Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Man in the Ivory Tower

The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 
Luke 1:19

And here it is again - the unimaginable, the undefinable - that detail that throws my entire sense of reality right out the window.  Yes, I'm referring to the passage above.  It's in the tense.   I am.... I stand... I have been sent.  I guess it comes down to faith and belief and how you understand the stories in the Bible.  And now I'm about to hang my theological undergarments on the line - for all the neighbors to see...

I have a hard time with some of the arguments I hear in Christian theology:  creationists versus evolutionists, the actual existence of heaven and hell, the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin...  They seem to come mostly from reading the Bible literally, or allegorically, or metaphorically... Which in and of itself, I don't mind.  Where I get frustrated is when someone tells me that their understanding is the only way - when they tell me it's not an either/or; it's an IS.

I've been teaching fifth-grade math for the past six years.  I like math.  It's logical and sequential; the skills build; the pieces 'fit'.  I joke with my students sometimes.  Fifth-graders are fun; they're not quite sure whether to believe me when I tell them there's a guy in an ivory tower who spends all his time making up special vocabulary for math concepts, and that we just have to learn them because he's the big math boss.  And then sometimes I tell them the actual etymology of the math terms they need to know.  I think they like the idea of the guy in the ivory tower better - but they always look at me with those I-don't-quite-believe-you-because-you're-joking-with-me---right? eyes.  The concept of having some stranger, somewhere, dictate what you know and what you don't know - what you have to learn - makes them balk.   But why?  They raise their hands.  Why do I have to know this word?  this concept?  this skill?  I know I've been somewhat successful when one of them looks at me, with all of that fifth-grade wisdom and sincerity, and says It's that man in the ivory tower again, isn't it? 

So, sometimes, I feel like there's a man an ivory tower telling me how I'm supposed to read and understand the Bible.  The man with the IS seems to have a pretty narrow vision - almost like he's wearing those shields on his eyes like they put on horses to keep them from using their peripheral vision - blinders.

But God is so far beyond our understanding, that it makes sense to me He would be capable of a Bible that can be read in different ways and understood in different ways.  Theology 101.  Does it matter if the earth was created or evolved?  Does it change my belief and faith in God?  No.  My God is capable of doing both - along with countless other miracles we don't even know about - and he's capable of doing them all in the same time and place - or in countless other times and places - because HE IS GOD.

So, here it is again - the unimaginable, the undefinable - that detail that throws my entire sense of reality right out the window.  I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.   For so many reasons.  First, this angel of God is standing in the presence of Zechariah, husband to Elizabeth, father to John the Baptist.  An angel.  And not just any angel - but the angel Gabriel, one of God's highest ranking angels.  How often does that happen?  I looked it up - three times.  He visited Daniel to explain a dream.  He visited Zechariah to tell of John's impending birth.  He appeared to Mary, mother of Jesus.  

Do I believe this story?  Yes.  Not only is the angel speaking to Zechariah - he is at the same time, standing in the presence of God.  At the same time.  Imagine that!  See, I don't think God and his angels operate under our rules of logic and sequence.  They can't be defined by that man in the ivory tower.  And the man in the ivory tower, with his limited knowledge and vision of all that is God, couldn't make up the tense.  No one can be in two places at the same time.  Well - maybe angels, and well, yes, God....

See, even in the story of announcing the birth of John the Baptist, God has hidden a little message.  Just like Gabriel's presence is not an either/or - he exists in Zechariah's presence at the same time as he stands in God's - neither is our reading and understanding of Scripture.  It doesn't have to be a choice - a man-in-the-ivory-tower rule.  The Bible is God-breathed and God-inspired.  Sometimes literal.  Sometimes metaphor.  Sometimes allegory.  Always God.   Amazing, mind-bending, imagination-expanding.  Messages to us.  He must really love us to try so hard...

Father in Heaven, amazing that I can call you that, that I can address you in prayer and know that you hear me.  Thank you for your Son, Jesus, who took away our sins to make this communication possible.  Thank you for the gift of your book, your messages to us.  Thank you for your love.

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