Nicholas Asks About Adam And Eve

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When I was a freshman in college, I was required to take a writing intensive class. Being kind of stupid, I assumed all the classes were the same, so I just picked the one that fit my schedule best. And thus I spent my first semester of college sitting in a classroom with a guy who, in my memory, looks astonishingly like Peter Jackson (before he lost weight), reading Charles Darwin and having an existential crisis of faith.

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Flickr

No one had ever actually talked to me about literary forms in Scripture. No one had ever really addressed the possibility that Adam and Eve were not historical figures but representations. When my teacher (I don’t remember now if he was a TA or a professor) started tossing the word “myth” around in regard to the creation story, I had my first practice at the Mama Bear-claws-out defensive stance, thirteen years before I ever became a mama. The only meaning of the world “myth” I had ever heard was the one that meant “not true.”

(Note: Certain words should not be used, however accurate, because they are front-loaded, back-loaded, and every-other-kind-of-loaded with inflammatory connotations that eclipse the dictionary definition. “Myth” is one of them.)

So I went on a reactionary rampage, listening to Rush Limbaugh and taking the most radical right stand I could find on virtually every issue. And although I moderated over time, it wasn’t until the words “chromosomal abnormality” entered my airspace that my stubborn brain opened to the rather obvious realization that issues are a whole lot more complicated than one party line—or even two party lines—can adequately address.

He looks so innocent, too...

Last night at dinner–just me and the kids because Christian had to work late—Nicholas said something like this: “Mom, when the first mother, when the first mother, when, how did God, the first human mother, when God, how did the first, was the first mother, how did the first mother, what is God, when human…”

By this point I had a pretty good idea where this question was going, so while he sputtered around trying to figure out how to ask his question, I had some time to think about the age-appropriate response.

Some. Not enough.

See, I had this conversation with Alex, too, and it went pretty well. But I was pretty sure Alex had a couple years’ cognitive development on Nicholas (three, I discovered when I looked up that post). I’m really not crazy about trying to explain the difference between “historical” and “true” to a newly-minted six-year-old kindergartener. KINDERGARTEN.

Not *quite* a literal approach 😉 Image by oddsock, via Flickr

And yet, the wholesale literal approach to Adam and Eve, even for little kids, has made me uncomfortable ever since I realized we start with that simple understanding, and we never take them beyond it. (Hello, fundamentalism.)

So I talked about Jesus telling parables, and how some stories are meant to tell us a truth in a way that’s easier to understand. And then it was time to load the gang to go to piano lessons, so on the way across town I went through the creation story and the theory of evolution side by side, like I did with Alex, showing how they tell the same story in the same order. It was rather gratifying to have to tamp down Alex’s eagerness to tell the story for me, because it meant he still remembered.

Just like last time, Adam and Eve themselves got a bit of the short shrift. But we’ll save that for the next time, when it’s maybe slightly more age-appropriate.

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God Is Not A Trained Monkey (or: recognizing the voice of God)

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Two vignettes:

Photo by WELS.net, via Flickr

One: A priest I know once talked about throwing open the Bible and taking whatever your eye (or finger) lands on first as a sign from God. He called it Bible abuse. A provocative statement, given that probably every one of us has done that at some point.

Two: Long ago I read about a person who invited a couple of missionaries over for dinner. They would not eat from the dishes being passed around the table until they had prayed over each one and received Heavenly “clearance” to proceed. At first, the author was offended. Then he decided this was a sign of their total dependence on God to tell them what was and was not safe.

To me, these two examples illuminate how easy it is to twist faith and try to turn God into a trained monkey that performs on command. We’ve been trained, by a fascination with larger-than-life stories of faith, to expect big and dramatic communications from God–and to esteem blind, uninformed faith in defiance of reason.

And I realized that fascination with these kind of stories encourage the mindset that led to my struggles with anxiety in the first place.

There are certain catch phrases in religious conversation: God’s will and radical faith, for instance. In my brain, over the course of years, that twisted into: if you aren’t willing to leap off a proverbial high bridge, trusting God to catch you, your faith is not good enough. Never mind what you know about gravity. Having faith means being willing to do what doesn’t make sense to you, because God’s way is not your way.

It’s that whole billboard thing again: the expectation that God is going to arrange a message so clear, so obviously aimed right at you, that you can’t possibly mistake His meaning.

God certainly can and sometimes does work that way, but if you expect all divine communication to consist of a “billboard,” you’re going to spend most of your life thinking God has nothing to say at all.

In this weekend’s readings, both Elijah and Jesus went looking for God in solitude. In quiet, in the absence of stimulation and demands on their attention. In extended stillness.

Hearing the voice of God is a skill that takes practice, and if you neglect that practice even briefly, you start to lose it. If I say that modern life is not conducive to hearing God, it sounds so trite as to render the words useless, but that doesn’t make them any less true. How many people fill every waking moment with noise–and sleeping moments, too, for that matter? The radio has to be on in the car, exercise must be accessorized by ear buds, and white noise generators are supposed to facilitate sleep.

Photo by albedo20, via Flickr

There’s a reason people throughout history have gone on silent retreats and even lived as hermits. It’s silence where you learn to recognize God’s tiny whispering sound in the midst of the earthquakes and thunderstorms that make up life. It’s in the emptiness that the puzzle pieces begin to click. And it’s when you start to be comfortable in the void that you start to realize it’s not a void at all, but a wonderful sense of peace, and the beginning of a new way to know God.

I do believe there are times when God speaks in a thunderclap or a burning bush–proverbial or otherwise. The vast majority of the time, though, God’s voice speaks from within, through the utterly ordinary stuff of life. But you only recognize it if you’ve invested the time to listen to the silence that makes the connection in the first place.