Churches do a funny thing called “Bible Study”, we sit around in small groups and discuss the meaning of scripture. Of course no one really knows the exact meaning of anyone else’s writing. Reading is an exercise practised in contexts. The context of our lives and lived experience shapes our interpretation of any writing, even, or perhaps especially ‘holy’ writing. Part of my tradition would say we are meant to interact with scripture, to bring our lived experience, the wisdom of our elders, and the events of our day to the movement of reading.
Put that active relationship together with reading something emanating from a cultural understanding thousands of years and thousands of miles away from our own, and it’s not hard to see why churches like to study the bible in groups. We need the experiences and imaginations of as many people from as many walks of life as we can get. Opening up the wisdom of the elders requires the assistance of a lot of elders.
Last week we got onto certain biblical statements about land. Specifically who God gave land to, and to what end was it given. Somehow, the conversation turned to our culture’s belief system on the subject. Something quite a bit removed from the culture that authored the Hebrew Scriptures, or even the Christian Scriptures. Where they tended to see land as commonly held for the benefit of everyone in the culture, we tend to see land as something one of us can claim and hold against the benefit of everyone else in the culture.
I wondered how that might look from the perspective of the infinite nature of the universe, or even something finite like the 4.5 billion years our planet has been spinning around the sun. What possible meaning could ‘private property’ or ‘land ownership’ have in that context? Viewed from that edge it seems a tad presumptuous, if not ridiculous, that anyone could own anything for any amount of time.
I wondered how the Creator, who continues to communicate with us, through many means besides our Holy Books, would read what we have to say on the subject of the lands we believe we hold by right of might, or money, or majority opinion. How would the Creator study us?
In the context of billions upon billions of years, what would the Creator most easily interpret about who we are and how we view the worth and value of the earth that gives life to all creation? What lines in what book would outline most clearly our concept of private land ownership and the right it gives us to do as we please? Without the fetters of the biblical (and I don’t think it’s just our scripture, but I’ll stick to what I think I understand) injunction to hold the land, or at least the benefits of the land, for all people, what have we written, what does the Creator see?
I haven’t got the foggiest bit of a clue on the perceptions of the Creator. I’m not sure how prayers are heard, or responded to, although I am sure they are. Neither am I fully aware of the ways in which life is renewed and resurrected despite our best efforts to the contrary. So I don’t feel any great degree of shame or embarrassment in confessing my lack of knowledge on how the Creator sees what we do. But, like you, I can guess.
For the purpose of this column, I’ll guess that when the Creator sits around at earth study, picking up this one small grain in a universe of grains, the chapters will be laid out in epoch’s, with each one requiring a bit of further study. When they get to the narrow band that represents our habitation of the planet, should it capture any interest at all, they may, on further investigation, be quite surprised to find out that our concept of the earth was that we owned it, we could do whatever we wanted to with it, and that this is what we did with it.
I suppose the Creator will be/is/was a tad bemused at the concept of private ownership of property and where it seems to be leading us, and might wonder how those who read their holy books with any degree of integrity could have let it come to this. Or maybe I’m just reading too much of myself into the Creator…another common problem at bible study.
What do you think? What would the Creator read in you?
Keith Simmonds A diaconal minister, Keith serves at Duncan United Church, and as President of the BC Conference of the United Church of Canada. Blogging at keithsimmonds.ca, he can also be found at http://bc.united-church.ca/presidents-blog Views expressed here are his own, and not necessarily those of the church.
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking HERE
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