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Friday, March 11, 2011

Drawing the Line 1

We are studying First Maccabees in my Thursday Bible study. Now some people reading this are saying, "BUT THAT IS NOT SCRIPTURE!!!!"

It is scripture for Roman Catholics. It isn't for Protestants. As for me (an Episcopal priest with a very catholic theology) and my household, well, that is the question.

I have been leading a bible study on OT ever since I did the Apocalypse a few years back. As we studied that mysterious document, also called the Book of Revelation, I was stunned by the amount of OT quotation, imagery and allusion. I told my class that I viewed the Apocalypse as similar to one of those letters where the person cuts out words from a magazine and pastes them on paper to string together his sentences. This constant use of the OT made me realize how much I did not know about the OT, so we have studied it ever since.

I justify reading Maccabees because of its historical importance for understanding Jesus' times. (Imagine studying American history with a gap between the Civil War and WW I.) Yet, even so, there remains a question in the back of my mind....

After class a woman (Presbyterian) talked with me about some issues. She is a very well read and thoughtful person. Like me, she is very distressed with the new movements in the church (termed "modernist," "liberal," "progressive," or "re-appraisser"). Like me, she has also seen things on the other side which appear too extreme.  We talked about the question, "where do you draw the line?"

I do not know if God inspired Maccabees. I do know there are any number of people who are frothing at the mouth and ready to denounce me for reading it and for claiming/not claiming it is scripture. Then there are so many more who would call it all superstitious garbage. Finally, there is that wonderful group who ask, "Does it matter?"

Well, if God revealed this text, it matters. And if God did not reveal the text, that matters. And if the whole Christian enterprise is of God, that matters. If instead it is garbage, that matters. So this suddenly becomes a big question. How is one to read this (biblical?) text which shares so much in common with similar books found in the OT (e.g. Joshua, Judges, Nehemiah)?

Exercising some degree of openness and humility, I personally read it as part of the Catholic bible. It is, therefore, truly scripture for me. Reading it as a priest in the Episcopal church, I can make no claims that it is Scripture, it is part of the apocrypha in our biblical canon. I think I have made a compromise on this. Which leads to the question I will ponder in days ahead. When is a compromise an act of humble love? When is a compromise a dirty sell out of all that is true and holy?

I have long been torn apart inside by competing desires. No, desire is too weak a word, by competing drives, almost compulsions. I like people and I love community. In my high school I was voted "most school spirited" and "most wittiest." I had to choose one for the year book so I went with funny, but I was proud my peers thought I was both. I like my organization to do well, so I work to support it. I love to bring people together and make them laugh. I still try that, even in homilies on Sunday. So, on the one hand, I have an overpowering desire to gather in fellowship with others in a way that is warm, connected and fun.

On the other hand, I want to  have integrity. I am, by nature, a person who wants to avoid conflict. I am also, by nature, a person who wants to do the right thing. I sometimes wonder about my faith and I often question what I believe, but I usually try to live authentically the faith and beliefs of the Christian church. So when I confront someone teaching "a different gospel" (which is no gospel at all) I get stirred up. When someone teaches heresy, I speak out against it. When someone denies a core truth of the Christian faith, I point it out, sometimes too emphatically. Or so I am told. But I wonder..... Should Jeremiah have turned it down a notch? Should Paul have kept his mouth shut? Did Jesus blow it by being too inflexible and speaking out so boldly? (NO!!!!)

Yet in the midst of these battles within and without the church, I ponder this: What does it mean that my closest allies deny books of the Scripture, reject some of the sacraments and disagree with me on any number of issues which are also important if Truth matters. Where, I wonder, does one draw the line?

1 comment:

  1. Jeff,

    Interesting post. Looking forward to hearing more!