Saturday, January 25, 2014

Now I See Through a Glass Darkly

Reading it ain't easy!

Gerald Gerbrandt, former president of CMU (Canadian Mennonite University), gave his first talk on “Hearing the God of Scripture” last night at the Rosthern Mennonite Church.  The first session encouraged us to think of the scriptures that have been passed down to us as “story, art and drama.” 
    Three more sessions are planned.
     I had lunch with a friend newly-returned from a week in Israel the other day, and in the course of our chatter he asked me what I considered to be the solution to the impasse in Palestine and might it come through the Christianization of the people there, which would make our role more missional than diplomatic. I said I didn't have anything to offer as a solution; for one, I've never been there, never had the opportunity to “feel” what it's like to be Israeli or Palestinian in that small part of the world in 2014.
     What's becoming clearer to me is that Christians are no more “of one accord” than anyone else on the subject of bringing peace to the Middle East. In part, their ambivalence is tied to the way in which scriptures and the historical records are read. We may be looking through the same windows, but interpreting what we see has a host of antecedents.
     Harper really did us all an injustice when he brought the word antisemitism into the dialogue on his recent visit there. There are probably numerous people for whom a hatred of Jewry figures in criticisms of Israel's behaviour, but to link such criticism—for instance of the establishment of West Bank settlements—to antisemitism tends to stifle dialogue and generosity of spirit in the ongoing efforts to broker a lasting and just peace.
     There are other trigger-words about. For instance, who could blame a casual reader of scripture for linking the Israel of the Old Testament with the name of the present state of Israel, and present-day Jerusalem with the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation? (“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” -Revelation 21:2) For many a scripture-reader, dividing the modern-day, secular, political democracy that is Israel from the Biblical chronicles doesn't come easily.
     Gerbrandt urged us to think of scripture more as artful story than as rule book. Many of the laws in the book of Leviticus, for instance, have long since been rendered obsolete by the passage of time and new experiences. Meanwhile, there is clearly an over-arching “story” in scripture, an establishment of basic principles that include, at least, justice, empathy and compassion as the birthright of every living creature. Neither Israel's treatment of Palestinians nor the Canadian treatment of Aboriginal citizens historically can pass the smell test when the principles in the scriptural story are applied: both fail on justice, empathy and compassion standards even when the behaviours in question can be rationalized legally.
     That's not being antisemitic; that's being human and, hopefully, in synch with the appeals of the whole scriptural story.
     Gerbrandt's seminars are timely—and much needed.


  1. Thanks for this, George. We have just read "My Promised Land" which treats of present day Israel, and we are now reading "Buffalo Shout: Salmon Cry," another wonderful book which treats of settler society/indigenous society experiences. We don't need cliches; we need justice, empathy, humility, and humanity.

    When is Gerbrandt speaking again?

  2. Hugh,
    He spoke this morning on the big story in the Old Testament. Tonight at 7:30 he'll focus on the gospels. He'll also be involved in the Adult Sunday School at RMC tomorrow as well as giving the sermon.