Archive for the ‘Study’ Category

Approaching The Study of the Bible

February 1, 2023

How do we approach the reading of the Bible? Any book, actually, but especially the Bible?

I try not to bring my prejudices and biases to my reading of the Bible; rather, I try to let the Bible speak to my prejudices and biases. At least, that is my goal.

A philosopher called Jacques Derrida thought that we cannot divorce any writing or reading from our prejudices. (Side note: I’ve been forever grateful that I ignored one of my English professor’s invitation to become an English major. They seemingly all became disciples of Derrida, which I am not.)

The early Christians read the Hebrew scriptures carefully and thoroughly. But they were not particularly interested in Jewish history or religion. They searched diligently for any mention of Jesus. Jewish scholars to this day are aghast at the interpretations that arose. But it satisfied the soul of the early Christians at the time.

But I wonder…do I search the Bible for sentences that reinforce my biases and prejudices? Am I searching for what Jesus is saying to me now, in my current situation? Am I searching for universal truth?

I just read through the Proverbs. I found many ideas that spoke clearly to me at this time in my life. I’ve read them before. But now there is perhaps deeper understanding.

I try to pause, open my heart and mind, and then read the thoughts there before me. Maybe that day something will open my eyes just a bit more and give me just a bit more of God’s Wisdom.

Asking More Questions

December 6, 2022

Wisława Szymborska, poet and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote, “Any knowledge that doesn’t lead to new questions quickly dies out: it fails to maintain the temperature required for sustaining life.”

I’ll admit, I have problems asking questions. On the other hand, I read something, and I wonder about it. Why did the author choose that series of words? What was the point? Wait, doesn’t that remind me of …..?

Too often we read something and stop. We take the words at face value. We don’t try to understand just what the writer was trying to tell us.

Doesn’t this often happen when reading the Bible? Do we assume the tone of the priest reading the Gospel at church? But when we are studying and trying for understanding, it is fair to ask:

Hey Luke, why did you include this story?

John, I don’t understand why you always talk about light and dark?

Paul, why do you use such confusing word plays?

Reading, Writing, Thinking

November 30, 2022

I missed a day here yesterday. I had an outpatient procedure that necessitated leaving home about 5:30 am. I blamed the condition on past workplace stress. More likely it was hereditary given a bit of family history of my brothers. Also likely not as much genetic as growing up in the same household. We had plenty of stress there.

Glad to report that the operation was successful. I can’t praise the people at Advocate Sherman hospital enough from the receptionist to the nurses, doctors and support staff. By the time I got home yesterday early afternoon, my LiveWell app had been updated with all the blood test results, the results of the procedure, and the surgeon’s notes and commentary. Crazy good.

This sort of technology and follow up would be fantastic for service calls in my other job relative to manufacturing. Or even the service person who comes to your house. There’s the good side of technology when it’s a servant. Then there’s the bad side (Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

This morning at 5:30 felt good. Back in the saddle. 

I read many thinkers and writers. Never stop learning. This thought came from Paul Graham’s monthly newsletter.

You can’t think well without writing well, and you can’t write well without reading well. And I mean that last “well” in both senses. You have to be good at reading, and read good things. By “good at reading” I don’t mean good at the mechanics of reading. You don’t have to be good at extracting words from the page so much as extracting meaning from the words.

Most people I read consider writing as part of thinking. To me, it’s core to education. They need to do more of it at least from middle school through grad school. I often begin with an idea that came from observation or reading then begin to write. Bless computers—it’s easier to backspace and begin again than cross out and re-write.

It’s a practice. It can be a spiritual practice. Read, observe, think. Begin to write. As you sort out your thoughts, you’ll find new wisdom percolating. You might even change your mind on some things through thinking rather than reacting. I know I have. Even (especially?) through somewhat critical comments.

Make The Text Part of Your Life

November 7, 2022

I was one of those lucky/unlucky kids to whom things came easily–well intellectual things, definitely not athletic ones. I earned straight As–until I didn’t. The unlucky part is that I didn’t learn how to study until well into university. And even then, that was baby steps. I learned about learning the hard way.

