life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

the great I AM....

Just a short post tonight.

I took a preaching class at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno many years ago. You know, one of those where you practiced preaching to each other? I was already preaching twice every Sunday, so it was easier for me than the others I think.

One of the things it convinced me of was to shave off my mustache and beard. I'm bald. When they videotaped my sermon, I noticed that as I looked down at my notes, my face disappeared. There was hair above and hair below but a totally blank face -- no eyes, nose, mouth. So... off went the beard and mustache.

What is redemptive about a preaching class, you ask? Well, surprisingly, I remember vividly part of one of my classmate's actual sermons. I think it was his main point. If it wasn't it should have been. He said, "I don't believe in the great I WAS, I belive in the great I AM."

While I know that God's name indicates eternal being--past, present and future, this has had a profound impact on my life and outlook. In modernity, we conservatives have believed too long in a God who acted in the past, but who is totally absent (or nearly so) in the present day.

So what do you think?

Grace and peace!



Anonymous Marshall said...

I think, Owen, that I could write a disertation on this topic. But I’ll try not to here. (Actually, reading over what I’ve written below, I suppose this is my first online rant.)

When I first read the Bible back in the early ‘80s (remember those studies at that old house in Riverdale?), I fought and wrestled and grunted and spat my way through the first eleven chapters of Genesis, through the stories of the patriarchs, etc., until I got to the tale of the burning bush. There I was stunned. My first profound interaction with the Bible involved God’s announcement to Moses of the name I AM.

I have never been able to articulate that moment to my satisfaction. I believe I had previously felt that the Bible offered a sort of fairy-tale god. And, indeed, even today, I find the God of much of Genesis to be overly anthropomorphic – he repents, he changes his mind, he barters, he seems frustrated, surprised, and perplexed by us. If there were indeed a God, I felt, he would be – as I now know the poet Hopkins describes him – “past change.”

Then I encountered the name I AM. And I could not imagine a more perfect description of God. The simple profundity! I AM. Now and always. Unchanging. Perfect. Beyond mere time.

It was my first encounter with the I AM concept that convinced me that the ancient Hebrews had encountered the true numinous, the actual divine.

Sadly, in the years that followed, I spent too much of my energy chasing a sort of ancient textual ghost, rather than the living, ever-present God, in the interest of “fitting in” to a modernist system. I recall once, during a low point in my ability to believe, you saying that I was tired of “ideas about God,” wanting the actual God instead. That was perfectly said.

A good meaty Bible might contain a couple thousand pages. Surely, that is enough to contain all that might be said of the creator of infinity…

We are all of us in the process of becoming. Many men, women, and children are seeking sincerely, and should be respected for doing so, even if their path looks different from our own. Are we not told in Romans 14 that God is able to make the weak stand? It must be so of him. But as you suggest, Owen, too often modernist traditions seem to believe that God WAS, but that now, with Bible in hand, we are on our own. Salvation and right living are merely a matter of literacy.

Such hubris. Such nonsense. (And such bluntness on my part.) The point of the entire Hebrew Bible is that it does not matter how clearly God spells out the rules. The rules devoid of the Spirit kill (2 Cor. 3:6).

Today, I perceive the church in America in dire shape, for the unchurched increasingly equate “Christian” with “extreme right-wing fundamentalist hypocritical nutjob.” I believe there are many admirable Christians on the right as on the left; here, I discuss perception – but perception matters. The answer to me seems to be humility and actual, genuine trust in God – a present God, a God who responds, who answers – who acts. The God who is.

A Professor Negro I once had at CSU Fresno for New Testament studies (a Catholic priest), impressed upon us that the Bible is not a single systematic theology, but a range of theologies, expressive of a range of human experiences of the divine. It is a book of human awe. The Pharisees were so right about so many things; they knew the text. But look at Jesus’ response on this issue: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40).

I benefit from reading Shakespeare, because his language is powerful. But, in another sense, his language is powerless. William is quite dead.

“how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any – lifted from the no
of all nothing – human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?”
- E. E. Cummings

The Bible is not God, but a record of human/divine interaction. It is a precious and essential document. But, without a living and present God, it is inert paper. For most of human history, it was not available to the lay person. For most humans today, illiteracy is the norm (including for more than 50% of the adult American population by some accounts).

Praise, praise, praise the illimitable I AM.

5:52 PM  
Blogger 'Thought & Humor' said...

You have a riveting web log and undoubtedly
must have atypical & quiescent potential for
your intended readership. May I suggest that
you do everything in your power to honor
your Designer/Architect as well as your audience.
Please remember to never restrict anyone's
opportunities for ascertaining uninterrupted
existence for their quintessence.

There is a time for everything, a season for every
activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time
to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time
to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and
a time to rebuild. A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to
scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time
to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to
search and a time to lose. A time to keep and
a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time
to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak
up. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for
war and a time for peace.

Best wishes for continued ascendancy,

'Thought & Humor'
Cyber-Humor & Cyber-Thought
Harvard Humor Club

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

A little follow-through to what I said above about the "dire shape" of the church today... I received this quote today in an email headed "Best Liberal Quotes Ever":

"It is an open question whether any behavior based on fear of eternal punishment can be regarded as ethical or should be regarded as merely cowardly."
-- Margaret Mead

The church has come to be regarded by many on the left as equivalent to the political right, when the church needs to be associated with the living God, a healing relationship with him, and undeniable good works...

Food for thought.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

Brian McLaren is being beaten up by the Evangelicals and Fundamentalists on this one for his new book The Last Word, and the Word After That. He's being much more gracious about it than I would ever be, I think. Jordon Cooper, in a recent article, said of Brian that he is smarter than the rest of us and he is kinder than the rest of us too.

God give us such men of thought and kindness in this time when your name is being tossed around like a political football!

Wherever we come out on any of this stuff, if we don't come out of it with love for each other and others, it profits us nothing.

Grace and peace!


2:25 PM  

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