Thursday, May 4, 2006

Two stories came together for me just now.

Story #1:
Not too long ago I had a senior high student tell me that she found it hard to pray. It seemed to her that her prayers only reached the ceiling and bounced back.[1] My response was, "Welcome to the club.
“Great!” she said, “only when I read the Bible it seems like the stuff that happened to the people in the Bible almost never happens to me.”
Again my response was “ME TOO!”
“It’s just that I often doubt that God is real. My friends all tell me that they have these awesome experiences with God and I am jealous. But even more I wonder if I am doing something wrong?”

Story #2
Those of you who know Char and I well will probably lose your jaw in your pants pocket over this one. We bought a new TV. Yup. Found one cheap at Da ShuupRShtore. Brought it home set it up. First had to take the old one down. Plugged it in. Plugged all the contraptions into the slots and…
It would not fire up. Press the remote no action. Put batteries in the remote. Still no action. Red light is blazing on the bottom left hand corner of the TV but nothing is showing. So I am toughing all the stuff searching the TV for a hidden switch to point me in the right direction. Now my kids are crowded around offering increasingly maddening advice. I am already thinking about putting it back in the box when Charlene suggests the instruction manual. Fine!So she’s reading and I am trying to follow her instructions and my kids at the same time. Still nothing. Finally I take the instruction book and read it in a frantic methodical way. It is typically cryptic of these types of documents.[2] It reads:
“Once the TV set has been put in place…Press the Standby/ON button on the TV set (this is the only button on the set) to turn the unit on. When you have picture and sound…”
So I start talking to the instruction book.
“Okay the red light is on buddy but no picture and sound."
I turn to the troubleshooting to find the problem because obviously my unit is not functioning properly. It says:
CHECK IF SYSTEM SWITCH IS ON.
I am about to swear in Portuguese when I randomly press the on/off switch again. The red light goes off and after a few short seconds the familiar hum/hiss or white noise hits my ears. I look up and…
APPARENTLY unlike most other electronic devices WHEN THE RED LIGHT IS ON THE UNIT IS NOT FUNCTIONING HOW EVER WHEN THE RED LIGHT IS OFF IT WORKS JUST FINE. RED ONLY INDICATES THE TV’s PERPETUAL STANDBY MODE.
Yahoo! Kids dance!
Point:
As any good youth pastor I have often used the instruction manual as an illustration for the Bible. You know, the Bible gives you instructions for life. Follow it’s guidelines and your life will be better. But what happens when our life is not better and you go back to the ‘instruction book’ and find it oddly cryptic and generally confusing? And I have seen it too many times how (just like with our new TV) we go rampaging through the Bible doing troubleshooting. And with forlorn guilt we start asking why: Donkey’s aren't showing up in our driveway talking to us. Or why raven don’t just bring us Pop Tarts in the morning.
I think when we say that the Bible is mainly an instruction booklet – we are screwed! Shoot we can read about all those fantastic things that happened to people in the Bible (healings, seas being calmed, sun standing still) and we can think that because “the Bible is full of that stuff,” it must have been happening all the time. You know, this is normal behaviour – check the troubleshooting section if you are experiencing difficulty. We forget that people probably would not have written about that stuff if it was common place. We forget the Bible’s narrative takes place over several thousand years. But because the Bible has become this instruction manual we have totally come to some crappy conclusions.
And another thing…
We totally have taken that another step farther. We say if you don’t get the same stuff out of the Bible that I do – you are wrong! Have we forgotten that if the Bible is God’s word that it must have been translated from Godese into human languages? Not literally! But you know what I mean. Could it be that something got lost in the translation? Of course we would never dare to dream about that because we might have to stop judging (even fellow believers). And don’t think that just because I ask these questions that I think the Bible is in any way less authoritative. It really means that I have to be way more responsible with how I choose to handle the scriptures and images I instill on the minds of those youth I have influence on. Oh yeah and I think it forces us all to stop being spiritual bigots on all sides of every fence.

[1] Even that phrase seems a little cliche
[2] Something always seems to get lost in the translation from Japanese to Engrish

11 comments:

Freezer said...

I agree with you for the most part, I just hope that seeing scripture as narrative encourages people to know it better rather than pass it off as ancient, irrelevent text. What is the difference between this and the strong emphasis of contextualization that our learning institutions have encouraged throughout history? I think the greater damage to understanding scripture have been the Wilkersons and such who have sought to profit from the marketing of Scripture as an instruction manual.

Incoming... said...

i hear your fear.
i can see how people could use it for an excuse to walk away from faith but are we that much better off with the rafts of spiritual zombies that fill our pews currently?
Could you tell me what you mean by, "the strong emphasis of contextualization that our learning institutions have encouraged throughout history..."?

Freezer said...

I mean my Bible College and limited Seminary experience as well some academic work produced by Anabaptist theologians like Arden Thiessen, seem to have placed a heavy emphasis on understanding scripture in light of the context in which it was written, such as where it fits into the story of God revealing himself to a fallen humanity, as well as the language in which it was written, and who it was written by and finally the receipients of that book. Perhaps the throughout history is stretching it a bit because I don't think that has always been the case, but then again I haven't studied this topic well enough to really comment much other than my own conjecture.

Incoming... said...

in that case the concepts sound similar. However, I suggest that this contextualization stuff is not being practiced widely. We are still primarily using the Bible as an answer book. We still using verses to prove our points about everything from Gays to women in ministry. And the approach has been the idea of defending a position. sorta like a hyper lee strobelization of faith...

Freezer said...

Most of the youth workers in our conference are devoted workers with young people, yet they are inexperienced, and untrained. They have the relational part of the ministry down fairly well, where they lack is in having good teaching resources. My challenge is for you to write some material, heck a book geared at the apprenticing youth worker to help teach a proper hermeneutic to our youth. Better yet make it a DVD seeing as most youth workers don't like reading anyways.

Freezer said...

Heck once I'm out west - I'll even hold the camera for you.

Clinton said...

now there's a challenge worth rising to, Dale. We're presently going through a series at church which is basically an intro to Bible course merged with a bit of hermeneutics. I think to often we fail to equip the 'lay' people to interpret/ understand scripture. I don't know if this stems from a fear that they'll disagree with the interpretation the 'clergy' is giving them or is merely an oversight but I think it's wonderfully imperative that children, youth and adults be trained in hermeneutics (or is that Herman Neufeld?)

Jan said...

could someone explain what hermenuetics is or are?

Incoming... said...

sure jan...
hermenuetics: basically isthe study of how we understand/interpret the Bible, the word most often refers to the Bible but could just as easily be appliesd to other texts as well.

Incoming... said...

I suppose I could throw my hat in the ring on this project. But let me throw out a few things first.
1. There is some pretty darn good material out there already. Kenda Creasy Dean's books are great, as are John Stackhouse. A nice comprehensive volume is "Starting Right" which is an editted book dealing with this stuff.
2. I guess I have this weird belief that if you are going to grad from bible college having trained in any of the areas of pastoral ministry you should have a pretty good handle on this topic (herm.)
How we understand the Bible is critical. I just think it points tot he idea that pastors have to spend more time reading and meditating. When you go to a medical specialist you assume that that person has studied intensely in the field they claim to be 'special' in. If medical specialists spent as little time in study, meditation, and just plain reading as most pastors do, I doubt they would reamin a 'specialists' very long.

Freezer said...

The problem is that many of our youth workers have never attended Bible College. Our churches are moving to more of a volunteer driven model of ministry.