Deconstructing and Repeating Scripture (Part 1)

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“Creative Commons But, Mommy…” by Dagny Mol is licensed under CC BY 2.0

One of the hallmarks of postmodern philosophy is the interaction of the concepts of deconstruction and repetition. Deconstruction is a reaction to the rigid certitude accorded to reason in the latter stages of modernity. This is especially true when it comes to religious dialogue and theological formulations. Deconstruction listens carefully to the discourse, searching for what Francis of Assisi called “the marrow of the Gospel,” the inner core of meaning. Repetition, then, is a repeating of the possibility of that marrow, that core, in a new context — that is, for today. This re-contextualizing, as John Caputo suggests, is the process by which we let truth happen. Repetition, instead of reproducing the original, is “repeating the possible rather than the actual.”  (Truth, 2013, page 94)

In the church we either desire to access the original teachings of Yeshua or we assume that we know those teachings. What we actually have direct access to is Paul’s repetition of Yeshua’s teachings and the repetition of the Gospel authors and the other New Testament authors. Moreover, the history of biblical scholarship and theology has often been more a recollection of the conclusions of New Testament authors (with layers added on by biblical scholars and theologians)  than it has been a repetition of the teachings of Yeshua. Layer upon layer upon layer. Deconstruction attempts to move the layers to the side.

Schweitzer’s ‘quest for the historical Jesus ‘ and the work of the Jesus Seminar are attempts to get beneath those layers, accessing Yeshua the real person, how he lived and what he taught. While we may applaud the work of those scholars, we cannot be absolutely sure that they have given us everything that we desire. There are, however, direct clues to the core of the Way that Yeshua lived and taught. The roots of Yeshua, to no one’s surprise, lie in the scriptures and traditions of Israel. An abstraction of the core message from Israel is the injunction to care for widows and orphans and to provide gracious hospitality to the strangers in our midst. Jesus’ repetition of those core values was expressed as caring for the poor — not just those with lesser economic means (though they were obviously included under Yeshua’s umbrella of care and concern) but, more particularly, those who had been marginalized and alienated from power.

One of the difficulties with the layers of repetition that have been laid on top of Yeshua is that they have become encrusted, solidified, and entrusted as if they were the final message. “Believe this and you will be saved!” So many of the encrusted layers actually divert our attention away from experiencing Yeshua’s radical wisdom and his wholistic spirituality, directing us to rational belief systems about Yeshua.

How do I go about engaging scripture so that it comes alive in the context of my 21st century world? Conversely, how might I become more alive in the context of the Way lived and taught by Yeshua?

John Caputo’s radical, ‘weak’ theology has provided me with the concepts and the language that both encourage and help me in the task of deconstructing and re-contextualing as I approach scripture. For many years I have been unable to develop and/or maintain a disciplined devotional life. I immediately concluded that this was a deficiency in my life, my faith. I am now beginning to realize (or, more likely, to admit) that the layers of repetition I had been taught were no longer meaningful for me. They did not ‘fit.’ They had become hollow words for me. They have drained me, rather than filling me up. They no longer provide a challenge to a radical life in the Way of Yeshua. Instead, they energized my dis-belief and my argumentative self. I searched for colleagues and mentors who could show me the way. I was drawn to the more progressive theologians and biblical scholars — e.g., John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, etc. As much as I liked their writings (they were breaths of fresh air), I was concerned that they did not go far enough in their re-contextualizing. Enter John Caputo.

Caputo’s statement that “God does not exist, God insists” was a projectile that struck my head and my heart. Insistence, that “unheard inner calling,” is at the heart of Caputo’s radical, ‘weak’ theology. Can my thought processes, my theological framework, my faith practice(s), my life be re-shaped or re-focused? Truth be known, I enjoy being a bit radical; but am I willing to be grounded. I am almost always willing to think new thoughts; am I willing to feel new feelings and act in new ways?

More in tomorrow’s post.

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