Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Different Way

A little over ten years ago someone handed me a CD with a sermon on it and said, "listen to this."  I put it in my backpack and forgot about it for a few weeks. I pulled it out though one day and popped it in my CD player and listened.

I was mesmerized. I listened to that sermon over and over again.

It was about Jesus and his disciples. It was about the Jewish understanding of "rabbi." It was about who this group of men were before they followed Jesus and who they were afterwards.

That sermon changed my life. Literally. I started believing different things about God and me. I didn't know it then, still deeply rooted in my conservative Bible-belt Christianity, but that message made me look at the Bible differently.

Not long after that, I sat in the garage-turned-classroom of the college aged Sunday school class at my home church and listened to the teacher talk about scripture as a prism. How the ancient Jews viewed scripture that way, knowing that if you held it up to the light of truth, the colors would refract out in an array of angles, and if you turned it ever so slightly, the pattern would completely change.

And a few years later my heart got broken. By a boy, yes, but mostly by God.  I had been as in love with the boy as I knew what love meant then, but I had trusted God. I had thought I heard God and ignored some warnings in my gut in favor of  the "divine guidance" I thought I heard. In favor of the "voice of God" I had learned to divine through years of pew-sitting and Bible-reading.

So when my heart got broken I was bruised and scarred by the boy for a season, prone to the habits and feelings most broken-hearts endure I am sure. But with God the brokenness felt like a shattering. Stained-glass perfection in a thousands shards that poked and pricked and drew blood no matter which way I stepped it seemed.

I sat in church pews with white knuckled grips on my Bible and left in the middle of more than one "just trust God" sermon.

The broken heart healed first, the shattered soul a while later. Neither are ever the same of course, but I kind of think that's a good thing.

Today, the preacher who preached that sermon on the CD is nationally known, though few knew who he was back in 2003.  He's known for a progressive view of Christianity. He probably gets called a heretic as often as he gets called a saint. I don't agree with all of his views and have never heard another of his sermon's that changed me the way that first did, but that's ok. I needed that first one.

In the years where I struggled to stay committed to a God who I thought had failed me, I kept trying to turn that prism and see the light a different way. It took a while, but I finally got it to move a bit, finally saw another possibility. It didn't wipe away hurt, but it brought some healing.

I am thankful for that now-controversial preacher and for my Sunday school teacher - for daring to suggest that there were other ways to see God, to see scripture, to see myself. I didn't "need" the message on those days, but God preserved the truth in my soul and they served as strings gently tugging me back, holding me tight, during the years when nothing made sense.


  1. I'm curious to who was on the cd lol I do have a question (surprise lol) because I'm not sure I am understanding what you are saying correctly. When you say Scripture is a prism that changes depending on how you look at it are you saying you don't believe on absolute truth? Or that truth changes and everyone may have their own truth depending on which way they turn Scripture?

    1. in regards to the prism concept - I think the best thing I can do is use examples. Biblical passages refer to "sunrise" and "sunset" - the ancient world literally believed the sun moved. Today we understand that term and what they meant and that it (as we still use those terms) reference our perspective rather than reality. This doesn't diminish the truth, but it adds insight to our understanding. Similarly - passages that mention "the pillars of the earth" likely refer to the belief that the earth rested on pillars. Again, that was their understanding of the cosmos and today we accept that as metaphorical or read it in is historical and literary context. The relationship between masters and slaves in the scripture is another example of where today's Christians view those passages from a different "angle of the prism" than Christians of the past have. I'd say some (many) of those specific previous "angles" are against God's will. On a personal level, sometimes I read a passage and it "means" or teaches me one thing and I can read the same passage the next day or ten years later and it "means" something different - I've turned the prism, seen a new light. In the time between perhaps I experienced something new, have a better understanding of the context, etc. Doesn't necessarily mean that the first or the second are wrong - just that there are multiple truths to learn. I think that wording is in tension with the term "absolute truth" and all the connotations that phrase has in Christian culture - but I don't think it has to be.

    2. I can relate to reading a verse once, and reading it again and learning more each time. Thank you for expanding. I guess what I meant was do you believe is can Scripture have two views that are both true that conflict with one another?

    3. Oh, and do you think it's more important to trust self than to trust God or that we shouldn't trust God as much as some people say we should? Sorry for all the questions! I just like to fully understand the message someone is trying to share :)

    4. " I guess what I meant was do you believe is can Scripture have two views that are both true that conflict with one another?"

      One example: The way Judas died is recorded differently in Matthew 27 (he hung himself) and Acts 1 (he fell). They seem/are contradictory. Is one right and one wrong? Are they both describing the same event in different ways? Are they both inspired, authoritative scripture? If the Holy Word of God contains such confusing things in black and white. The tension with that question makes it hard for me to answer your question with any certainty.

      "Oh, and do you think it's more important to trust self than to trust God or that we shouldn't trust God as much as some people say we should"

      I think we should trust God . . but I have a hard time separating "trusting myself" from that equation. On some level I am trusting my judgment in deciding to trust God. Which understanding of God do I trust? He's been illustrated and explained in countless ways - on some level my understanding of scripture, Christian tradition, and authority all influence my "trust of God" Some Christians refuse medical care on the basis that they are "trusting God" - - does my use of medicine mean I am trusting myself? Are the people who refuse medical care doing a better job at trusting God? So the simple answer is "Of course, trust God!" but the more complicated one is "what does that even mean?"

  2. Thank you for sharing.

  3. thanks for the comment, April!