MIdrash or Echo Chamber?

Dear Covenant Kin,

Many of my reflections have centered around how we understand scripture, and there are a couple of reasons for this. First, though most of my reflections feature prominently the ideas of thinkers much more profound then myself, many of the ideas I relate are not necessarily the mainstream or the norm for our Christian culture. A lot of what gets written in these reflections cannot be assumed, and even runs contrary to Christian tradition. Secondly, understanding scripture is a life long journey, and our understanding of scripture should be constantly evolving.

All that being said, we are spending time thinking about scripture again today. The Jewish tradition has a bit of a different way of reading scripture (the same scripture) than we do. What I am referring to is Midrash—the idea that to understand scripture we pull together centuries of thought and reflection of great minds upon the same subject. Of course, one important aspect of this is that if you are asking centuries of people from different cultures, different periods, different experiences you are going to get different answers as to what is important about a passage, or what it actually means. In other words, any given scripture doesn’t have one meaning, but countless meanings. This kind of flies in the face of how we have come to look at scripture in the Christian tradition. We often are of the belief that any scripture has a meaning, and our job as Christians is to figure out that singular meaning and believe it. It really is unfortunate, because this kind of thinking really does limit the great depth of meaning behind scripture. There is so much more to scripture than any one meaning can capture, and the notion of collecting the ideas of great thinkers about scripture is a wonderful one. I also think that this really is more faithful.

This week our focus for “Leaving it at the Table,” is the need to be right. More than ever before we live in a culture where winner take all, slash and burn politics have come to be the norm. That usually means that there is no room for multiple answers or understandings, but that if you disagree with me, something is wrong with you.

I will be the first to admit that of all the things we are leaving at the table this lent, this one is the greatest challenge for me. How often I catch myself thinking that the person who disagrees with me is uninformed and foolish! Definitely something I need to work on, but I am fairly sure that I am in no way alone in this. These ideas have come to be the norm, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Thus, introducing the idea of Midrash—that there can be many different understandings and our goal is to hear the truth in all of them, and not to assume that one is more correct than another. That scripture speaks with many voices, and eliminating some of those voices that disagree with us is a way that we do violence to the text.

Of course, this is easier said than done, and it really does take consistent practice to do this well. It is hard to hold competing claims in tension and see that God could be speaking to us through radical and contradictory statements. But I suppose, that is part of why we do this church thing. Hopefully, you don’t agree with everything that you encounter at Covenant. Hopefully, you find things that challenge you. Hopefully, this is not just an echo chamber, but a place to be challenged to learn and grow. After all, we don’t really grow by just being reassured we are right about everything. Growth comes through exploration. Growth comes through encountering new ideas. Growth comes from challenges to our faith. Growth comes from a community that doesn’t just seek those that are exactly the same, but those that show us faith can look differently for different people. I hope that is what you find somewhere in your church life…

Here is Richard Rohr’s reflection on Jesus’ teaching style and how understanding the concept of midrash helps us understand the meaning behind scripture. Enjoy!

Yes, and…

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