Monday, November 12, 2012

A Quasi-Muppet Theology of Creation

The story of rediscovering biblical imagination at St Francis House.

Sitting around a table at Union South two weeks ago, the students of St Francis House began an impromptu conversation about the Bible. The presenting topic, raised by one student, was how we might, as SFH, dig deeper in the faith, and in ways that would both build up and challenge. This led another student to ask how the training she received in her home denomination compared to the training of the Episcopal Confirmation process. Still another student chimed in, asking what the others learned in Confirmation classes. She confessed that she remembered little from her own Confirmation training. As we continued talking that night, opening up about what we didn't know, what we wanted to know, and how we might grow towards the goals, a student piped up: "What if we used a children's Bible?"

"Say what?" I asked.

"Well, not to study, but to know what to study." The contention was that children's bibles represent something of a proposed authoritative canon, and I think that's right. Children's bibles make a case for the component stories most essential to the larger arc of Scripture's narrative flow: the narrative of God's self-revelation. (I think here of Robert Jenson who said that, "God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having before raised Israel from Egypt.") The students are especially keen to bring in voices from other traditions at intervals along the way to inform their reading and to compare children's bibles for discrepancies, omissions, and agreements.

"Huh," I said.(1)

"That sounds really interesting, actually." I admitted that, as the father of two children, 1 and 3, I consider myself something of an expert on children's bibles, and that I mostly hate them. I tire of improvising around clumsy stories (water into grape juice, anyone?) just before bed and when I am tired and not wanting to keep on my theological toes. And yet, I told them, all the more reason to pay attention to the ways we Christians tell the story to our children. Right?

Last week we started with the story of creation. None of us brought our children's bibles. Oops. We improvised, though, and found this hilarious story of creation.

Afterwards, we turned to the text, where the observation was made that creation happens in two stories in Genesis. And that ex nihilo is probably true, but it isn't in Genesis. We talked about genre, and I shared my Old Testament professor's take on the seven days: that to Hebrew ears this would have sounded a lot like the installation and consecration of a temple. Creation as God's Temple, made for the praise of God. We also talked about free will. I asked why it came up in the muppet version of the story. (I believe in free will, but the snake/God dynamic in the video felt a little like we had skipped straight on to Job.) The students countered with some good points about God and what we learn about God in the creation account.

As we discussed the next week (Noah and the Ark, 7:35 pm, this Tuesday @ Union South), we decided to spend the first few minutes Tuesday writing down all of the things we grew up knowing we were supposed to know about God before we started reading the Bible. If the Bible is primarily about God's self-revelation, are there aspects of our philosophical pre-knowledge that have not been especially helpful? What would be required of us to approach the stories of Scripture with a willingness to be surprised by the God we find in its pages?

To be continued...

(1) The astute reader will note that the chaplain's formal contributions to the conversation - "huh" and "say what" - reflect the highest levels of keenly sophisticated pastoral skill.

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