Maybe not everyone gets stuck seeing things just one way, but many of us do.
Because of that, hearing from other people, comparing readings, seeing texts and situations “through other eyes,” unlocks new meanings. I might have a hard time imagining your perspective, and you may have a hard time imagining mine, but if we share what seems obvious to each of us, we can all learn something.
That will happen in a community where we share some commitments, but each comes to those commitments from our individual histories and experiences, and holds them along with our specific concerns, abilities, inclinations, and so on. As long as we can trust that sharing our individual takes on things with one another won’t get us mocked or scolded or expelled.
Example one from yesterday: Zephaniah 3:14 addresses the audience as “daughter Zion,” “Jerusalem,” and later “Israel.” We usually think we know this “daughter Zion” or “Jerusalem” already. “She” is [obviously] the personification of the historical city of Jerusalem, the citizenry of Jerusalem, the people who went into exile in Babylonia in 589 BCE and returned some decades later.
But we should question this reading. According to me, who admittedly may be under the undue influence of having recently remembered that thing I wrote on utopia once, but … even so, look, this Zion – Jerusalem – Israel is a restored and transformed community, on the other side of the disaster described in chapters one and two.
A basic principle of future transformation, future difference, is that we haven’t met it yet. That means we can’t describe it accurately. We may use the same names for future realities as for past ones, but that confuses us. It makes us think we know how that future person will look and feel and act. But we don’t. Our best descriptions are only approximations, attempts to suggest what that future will look like.
Unless it isn’t a transformed future, after all; unless it’s really just the same old thing, at a later date.
From that perspective, Zion – Jerusalem – Israel isn’t who we think it is at all. It must be someone new, and different. Someone we would have to meet – or maybe even become.
Example two from yesterday: Acts 2:44 describes the early church community as being “together” and having “all things in common.” Our pastor pointed out that we usually think of this as a small, intimate, tight-knit community. But … that means we’ve probably forgotten (already) that back in verse 2:41 about three thousand people joined the community just on day one. The people doing the cooking for three thousand plus people must have been exhausted, and whoever was handling logistics must have wished they were already living in a future with something like whatever they could have imagined of telephones and email.
But “common” can mean more than one thing. One of the things it can mean, which we don’t always remember when we read Acts 2:44-47, refers to the distinction between “special” or “rare” and “ordinary” or “common.”
If we think of the early Christians as living lives “in common” in that way, we will recognize that their lives revolved around ordinary elements – bread, wine, water – and ordinary activities – getting up in the morning, doing the tasks of the day, buying and selling, shopping and cooking and eating and drinking …
But they were living those lives, those common, “ordinary” lives, in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. So the times and places of that transformed life were all the times and places of “ordinary life,” “common life.”
The same old things. Only, not the same.
She said, according to Richard Rohr, the contemplatives remind us that the two categories of things in our experience are not “sacred” and “profane,” but rather “sacred” and “desecrated.” Desecrated by us, that is, when we ignore their sacred quality, when we ignore the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit in the common elements and common tasks of our common, ordinary lives. When we ignore the identity of those common elements: created by the living God, reclaimed by the living risen Christ.
A frame around a picture, painted or photographed, puts a boundary on “the whole” picture or photograph and creates a bounded context for reading it, interpreting it.
That’s a literal frame. When we talk about “re-framing” in social situations, like in “difficult conversations,” or at work trying to solve some problem, or when we are reading a text in scripture, we usually mean a figurative frame. We mean our fixed idea about what’s going on, about the setting and the characters and the genre, about “the situation” and its constraints, about what’s “part of the picture” and what we don’t need to or won’t think to consider.
In that sense, reframing gives us something more or different to think about, a new “whole” in which to understand the meaning of the part we’re working on or with, to recognize how it relates to that whole.
Sometimes at church we get reminders: we are living into a future we can’t see, can only imagine, and that imperfectly. A future that is also the past, the creative ground of creation, life and meaning that, from our perspective, keeps making all things new. All things, all the common stuff, the commonest.
Common as dirt.