I have finally been converted to a smart phone. Previously, I used a flip phone model and even before that my old trusty, old-school, Nokia phone.
I must admit, however, that I like the features of this phone, especially the phone log and the scroll-down capability of finding previously dialed phone numbers. This makes it very easy to redial phone numbers particularly if you are in a hurry.
Digital technology is amazing and with the scroll-down feature, you can watch mesmerized as phone numbers connected to people you know move on the screen in front of you. Here you can access a phone number at any point and yet the numbers are also transitory.
The other day I was with a group of clergy who were discussing preaching and reflecting upon biblical texts that they are fond of versus other texts that they dislike. For example, several clergy might be fond of preaching on the Wedding at Cana text (John 2: 1-12) but they might not be fond of delivering a sermon on the Binding Of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19).
As humans, we can respond to sacred texts in a variety of ways. Like scrolling your smart phone to review your phone numbers, we can find ourselves doing the same thing with biblical texts-i.e. what do I like, what attracts me versus what I don’t like- what offends me.
One clergy colleague reminded me that it is those biblical stories that tend to disrupt our preconceived notions and which asks us to consider other options, that sometimes can provide greater revelation as to the nature OF God, however known.
Consider, for example, Hagar (Genesis 16: 1-12). Hagar is a female slave. She is own by the patriarch and matriarch Abraham and Sarah. After Sarah finds out that she cannot conceive children, she sends Hagar to be with Abraham. Once Hagar finds out she is pregnant, Sarah begins to mistreat her.
Hagar resolves that she must leave and so she flees into the desert to get away from the abuse that she has endured at the hands of Sarah. Here an angel of God appears to Hagar and entreats her to return to Abraham and Sarah.
Now, you could argue is this a welcome message for Hagar? She is asked to go back to the very people who have abused her. The message becomes counter intuitive.
The clergy colleague who shared this story suggested that there may be occasions when it is appropriate to preach against a text. Why does Hagar need to go back to the ones who have oppressed her?
For that matter, why would any of us feel the need to go back to a place or a time when we felt like we were being hurt or abused?
Currently, we are seeing various groups of people ( i.e. African-Americans, Latinos, Women, etc.) who are empowered and are becoming more visible in calling out perpetrators of abuse be it sexual, economic or systemic in nature.
The biblical tradition has argued that “the truth shall make you free.” However, some people have tended to shield themselves further from messy, complicated narratives, like the story of Hagar, where the moral of the story, or the teaching moment is not always so clear.
Scroll-Down Theology can project a picture of God being always benevolent and kind, caring for all people and creation. This image of God can be very soothing and comforting for people, especially those who are in spiritual need.
However, it is when we stop scrolling and re-dialing all the predictable known numbers and when we go look at different stories of how God has interacted in the lives of people, that our faith expands and deepens.
May we have the courage to not settle for the surface and shallow interpretations of truth. May we feel confident in scrolling the depths of our spiritual lives and what the Holy Word can reveal to us now and always.
May it be so.