Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

they covered their ears...

Here's Stephen in Acts 7: "You men wo are stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always reisisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which on of the prophets did you fathers not persecute?..."

Here's the educated religious elite:
Now when they heard this, there were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him...(and they) cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.

Does anyone else find the dark humor in this?

"You never listen!" comes the complaint?

"Oh yeah... well... damn you..." (sounds of gnashing teeth) (loud sounds of 'crying out') (covering of the ears so as not to hear anymore from this one whose face shone like an angel) (sound of rocks hitting flesh and bone as your victim prays for God to forgive you).

When someone accuses you of not listening and your response is to cover your ears, it seems that the argument is over, and we've a pretty good idea who is standing on the side of truth.

This is all very important actually, because Acts 7 is a "tale of two versions" of the Old Testament narrative; one by the religious establishment, and the other by a waiter who belongs to a new cult. The establishment has a lot of things going for it - seminary education; letters behind their names; authority in a long line of gatekeepers who guarded the truth; and and access to a few rocks.

The other guy has come out of nowhere, and through numerous conversations is giving rise to the notion that existing traditions might not be as important as originally thought, and that the temple might not be the only place in the world where God shows up.

When confronted, he tells the same Old Testament story that the good 'ol boys club clearly loves, only he puts a different spin on it, indicating that the narrative is really talking less about how favored Israel is, how victimized they've been, and how holy their temple is, and more about how Israel consistently rejected God's leaders when those leaders called for movement.

Joseph? Rejected.
Moses? Rejected.
Prophets? Rejected.

...and now, along comes Jesus. Of course. Rejected. It's in keeping with the theme.

His version makes a lot of sense and would be easy to believe, except the guys rejecting the truth had long robes and fancy hats, degrees, and used the very same Bible that foretold the coming of the Messiah they crucified. In other words, they had all the commonly accepted signs of being holy.

I wonder, as I read this, how often I cover my ears today? Do I cover them when a libertarian tells me that God favors deregulation of all government entities? I cringe, but will I at least listen, and try to hear something meaningful before firing back, or do I cover my ears? Do I cover my ears when the right says that women shouldn't be in leadership and that there are clearly established gender roles in the home? Do I cover my ears when the left says that maybe it's high time we supported gay people being in covenant relationships rather than just shouting at them, and they offer me their interpretation of the Bible to prove it? Will I listen, or label, and cover my ears?

All through the history of God's people, God has had to peel away blinders that have prevented us from seeing right and living well, whether it was freeing us from dietary constraints in Acts 10, or freeing us from 'Biblically sanctioned' slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries.

James says we should be "quick to hear and slow to speak"

Jesus' complaint with the religious establishment was that though they had eyes, they didn't see.

What? Are you afraid I'm advocating an abdication of convictions? Far from it. In fact, by carefully considering what differing views have to say, and offer, I find myself continuing to grow more and more into what I consider to be more solidly grounded convictions, precisely because they been nuanced, altered, tested, and strengthened through engaging conversations with those who think differently.

When I listen, really listen, I not only learn; I dignify the other. This too is vital.

I wish I had time to offer you some links for this post, but it's a very busy week. Maybe you could share some verses to which I'm referring in the comments section, along with your answer to the question: Do you think evangelicals cover their ears too much? Why or why ont?


At 26/2/09 10:06, Blogger Unknown said...

There is no clearer a picture of how we have covered our ears and closed ourselves off to revelation than in how we, as evangelicals, interact with the Divine Spirit. In many ways, we behave as though the Spirit is either dead or mute, that everything that ever could be revealed has been revealed, that it was all recorded in scripture, and that the best we can do is try to do the best we can do while hunkering down and waiting for the second coming. We've taken the teachings of Jesus and the apostles and made them into a new law, a new rigid structure against which we can form our identity and God help you should you ever call into question the integrity of that structure. God help you if you ever suggest that the Spirit is saying something new about race and class, God help you if you suggest that the Spirit is saying something new about gender and sexuality. I desire that we more courageously ask hard questions about the religious tradition that we have inherited and stewarded, that we seek to live in the midst of that question. If God so hates homosexuality, how do we explain the preponderance of homosexuals that absolutely love God and feel called to that identity by the presence of the Divine Spirit? The best that I can do right now is say that I don't know; the Spirit is working in ways that I do not understand, but comprehension in absolute was not what I was called to and is not integral to obedience in faith to the will of God.

At 26/2/09 16:51, Blogger Donte said...

I’m beginning to view theology as more discourse than doctrinal discipline. I’m not sure if this is just part of the natural progression in my spiritual journey, or my postmodern leaning. That being said, I still believe that there are nonnegotiable tenets of the Christian faith (namely Christ being God).

Of course the divinity of Christ is not a point of contention for modern Christians; we struggle to listen to one another when discussing the more nuanced elements of our faith, a few of which you already mentioned. I’d like to believe that I am truly open eared, open hearted, and open minded when discussing some of the more gradated distinctions within our faith, however my willingness to listen varies depending on the severity of disagreement. As the contention moves closer and closer to an ideology that I deem nonnegotiable, the degree to which I am willing to listen diminishes.

Is this okay? When can we simply rebuke, as Paul instructs Titus (1:10-13) to do?

At 26/2/09 18:07, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As the contention moves closer and closer to an ideology that I deem nonnegotiable, the degree to which I am willing to listen diminishes." Well said Donte. I would suggest that we hold to the truth of Yeshua being God in our hearts but not our ears. Otherwise, we will not hear or be able to present the gospel to those who disagree.
There are things of which I am convinced which seem to others to be complete nonsense, and vica-versa.
The only headway I have ever made into the minds of those who see my faith as nonsense, is to enter every confrontation under the influence of the Holy Spirit of Yeshua, to listen to what they have to say with love and respect and then say whatever the Spirit leads me to say.
It never ceases to amaze me how far understanding can go when I use this formula, nor how much my understanding of theirs and my fallen and spiritual natures expands.
Wayne Bays.

At 27/2/09 02:51, Blogger Spiro said...

i really dig this post.

I had to read an article for school a couple years ago by Don Michael Hudson, and his last few lines have stuck with me: "Evangelicals are defending truth more than the are dancing with truth. We already believe in truth. Then let truth compel us to God and then propel us into the world. We cannot comprehend God. Then let us dance with God. We do not understand the other. Then let us dance with the other because our truth has set us free."

You might get lost in the 'dance' metaphor, but i love to dance, so i'm fond of it. :) We so often play the role of the defenders of truth, we hold tight to apologetics, (and trust me, 1 peter 3:15 rings in my ears) but why defend all the time? who or what are we defending? honestly it conjures up images of the crusades.

Richard, i liked what you said about dignifying the other by listening to them, without abandoning convictions. and really, i think that listening to 'the other' is (or should be) part of our convictions. There's a song that comes to mind, by pedro the lion, called "foregone conclusions" -- it's an intense critique on how Christians will "listen" but never change their mind. (hence, foregone conclusions.)

as for verses, what came to mind was james 1:19 (quick to listen, slow to speak) and the good ol' "love thy neighbor" business... because it begs the question: "who is my neighbor?" which brought the parable of the good Samaritan. (on a side note, all this seems such a contrast to 2 John 10 and 11. I'd like to hear responses from anyone about that.)


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