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A Little More Gentleness

January 17, 2014

IMG_1525Is it possible to read too much, because I think I may be doing just that.

To be honest, I don’t think the problem is that I am reading too much, I think the problem is that I keep reading books that leaving me reeling when I was finished.  I finish a book and start thinking about things entirely differently, then I immediately (as in five minutes later), pick up a new book that leaves me spinning again.  I forget to take the break in between and devour book after book after book.  Craziness.

Case in point, the entire month of January, so far (I know , only 17 days).  It started with Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor (Starbuck).  That book was a mere warm up to the books that followed.  Next was 7 (Hatmaker), read simultaneously with Daring Greatly (Brene Brown).  I managed to briefly sit down and process 7, before finishing Daring Greatly.  I picked up Selling Water by the River by Shane Hipps, before I could even write about Daring Greatly.

Today, I am stopping to catch my breath.

I finished Selling Water by the River last night, and despite my gut reaction,  I didn’t immediately pick up a new book.  I reached for Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, which I just read in December.  I read the introduction in that and decided I needed to stop. now.

Selling Water by the River challenged me more than any book I’ve read so far this month (and that’s saying a lot when you look at my nonfiction list).  The author, Shane Hipps, identifies himself as Mennonite (yay!  A Mennonite author!!), but mostly recently pastored at Rob Bell’s former church, Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan (not to be confused with Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  I had to do a little research to figure that there are two large, influential Mars Hill churches).

Hipps’ premise is that we read the Bible through lenses, which I agree with.  Our upbringing, the teaching we receive, our individual life experiences, the church we go to, our “great cloud of witnesses” all influence how we read the Bible.  Hipps says:

An examination of our lenses is not a process of changing the Bible, the world, or truth; it is a process of changing ourselves…

We all have lenses, but not all lenses are created equal.  Some help us to see more, some cause us to see less.  This is partly what Jesus was up to when he answered the Pharisees’ questions [Matthew 22:34-40 when the Pharisees asked him what the greatest commandment of the Law was].  He was offering a new prescription.  Perhaps this Jesus-centered lens is one we should adopt.  One that elevates love of God, and love of neighbor and self as the interpretative keys to the Bible…

The Bible is medium fixed in time and space, but God’s Word is not bound by these things.  We must be careful not to confuse God’s Word and the Bible as one and the same.  The Bible contains God’s Word, but that Word is much bigger than the Bible.

From there on, at the end of chapter 2, I kept being stretched.  Hipps continues the book, explaining how we might be freed from some of the lenses that aren’t as helpful and adopt new lenses.  He examined specific examples from the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) of Jesus’ words that may have had different meanings than we realized.  For example, the jars of water that Jesus used to turn the water into wine wasn’t just any water jars.  These were jars of water for ceremonial washing, not even drinking water, but washing water.  This would be unheard of by the Jews–to drink water out of jars for ceremonial washing.  Everything in Judaism at that time was about separation–clean from unclean, kosher foods, circumcised people from uncircumcised.  Then Jesus shows up and basically makes the point that the separation is meaningless.  The best wine can come out of water used for ceremonial washing.  The secular was sacred.

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It continues on from there.  In my favorite chapters, Hipps delved into Greek to help us understand what passages may have meant.  For example, in John 12:25, when Jesus says, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” I learned that the Greek used two different for life.  In our English translations, we lose so much.  We have one word for life, so we use life for both, instead of the two different Greek words (psych and zoe.  Psych is the physical, chronological life, we live–events that happen, and it includes our ego.  Zoe is life itself, the breath that enters us, and those abstract things like real peace, joy, and love.  Read the book, Hipps explains it so much better).  A side note:  I love learning what the original Greek or Aramaic words were that were used in the original Bible text…love, love, love.

What does all this mean?  Does it mean only those studied in the Bible can explain to us what the Bible means, reverting to pre-Reformation times when only priests and the religious leaders could read the Bible because us commoners just can’t understand it?  I don’t think that’s the case.  Instead I think it means we need to be maybe a little less certain that *we* solely understand what the Bible says.

We spend so much time judging other Christians by what they believe the Bible says.  People (and I am guilty of this as well) say that the Bible says__________ in one or two specific passages, so that must be the case.  We stick to what we want the Bible to say because if we understand what God means, then we have an in with God.  We don’t need to worry about not being God enough for God or being separated from God.  As long as we can keep people out, for whatever reason, the church they go to, their sexual orientation, their financial situation, or even their gender we can keep ourselves in.  If there is a hierarchy, we know where we fit, and regardless if we’re at the top of the hierarchy, we’re above others.

The thing is, what I’ve taken from Hipps is that we may think we know what a Bible passage is trying to say, but we also probably don’t know.  We live almost 1900 years after the last book of the Bible was written.  The Bible was written in multiple other languages (not the King James or English, friends), in the context of different religion (Judaism), and in a culture and context we can only pretend to identify with and understand.

How about if we move more gently through our statements about the Bible?  How about if we let the Bible be the breathing, living Word of God?  How about we agree that just because we think the Bible says something doesn’t mean we’re right?  It’s hard not to live like the Pharisees, in absolute certainty of what the Bible says and how we’re supposed to live.  What I hear Jesus saying over and over is that adhering to laws, regulations, and separation was not The Way (see, here I’m speaking with certainty again.  Forgive me.  This is solely my opinion and could be wrong.  If you disagree with me, that’s ok).

Returning to my Shane Hipps quote:  The greatest commandment is this:  That you love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and all your being and to love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:

May we treat each other love and gentleness (even me, who is more likely to come out fighting than to come out listening) as we walk through life with our fellow Christians.  May we all have a bit less judgement and a lot more love.  A little bit of gentleness goes a long way.

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