My theological mentors are obvious. I write about them, even mention them in casual conversation. I’m transfixed by the likes of Walter Brueggemann, Frederick Buechner, and Barbara Brown Taylor. And I was privileged to attend a seminary—like other clergy—where “world class” professor/mentors shared insights.
But I think of all of them as amateurs when it comes to interpreting what the Bible may/could/might mean. Oh, I depend on them. My lively, trusted “mentors” probably read Greek or Hebrew better than I read English. They understand historical context when I’m mostly hysterical. Through study and practical experience they have explored the great faith traditions in ways I envy.
Still, if the Bible is a living word, where its stories invite more stories, and where its real and imagined people are similar enough to you and me, we’re all amateurs. No one is the expert. Everyone is still learning.
Most of us think of God as a fearful, punitive authority or as an empty, powerless nothing.
Really? What do you think? And whatever your view of God, from where or from whom does it come from?
The late Henri Nouwen wrote the opening quotation, which I first read in a daily devotional entitled, RENEWED FOR LIFE. In one of the churches I served, we distributed RENEWED, an inexpensive pamphlet, to folks at the beginning of Lent. In that Lent, knowing we were all “on the same page,” I couldn’t help wondering how others thought of the Holy.
A punitive authority? A powerless nothing?
First Sunday of Lent – for March 13, 2011
You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance… (Psalm 32: 7)
Nouwen continued by claiming Jesus imaged God as a lover. Hmmm? Does that work for you?
Of course the Bible is chock-full of images for God. A she-bear. A father. A hiding place. A mother hen. Wind. The still, small voice. In the grand story of Adam and Eve, isn’t God a seamstress? Start at Genesis 3:20 and by the time you get to the end of the chapter, God banishes Adam and Eve from Eden for their snack attack. But, before the mythic gate clangs shut, God whips up some clothes for them to wear, runway ready ‘cuz they were on the run.
God, the one who banishes; God, the seamstress.
I suspect many of us acquire our earliest thoughts about God by observing others. Aren’t parents and grandparents our first gods?
As I look at my own childhood, I wonder how much my grandfather, my mother’s father, influenced me? To the right of my desk, hanging on a wall, is an aerial photograph of my grandparents’ farm outside of Merced, California. My older sister gave the photo to me as a gift several years ago. It brings me great pleasure to glance to the right and think of yesteryear adventures. On that farm, I watched grandmother bake, cows being born, alfalfa wave in the wind across late summer fields, and water swirl by in a magical place called Bear Creek. My earliest memories of the Sierra Nevada come from walks in the pastures, looking east toward an immense wall of snow and glory. When young, I didn’t think of the mountains as “snow and glory,” or other fancy phrases, but the Sierra caused a whole lot of “Wows!” and “Whoas!” for a wide-eyed kid. Continue reading →