I had read Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor famous for his Meditations. Ryan Holiday has made a career out of popularizing the Stoics and especially Marcus. He stated in a recent Daily Stoic, “It’s not about skimming a couple thousand books. It’s not about “getting the gist of it,” as Marcus derided. It’s about making it a part of your life and your mind. It’s about lingering and digesting until it takes firm hold, never to be dislodged.”

Ah, the secret. read it until it’s part of your life. Don’t read the New Testament one and done. We can’t skim the letters of Paul and think we are experts and know how to live. I’d suggest reading the letter of James. Repeatedly. Until those words are not words but the very fiber of your life. Think before you speak. Love all the people, not only the rich. Listen.

It’s not simply memorization. We all know many people who can quote vast quantities of the Bible yet have lives of bitterness and hate. I like the metaphor of the tea ceremony. Infusing the leaves into boiling water until the goodness of the tea permeates every molecule in the pot.

Making Words Fit Our Attitude

October 28, 2022

Procrustes, a character in an ancient Greek story, had an obsession with making things fit his prior concept. He had a bed for guests. If a guest was too short to fit the bed exactly, he would have the guest stretched. If the guest were too tall, he’d cut the legs of the guest until he fit the bed.

We do that with concepts. We have an idea about what the Bible should say. Who knows how we ever came up with that notion, but it exists. And then we read the Bible. We try to stretch or chop the words in order to make them fit our preconceived ideas of what they should say.

Beware the Procrustean Bed when reading Scriptural text–or anything, for that matter.

Searching The Scriptures For God

July 26, 2022

The first generation of Jesus-followers passionately scoured the Hebrew scriptures, not looking for rules to regulate their lives and the lives of everyone around them, but for all the signs of Jesus they could find.

They were trying to find Jesus in the scriptures.

When we go to the scriptures, what are we looking for?

Rules to impose on others–and maybe ourselves if it’s convenient?

God?

I suggest the best use of our time and energy searching through the Bible lies in discovering God and Jesus and the Spirit. Open the words and hear God speak to you.

Who Is Smarter Than God?

July 25, 2022

Certainly, not I.

Like many young liberal and feminist students of long ago, I had a general dislike of the Apostle Paul. He was seen as the standard bearer of male domination/female subservience, apologist for American slavery (and therefore against civil rights), and homophobe.

Then I became a scholar of Paul. With that a deep appreciation of what he was trying to do.

I even started to reply to someone I know on Facebook who said Paul supported male domination of women. He asked me to prove from scripture that he was wrong. I thought of a dozen things immediately. It’s never a good thing to reply on Facebook. I came to my senses just in time. No one was convinced of error on Facebook. Ever.

This thought came to me recently that we spend too much time and energy thinking and memorizing from the Bible and not enough time living out Jesus’ commands–that we love one another.

I thought about that guy who was proclaiming how he should be the master of his wife’s body and soul (good luck doing that!) when I came across this teaching of Paul from Romans:

Is there anyone around who can explain God?

Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?

Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that God has to ask his advice?

Romans 11

I have met such people. I have read the works of such people. I have read of their failures in the news.

The next paragraph from Paul:

Everything comes from him;

Everything happens through him;

Everything ends up in him;

Always Glory, Always Praise

Romans 11

Every morning I sit quietly with God listening for advice and wisdom. I don’t tell God what to do. I don’t assume I know the mind of God. I wait upon God with attentive ears.

The Mind Needs Many Precepts To See

December 28, 2021

I sat here this morning to type a thought remembering something I read in number 94 (XCIV) On the Value of Advice from Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. I prepared the quote and then noticed quotation marks. The quote I remembered was not from Seneca but from a rival called Aristo whom Seneca was refuting.

There was a writer popular in the early 70s. I read his brief, popular book. It was a good story, but it was also a little light on understanding some things that I had studied deeply. But enough was there to cause me to buy his next book. This was an explication of the Christian Bible book of Hebrews. I had gone maybe two of his chapters into his book when I had a feeling nagging at the back of my brain.

I pulled out a Bible (actually a couple) and read those translations along with the book. There was only a slight resemblance between two generally accepted translations of the book (actually it’s more like a sermon) and the author’s own translation.

I discarded that book and never read anything from that author or his colleagues.

I feel that that author made a translation to fit his theology. I felt a dishonesty at work. But, had I quoted and explained the thought as if it were Seneca rather than his rival Aristo, would I not also have been guilty of a dishonesty? Even if it were just sloppy research.

