Saturday, April 24, 2010


Recent discussions have led me once again to think deeply about what it may mean to speak of the Bible as “inspired.” It was made clear to me in some recent conversations that how one understands the Bible to be inspired profoundly influences the way in which one reads this book and the way in which one expects God’s Spirit to speak through this text.
Christians agree that the Bible is inspired by God and revelatory of God. “Inspiration, however it is explained and understood, or even denied, refers to the divine influence in virtue of which the biblical text is, in fact, experienced by some people/communities as revelatory” (Sandra M. Schneiders, “Inspiration” in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible). The basic biblical text cited for this is II Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
What this means, however, is contested. For some in the Christian community, inspiration seems to mean that God so overwhelmed the authors of the Biblical writings that their character as human writings is negligible. This position is sometimes called “verbal inspiration” and it claims that these texts are inerrant and infallible. Those who hold that Scripture is verbally inerrant attribute this trait to the infallibility of the divine author who, despite the limitations of the human authors and human language through which God communicates in Scripture, guarantees that there is not and cannot be error of any kind in the biblical text. (Schneiders) Others see the matter differently, but why might one even search for an alternative?
Sandra Schneiders argues that the position of verbal inspiration “bristles with difficulties.” All human language changes in meaning and reference over time…. The problem of how divine inerrancy could characterize essentially limited, perspectival, and linguistically constrained human discourse seems rationally insurmountable. I think Schneiders makes a convincing case, but it will not be very convincing to those whose primary mode of discourse focuses on Biblical texts themselves. They might respond that the Bible claims it is inspired and faith in the God of Jesus Christ entails faith in that claim, as well.
But there are some interesting statements in the Bible itself which undercut the idea of verbal inspiration. II Peter 3:15-16 reads, in part: So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. Paul writes according to the wisdom given him – PAUL WRITES! This letter writer is asserting human authorship, though also characterizing Paul’s writings as “scripture.” Jesus, in Mark 10 speaks of divorce, and in the give and take asks what Moses wrote – WHAT MOSES WROTE. People respond, and Jesus comes back with this: Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote this commandment for you. The commandment has to do with presenting a certificate of divorce and can be found in Deuteronomy 24.
The Bible itself seems comfortable with claiming both human authorship of its writings and divine inspiration. Jesus is willing to say that writings of Moses, which are a part of Scripture, were written in a particular context, for a particular people, and may be limited by that context. Even II Timothy seems to have little concern for claiming that inspiration entails inerrancy and infallibility. The author of that work seems to think that inspiration has to do with the way Scripture shapes those who listen to it, read it. Scripture is inspired, and useful. It is useful in forming a life.
Maybe the writings of the Bible are human documents, written by men and, perhaps women, who were genuinely engaged with God’s Spirit, inspired by that Spirit to write, but writing as human beings still trying to grapple with all that God is and all that God requires. Some of what they wrote may even be context-bound. It is certainly written in language which by its very nature is limited, perspectival, and linguistically constrained. Nevertheless, it is as we read these writings in our own thoughtful, prayerful way, open to God’s Spirit today - read them in on-going conversation with other persons of faith, that our lives are shaped, transformed, and we become equipped for every good work. We are trained in righteousness. Such an understanding of inspiration is a bit messy. Those who claim it need to take time to understand history, culture, the nature of language, the nature of reading, in order to better understand the text. Yet reading the Bible in this way is an adventure as wild as the Spirit who inspires the writings in the first place.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Gift

In the midst of a very busy week and weekend, this poem found its way to me, a bit of rain in a parched place, a gift of grace in my hurried world – even if I am not sixty yet.

“Halleluiah” Mary Oliver from Evidence

Everyone should be born into this world happy
and loving everything.
But in truth it rarely works that way.
For myself, I have spent my life clamoring toward it.
Halleluiah, anyway I’m not where I started!

And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes
almost forgetting how wondrous the world is
and how miraculously kind some people can be?
And have you too decided that probably nothing important
is ever easy?
Not, say, for the first sixty years.

Halleluiah, I’m sixty now, and even a little more,
and some days I feel I have wings.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Friday, April 9, 2010

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

More than any other sport, [baseball] summons the past…. Baseball is, I suspect, our most mythological of sports; it has the longest history, it is by its own proclamation our national pastime, and it harbors, I think, our greatest mythological figures…. It is a sport with its own rhythms and graces.
David Halberstam, in Everything They Had

Baseball memories are seductive, tempting us always toward sweetness and undercomplexity.
Roger Angell, in Game Time

For all its changes, baseball has not strayed far from its origins, and in fact has changed far less than other American institutions of equivalent antiquity. What sustains baseball in the hearts of Americans, finally, is not its responsiveness to changes in society nor its propensity for novelty, but its myths, its lore, its records, and its essential stability…. Spring comes in America not on the vernal equinox but on opening day; summer sets in with a Memorial Day doubleheader and does not truly end until the last out of the regular season. Winter begins the day after the World Series…. We grow up with baseball; we mark – and, for a moment, stop – the passage of time with it. It is our game, for all our days.
John Thorn, in Baseball: Our Game

The 2010 baseball season opened this week. The Minnesota Twins will play in a new stadium in this, their fiftieth year in Minnesota (it is my fifty-first year of life – I have grown up with baseball here in Minnesota!).

I enjoy baseball for its rich history. Some of the first historical photographs I remember seeing were old black and white pictures of famous baseball players from the past. I appreciate the leisurely pace of the game. It can get long, can be tedious sometimes, maybe a little boring even – but in our hectic world, a little boredom can be a good thing - - - time to think, time to reflect. I like the combination of team and individual effort that is a part of the game.

Baseball memories are seductive. I am sure I love the game for its deep associations from my childhood. I can still smell the hard bubble gum that came with a pack of baseball cards. I remember the white sugary powder that dusted the pink gum and can still recall its taste when you began to chew. The flavor never lasted long. I remember the games I invented to play with my card collection. I had my cards organized by teams, and the cards alphabetized within teams. One summer I took paper and made rosters for each of my teams, put together starting line-ups, and began playing a season – a season that I never finished. I still have the small vending machine baseball that I used to simulate plays. It is now hard and yellowed. I can almost hear the voices that broadcast ball games from out of a small transistor radio with the single ear piece – Herb Carneal and Halsey Hall. These memories do tend toward sweetness and undercomplexity. Growing up was not always easy. Yet baseball is deeply associated in me with a simpler time, with a certain innocence. I had yet to see some of the complexity and difficulty of the world.

Becoming a mature person, a person growing in faith, hope and love involves, I think, staying in touch with hopeful innocence and peacefulness while looking with eyes wide open at the world in all its ugliness and beauty. We cannot live in sweetness and undercomplexity, but perhaps visiting there once in awhile to refresh our spirits and recharge our batteries is not such a bad thing. Baseball does that for me.

Take me out to the ballgame.

With Faith and With Feathers,