Skip to main content

lessons from university - part two

The first round of Christmas gatherings have passed. It has been a great chance to interact with people that we see a few times a year, and in the case of some, once every few years. One thing that I have noticed in all the family activities is how often we don't really understand the other. Small things are assumed or left unsaid and this can lead to misunderstandings. Just today, Dean said he would pick me up at a certain door at the mall at a specific time. I arrived at the correct time and waited just inside the door, watching for him. Unknown to me, he drove by a few minutes before I arrived, didn't see me, and parked just out of sight, waiting for me to come out the door. After about 10 minutes, I decided to call him and it was then that we discovered that we had both been waiting, but for different things. I had expected him to drive by the door and he had expected me to come out the door. We had not been clear on the details or who was to initiate contact once we were at the meeting place.

Another major lesson that I have learned in university (and will continue to learn) is that clarity is vital to understanding and being understood, not only in the realm of knowledge, but in any good relationship. When I grade essays, it is relatively easy to spot a student who has done their assignment the night before and hasn't really taken the time to organise their thoughts. There is a jerky or fuzzy style to the writing because they have not discarded the unnecessary information in order to let the main idea stand out clearly. The essay is often an unwieldy mess of words that makes little sense and has no identifiable point. A lack of clarity means that there is a lack of understanding. It becomes fairly easy to tell the difference between someone who comprehends a subject and someone who is regurgitating information, but trying to make it sound pretty.

In reading Exodus 34 this week, I realised that I have not clearly understood what the covenant words were for (the gist of this covenant is often identified as the ten commandments in Exodus 20). I assumed the commands defined the covenant and had to be obeyed or else bad things would happen; I saw them as directives that revealed a strict and hard-to-please God, tired of people who just didn't get it. In fact, this interpretation is a misreading of the words in the text. We tend to identify the basic theme of godliness as being summed up in the ten commandments, as if the life of one who is devoted to God could be reduced to 10 easy steps. But that is not what the writer is trying to say, in my opinion.

Right in the middle of giving these commands or covenant words (scattered throughout much of Exodus and Leviticus), God identifies himself in this way: God, God, a God of mercy and grace, endlessly patient—so much love, so deeply true—loyal in love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. Still, he doesn't ignore sin (from Exodus 34, The Message). These words are meant to keep the reader from seeing the lists of instructions as just so many rules to be followed by rote. These lists are not arbitrary directives from a controlling and self-obsessed deity. I believe they are meant to reflect the nature of a God that the people of Israel needed to get to know all over again: a merciful, gracious, patient, loving, and true God who is kind and yet does not turn a blind eye to evil (a complex intertwining of traits which we cannot fully comprehend). Someone much different from the tyrannical rulers they were used to in Egypt. Someone much different from the bloodthirsty gods of the pagans around them. Someone much different from the god they had conjured up with their fear and childish self-focus. This loving, patient God was showing them, in clear detail, what a people set apart looked like, what devotion looked like, what faithfulness looked like.

He was clarifying covenant for these people because they had forgotten what it meant to be a loving and devoted partner. Today, we still tend to use the word "command" more than "covenant" because we too have forgotten what it is to be a faithful companion and collaborator. We have to be shown again and again, by specific examples, what a covenant with a loving Creator looks like. And all too often we take these few examples and assume that this defines the covenant. We take the rules and commands we read (neglecting the important beginning, middle, and end bits that put it in the context of a much larger and all-encompassing covenant) and create a demanding disciplinarian version of God. We have taken God's offer of clarity - God's offer to see him, God's offer to come near and encounter him, God's offer to find out who he is - and muddied it by our penchant for a good list and a sorry distaste for mystery.
Let us look again at this God. Let us get to know him again, because I think we have forgotten what He is really like. God cannot be reduced to a Top Ten List.
This is a picture of the Christmas tree taken yesterday with my new camera: at twice the mega pixels as my old one, the clarity is astonishing!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

the songs we sing

NOTE: I am going to make some pretty strong statements below, but understand that it is my way of taking an honest, hard look at my own worship experience and practice. My desire is not to be overly critical, but to open up dialogue by questioning things I have assumed were totally fine and appropriate. In other words, I am preaching to myself. Feel free to listen in.

---------------------

When I am in a church meeting during the singing time, I sometimes find myself silent, unable to get the words past my lips. At times I just need a moment of stillness, time to listen, but other times, the words make me pause because I don't know that I can sing them honestly or with integrity. This is a good thing. We should never mindlessly or heartlessly sing songs just because everyone else is. We should care deeply about what we say in our sung, communal worship.

At their best, songs sung by the gathered body of Christ call to life what is already in us: the hope, the truth, the longing, t…

comedic timing

One of my favourite jokes goes like this:
Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Interrupting cow
Interrupting cow w---
Moooooooo!!

Timing is important in both drama and comedy. A well-paced story draws the audience in and helps it invest in the characters, while a tale too hastily told or too long drawn out will fail to engage anyone. Surprise - something which interrupts the expected - is a creative use of timing and integral to any good story. If someone is reading a novel and everything unfolds in a predictable manner, they will probably wonder why they bothered reading the book. And so it is in life. Having life be predictable all of the time is not as calming as it sounds. We love surprises, especially good surprises like birthday parties, gifts, marriage proposals, and finding something that we thought was lost. Surprises are an important part of humour. A good joke is funny because it goes to a place you didn't expect it to go. Similarly, comedic timing allows something unexpected …

singing lessons

When I was a young child, a visiting preacher came to our country church. He brought his two daughters with him, and before he gave his sermon, they sang beautiful duets about Jesus. They had lovely voices which blended well. The preacher, meaning to impress on us their God-given musical talent, mentioned that the girls had never had any singing lessons. The congregation nodded and ooohhed in appreciation. I was puzzled. I didn't understand how not learning was a point of grace or even pride. After all, people who have natural abilities in sports, math, writing, art, or science find it extremely helpful to study under teachers who can aid them in their development and introduce them to things outside their own experience. Being self-taught (though sometimes the only option available to those with limited resources) is not a cause for pride or celebration. Why? Because that's just not how the communal, relational Creator set things up.

I have been singing since I was a child. …