Sunday, June 04, 2006

Pentecost Learning

Happy Pentecost!!

I've always liked Pentecost. Part of that liking is that this is when I was baptized as an Anglican which represented a culmination of a busy year of conversion about fourteen years ago. That conversion really was a turning point in my life and having my baptism happen on Pentecost made a lot of sense then and now. The rushing of the Spirit among the disciples always seemed to have been enacted in my life with the changes which my life took in that year of conversion and which continued to this day. I'm grateful for those changes because I recognize that I had been on a very different, much more self-destructive course before that. Each Pentecost is a reminder of God's intervention in my life, just as it should remind us of the Spirit's intervention into human history through the lives of the disciples.

This Pentecost has also been interesting because of where we're living. Last fall, we moved into a very Jewish area in Toronto, so we've been spectators to the rhythms of Jewish life in the city. We've been lucky enough to be very good friends with a modern Orthodox couple and have had the opportunity to explore the links between Judaism and Christianity in a unique. In particular, my wife has been off to shul a few times including this week as the Jewish community has been celebrating Shavuot (Pentecost)which is the fiftieth day from Passover. The holiday is celebrated with all night Torah learning and, as with any other Jewish holiday, food. My wife managed to make it out to a few of these events (in full frum gear: long skirt, long sleeve shirt and hat). She enjoyed the events and learned quite a bit.

One of the events had focused on learning Torah and why it was important to study it for God's sake, not for the purpose of grinding theological axes, but to learn more about God himself. My wife's description of the event made me wonder how it was that we Christian lost that sense of learning about our faith, about Scripture and about God. Why do we use the Bible as a mine for pithy quotations to use against our enemies, but not really study it? Why do we study theology only for creating sharp weapons to use against those who we perceive as our enemies? Why do we figure that, unlike every other area in our lives, we don't have to know anything about our faith, about our Scripture?

Of course, I'm not the only person to have noticed this. Bishop Tom Wright makes similar comments in his Hebrews for Everyone, when he notes, with some perplexity, that people who in other areas pride themselves on their knowledge almost boast of their lack of knowledge about theology, church history and scripture. Somehow, we Anglicans seem to think that this is okay. Doesn't this fly in the face of the oft-repeated slogan of the Anglican church allowing people to worship with 'heart, mind and soul' if we refuse to learn about our faith, not just through experience, but also through learning about what God is like through Scripture and theology or learning about what has worked in the faith over the centuries of church history?

I don't have any answer for that, of course, but I wonder if we shouldn't take lessons from the Jews here in their transparent love of learning Torah. I wonder what would happen if we imitate the example of, say, Lauren Winner in Girl Meets God, who, on Pentecost night, stayed up with friends to study Scripture all night? Or, if that is too ambitious, if we took a little time out each day to read Scripture, read theology or about the great examples of faith in the past?

I'm not saying that this will solve all our problems as people or as a church. Clearly, study will not, by itself, bring us closer to God. We have to experience God in our lives, through others and through prayer, but I put it to you: if you love someone, don't you want to get to know them better? And wouldn't you use whatever methods were at hand to do that?

On this Pentecost eve, I commit myself anew to Christian learning for its own sake. I pray that, through this study, I learn more about the God I love. May that rushing Spirit of Pentecost sweep us up further into God's presence and may we seek to learn more about our divine Lover.



Jim said...

His Grace of Canterbury, Robert Runcie has been widely quoted to the effect that the particular heresy of the American is to treat the Bible as a book of rules. The rector of our parish refers to the mining philosophy you describe as, "have I got a verse for YOU! theology." I think they both have a point.

It is certainly true that we should study scripture for God's word to us, not what we can use to beat someone up. In fact, I at least try to do that. Thus my focus on +NT Wright's work which certainly does not always agree with my liberal leanings! Of course, I am reading Marcus Borg's latest book and a piece by E.P. Sanders at the moment too. ;-)

I think one cannot over do reading and reflecting on Scripture, as long as one is completely open to the likelyhood that the Spirit, like a good preacher is likely to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable as we read.


Phil S. said...

I keep thinking of a parody of Mambo Number Five, done by an Orthodox Jewish singer whose name escapes me. The singer re-writes what is a fairly raunchy song quite cleverly. Instead a sordid litany of sexual conquests (as in the original), the song becomes a story of a young, busy Jewish man, trying to find time in his life to learn (this is an intransitive verb in Jewish thinking; the object is for its sake or, which comes down to the same thing, God's sake). I'll have to find the lyrics (which aren't at hand, I'm afraid), but it is that spirit that I'm thinking of here.


Daniels said...

Commendable end of saints of God
"For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them.
O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!"
- Deuteronomy 32:28-29
1. Joseph - Life of transparency
"And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.
So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt."
- Genesis 50:24-26
2. Joshua - Life of trustworthiness
"And it came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old.
And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathserah, which is in mount Ephraim, on the north side of the hill of Gaash.
And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the LORD, that he had done for Israel."
- Joshua 24:29-31
3. Josiah - Life of tranquility
"Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again."
- 2 Chronicles 34:28

Phil S. said...


Thanks for our comment and welcome. I appreciate the gospel passages as well. They are a good reminder of the different aspects of our life in Christ.


Phil S. said...

Hmm, that first 'our' should be your. Unless I'm thinking of the royal 'we'. No, I don't think so.