A Spiritual Connoisseur

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

The one who is not with me is against me. The one who does not gather with me scatters.  Luke 11

I’m having some trouble with the readings today. In some ways, they reflect the morning – gray, grim, unwelcoming. We’ve had several overcast days and I’m ready for the sun to return.

The readings reflect the grimness of commandments and judgments. And both were written to communities which were scattered or in exile. Luke was writing in Greek to a wide-flung audience about 85 ACE. Jeremiah, who lived in a time of great crisis, was writing during the early 600 BCE era when leading citizens of Israel were sent into exile and Jerusalem in ruin.

In Jeremiah, God is purported to complain about the people who have “stiffened their necks” and where “faithfulness has disappeared.” In Luke, Jesus is purported to say that those who are not with him are against him.

These are the kinds of passages that give the holy a bad name. It’s sort of like saying to children, “the bogyman’s going to get you if you aren’t good.” They are also the kinds of passages that have justified centuries of abuse by people who called themselves Christians.

Is it any wonder people turn away from organized religion when there is this kind of judgment while at the same time being exhorted not to judge?

Tomorrow’s reading says “Love your neighbor as yourself.” How are these conflicting notions of living supposed to be reconciled without going to the historical context?

My experience of the God-Within does not contain judgment.  My experience of the holy has a peace and a comfort and a clarity. The judgment I’ve experienced in my life also comes from within. And judgment in others or in written rules justifies unkind actions.

How do we reconcile the contradictions? Do we become cafeteria-Christians, taking only that which appeals to our tastes; or do we become connoisseurs, learning, testing, using ingredients with care?

How do we reconcile contradictions in people? Must we be “all things to all people” or is it possible to be a connoisseur of living and choose our responses with care, to gather in those lost and offer hope? 

Every Lent, it seems, if we’re paying attention, we get to review and recommit to releasing actions that do not serve us anymore. How’s your list doing? Are tension and anger, judgment and righteousness replacing compassion and peace? Today might be a good day to recommit to the journey, recommit to peace, and become once again a connoisseur of how we respond to one another.

6 thoughts on “A Spiritual Connoisseur

    1. You’re very kind – and thanks for the Versatile Blogger Award!! How cool is that.

      So what’s the rules here – I nominate others and tell something about myself? Is that how it works?

  1. OK, Honest, I had not read this when I responded to yesterday’s post, but Janet Taylor’s comment hits the core of the same issue.
    I certainly prefer the analogy of being a connoisseur, but still the question remains, am I rejecting brocolli that’s good for me but I personally dislike, or am I just choosing between equally nutritious grains?

    1. Dan and Janet: Your questions yesterday and today are valid. Thank you.

      First of all, we have to remember that the Bible is composed by many different writers over many centuries. And all writers, whether inspired by spirit or not, have personal agendas. For me, it’s important to know “the rest of the story.” In other words, I have to know what’s behind a particular passage.

      The fact that the Bible has been translated and retranslated from translations as well as from the original (whatever “original” means) also changes the way we view scripture. For example, is there really any “literal” meaning? Did the story we are reading even happen?

      New Testament scholars compar the gospels to see if an incident that is said Jesus did or said shows up in any other gospel. If it shows up three times, the scholars say it likely happened or Jesus likely said it.

      In the Hebrew scriptures, it’s much the same. Scholars go back to the early writings. They compare the “ages” of edits: Yahwaist, the Elohist, Priestly Tradition, Deutero Tradition, etc. For example, the creation story in Genesis is really two stories, and the second – God taking Adam’s rib and forming Eve – was inserted by the priests during the Priestly Tradition.

      The finds in the jars at Qumran, which are the oldest of most documents we have existant, give scholars material to compare from documents that are 2,000 years old.

      The paperback “Catholic Study Bible” is a great resource for some of the latest scholarship which is relatively unbiased – although it is done by Roman Catholic scholars – and it’s a lot cheaper than the “Jerome Biblical Commentary.”

      But most important, it seems to me, is to remember that words, in themselves, have no meaning. They are symbols of thought. And those symbols, even if translated literally, change from century to century, religion to religion.

      Just as one cannot become a connoisseur of food without some kind of an education, one has to become educated to read the Bible, avoiding literal thinking or metaphorical thinking or Roman Catholic thinking alone, but rather allowing this “soup” of ideas have their own flavors and their own distinct place.

      And even with all of that, we can only get close to the original thinking, we cannot know what it is. We can only think, read, use what we can when we can, and leave the other for another time. For example, I’ve been thinking about “the one who does not gather with me scatters” regarding some challenging confrontations with students over the last ten days. I stood my ground and had the backing I needed, but I also wanted to remember they were humans with human problems and fears – so after the confrontation, if I could return us all to peace, that was a plus. And so far, the gathering seems to have worked. And so did making them understand that I made the rules in class! i.e. work with me not against me.

      And sometimes you just have to leave broccoli for another day….

  2. This post is extremely powerful for me. I struggle with how to accept the Bible as all when some parts are so difficult to embrace. Instead of a connoisseur, I feel like a picky eater… Can I justify accepting some and not all? The Fillmores took the whole book and encouraged us to read it metaphysically, looking at the historical stories as metaphors for our lives and our consciousness. It seems capricious that we choose to read some passages literally and others metaphorically, or to accept some and reject others. What is the definition of being a Christian? Thanks so much for your great insight!

    1. Thanks, Janet. I responded both to you and to Dan – who commented right below you – in a long post you might want to read. Sort of like a reflection on a reflection – or ‘the rest of the story’ as Paul Harvey used to say.

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