As Promised...

Here I am to give you some insight into my changing opinions. Rather than reinventing the wheel, I'm going to post a paper I wrote this summer during field ed. Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of how my thoughts have been developing. This particular piece was written as I considered my view of biblical authority, which has become a key issue in the debate over the acceptance of homosexual people into full fellowship in the church.

Hebrews 4:12 - For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
“Word of God” and “Bible” are not synonymous. The word of God can be found in and through reading, studying and meditating on the biblical text, but “word of God” is a more specific term, which can be applied to words on a page but primarily refers to the person of Jesus Christ.
The word of God is living and active. Life involves constant movement and adaptation. Relying on the Bible as a source of authority must take this into consideration. It is tempting to let the words on the page become hardened, retaining interpretations that no longer hold meaning for new situations, which the authors and editors of the Bible never even considered much less encountered. Consider, the Bible was written in a patriarchal culture in which women tended to be illiterate. It would have been irresponsible to have those who could not study biblical texts in leadership, which led some authors in the New Testament to prohibit women from being elders. However, in our culture, women are just as educated as men, forcing us to reconsider the prohibition on women in the pulpit as it applies (or doesn't apply) in our own churches.
The words in the Bible were inspired, not dictated, by the Holy Spirit. Though we are frail and prone to error, God used human beings to write the words of Scripture and continues to use us to interpret them. Knowing this, we must make allowances for the human elements in Scripture, being careful not to turn description into prescription. Care should also be taken in not adopting the cultural prejudices of the biblical writers or characters as our own (e.g. racism, sexism, shunning the poor, disabled, and diseased).
Some people think of the Bible as an instruction manual for life. Thinking in terms of the text from Hebrews cited earlier, which compares the word of God to a sword, it seems more appropriate to think of it as a tool. The instruction book model may leave the impression that the Bible gives an easy and obvious answer for every life situation. On the other hand, a tool model gives the idea that the words and ideas contained in the Bible enable us to live a more faithful life. Such a model also serves to remind us that the Bible is not a fit tool for answering every question. For instance, the Bible is not a textbook which can be used to support scientific research. However, it is a tool which can be used in dealing with the ethical implications of applying scientific discoveries.
Further, viewing the Bible in too simplistic a way does not follow with the interpretive traditions of the Jewish rabbis, the church fathers, the reformers, or modern theologians. The Bible is something much more complex than a yardstick.

Given the way human contexts have varied over time and space and the depth of meaning to be found in the biblical text, it seems reasonable to assume that there could be many different and faithful interpretations of the same text. There are not unlimited faithful interpretations of every text, but neither is there one unquestionable interpretation for any. For example, a community of people living with AIDS in South Africa and a small congregation of farmers in rural Idaho will likely have differing interpretations of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Ultimately, the Bible only has authority in the lives of Christians if it can offer guidance in living faithfully toward God and one another in our time and place. In order for the Bible to function in this way, we must consider both the context of the author and our own. We must allow the text to challenge our assumptions and we, in turn, must challenge the text's assumptions. And we must remain dependent on the Holy Spirit, who can enlighten our hearts and minds to find what the text is saying for us, for now.
The Bible doesn't give us easy answers. We are held responsible for immersing ourselves in the texts of Scripture as often as we are able in order to discern its meaning for us and for our communities. Unfortunately, the busyness of our lives often keeps us from pursuing deep study and reflection. It is tempting to rely on notes at the bottom of the pages of our study bibles or the interpretation provided by the familiar voice on the radio or face on the television. Listening to alternative voices is an important part of biblical study but as much as is possible, we should examine what familiar voices tell us in light of what we see in the text ourselves.

This is a work in progress, which makes it a bit stilted, but I trust that as I have more time to consider the question of biblical authority that my ability to express myself on the subject will improve. I'm interested to know what any of you might think about what I've written here whether you agree with me or not. Thanks for taking the time to walk with me.

