I love to learn.
My oldest son gets it from me. When he was a toddler, he asked my mother-in-law, his “Nana,” to make a “little case q” out of play dough. Most kids would ask for animals or other shapes. Aiden asked for letters. He learned to read at age 3. He already knew all the sight words they would be learning before he ever set foot in his kindergarten classroom.
When I was younger my mom couldn’t bring home enough non-fiction books for me to read. Among my favorite shows were Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy. I was a star student on our Bible Bowl team at church. When we would visit other churches, I answered questions in Bible class that the regulars didn’t know.
One time I was sent out into the hallway at school for correcting my English teacher too much.
Both of my parents have been educators their whole lives, so I guess you could say it’s in my DNA.
My interest in the Bible, Christianity, and Religion in general is a HUGE part of who I am. I love to learn. I love to be challenged. I love to see things from new and different perspectives. I love learning about and discussing religion, faith, Christianity, science, sociology, politics, etc.
This makes my task as a minister both awesome and frustrating.
On the one hand, I get paid to do what I love and what I am called to do. The church supports me and gives me the space to study, learn, grow, develop, and then teach what I’ve learned to others. I can’t see myself doing anything else. One of the best feelings in the world is to see someone finally get it.
On the other hand, it can be incredibly frustrating – like can’t fall asleep, high blood pressure, bad mood all day frustrating. Because as a minister, it’s my daily task to study and grow. I take seriously the charge Paul makes to Timothy, “Study to show yourself approved…rightly handling the Word of God.” And my job is one of the only ones to come with a warning in Scripture when James tells us that not many of us should become teachers, because we’ll receive a stricter judgment.
The frustrating bit comes when members of the church pour water on the fire. They’ve been taught one thing when they were kids and haven’t grown or pivoted one inch in many decades. They have a very limited understanding of Scripture and are truly unwilling to be taught. They approach Scripture with the mindset of “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” They’re unwilling to do the hard work, the noble work (Acts 17) of examining the Scriptures to see if what they have been taught and are currently being taught is true.
I resonate with these words from Hebrews:
About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.
(Hebrews 5:11-14, NRSV)
I’m not even talking about knowing basic Bible facts. I don’t care if you know all the facts about a story if you miss the big-picture truth within that story. For instance, you may know all the details about the messy business between Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. You may be able to tell me that Sarah put Hagar up to it. You may be able to tell me that Sarah began to get super jealous of Hagar after she had Ishmael. You may be able to tell me that Sarah made Hagar’s life a living hell until she ran away into the desert.
But you can miss the significance of a dark-skinned, African, fugitive sex-slave being the first person in all of Scripture to give God a name. God pursues Hagar and reassures her, comforts her, and she responds, “I have seen the God who sees me.” God is the God Who Sees – the minorities, the slaves, the poor, the runaways, the sex workers, the marginalized, the oppressed.
There is no one right way to read the Bible. That kind of thinking would be completely foreign to the Jewish Rabbis. They talked about “turning the diamond” of Scripture in order to see the beauty in every angle. They learned through debate and argument in community. The name “Israel” means those who wrestle with God, and that’s what the Hebrew Scriptures are – a collection of writings arguing about and wrestling with God.
Jesus comes along and settles those arguments. That doesn’t mean we’re free from the wrestling today. Each generation must do the hard work for themselves to discover the depths of Truth for their own time and place.
Can the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch inform how the church treats members of the LGBTQ community?
Can Jesus’ answer about taxes transform our political allegiances today?
Can the story of the Good Samaritan shape our understanding of social justice, civil rights, and racism?
Can the minor prophets speak to the way we view the Second Amendment?
When it’s all said and done, I want to be a part of a church where you walk through the parking lot and see a jacked-up diesel truck with a Confederate flag license plate parked next to a Prius with Pride stickers – and both owners are welcomed, both owners are challenged, and both owners meet with Jesus.
I’m tired of the church spinning its wheels. I’m tired of people who haven’t done any serious study in decades throwing water on the fire of those who are passionate about building the Kingdom in the 21st Century. I’m tired of Christians who are more informed by cable news than by the Gospels.
We need the wisdom to know what’s biblical and what’s cultural. We need the wisdom to know when to act and when to wait. But we also need the wisdom to follow the Spirit’s guidance into deeper understanding and insight. We must be willing to be made uncomfortable for the sake of the kingdom.
When I was in high school I remember getting into a discussion/debate with some of my friends. I grew up in a really conservative part of the Bible belt in very traditional churches of Christ. I raised the hypothetical to them: If a man is a faithful baptized believer who loves Jesus, serves others, and does all the Christian-y things, and he attends a church that is active and faithful except they use instruments in their worship – will that man go to hell because of it?
Because of the way we were taught and raised, my friends said yes.
That’s when I knew this was a journey I was going to have to make without them. I’m not interested in assigning people to hell. I’m not interested in a branch of Christianity that is known for what we’re against. I’m not interested in playing those Pharisee games.
I’m interested in doing the hard work, to learn, to grow, to discover, to be inspired, to dive deep. And I’m interested in holding all things loosely except for Christ.
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
(1 Corinthians 2:2)
I want to learn everything….but know nothing….except Christ.