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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Generosity of Reading

I remember a few years ago when I discovered that the philosopher Paul Ricoeur had died. I felt a sadness that transcended the miles. (He died in his native France.) Now, I never met Dr. Ricoeur, but I had to deal with him all the time because he was my teachers' teacher. (Looking at my bookshelf right now, I realize only Paul Tillich and Martin Luther take up more space. Interesting. I hadn't realized that...)

Anyhow, Ricouer encouraged us to bring a "second naivete" to our reading, and this includes reading the Bible. Although there is a lot to this, one characteristic I would like to highlight is the generosity such a reading position generates. If you approach a story, parable, poem, or chronicle of the Bible with the awe and wonder of a child, of someone for whom the Bible is a place to live within rather than something to critique from the outside, you bring with you a generous spirit. For example...

In reading the story of Cain and Abel you find a world where things are ambiguous and confusing. Why does God like Abel's gift more than Cain's? Why is this the story told about them? Where does Cain's wife come from? There are lots of questions a critical reader can ask. But what about the world in front of that story? That world that draws you into it, as a child might be drawn into the closet of Narnia? (Don't think C.S. Lewis didn't know his literary theory!) Perhaps you might set this aside, in what S.T. Coleridge might call a "suspension of disbelief," and accept the story for what it does to you?

Do you want to call that brother or sister and tell them you love them? Do you want to hide from the accusations that perhaps you did not take care of your family? Do you want to die because there is no hope anyhow...until God marks you as one of God's own...Do you want to give up on a God who is so arbitrary?

It seems to me that the Bible only makes sense as we are shaped by the God whose story it tells. Are we open to God's mercy? God's judgement? Are willing to let hospitality and graciousness guide our days over the legal and deterministic operations of culture and nature? Reading in this way does not dominate a story, poem, parable, or chronicle...reading in this way accepts the generosity God has shown humanity throughout the ages, throughout all people, and even throughout you...Our prayer at Prairie Table is that God's generosity not only finds us, but defines us in all we read...and all we do.

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