Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Ezekiel is a strange book, full of weird images and metaphors.  In chapter 3, the prophet is told, “O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.”  Surely, the Lord says, they will listen to you.  But he is also told that his speaking will be futile. “But the house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.”
The issue really isn’t an issue of hearing, but of obeying.  We use the word “listen” in the same way.  “You didn’t listen to me and now you’ve made a mess of things.”  We don’t mean that the person didn’t actually hear us or pay attention to us, they just didn’t do what we told them to do.  They ignored our advice or instruction.
This is the same situation with the Israelites.  They weren’t hard of hearing, they were disobedient; they didn’t need their ears checked, but their hearts.  They were hard-headed and stubborn.  “Listening” is just a metaphor.
And if in this context “listening” is a metaphor, might “speaking” be a metaphor as well?  Probably.  And if the issue is one of obeying vs. disobeying i.e. how they live their lives, then “speaking” is probably related to how the prophet lives his life.  That is why Ezekiel is told to eat the scroll.  When we eat something, it turns into our own flesh.  We literally live and move and act out what we eat for the world to see.  Eat too many Double Stuff Oreos (one of my personal weaknesses; I literally cannot eat just one or two), and the resulting jiggle around the waist is visible for all to see.  Our bodies are made up of what we eat.  So Ezekiel is being told to eat the scroll so that the Israelites will be able to see God’s instruction in a living body rather than on a dead sheepskin or inert papyrus.
And so it is with us today.  Much is made of the need to get the Bible translated into a person native language, and then to get the new translation into the hands of people, whether is book form or in audio book form.  I applaud these efforts, and they are valuable, helpful, and important.
But not nearly as important as when we digest the Word and allow it to literally form our bodies for the world to witness.  I'm not talking about memorizing Scripture, though that has some value, but only insomuch as that which is memorized is enfleshed in our lives.  The task of helping others have a relationship with God through Christ is not so much that of handing them a Bible or some religious literature but of transubstantiating God, giving flesh to His Spirit, carrying on the incarnation of Christ in the world.
      Those of us who have grown up reading and studying the Bible know that having a Bible in our own language, valuable as that is, isn’t enough.  It needs to be studied, interpreted, often painstakingly parsed, and even then there are passages we don’t fully understand.  We actually find that having it in our own language isn’t enough—that translations from the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic are not as valuable as actually understanding the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic of the texts.  And then we have to understand the literary and historical contexts, which entails a great deal of study, and not just historical and literary studies but cross-cultural studies.  Just to understand a book.
But a life is easier to understand.  I can read a book about how to do something—build a house, play an instrument, fly a plane—but much more helpful, if not necessary is to learn from someone who already knows how to do it and shows me how to do it.  I really don’t want to fly in a plane piloted by someone who has only read a book, do you?  And learning about God and his Plan for all creation is much more critical than flying a plane.
      People will come to the Lord not so much because we get the Bible to them but because we get God’s Word into us and live out his message of peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, and unconditional love. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Haste and Waste

    In 1970, Princeton University did some research with seminary students.  They would interview a seminarian in an office, and after the interview they would ask them to go to another classroom to give a talk.  The classroom, however, was across campus and scheduled such that there was little time to get there.  The researchers then had actors placed in the seminarian’s path along the way playing a person in some distress.   The researchers wanted to see if a commitment to service was sufficient to cause a person to actually stop and help in a practical situation.
     What they found was that being committed to helping others had no practical effect on these seminarians if they were in
a hurry.  The time factor trumped commitment every time.  If they weren’t in a hurry, if they had the time to stop and help, most of them did; but if they were short on time they didn’t stop.  They didn’t help.

Here’s the problem: when in our society are we not busy or doing something important?  We have so tied our sense of self-worth to what we do that it is almost a sin not to be busy.  You are either busy or you are lazy, but there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.  And we have elevated all sorts of activities, even leisure activities, to a level of importance that we find ourselves in a near-constant state of urgency, haste, and busyness.  We over-schedule our lives, then we overschedule our children’s lives which adds even more things to our over-scheduled lives, and haste overtakes us.  Haste overwhelms us.
Haste is our enemy. It increases our stress level and our blood pressure, causes us to more easily lose patience, and makes us more prone to mistakes and accidents.
Most seriously of all, haste hurts us spiritually.  We have become a nation of Christians who are too busy for personal prayer and private devotions—not that we don’t do them, though that is often the case, but we do them in brief snippets.   (Evidenced by the fact that devotional magazines and books are smaller than regular books and magazines.)  Or maybe we multi-task our spiritual disciplines, praying while driving (eyes open please!),  reading while eating.  But devotion implies single-mindedness that multi-tasking undermines; how devoted can we be if we can only combine it with some other task?  We have also become a nation of Christians that are too busy for communal worship and communal study, two activities that, more than personal and private times of worship, are the foundations of biblical devotion and discipleship.  Work schedules, sports and recreation, and even fatigue increasingly keep us from assembling together to give homage to the Creator of the universe, to the inevitable detriment to our relationship with Him and our faith families.  If what we are doing Monday through Saturday so fatigues us that it is a burden to spend time in worship and Bible study on Sunday, it makes it difficult to claim with any credibility that we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
Or our neighbors as ourselves.  As the Princeton study showed—and our experience validates—haste blinds us to the needs of others.  Morality becomes a luxury as the pace of our daily lives increases, making it less likely that we will stop and help someone else in need.  In our hearts we want to be good Samaritans, but haste and hurry get in the way.   We need to see that this is a spiritual issue every bit as much as personal devotions and communal worship.  Jesus certainly did, or he wouldn’t have told the parable.