Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Faith, Text, Tradition, and Community, Part VI: On Why I Am Thankful For Witnesses Like David Plotz

This is the concluding post of our series exploring Christian and Jewish faith, the biblical texts of those communities, the traditions that have grown out of those texted communities, and the communities themselves. Part I addressed Israel's example of having Yahweh alone with whom to do; Part II the non-hagiographical memory of God's people; Part III the necessity of belonging to a reading community; Part IV the mountainous geography (or non-flatness) of Scripture; and Part V the Jewishness of the New Testament (and thus why David Plotz should read it!). We have been exploring these themes through engagement with Plotz, an agnostic Jew who read the entire Hebrew Bible, beginning to end, and emerged equal parts enlightened, informed, angry, and reinforced-agnostic.

Why celebrate such a reading? Shouldn't Christians (or "believers") address such "incorrect" reactions to God's word? How can it be good or worth celebration that a man came to the Bible and left angry and bewildered?

Good questions all. Of course, I hope that in this series I have addressed what I believe to be what Plotz is missing, less insisting that he is "incorrect" than simply encouraging aspects of this series' title that he seems to have ignored or misconstrued. Being a Christian, to some extent by my very nature it is clear each of us views the other as "wrong" -- but then, that is to fall into the trap of viewing the world, not just in terms of black and white, but in terms of "in" and "out," "yes" and "no," "correct" and "incorrect." Indeed the world is gray, but more importantly, the church does not function as the all-knowing capitol-A answer game in town; we are not the local witch doctor and we are not politicians; and we certainly are not God. So when we see someone like Plotz come to the Bible and leave with a reaction we "know" is somehow "wrong," we ought to remember two things:

1) There are no "wrong" reactions to anything, least not the Bible. What Plotz felt in response to the God of the Old Testament were his honest feelings -- sometimes of awe, often of revulsion or confusion. There is nothing to critique here. Nothing.

2) We worship a God who prefers truthfulness to dishonesty at all times. In this sense, it is more pleasing to God -- and thus ought to be more pleasing to us -- that David Plotz "gave it his best shot" and left in sadness, precisely because his sadness was honest.

These two points combine to reveal why Plotz's witness is so powerful and truly ought to be celebrated, and by Christians especially: In a world full of deceit, white lies, petty falsity, dishonest advertising, corrupt politicians, official hypocrisy, international unreality, virtual relationships, ubiquitous B.S., and surface religion, David Plotz practiced the virtue of truthfulness.

Praise God!

Praise God for every truthful act in this world. Praise God for every truthful act directed toward God or toward the important things of life. Praise God for witnesses like David Plotz who model for Christians why and how to engage God truly. Praise God for reminding us through such witnesses that more often than not their struggle is closer to the heart of God and to the "heroes" of the Bible than we are ourselves. Praise God for revealing what a truthful conversation might look like between an agnostic and a believer. Praise God for someone willing to come to the text with an appreciative and open and willing and glad heart, thankful for what he saw that was good and disturbed by what he saw that was evil. Praise God for an alternative voice to the angry atheists who -- though we similarly have much to learn from them, too! -- dominate the airwaves over against calmer, friendlier minds. Praise God that the legacy of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Job, David, Jeremiah, John, Jesus, Peter, James, and Paul lives on today in our midst.

Because here, God, the texted God, is taken on his own terms, met at the Jabbok, wrestled with, strangely defeated, yet whose (penultimate) gift is always woundedness. The text itself is a wounded text, as Peter Ochs reminds us, and we do not do it justice if we do not leave similarly wounded.

So, to David Plotz, I only have one word.


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