Friday, January 15, 2010

On Pakistani cab drivers, cracks in the sidewalk, and…biblical exegesis?

Week one is over. It’s Friday night and I spent a little over an hour at the Bourgeois Pig with Whitney knitting in front of the fireplace drinking tea and debriefing the week…and Christmas break…and life. It was a perfect way to “end” the week. Now I am sitting in front of my computer determined to get some of the week’s thoughts out.

Thursday was a hard day. This environment discouraged me. I felt a little bit suffocated. The initial week or two of a semester always requires transition—new thoughts, dreams, and direction on top of old thoughts, dreams, and direction. Integration is the theme of this time in my life. Integrate, integrate, integrate. Do you ever sense the deep difficulty of this? I do.

This week I was tongue-tied. There was much I desired or hoped to articulate but couldn’t. Are you ever in a class that touches on issues so ripe in your life that you are left amazed, a little shocked, and briefly incapable of “responding”? Welcome to Senior Seminar with Dr. Schmutzer. I get frustrated when I am surrounded by people that sound good—they can articulate well; use “the terms” of a given subject; and interact with questions on the spot—because I seem to always be at a loss for words. I have heard the same terms, learned the same terms, and could maybe give you a formal definition…but my heart isn’t there. I realized that this week and it was hard. It’s hard when you recognize the necessity and importance of a subject but its importance depends on how it is used and understood. Does this make sense? I’ll try to explain.

I have assigned reading in Kevin Vanhoozer’s Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. It is a wonderful book of which I am now a pleased owner. Flipping its crisp, new pages I am thrilled to discover articles on “Biblical Theology,” “Culture and Hermeneutics,” “Exile and Restoration,” “Imagination,” “Joshua, Book of,” “Political Theology,” the list goes on (for approximately 865 pages). I hungrily ate up the introduction, grateful for “a resource that combines an interest in the academic study of the Bible with a passionate commitment to making this scholarship of use to the church” (19). There comes a time, however, when we are “graded” on this information—measured for the academic purposes of posting grades and earning degrees. This is all well and fine. I have nothing against grades and degrees. But sometimes I just feel worn out. I feel the need to sit on these issues for a while first. I can’t talk about hermeneutics and exegesis and how biblical studies needs theology (though I believe in these disciplines wholeheartedly) unless I know how and why these matter for faith and life in the "real" world.

I love learning. I love the classroom. But I want to learn how to take things from the classroom into life “out there.” I need to know why hermeneutics, exegesis, and biblical/theological studies matter when my friend is having a really hard week; when a friend-of-a-friend found out he is very (potentially fatally) ill; when thousands upon thousands are the buried dead in Haiti and thousands more are hungry, thirsty, and grieving.

These thoughts were bouncing around in my head as I walked to work. I was pulled out of my thoughts by the sound of a wheelchair bouncing over cracks in the icy sidewalk. I looked up to see this man making his way down the sidewalk on the other side of the street. I considered the beautiful stranger who, for whatever reason, had lost the ability to walk. I bet he never thinks about hermeneutics and exegesis, I thought (childish, I know, but its true). For a moment I was, again, a little (ok, maybe a lot) angry. The heavy discouragement came back. What is this all for?

As it turns out, I really just needed some time to simmer down, think, and pray a little. I knew I would “come around.” I knew I would come back to a refreshed recognition of why hermeneutics, exegesis, and biblical/theological studies matter…for life…because they absolutely do.

Remember how I “hungrily ate up” that introduction? Yeah, because my heart resonates with statements such as, “…practical theology takes part in biblical interpretation when it inquires into how the people of God should respond to the biblical texts. The way in which the church witnesses, through its language and life, is perhaps the most important form of theological interpretation of the Bible” (Vanhoozer 22). The conclusion of the introduction is appropriately titled, “Reading to Know God.”

And as I simmer down I also think a little closer about why I like the “Exegesis” article. It is very well done. It is honest and informational--well written. I am struck by Klyne Snodgrass’ articulation that “the goal of exegesis is not merely information but a ‘usable understanding.’ Far too much attention is placed on ‘meaning’ and not nearly enough on the function of texts” (203). Suddenly I am able to think a bit better about exegesis alongside thoughts of my hurting friend and those suffering in Haiti. Snodgrass later quotes Gordon Fee, “Thus it is simply wrong-headed for us ever to think that we have done exegesis at all if we have not cared about the intended Spirituality of the text” (Fee, To What End? 282). And now the practical and theological begin to merge (not that these two are poles apart to begin with).

You know why hermeneutics, exegesis, and biblical/theological studies matter? Because they are deeply relevant to the lives we live every day. Yes, there are those who would seek (and do accomplish) to relegate these disciplines to “strict academia.” Sometimes this happens here, at this small little Bible Institute in downtown Chicago. Sometimes this happens in my own mind and heart, where I begin to learn how to bounce terms around but might forget why the terms matter for the man bouncing over the cracks in the sidewalk in his wheelchair.

Biblical exegesis “does not deal merely with individual books but also with the relations between them (doing biblical theology)” (Snodgrass 206). There is a great big story told by Scripture—it’s often called the grand “metanarrative.” Our lives are important because they are our own little stories—our personal “narratives.” But, our lives really only make sense when they are understood in light of the metanarrative. They are truly important because they fit into the bigger story of a God who lives and works in and between people.

So, after work (and 2 hrs. in the quiet house to think, pray, and wonder) I crawled into a taxi that would take me home. “Hello, how was your evening?” he asked. I smiled. “It was nice.” His name is Amin and he is from Pakistan. His wife and son are over there now and he will soon be with them again. He hopes to bring them back here but doesn’t know how. He thinks it is great that I am in school, and that I am interested in working with refugees someday. We talked about Chicago in the winter and how different it is from both Pakistan and Arizona. We laughed together. We shook hands. We were friends for 15 minutes.

I stepped out of the cab onto the sidewalk in front of Jenkins. Jenkins. Moody. Sigh. This is home right now. I am really glad this is home right now. I am so glad to be here. I am gifted to learn about hermeneutics, exegesis, and all the other “terms” and I pray—as often as I can—that God will preserve in me a heart that is soft and moldable, that seeks to integrate theology and biblical studies; the terms with the “real” life we live every day…and I consider this a very, very, important task.

Thank God he made us to be learners. Thank God for his patience with us as learners. Thank God for teaching us how to learn. Thank God for his gentleness with us as we learn.

well, the popcorn is out of the microwave and it is roommate time :)


Erin said...

thanks, andrea. this is beautiful, and it has caused me to start thinking again about my time at moody, everything i have learned there, and what it actually means for me now that i've finished. it's hard... and easy, nearly rehearsed answers just aren't enough anymore.

i loved spending a little time with you this weekend, and i miss living with you! ugh. yet those things must change as life changes..

Andrea said...

i can't imagine what life feels like "post-moody," though it is getting closer for me everyday :) we've changed so much in this place and yet we don't realize it because we've been living with our changed selves. i just keep thinking back to who i was that cold january when we all transferred in. so much has happened in these years...
i love you, erin! I miss you, too. but so glad we'll be near each other for awhile.