Thursday, May 20, 2010

the b.s. report*

(Otherwise known as "revelations that emerged from *bible study.")

Here it is close to the end of May and the bible study we began four months ago is finally taking off! To be fair, there are so few of us that if two or three can't come we cancel for the week. And in April, well, I myself was out of pocket every Wednesday for one reason or another. Finally, however, we're digging in.

We're using a study from Cokesbury called Jesus in the Gospels. For better or worse, Episcopalians just don't do a good job of learning scripture (you can draw your own conclusions about the failure to teach it!). Is it any wonder that I have folks in their sixties and seventies who don't feel like they know the bible? This study offers an in-depth, and I mean go-back-and-read-the-passage-again, and again, and again to delve into the layers and sub-text kind of depth. Personally, I think it's rich and fabulous. It's slightly academic, but one of my roles is to break that down into meaningful everyday understanding. The fine tooth comb approach can be intimidating to many, but we're making it work (thank you, Tim Gunn, for the phrase that has become so naturally woven into my vocabulary). So far, so good.

For the last two weeks we've been looking at the first two chapters of Matthew. It opens with Jesus' genealogy and then slides into Matthew's birth narrative. I say Matthew's, because he and Luke are the only two gospel writers who have a birth narrative, and there is a distinct difference between the two: Matthew focuses on Joseph, Luke on Mary.

So anyway, the lingering question from this week's study is this: What makes trusting God's promises difficult when they are kept in ways we do not expect?

The question shoots holes through me. I have real issues with the idea of God keeping promises. In many respects I am quite comfortable with adjusting expectations and finding silver linings. Nearly twenty years ago I internalized the experience of finding gifts in adversity and redemption in disappointment. I know full well that expectations are the first thing to take a hit when it comes to seeing God at work. I am used to taking closer looks at the path traveled to see where it really went. At the same time I wait on God patiently for revelation: heart's desires, vocation, dreams, service, purpose... Waiting has become second nature. Imagine the jolt I felt when I realized not long ago that I've been waiting longer than I have time left in a typical span of ministry (assuming a retirement age of 65). That doesn't seem right, and it has set me a bit on edge thinking about waste and fulfillment. From the perspective of balance there appears to be a lot more of the former and little of the latter. Ouch.

Promises kept? I am suspect. Does that make me unfaithful? It hasn't felt so. I hang on, as tenacious as a dog with a bone. But there is so much missing. To acknowledge that sounds pessimistic and gloomy, and yet most of the time my attitude is positive and upbeat, and hope is the substance of my fuel. The stories of scripture, and even some of my own, are textured richly with grace. And still, the weight of emptiness drags at my endurance to trust and believe for my own life.

This isn't meant to be a rant or a confession. I spill this here because you offer your ears, your hearts and your affection so graciously that my soul turns to you.

Interestingly enough at last weekend's PC training we were encouraged not only to believe in ourselves but in those around us. Expect success of the people we mentor, expect commitment from those who mentor us, expect support from those we love and accept nothing less. So what do I expect of God, and how does that expectation impact that relationship?

So much food for thought that my brain groans at the excess. Life is ever thus, is it not?


Amy said...

I was raised Episcopalian but spent over 20 years in a UCC congregation. In the early 90's I spent a few years studying the life of Jesus via the Synoptic Gospels - all four gospels side by side. It enriched my faith and thus my life more than I knew at the time. So your post has kindled memories and the questions that seem obvious have elusive answers - different for each of us. The idea of promise for me doesn't have to do with the future so much as trust just for today. I hear that "ouch" though and I feel that too as I've become so disengaged from organized religion. To be a faithful person involves action and constant vigilance to discern the right action at the right time. I get tired just thinking about it sometimes.

Since I retired 4 years ago, it sometimes feels like I'm waiting for a direction to take. Maybe that's why I really adhere to the "one day at a time" mindset. I didn't mean to ramble on - huge questions and I'm not sure about having expectations of others. But I sure am happily surprised, and that's happened often in the past few years, when those expectations are met or exceeded.

Thanks for the thought provoking post - I'll probably spend the rest of the day pondering!

The Bug said...

Amy's talk of action & vigilence about sums up my concept of the Christian (or really any faithful) walk - & it makes me tired too!

I've always been a Doubting Dana & it's only in the Episcopal church that I've found a God who makes any sense to me at all. But I'm still unsure of the whole thing. And yet, I believe :)

The Bug said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Bug said...

I hit publish twice. Oops!

Jayne said...

I suppose in my mind, all I think we are "promised" is that we will make it through if we are faithful and allow grace to seep into our beings. It always makes me sad when people ask why God could allow things to happen. Free will is free will. And bad things are going to happen to us. It always reminds me of that quote, "To those who have faith, no explanation is needed. To those who don't, there is no explanation." For me, it is that sense of peace in knowing that I am not in control and that things will work out as they are supposed to. Period. My task is to learn and grow from every experience and to learn to trust that I can have peace in my soul.


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