Monday, July 10, 2006

Chastening Rod

Kids, I feel I have to apply the chastening rod a little bit here.
Don't worry, I get spanked, too.

In my last post about reading Ephesians, I said that I love the letter, that I embrace it as a beautiful statement about community life, and that I find it exceedingly disappointing to get to the part where Paul goes from soaring spiritual idealism to revealing himself as a member of a sexist, domination-based society. With a thud.

Look what some of my commenters assume:
(1) That I'm reading Paul as though he's God.
(2) That I may not be aware of questions about Pauline authorship.
(3) That I need to be tutored in liberal exegesis, and that I may not be aware of our theological conviction that "revelation is not sealed."
(4) That I may not be aware of the practice of using inclusive language and editing the epistles for use in church, and need to be encouraged to do so because I may not have already thought of that.

I wonder how often we do this to each other: treat one person's reflection as an opportunity to enlighten them with all the information we ourselves have, assuming that that's what they really need from us.

Could this be, in microcosm, part of what we are doing wrong in our churches? Insulting people's intelligence and making overbearing, unsolicited recommendations for their edification because we assume we know more than they do? Mistaking someone's musings on Scripture, for example, for an invitation to barrage them with our knowledge on the subject, rather than simply responding with our own reflections?

Isn't it interesting that I shared my deep love for the Letter to the Ephesians, saying that it has great spiritual power and resonance for me, and that every single respondent chose to follow up on my criticism of its last chapters? You mean none of you have any thoughts about how Ephesians touches your own hearts or inspires you in your quest to live in beloved community? Or is it just that our default setting as UUs is to jump into every conversation from an intellectual and critical place, and so that's where we inevitably wind up? The brainiest big mouths* totally dominate, while the ones quietly chewing on the deeper question never even dare speak up?

How often have I myself killed a rich conversation in exactly this manner? Probably many times, especially with those who come musing about their reactions to some religiously-themed item from pop culture, such as The DaVinci Code. Instead of just listening to their thoughts about the possibility of a married Jesus, I jump immediately to correct their credulous ignorance, greeting their enthusiasm with Important Information and establishing myself, not as a sister seeker, but as an Authority On the Subject.

I think our congregations are overly full of Authorities On The Subject. And I think sister and brother seekers stay the hell away. Did they come for fellowship and mutual exploration, or did they come to be hazed by the Honor Society?

I'm a minister. You all know that. Our ministers are actually required to have a theological education before being ordained. All of you should know that.
I have studied the gospels and the epistles with world-class scholars. I have studied the Greek, I know the liberal exegeses, I know the Mayflower Compact, and I know the questions of Pauline authorship. Had several of you thought about it for more than a second, you might have realized that and perhaps shifted your thinking thusly: Gee, PeaceBang is grieving the bummer ending of what she believes is a deeply inspiring, gorgeous spiritual teaching from the ancient world. I wonder if I have anything to say about that? How have I been disappointed myself by the limitations of some spiritual leader or great religious teaching?

I'm thinking, cripes, if this small community of religious liberals responds to someone they know has a theological education with this kind of teacherly superiority, how are they (we) treating people they know don't have a theological education? And what can we learn from this?

Herein endeth the lesson.

"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation..."

good shepherd

* PeaceBang = If not among the brainiest, certainly one of the biggest mouths.


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