The three year olds are throwing around the theology these days.
My three year old has been asking lots of interesting questions lately. This morning, as we were crossing the reservoir it was, “Why do bridges hold up?” Yesterday it was, “Why do we not float away into space like balloons?” Good questions baby. Last week she asked, in tears, “Where are we when we die? Where does our breathing go? Will the earth die? I don’t want the earth to die. I don’t want to die. I want to bring life to the earth!” (Seriously…..I’m not even glossing that. It was intense. I’m not even sure where this all came from….I’m pretty sure Paw Patrol doesn’t cover this stuff….)
However it came about in her mind, it was the breathing question that hooked me. And her desire for life. Somehow she knows, she intuitively put together that breath is essential to life, that they are connected. That something without breath is without life. And that her breath is connected to the earth being alive…..
And then last night I was flipping through some old books, thinking about how we read the bible, and came across this bit by Brian McLaren in reference to 2 Timothy 3:16 which is the “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful so that the man or woman of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work,” passage.
“What is meant by God-breathed or inspired? God’s breath is associated, from the 1st verses of the bible with creativity and life-giving vitality. In Genesis 1, again and again, God breathes out: “Let there be…..” And God’s creative breath gives permission to whatever possibility (light, trees, fish, people) to become actual…..to actually come into being. In this primal, sacred narrative, the creative breath of God is associated with God’s life-giving Spirit who first moves over the chaos of the waters so they yield their creative possibilities and eventually teem with life, and who then enters humanity, making each person “a living soul” or a living person. To say Scripture is God-breathed is, then, to elicit this primal language of creation.”
God wanted life. God wanted his words to bring life. If something has life, it is dynamic, moving, flexible not rigid. It is growing, changing and developing according to its purpose – its set out DNA. It is reacting, it is initiating. It is interpreting, assessing, and making decisions on the world around it. It is interpreting its own self – that is to say, a living thing is connecting with the world, connecting with itself and then making conclusions, consciously or unconsciously, on how to proceed.
I think of how we read scripture. We often read it, or were taught to read it, like a wall, like a concrete foundation that we then build upon. And I can see that yes there is something bedrock about how scripture could come to reveal what underlies our lives. But its foundationalism is not in the snippets of instruction written thousands of years ago. When we try to read it that way and find ourselves mired in unhelpful arguments about head coverings, women speakers, or shellfish and picking grains of wheat on the Sabbath. Its foundationalism and its authority lies in the fact that it is a story. A long story. God’s long story. A long arc, drawn across the stretch of the universe. It is our story. Its foundationalism resides in the fact that it is the breath which lives inside of that story that is the breath that gives us our very ability to live out our own stories. The commands, the laws, the exiles, the cry of the prophets, the disciples, the early church and personal instruction therein – these are all a vital part of the story. Together they tell us what life with God was like for people then, what the character of that God was and is and always will be and because it is a true story, it resonates. We recognize it as our story. We recognize ourselves in David’s desires, in Isaiah’s call for justice. We recognize ourselves in the women at the well, in Peter’s denial, in the groups of believers that have to keep relearning and unlearning and relearning again what it is to know God together. We recognize this story because it is given life by the same breath that speaks life into the darkness we know very, very well.
It is a story of the loving creation of a whole world. I think of how I touch my babies’ faces when they sleep, I hold their soft cheeks with my cupped hands, drained from the sassiness of the day, these faces are still, their sleep bringing restoration. Their breathing is quiet but constant. I think of God cupping the face of his creation, that love, that wonder, that care. I think of how the story starts. With His life, his very word, breathing breath into his world, his universe. I think of how the story links our beginnings, our first steps, our createdness and our ability to create. And the story moves on – We find ourselves and our remarkable ability to miss the mark at the center of this story. We read this story, ingrained onto our own hearts in the details, the history, real and alive – awful details, horrible and violent. God’s story is told in the midst of a creation coming to terms with itself and coming to see where their true heart lies. God’s story of him and us is told through the culture of a people, much like it is still told through ours and other cultures today. And this is the way he wanted it. All our understanding about Him comes THROUGH our very specific, peculiar cultures. None of us stands outside of that or outside of the biases and assumptions that being a human born into a culture necessarily brings to our understanding of God.
I think of how the story goes through an arc of drama, tension, beauty, failure. I think of how at all points this is a story about how love breaks through our expectations and draws us back to where we were meant to be. I think of how this story is still being written. And that’s where this breath idea hits me hard. The story of God and us, as revealed in the bible, is a story that is not over. It is not static. It is not a concrete pad that we pile big, impregnable boulders upon. It is alive. It is God-breathed. It is growing and developing according to its purpose: its purpose being to tell and retell the story of God and us. Even now. As these old, old words are read by people who bring their own unique perspective to the world, these old, old words are being breathed into over and over bringing new understanding, making sense to new generations – sometimes with different results (we now generally look down on slavery and that’s because we re-interpreted scripture and because we looked at the big story – not the cultural details about masters and slaves. We all seem to recognize now that slavery, in any form, doesn’t fit with the big story God is continually writing even though its well supported by the writings we call God’s word). They are being given a chance to breathe out their life into new lives, new situations, new contexts, new peculiar humans just trying to find their heart.
