Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wounded Creatures Grappling with the Truth

Human beings do not perceive of things whole; we are not gods, but wounded creatures, cracked lenses, capable only of fractured perception. Partial beings, in all the senses of that phrase. Meaning is a shaky edifice we build out of scraps, dogmas, childhood injuries, newspaper articles, chance remarks, old films, small victories, people hated, people loved; perhaps it is because our sense of what is the case is constructed from such inadequate materials that we defend it so fiercely, even to death.

Rushdie, Salman. "Imaginary Homelands." The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin. London: Routledge Publishers, 2006. 428-434.

In this article, Rushdie writes about the fragmented identity of the British-Indian writer. He refers to our memories as the pieces of broken mirrors. Each piece is valuable, but they don't often make a unified whole. Over the past months, I've become aware of how fragmented my perception is, especially in terms of how I understand and interpret Scripture. My mind is small and incapable of sussing out all of the understatements and subtleties of Salman Rushdie's work. And that's something being that the sussing out the understatements and subtleties of literature is what I do the best. If this is true, I reason, how much more incapable of understanding Scripture am I? Surely, the Holy Spirit guides me and provides meaning, but to be frank, that's why I'm good at interpreting literature. The Holy Spirit enables me to do it. Why? I frankly have no idea. But he does. It must serve his purpose. How thrilling it is to know that God's purposes aren't always practical. Sometimes, he just goes for aesthetic pleasure. Amen.

But all that is beside the point. My point is that I still believe Scripture is God-breathed. But, I can't wrap my mind around it. Surely, I accept what must be my responsibility to try to learn and understand and apply, but at the end of the day, I'm just not able to do it completely. When I read T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, and especially when I try to teach it or explain it, I feel comfortable understanding something. Making meaning of something. However so small. It is understood that it really isn't possible to understand it as a whole. This is true of Scripture. To understand this and to try must be faith.

The application of all this to me is the undermining of spiritual pride. The idea that one individual, or group of individuals, can corner truth is the idea that prevents truth from being fully expressed in certain congregations. I shudder, for this reason, at the thought of ever again pledging to place myself under the discipline of a group of elders. I think doing this as an adult was a serious mistake on my part. I feel that I didn't, at that moment, understand that it is enough to submit myself in humility to all of my brothers and sisters as the scripture commands. I think to submit myself to a small group of men was idolatry. I really do. I am sorry that I did it. I am glad I could undo it. (This is such a hard issue for me. I don't pretend to fully understand what I think I'm figuring out. I just know that it feels really creepy and wrong. But then again, fractured memories and all that.)

Because, at the end of the day, our understanding of Scripture is subject to all of the abuses of which our fragmented minds can conceive. We see, as Paul said, dimly as in a mirror. How can we truly be in positions of leadership unless we are on our faces before God daily begging for mercy? Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy on me and on my priest who is worthy of my respect and who I believe to be called of you, but is at the end of the day, made of dust. Not many should presume to be leaders. Yet many do. Some things we can know. Yet many more remain hidden.

My prayer is that my confidence in Christ will be tempered with his humility and that I might speak the truth I know boldly, yet shrink from speaking my presumptions lightly.


Elisa M said...

I really liked this. thanks for posting

susan said...

I had to write some more about it. Hope you like that part, too. I should copy the whole piece for you.