital questions we face in our days. This honorable goal is always found wanting when these new texts become more rigid that the original scroll’s intention.
We will never end writing new texts from the old. The extent that we are able to see the fallibility and contradictions inherent in such a process will correspond with our ability to use the revelation of wisdom within our era. It is merely replacing our most literalistic tendency by replacing “Yes but the Bible says” with “Yes, but the Spirit is giving us wisdom.”
There is a limitation in the texts that Paul so elegantly points out in his letters to the Galatians and Romans. It is the tension that he sees between rigid adherence to law and a freedom that makes everything permissible, but not necessarily beneficial. This is also shown in the Gospel of John’s presentation of Christ as the living word. The words may originally be confronted on paper or heard orally, but if they do not expand past the printed page to make illumination of darkness then they are only good stories.
Too often people of our story make errors in judgment when coming to the texts themselves. These errors are in limiting the text to artificial cultural parameters and in making the text an end in itself.
We do danger to faith when we see the text itself as essential. It is one of many possible vehicles of revelation that the divine uses to show something greater than ourselves. While the text itself can function to guide, inspire and convict it can only have a transformative function with receptiveness. When the text becomes an end it is a tomb for revelation. It makes words, laws and stories into unbending sentences. They can only terrorize and convict without bringing life and breath. It would be better to have not text at all than to over value it’s importance.
At the core of our problem with an elevated text is stasis. Instead of the always becoming accompanying true faith and idolatry of texts prematurely closes to the possibility of growth, even to the text itself. The whole of faith is becoming and to hinder it is to stop faith. Soren Kierkegaard rightly points out:
Whether it is pure illusion for a man [woman] to imagine [they are] a Christian, or whether it may rather be a strict upbringing [they] got a decisive impression of Christianity [they] face exactly the same problem: to become a Christian.
So, the act of becoming is nullified by stopping the text. By contorting variant faith expressions compiled over thousands of years for a coherent and unambiguous life guide not only does violence to the texts it cements faith while hindering God’s ultimate freedom. There must be a decisive “No!” into turning texts into museums of God’s past actions amongst humanity.
If there is any faith still to be had picking through the remnants of past faith actions it is that they might speak new things to a current age. If God only lives in past actions of ancient texts and we follow them in hopes of seeing a God of nostalgia then there really is no God. God can only exist in our present millisecond. That means that all of our holy texts must live with the expectation that we will encounter God through them in conformation with our current epoch. Eternal truths are only as true as their ability to be revealed in and amongst our communities. Without the possibility of becoming there is nothing eternal and transcending about the faith for which we strive. It becomes an ethical rule book of “If…Then.”
To free the texts of the harsh judgment of uniformity and unity is to free our faith. It will mean taking seriously not only the diversity of historic voices within the text itself it sees the current participant as a co-equal actor in discernment toward wisdom. This offers a challenge of really wrestling with vital texts. They then do not become ends to themselves but starting points for texts that will be lived in banal and heroic contexts. This is vatality’s only hope. To fully engage the text as if it might matter in our becoming faithful, yet know that it just begins and might never end until we draw our final breaths.
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