Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Summons to Action

Prairie Winter - copyright image by Geo. Epp

Knitmare - copyright image by Geo. Epp

These thoughts follow my reading this morning of an article on the CBC website: What do you Believe? by Mary Hynes, host of the radio broadcast, Tapestry, airing weekly.
You’re welcome to click on the link above and read it for yourself before going on with my impressions. I’d also encourage you to subscribe to Mary’s podcasts; she produces some very profound, sometimes provocative programs touching on faith.
As you will have deduced by a post I wrote a few weeks ago, I’m currently disturbed by our reliance for unity on belief, on creedal statements and our acquiescence to them. In that post I described an event that appeared to me to urge a certain belief about the creation of the world based on a literal reading of the first chapters of Genesis. Quite obviously, the presentation didn’t meet with unanimous approval; much of the Christian world reads the creation stories of Genesis allegorically and could no more compel themselves (or be compelled by others) to believe the historicity of the Genesis account than they could force themselves to believe in Santa Clause, leprachauns or extra-terrestrials.
This morning we read the Apostles’ Creed in unison in church. It, too, clearly admonishes us to declare a belief in certain things and I occasionally find myself skipping a line or two because I’m not certain that I, personally, believe it.
Hynes quotes author Karen Armstrong on the subject of belief:

"The extraordinary and eccentric emphasis on 'belief' in Christianity today is an accident of history that has distorted our understanding of religious truth. We call religious people 'believers,' as though acceptance of a set of doctrines was their principal activity," Armstrong wrote.

"All good religious teaching … is basically a summons to action. Yet instead of being taught to act creatively upon them, many modern Christians feel it is more important to 'believe' them."

There might well be countering arguments to Armstrong’s viewpoint, but it occurs to me that our most divisive issues throughout church history and including today have been and are centred not on what we ought to do, but on what we ought to believe.
The discouraging consequence of this is that we are led to exhaust ourselves in questions of how our beliefs differ— who’s wrong and who’s right—before we ever get to the real question, namely answering the “summons to action.”
What difference would it make if our Bible study in our churches went like this:
1)      Read a passage of scripture aloud.
2)      Have another person read it again.
3)      Observe a few moments of silent contemplation.
4)      Ask participants to point out any features of the text that stick out for them.
5)      Ask the group what actions the passage seems to summon us to take.
6)      Conclude the study with open prayer or silence.

In my experience, Bible studies that are planned not to break out into comparisons of interpretations are productive precisely because—for a change—they focus us on the real questions: what actions does scripture compel us to take, and how will we respond? This is both a personal and a communal question and in the act of interpreting for action and not for belief, the quest for bringing about the kingdom in our stations and occupations is made central and clear.

Thank you, Mary Hynes. Thanks Karen Armstrong.

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