There is a lesson or more.

Read more carefully.

Check your memory.

If you have read incorrectly, be prepared to change your mind.

Muddled Thinking

November 22, 2021

The child sat in the elementary classroom staring out the window. At some point the teacher noticed and stopped talking. All the other kids noticed and watched. Soon the child realized the room was too quiet and looked. “What were you doing?” asked the teacher. “Thinking.” “Don’t you know that you’re not supposed to think in school?” Well, at that point everyone burst out laughing, and the teacher had to recover from the reactive statement.

Story told by Earl Nightingale

This story popped into my thoughts yesterday as I sat on a couch staring out the window. For, I was thinking. I had researched a topic (trends shaping the Industrial Internet of Things for 2022, if you wish to know), and I was pondering business, technology, and scenarios. But, had my wife (former teacher, by the way) noticed, she would have accused me of sleeping.

“It is a fault to wish to be understood before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves.”

Simone Weil

Sometimes we think we have explained something, but the others don’t seem to understand. Maybe we reflect. We have not properly thought out the subject so that we are clear in our own minds what we are thinking.

I just read the description of a character in a novel where “he reads a sentence or two and then pauses to think about it.”

Thinking is work. Literally. Your brain will burn fuel from your body’s storehouse while you actively think. I’m not sure that we’re ever taught it. I know we don’t practice it enough.

  • Did we pause to consider the origin of our assumptions
  • Did our logic flow efficiently step-by-step
  • Where are other ideas
  • What are the implications
  • What if I’m wrong

I settled on an idea of a trend totally off the wall from my original thoughts about which technology might catch on next year. Quiet moments spent thinking through that which we’ve just read is an investment well spent. Especially if we are pondering wisdom teaching and stories of spiritual growth.

Solving The Puzzle

March 17, 2021

My day has had a bit of a delayed start. I left the house about 6:45 this morning to go obtain my second Covid vaccination. There was perhaps a slight amount of fear and trepidation. I’ve heard a variety of stories ranging from no reaction to being very tired and achy. Sitting in the observation room (unlike YoYo Ma, I didn’t bring my cello (well, guitar) to the room to entertain during the wait), I did begin to feel a little soreness in the area of the shot. But that feeling left. We’ll see how tomorrow goes.

I like historical fiction, but I don’t read much of it. Steven Pressfield wrote a popular work of nonfiction, The War of Art: Break Through The Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, cited by many creatives I follow. I recommend it. Mostly, he writes historical fiction. I decided to buy his latest book, A Man at Arms. I could not put it down. Totally destroyed yesterday’s productivity. The setting is the eastern Mediterranean in 55 AD. A “Man at Arms”, a warrior and mercenary, accepts a job from the Jerusalem-based Roman Authority to track down and capture a man and girl child who have a letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Corinth. Early on, he attracts to him a male youth who follows him. The story is gripping. You can’t guess the end until the next-to-last page.

Note: it is a warrior story, so there are pretty graphic battle scenes as well as scenes of Roman brutality. Pressfield gives you a look at the cultural backdrop of Roman occupation that is only alluded to in the Bible. I think it’s great. It may be one of those few books I’ll read again.

I have been studying again Pope Benedict XVI’s series of talks on the Church Fathers. That volume nestles alongside two books on the Desert Fathers on my shelf.

The Church Fathers portray the struggles of the church from the late 200s to the early 400s (so, mostly the 4th Century) to define itself–both around the many theories attempting to understand who and what Jesus was and around the problems of dealing with politics once the church gained official status from around 325. We continue to struggle to understand Jesus. Many of us say we follow him as disciples, but much about him is difficult to completely understand. And many of us struggle with politics. Some readers of this blog are struggling to survive from politics and some are trying to win at politics and get the government to force “Christian values” upon the population. It was complex 1,700 years ago–and it remains complex today.

But the Desert Fathers are my favorite. They worked at the intersection of the interior human and the Spirit of God. What did it mean to pray without ceasing? How can we identify and overcome the myriad of emotional and psychological forces within us in order to truly live with God? If fact, just how do we live with God? What practices make sense? How do we teach? There’s not a lot of theory with them. It’s how to order one’s life congruent with God. These (mostly) guys were strange. They are my heroes.