Taste and See: Promotion Sunday!

16 08 2010

Sunday mornings at 9:30 a.m. are not the prime time to have deep theological discussions with high schoolers.

There…I said it.

And therein lies the problem with Sunday School. Combine sullen students, outdated curriculum, institutional white walls, and slightly difficult questions…and the whole lesson is sure to be a disaster. This summer, I’ve worked really hard to try and combat some of those problems. As far as the decor goes, I owe a giant debt of gratitude to my mom and sister, who really helped spruce up the classrooms with some colorful and whimsical touches. I’ve been formulating our fall curriculum to focus on the experiential aspects and practices of our faith. And today, I discovered that feeding sugar to youth at least helps eliminate some of the sullenness.

Today was our first Sunday School lesson of the semester, and our main Scripture text was Psalm 34. Specifically we focused in on verse 8: “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” I love that God doesn’t beat us over the head with statements about who he is (in fact, in our 90-day challenge, I’ve been surprised by how few descriptors are given! One notable exception is the refrain “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”) Instead, he invites us to come and see who he is…and how he is. He is willing to withstand our (sometimes harsh) scrutiny and even to risk our declining his invitation. And that, to me, makes this invitation all the more powerful.

So our Sunday School discussion focused on what it means for us to have an invitation like this. Are we taking advantage of this calling, or just mindlessly accepting what we are told? Do we, in fact, believe that God is good? How do we know this? Why do we believe this? If there is a good God, why is there evil in the world?

And then we moved into the imagery of tasting and food. How exactly are we supposed to “taste and see”? Does God make himself present in literal food? Are we supposed to eat the Bible? (Some say yes :))

On the altar I had placed a jar of honey, a loaf of bread, and a half-gallon of milk, and we ended our class today with a feast! As we snacked, we chatted about the metaphor of a “land flowing with milk and honey,” (the closest parallel we could come up with was the chocolate river in Wonka’s chocolate factory) and imagined what it must have been like to wander in the dry desert with the God-given promise of such a fertile land and abundant life.

Truth is, we all find ourselves wandering in the wilderness at times. And even though we may find it easier to say “God is good” during times of prosperity, it is during those times of weakness and pain and suffering that we most earnestly turn to God. And we are forever sustained by hope: by the promise of God for a new future, a new land, and a new life.

P90X…Bible Edition

16 08 2010

Recently, Jordan and I decided that it might be fun to try and read the entire Bible in 90 days. That translates to roughly 16 chapters of the Bible each day…way more than we get in any regular devotional setting! We’re about two weeks into the challenge, and although we’re a little bit behind (we’ve skipped a few days here and there…oops!), it’s been a really enlightening experience and has already made for some great conversations. The last time I read the Bible straight through, I was in middle school…I would venture to say that my theology and understanding has changed a good bit since then! One really neat thing about taking in such large chunks at a time is that we’ve been able to notice and discuss big overarching themes. Here are just a few that I’ve been thinking about a lot:

1. Sustainability: from the very beginning of creation, God makes provisions for the sustainability of the world: oak trees will make acorns will become oak trees, egrets will have baby egrets, and gorillas will have baby gorillas.  When he plans to destroy the world with a big flood, he also makes sure to rescue enough humans and animals to repopulate the world.  Then, the beautiful restatement of God’s charge to humankind in Genesis 9: “Be fruitful and multiply” (this time, with the footnote that all humankind bears the image of God).  When I read God’s covenant with Noah, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the purpose God has given us, and how precious we are to Him.

2. Reunion: The story of the Prodigal Son has been very near to my heart over the past year, and for that reason I noticed hints of Jesus’ parable creeping into the narratives of Jacob and Joseph.  These stories are so human, filled with raw emotion and dysfunction and fear…but most of all, love.  Love and grace overwhelm these characters’ lives, and in a way, they give us remarkable insight into how we can seek to live out the radical love and grace to which we were called.

3. Healing: Exodus 15:26 reads “I am the LORD who heals you.” This is one of the most powerful statements that God has given so far about his own character.  And interestingly, it comes just after the devastating plagues that God brings upon Egypt.  But it is in line with the social justice-oriented character of God, who hears the cries of the oppressed and brings healing all who need it.

4. Utopia: God is surprisingly silent about the “moral issues” within the Book of Genesis .  He appears more as a bystander than an active judge.  By the time God gives his law to Moses on Mount Sinai, we as readers of the Bible are just yearning to hear exactly what it is that He thinks about the ancient customs of the Israelites.  Quite apart from the religious law, God gives the Israelites a vision of what his ideal society will look like.  There’s a law for everything.  I’m still musing over how God’s ideal society fits into our 21st century culture, or even if it should.

5. Justice…and Injustice: The Covenant Code in Exodus is very concerned over getting things “right:” reparations, justice, fairness, etc.  And from all the study notes I’ve read, the Code distinguishes itself from other legal codes by making provisions for the poor and the widow.  But then we get into the religious law, and I am still deeply disturbed by some of the texts on ritual purification and priesthood.  Why does God exclude disabled people from the priesthood?  Why are women considered unclean for nearly half their lives? I understand this text is about standards of holiness, but I really want my God’s statements of value to be more inclusive than it seems…what, really, is our takeaway from this?