The Three Most Controversial Things Happening In My Brain...

Controversy has always been my most feared opponent. I hate it with a fiery passion because being controversial often leads one down a path toward confrontation, another thing I avoid at most possible costs. But, though peace can be a wonderful thing, constant avoidance is exhausting. What's more, most people never get a chance to see who I really am and to know what I really think. So, throwing a lot of caution to the wind, I'm going to make myself vulnerable here and write about three things that will surprise some of my readers.

Let's start with what will probably seem least surprising to most of you. Over the past few years, especially my time here at Princeton, I've been forced to consider what my next step in life should be. For many years, I was convinced that one day I would be a professor. The field of study I was interested in changed, but the end goal remained the same: Ph.D. and professorship. This summer, however, I decided to begin the process of ordination in the PCUSA. It's a step I never expected to take. I never fought it in the sense that some of my friends fought their callings to ministry, I just never really considered it. First Pres of Salem did a number on me, though. Up until my arrival there, almost all of the people in my life simply supported my opinion that I was not cut out for full time ministry. But, week after week in Salem, dedicated members of that congregation, including several retired ministers, people who had no idea what my vocational goals were, constantly affirmed my gifts for ministry. Scary step, yes, but I think I need to take the wisdom of these encouragers seriously. Also, active participation in worship from week to week was something I enjoyed more deeply than I ever expected. When we had communion, and I couldn't even serve the bread, I felt profoundly sad. Though I still wonder whether ordination should really be necessary to participate in that way, it is right now, so I'm going to work with the system.

I still can't picture myself in parish ministry, but I suppose that could change in the next few years as I walk through the steps of the ordination process. My supervisor in Salem actually suggested becoming a campus chaplain, a position that would allow me to combine my love of academia with my desire to work with folks face-to-face. I would still love to get my Ph.D., and expect I will sometime in the not-too-distant future, but studying for and taking the GRE, researching and applying to programs, and learning German won't all fit on top of the million other things I have to do this year. Instead, I'm going to take a few years off from school and get a job in a church, to gain some experience and remain engaged in "professional" ministry, and (possibly) a second job, which will help me pay the bills.

Moving on to my second item... one that will probably seem least controversial to some and most irritating to others: I'm going to vote for Barack Obama. Perhaps I have taken a little sip of the kool-aid on this, but let me tell you, it tastes good. I almost wrote "pretty good," but that would be a serious understatement. Most of my years of political awareness have been spent in knee-jerk support of conservative candidates because that's what you do if you're from my city, my church, my college, but I'm done with their pragmatism. I don't actually think that Barack is just a starry-eyed optimist, but if he is, so what? My life could do with a little more optimism. Believe me, I can supply all the pessimism for myself and three other people. Keep the pragmatists in the trenches getting things done, but give me a leader who can dream.

I'm not supposed to say this, but I'm okay with having higher taxes if it means children will get health care or that we will wean ourselves from oil so that our earth can begin to heal or that students who come after me won't have to go into serious debt to finance their education. Sure, I don't really want to surrender half of my salaray, but I can live in a smaller house with less stuff if it means that a family down on their luck won't have to live on the street.

Finally, and with little explanation because that will come later in it's own special post, I think it's okay to be gay; not a sin or a problem. I don't love homosexuals despite their "lifestyle," I love every part of them and encourage them to make wise and healthy decisions, just as I would a heterosexual person. There is a lot of thought behind this statement, but I'll lay that out more fully in a forthcoming post. Before that, I'll be posting a paper I wrote this summer concerning my view of biblical authority, which will probably help clarify why my thinking has turned in this direction. But, for now, I leave you with enough to chew on for a few days.

Things Are Looking Up

Things Are Looking Up, originally uploaded by kate e. did.

I took this photo the weekend before I left Oregon at the wedding of two folks I know from seminary. It was a lovely event. Too bad my social awkwardness and introversion led me to leave before they cut the cake.