The Bible says to love the Lord with all your mind. For me as an educated Westerner, my mind is profoundly shaped by a scientific and secular world view, where knowledge through objective detachment and universality is esteemed.
The Seeds queries for ‘Knowing the Word’ start with “What is your honest experience of Jesus Christ?” If I am to be honest my experience of Christ has most often been based on ideas from books.
I’m a sucker for a good book, however the weakness is that my spirituality can at times tend to be detached, distant and abstracted in a way that I find less than adequate.
In contrast, the Bible’s understanding of knowing truth affirms relationship, intimacy, connectedness, and particularity. In this sense I have found Brian McLaren’s emphasis on finding truth through the process of respectful conversation with people who are different or even enemies to be very liberating. This gives emphasis to the journey of discovery as being as important as the conclusion in knowing truth. Of course this is a matter of balance and I have learned that a conversation is not very interesting without some strong propositions and some conclusions that can take us forward on a journey…hopefully together!
The other tendency for wealthy Westerners is that, like our economics, our search for truth can easily become consumerist. Now I don’t mind a bit of consumer worship! Consumption is fundamental to our humanity and having choice can be one factor that makes it healthier. One of the dangers involved in choosing which sort of spirituality we are interested in however is that it is easy for us to become self serving. It’s like the problem of shopping at Christmas time for people who seemingly already have everything. The ‘shop’ for the Jesus we like, can simply be a luxury ‘add on’, a complement to, or a justification for a lifestyle where the assumption is ‘we already have it all.’
I’m a sucker for Will Ferrell’s comedy. The table scene from Talladega Nights is one of the most hilarious, tragi-comic theological conversations about consumer spirituality you are ever likely to see.
I can’t think of a more striking contrast to this conversation than that of the biblical scholar, ethical shopper and community garden enthusiast, Sylvia Keesmaat and her husband Brian Walsh in Colossians Remixed where they state,
At root, in the Hebrew Scriptures truth is a matter of fidelity. Indeed the Hebrew word emeth was translated in the King James Version as “truth” but is rendered “faithful” in almost all modern translations. To say that God is true therefore means “that he keeps truth or faith with his people and requires them to keep truth of faith with him.” Truth, then, is a decidedly personal, social and relational concept in the Scriptures. To know the truth, and to be known in the truth, is fundamentally a matter of covenantal faithfulness, manifest in the concreteness of daily life within a particular community at a particular time.
Like in the movie, there is much that is captivating about all that goes on at a family dinner table. It has a similar dramatic dynamic to that of a wedding. I’m a sucker for a good wedding and, if I’m honest, it’s often in the process of being a celebrant for couples across the Seeds Network that I have had my most profound experiences of Knowing the Word. There is something about the knowledge that comes from sharing vows that celebrate the love of the universe amidst the gritty reality of family politics, getting dressed up, fly repellent & sunscreen, eating and drinking that I experience truth. Perhaps this is why Jesus loved using weddings and meal tables as a metaphor for spiritual/social fulfillment. (Thanks Seeds City for a memorable bible study recently on The Wedding at Cana)
The old English term for truth is ‘troth ‘and significantly it appears in the traditional Anglican wedding vows, “I pledge thee my troth.”
Parker Palmer puts it this way:
To know something or someone in truth is to enter troth with the known… to become betrothed, to engage the known with one’s whole self, an engagement one enters with attentiveness, care, and good will
Whilst signing up for Seeds is not quite getting married, the Seeds Covenant for me is an ‘oh so modest’ expression of the covenantal fabric of the universe and the promises of God. My epistemology (way of knowing) is now not quite so ‘book’ dependent but comes through the wonderfully complex, give and take process of making and keeping our promises to engage with each other, God and creation at table in our neighborhoods. Through shared conversation, connections and commitments we can experience a way of knowing and loving which Parker J. Palmer suggests “creates a space in which obedience to truth is practiced.”
Speaking of ‘creating spaces’, ‘beauty in the ordinary’ & ‘consumer spirituality’ at Christmas, I am a dead set sucker for this…
For God’s sake! Stop munching your fries and stand up people! Beautiful!
Who will be at your Christmas table and what conversation are you hoping for? As an Advent preparation pray for this gathering of people now … that it might be a truth/troth-full space in your shared life.