I Wasn’t Talking To You

All About Me

There is a story from the Johnson Administration which has PBS journalist Bill Moyers, at the time LBJ’s communications director, praying before a meal. With many guests attending, Moyers was at one end of the table and the Leader of the Free World at the other. As Moyers said grace, President Johnson said, “I can’t hear you!

To which Moyers replied, “I wasn’t talking to you.”

I think this can work in the other direction, as well: there are days when God calls down to us — sometimes in thunder and other times in storm and even betimes in the movement of the posies when there is no wind — I wasn’t talking to you.

This happens often in scripture, of course, when words meant for one person or group — the disciples, or one especially, say; even an entire nation — are transferred without hiccup or hindrance to whomever is reading, or to whom we are speaking, or even preaching. That’s how we get those public notables who otherwise wouldn’t know a command or even throwaway comment of Jesus if it bit them on the ass blathering on about cities on hills, or misquoting condemnatory parables in favor of their preferred tax policy.

Take just one example of this problem, from the New Testament, where Saint Paul says he’s positive God will continue working in the Philippians’ hearts and lives to perfect them until Christ returns.

Now look. OK. The simple fact is that yes, He will continue to work in the hearts and lives of His people until Jesus comes back. He loves us and He’ll do this. But the simple fact before that other one is that in this verse, He wasn’t talking to us.

God will do this because that’s God and what He does, and one reason we know who He is and what He does is scripture. But it’s long bad danger to conflate every verse we read into a direct comment on my life. Here are three quick reasons:

It violates the words — which cannot possibly be directed immediately at me, because I didn’t exist when they were written.

It makes it all about us — when our first task is listen, hear, and try to understand what God is like, and to come to know him.

It inhibits the relationship — that we must have with this God who gave us His words, and yes, is changing our hearts even now.

Yes, scripture is suitable for many things.

Yes, we must internalize, personalize, live it.

Yes, God speaks directly to each of us, in love.

It’s all there, yes. But you have to do the steps, man! It’s something I tried to share with students when they’d read a poem, and the first words out of their mouths were, “What this means to me is … ”

It’s kinda not their fault, and it’s kinda not ours. We’re taught it in our schools, families, jobs, entertainment. We even think it’s humble to say what it means to us, instead of the supposed hubris of believing we can speak into something greater than ourselves.

Sure saves a lot of work, anyway.

But scripture is far more about learning what kind of world this is, what kind of God made it and us, and coming over many millennia to be where we can move freely in it, as freely as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit do right now. We say we want relationship but every time we open up the Bible, we look for explicit marching orders by special telegram to ourselves alone.

Not much of a relationship.

It’s not what the words mean, it’s not all about us, and it’s making relationship impossible. That’s the interesting thing in the Johnson anecdote. He who could not hear grace being said perhaps needed to hear it more than many. But what he needed more was not to hear it.

Because sometimes grace offered directly to (said in front of) the coarsest most needful men is wasted. It only confirms to them what things they think they’ve already heard, when it’s actually been no more to them than the wind in the posies, which they also ignore. Sometimes they need to know the thing they aren’t hearing is something they are also missing.

Recent

Ensamples

Among the worst things about The Slap is how it has fed self-righteousness in all but the two participants, and they already had it or it wldn’t have happened. But there is Solzhenitsyn, again, with the line between good and evil that cuts through every human heart, and there is Dostoevsky, always, reminding us via

Read More »

Lipstick

Pig is revelation. Revealing is when what’s here is hidden then seen. It’s really many individual ones, though widely considered they’re the same, and all the individuals are related, perhaps only proximately at first, but also in ways they themselves don’t initially see. + Key is it’s here. Problem is we don’t see it. Action

Read More »

Not For Teacher

There’s an unfortunate instructor-y thing where the guy on stage [I’ve found it’s usually a male doing this] asks a question he already knows the answer to, one of the people in the audience … err, classroom … is the target, the answer given is wrong, and the stagehand just goes and gives the answer

Read More »

Diminishing Me

You’d think a guy’d remember if it was the first time he’d seen a body but I didn’t not at first. [Hadda chance to graduate from college into one of our acceptable wars but didn’t, into the war that is, and no shot at a medical profession: left HS Chem as it had only 28

Read More »

Random

When We Lie

If mere humans may have things abominable to them, mine is lying. I hate it in nearly all forms: commercial advertising and political propaganda, of course, as well as even when people doing good things feel compelled to pretend they are flawless: that the rotten thing they just did is required by that good thing

Read More »

Dance With Who Brung Ya

We’re observing Columbus Day with doughy, deep-fried donuts dusted with powdered sugar. It’s hard to hate old Christopher when M makes zeppole. But we are supposed to hate him, we’re told. We’re told, I say! We’re told he to do so because he was a bad man — he was a very bad man. The

Read More »

Jesus FAIL

They killed him yesterday and it was awful, as you might expect. Crucifixion, like a common criminal — but he wasn’t common, though now he’s a criminal. He broke their laws, which I guess are our laws. No. He confirmed our Law. Justice: fulfill the Law. But the Romans didn’t want justice; they wanted quiet.

Read More »

Lyric Lent

Mostly I gave up meat for Lent. Or to put it another way, I gave up meat (mostly) for Lent. And this is how Lent often goes and the difference I think isn’t usually that it doesn’t go that way but that it’s OK when it does. Not that it’s OK to give our word

Read More »

Related

The Amazing Amazingness of Amazing Stuff

Amazing. Did it creep up on you as well? This overuse of the word “amazing” just sort of … appeared. Amazing. Here I was just a moment ago trying to read about the Dodgers, and Don Mattingly wanting more instant replay — they’d lost recently to the Brewers on a questionable call to end the

Read More »

Faith in the Shadowlands

Casting Crowns made me cry. It was the song “Somewhere in the Middle” — sometimes called “Caught in the Middle” on the Internet. I misheard one of the lines too — the phrase is “deepwater faith, in the shallow end.” It was also a little disconcerting to learn that it was written for teenagers. We

Read More »

Christians and Atheists

Christians create atheists when we do evil in God’s name. (props to Dennis Prager, who wrote: “Nothing creates atheism as much as evil done in God’s name.”)

Read More »