Sunday, October 22, 2006

Analytical thinking?

The Episcopal Church of Reconciliation, which I attend, started a new adult education class this morning. The course is entitled, "Following Jesus: Vocation, Discernment, and Discipleship in the Letters of Paul" and is being taught by a pair of very reputable ordained ministers, Jane Patterson and John Lewis, who also happen to be Greek scholars. That makes this course very attractive and the first class was well attended. One of the really cool things I get to look forward to is that when Jane & John start quoting scripture they don't just quote from some version that is presently in publication. They actually go back to a reliable Greek text and translate from scratch. So what we get isn't homogenized. They also show us the usage of certain key words which helps us focus on the intended meaning that might otherwise be lost in the many layers of translation the Christian Bible has gone through.

Today they started with a discussion of what was actually happening in scripture when it was being created. Debate was talked about a lot. It was pointed out that when debate happened in the times of Jesus it wasn't over belief but over practice. We kicked off this discussion by trying to define what inerrant means. We could easily define God as inerrant. However you see him, God's perfect. Inerrancy isn't so clear cut with scripture which has been written, lost, found, copied, translated and argued over many, many times. Then we talked about what we recognized as the characteristics of Pharisees. Pharisees are basically legal experts in how to interpret scriptural law. Do you know a lawyer who isn't good at debate? I certainly don't. Maybe by now you can see where they were headed with this.

What followed next was the question, "Who is "right" amidst contradictory views, all attributed to Jesus." Somewhere in the middle of our discussion, on what Paul meant when he labeled people false brothers and even labeled Peter and Barnabas behavioral hypocrites, the definition of orthodoxy and heresy was given. Originally there was no orthodoxy, which means "right glory/praise", or heresy, which means "choice". The matter of "right" belief evolved into or became a distorted concern unique to Christianity. I liked what was pointed out next. "Our tradition is one of vitriolic debates over practice and the debates are among those who share much in common."

This strikes close to home for me. I came to faith in a nondenominational church that was determined to stay nondenominational because of their belief that, "Denominations divide the body of Christ." It's true. Most of our many Christian denominations exist today because of differences over how to practice. These differences don't make any of the churches more or less faithful but we treat each other as if it does. If you look on a broader canvas at the major faiths you might find that this still holds true. I don't know enough about the various faiths to argue about this, nor do I want to argue. I'm frankly tired of arguments that belittle others and don't make a bit of difference in whether they are going to heaven or not. I learned early in my walk that I can say I love a church or a person and want to help them grow but I can't really do that until I have joined them and made their concerns my own. So here I am sitting happily in an Episcopal church and working hard to make their growth reflect my belief in the worthiness of all mankind and their inherent right to worship as they wish. Based on where we have gone so far, I'm really looking forward to the rest of this course of study.

Am I immune to arguing? Not hardly! In the middle of all of the discussions one of our members declared, pertaining to the idea of absolute laws, that you couldn't make a circle into a square. So help me God, I thought of a way to do it. I didn't argue the point with him. The class needed to move on. But I wanted to. My theory was that when you look at a circle it is basically a continuous line surrounding a specific amount of space that is in a certain shape. What would happen if you started pushing that line out of shape closer and closer to the traditional square? If you did that and then pinned down the corners you might indeed have turned a circle into a square. Would it make a bit of difference? I don't really think so. It would still be a line enclosing a specific area of space and only the shape would have changed. Its purpose wouldn't have.

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