Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Maps of Faith

January 30, 2017

You may have heard someone say the Bible is a Christian’s road-map. The Bible, they say, tells us how to get to where we are going, complete with detailed instructions on the best way to travel through our lives. I don’t know about you, but that never made much sense to me. Personally, I don’t find road-maps in the Bible, I find stories, wonderful, complex, holy stories.

A road-map is designed to help us get from one place to another, typically in the most direct manner. Find a map of the Interstate Highway system and we can plan our route from New York to Seattle in 15 minutes, if we bother with a map. Most likely we’ll program a GPS or use the Google maps app on our phone. It will be fast, efficient, and easy. We won’t be bothered much by anything located between New York and Seattle. We will be in our private car, listening to our personally selected music , our climate control precisely set, our cruise control on, our seats comfortably adjusted, with our beverages in our convenient individual cup holders.  We can make our plan and never detour, never get lost. It is efficient, but not particularly interesting way to travel.  In my experience, that’s not how life unfolds, certainly not the life of faith described in the Bible.

And so I began to wonder, could the Bible is a map of some kind? If so, what sort of map is it? A state map? The bus route? A map of the world? A star chart? Is it a map of the fire exits out of the building?

I think the Bible is most like a topographic map, a map for a particular kind of travel.

Topographic maps require close, careful study. The longer we look, the more we discover. Topographic maps show us the terrain, the high places and the bogs. They show us which rivers have rapids and waterfalls.  They mark the deserts and the forests. They tell us which lakes last all year and which dry up in the heat of summer. The map shows us where to find springs and wells.

The contour lines on the map tell us how steep the climb up the hill will be and where we will find a gently sloping path into the valley. Glaciers and scrub land, forest and swamp , each are each accurately noted.

The trails of those who have traveled this way before are marked for those who follow. The paved road, the unimproved road, the scenic tour are all on the map. The foot trail, the switchbacks, the tough climb, and the dead end are on this map as well. If we study the map we may discover there is more than one way to get there from here.

The map helps us find the good campsites, where there is enough space and fresh water for us and the anyone else on the trail. These are the places where people can gather safely, tell their stories, and rest for a while. We can locate towns and villages.  We can also find the abandoned settlements, where a community could not sustain itself. A close study of the map may help us understand what happened. Were they too far away from reliable water or maybe prone to flood? Perhaps too high up for crops to grow?

We have the map because someone came here first, paid attention to what was around them, and left a careful record for us. The map can’t tell us everything we need to know, but it helps us keep our bearings.

It seems to me the Bible is most like a topographic map. We are shown the lay of the land. Given a terrain of faith. We are shown the contours and textures of the land by those who went before us. They left us the record of travels through mountains and valleys. They show us where people wandered off the path and they point the way back. Dangerous cliffs and dry wells are all marked out for us. But also, we find where the rough places turn into a plain. We find the way out of a dead end canyon. And we find the place good, fresh water is always present. The places that sheltered other travelers are marked. We are able to rest where pilgrims have always rested safely. The Bible, if we let it, changes us from travellers and tourists into pilgrims.

We must chart our own way through the wilderness and find our own path, but we  needn’t travel blindly. We have the Bible, carefully and lovingly written, handed on from traveler to traveler. It’s more concerned with safe passage than speedy travel.  And if we are willing, there are fellow travelers around, companions for the journey.

Topographic maps and the Bible, each in their own way, help us appreciate the land around us and they help us to walk with intention and care. They give us the courage to explore the country we are passing through.  Because it is as much about the pilgrimage as it is about the destination.

Note: This is a revised blog post from Feb 29, 2008.

Isaiah and Jesus: Prince of Peace

January 11, 2017

For a child has been born for us,

a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

and he is named

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 NRSV

Prince of Peace is the last of Isaiah’s four royal titles and for many of us, perhaps, the most familiar. (Our series on these titles began here, and continued here,and here.)

When the Bible speaks of peace it is talking about something more than the absence of conflict. While ending war would significantly improve the lives of many people, God has an even grander vision. Peace, as the prophets speak of it, is a world where people are secure, are not afraid, have enough to eat, are healthy, have meaningful work and so on. God’s peace is a place and time where everyone can reach their full potential, where everyone can be the person God desires them to be. Biblical peace is big, inclusive and so wonderful that it is nearly unimaginable.

In the ancient world, as today, rulers were charged with keeping the peace. The security and prosperity of their kingdom was the ruler’s responsibility. Often to achieve “peace” rulers and nations used force.The “Pax Romana” was a peace that benefited the Roman Empire and was imposed upon conquered nations and peoples. As Brueggemann asks in his book, Names for the Messiah, can real peace be imposed?

We can think of times when peace was the result of treaty, or defeat and see that that sort of enforced peace is not true peace for everyone. Winners live in peace because the losers can no longer fight. Losers live in peace because the winner’s stop (mostly) killing them.

Rulers, in addition to keeping the peace are also expected to ensure prosperity. Sadly, war is more prosperous than  God’s peace. So we live with peace that is not true peace. No wonder we are confused by Jesus.

The Prince of True Peace does not bring the peace we know and expect. Perhaps most confusing is that the Prince of Peace does not impose peace, because peace cannot be imposed. The Prince of True Peace shows us what true peace looks like in a world filled with false peace.  True peace is so different from the false peace we are used to, that true peace doesn’t even look like peace to us. For that true peace to become reality, we must accept and seek true peace. The Kingdom, at least for now, comes one person at a time.

Now that the Advent and Christmas talk of peace has died down. How do we go forward as people who bring and embody true peace into an unpeaceful world?

My reflections this Advent and Christmas are based on Walter Brueggemann’s book Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study Guide.  

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