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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. 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.

Monday, February 9, 2015

2nd Naivete (that's Lent, that's what people say...)

Every now and then when approaching the season of Lent, and its wonderful herald "Transfiguration Sunday," we should remind ourselves of the importance of Paul Ricouer's idea of "Second naivete."Paul Ricoeur.jpg Dr. Ricouer famously postulated that in order to comprehend what you are reading (a myth or a narrative, not a newspaper or a blog like this) one must read it naively. However, how can you read such a way, if you are not naive? For example, it's pretty clear Jonah couldn't live in a fish for three days--no matter how many rooms the fish had in its belly. Everybody knows that. You'd have to be a complete idiot to believe that some guy named Jonah actually lived, really spent three days in a great fish, and lived to tell about it. So what do you do with the story if you think it's a fable or a myth?

What other thinkers argued was that you had to ask what the story "means." What does it "mean" that a prophet lived in a fish? Does it mean he was exiled? Does it mean he was saved by a miracle? Does it mean he has a relationship with God? Does it mean he was historically dispossessed of his authority? Critics would try to find what a story like Jonah and the whale was supposed to "mean."

Although Ricouer wanted to know what such a story means, he argued we should read it a different way. We should read it with all our critical faculties engaged, but we should also keep an attitude of naivete about the story as well. For example, what might Jonah have learned about his God if he actually did spend three days in a great fish? Now, no one is saying he did, but what might we learn about humanity, God, or even fish, if such a thing happened? As Ricouer said most famously, "the symbol gives rise to thought." Ricouer asks us to expand our thought process to imagine new thoughts. He does not argue that assuming such a naivete means one believes it actually happened. It never happened, according to our critical faculties, but imagine a world where it might have.

So as we come into Lent we should be gearing up our second (that is after our first one has been corrected by our critical faculties, sort of as children learn that it is electricity, and not magic, that turns on a light) naivete. What might it look like that Jesus asks you to carry a cross? Does it suggest you give up chocolate? Should we help our neighbors even more? (Nothing says loving your neighbor more than mowing his or her grass.) How would you imagine living your life differently if you are carrying your cross?

Lent is a big deal for Christians, but it is not because we like to fast from good food or pray more. It's a big deal so that we don't forget that Jesus died. We remember that love conquers death. That God remembers us even when we die. But in order to imagine those realities we must use our critical faculties to hear the story, and our naivete (second) to imagine life in that story and all its wonderful possibilities. That's Lent.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

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