A group of friends located around the globe have decided to join together in an online community for the purpose of reading through the New Testament together. The site, on the count of three, has pages for commenting on each book of the Bible and a suggesed reading list/order based on the estimated dates that each book was written. This is a loosely organized community, open to whoever is interested in reading/discussing, and meant to encourage people to read and discuss on their own as well as with others and online. Peter and I, along with some other friends, are starting this project (a bit late), and I’ve decided to post my responses both here and on that blog. The suggested format for postings is to reflect on how the book makes you think, feel, and want to act – very pietistic, huh?
Please check out the site for more info if you want to get involved, post your thoughts on a book, etc. I find it helpful to have a structure and other people to dialogue with as I read scripture. That is how it is meant to be read and interpreted anyway! And since I am teaching on the Bible this semester, I wanted another focused place like this where I might read/think/be influenced myself.
So here are my reflections from the first book – Galations:
This book makes me think a lot. My notes on it keep revolving around the tensions of freedom vs. guilt, legalism vs. grace, and human culture vs. Godly kingdom. Paul is so loudly saying here that Christ brings freedom – life – and community with others and with God. Guilt around adhering to systems doesn’t bring life. Legalistic Christianity – a form that I am somewhat accustomed too – also pulls people under the illusion that they can save themselves, act right enough to earn God’s favor, or somehow control their future and the kingdom, while grace is so much more spacious and sometimes scary because it comes from the Holy Spirit, it blows where it wants, and that means that ultimately we can’t will God to do anything. And I keep seeing the tension of human culture (Judiasm in the first century), being so hard for the early Jewish Christians to detangle and separate out from faith in Christ. Their culture felt like their gospel – somehow it even made God’s kingdom values seem foreign and wrong; somehow their cultural assumptions altered the gospel. I see that today in a lot of explicit and implicit ways – maybe it is always a struggle to keep the gospel free from our particular ways of experiencing it?
I LOVE being reminded that in the end, grace wins the day. A free gift, based on who God is, not on who I am, is what gets me invited to the party. It feels liberating, attractive, and like something that is almost too good to be true. But if it is true, then it should be the best story around to tell anyone about. I frankly don’t always remember what a good story this is! I also feel somewhat conflicted around Paul’s claim to authority over other teachers; I know he is right, I think it just echoes of how I feel pressured and odd when anyone tries to convince others that his/her version of the Bible is the true one. I also felt surprised some, because I realized that I haven’t felt a lot of grace lately, from myself or from others, and I wonder what that is about. If grace wins, and I believe this, it seems like it should be more of a natural rhythm I can soak up and float in, not something so new that it jolts me awake.
I think I will try to hold the concept of grace winning the day, instead of being right or careful or good, in my mind a lot more. I also want to live more into this reality of grace-ful-ness in a lot of ways; it seems like the people who are most gracious to others have already been able to show grace to themselves, as they have received it whole-heartedly from Christ. Although I’ve done this in my life at other points, I think I need to work on that again in this season – well, work at not working so hard.