There is a word that I’ve said is my favorite word – incarnational. We talk about the Scandal of the Incarnation. How unfathomable it is that the breath that keeps this universe growing was the breath of Jesus of Nazareth. How the cosmic and eternal power of The Creator was brought into distinct and empowered expression in Jesus of Nazareth and how this man’s personality, his family, his decisions, his talents were all brought to bear in the flowering of The Christ. The doctrine of the Incarnation is an old, hard fought one that we hardly give thought to. But it is a doctrine that absolutely validates our right to be human, our status as good creations, our part of the story. A dear friend of mine says that creation – this physical and alive world and our physical and alive humanness in it – is not the setting in which our souls have to transverse. It is THE main character in this story. It is the subject of His absolute majesty. And then that God became man tells us that it is good to be a human, it is good to sleep, good to eat, good to need a home, need family, need to work, need to belong. Creator, redeemer – they are the same and they were there at the beginning as they will be there together at the end. These are part of our design as good creations – they are what make us His.
I think about how God has chosen, over and over, to work within the particularities of a people. How He has chosen to become so entwined with his creation, that he would let himself be known through relationships, through the music different cultures create, through different cultural artifacts and quirks. He chooses this because He values our fleshed out humanness. He more than values our humanness; it is central to how and who He is. He is all about His creation.
In very real ways, understanding our faith incarnationally will change us. It allows us to value the things that make us real and whole humans – good food, good sleep, good sexuality, good family, good songs, good stories, good learning, good growing. Knowing that God lives his redemption through a human body allows us to reclaim our bodies. To take them back from hatred and mistrust to wholeness and healing and value and enjoyment. We do not have to hate our bodies to love God. As we come into love with God more and more, we will begin to treat our bodies as beloved. We will come to treat our own minds with care and love and welcome. What the fall did in part was separate us from God by separating us from our bodies, ourselves. What God did in Jesus was bring us back to the pulse of God’s heart by bringing us back to ourselves, our very real bodies, our very real stories. That is why we remember him WHENEVER we eat or drink. That is why we are His body – every part valuable and working together.
Our Christian faith is an incarnational one. At least it could be – if we let it. We could be whole, body, soul, spirit. We could walk through the hard stuff of our lives trusting that the way we were made – vulnerable and in need of sleep and care and real bread – was actually the way home. The path to that wholeness might be a long one and it might be winding. It might be one that we never come to the end of. But it is our promise. And in His amazing mercy and amazing love for us and astounding delight in us, he even lets the hard parts, the damaged parts, the broken parts, the parts we wrecked or that were sliced through by others, become the places of healing and true flowering of grace for others and maybe even our own hearts. And that might be a path that takes years and years and years to walk up.
Living out an incarnational faith. This is a big subject. One that plays out into every part of our lives. Our relationships with our earth, our food. Our relationship with our families, our relationships with ourselves, our bodies and our emotions. Understanding our faith incarnationally will change how we read, digest and interpret scripture, how we read, interpret and move within our culture. How we deal with birth, how we deal with death, how we deal with grief and with suffering. How we encounter one another, The Other, the hurting, the brokenhearted, the refugee, the orphan, the weird kid who makes everyone really uncomfortable.
So for today, I am thinking about what living incarnationally does to my understanding of scripture. And what I think this means in my everyday bible reading is this: I enter into these words, expecting them to reach me here and now. I enter the scriptures and understand that I am entering into my story. A big one. That I may understand differently in a few years. The scriptures are alive. They are not static. And not one of us truly lives as if they are. I enter the words knowing that they were written, not by God without human affect and not by humans without the inbreaking of the in-spirit-ation of God, without his breath bringing it into form and sound and life. The living word. The incarnated word.
Just as God chose to bring himself to his world through a particular person, a particular community, in a particular time, with all the culture and the worldview that gave an individual, so he chose to work in our words like this. He chose to work and breathe within the very particular lens of interpretation each group on earth works within. And this makes a difference. It will make a difference in how we approach scripture and to how we approach each other. We, in this age, with this privilege, do not have the handle on interpretation. We are just the most recent in a long line of people who have had to work out their faith within the confines of what they knew to be true. In 1000 or even 100 years, what will be different about what we understand about scripture. How will the dialogue we have with it be different. If anything, understanding scripture incarnationally will give us humble pause and will cause us to look up more than we lash out.
And it will allow us to understand those that see things differently than us are not evil, but have had a different incarnational experience and see things differently. We will interpret differently. That doesn’t mean we can’t work to bring levels of awareness to each other. And that doesn’t mean it’s a free for all and any way of understanding goes. It does mean that we gauge everything by The Incarnated Word. It does mean that we have to choose to love the individual in front of us with all the honesty we have – if only because we recognize that none of us has the full picture. We need eachother to fill it in. We need to listen for course correction and for that which resonates with our own heart as it is being called by our Creator. We need each other to incarnate the word for us more fully, more in- love-ly. And as with anything that has to do with actual love for each other, this process is way harder, way longer, way less susceptible to the forces of power and control that have always fed our worst nature. Living and interpreting incarnationally is hard work because it won’t let you remain unchanged by the person opposite you. But its work that will always leave you more full and more open and more in love with the world that you are a part of breathing life into.
My three year old baby – she’s funny and weird and full of very loud life. She is full-on. And she knows that her breath is her life. And she knows that her breath is connected to the breath of the world. She knows it instinctively. She knows it because she has been living for 3 years and is growing according to her own DNA, developing into her incarnated expression of our Living God. And so are you and so are your kids. Lets teach them to read their lives and the lives of those around them with a love for the God who expresses through them. Lets teach them to read their own stories and the story of the world and the long story of faith in such a way that they are allowed to breathe into it even as it breathes into them. Do not let us forget that this is a living story, ever changing, ever growing, ever learning, ever developing according to its purpose, its DNA, which is to tell and retell the story of God and us. Father, help us to always hold in front of ourselves the incarnation of you – your very word – in one another. Because this is how you do it – fully fleshed, dynamic, creative and growing.
Living word, breathe life to the world today…..and even, and maybe especially, to the three year olds.