Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: April 2013

Knowledge as Call and Response


Last week, I wrote about “Bearing Witness” and described a range of witnesses that inform our knowing:  personal experience, the experience of others, the world around us, and the Triune God. I’d like to explore these further but from a different angle. I want to think about knowing through the lens of Torah. As a reminder, Torah means the instruction of the Lord (see Proverbs 1:1-17). It also refers to the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Additionally, it refers to all of Scripture and to the teaching within the community of God’s people.

If I take Torah on it’s own terms, what might I discover in it about ways of human knowing? Let me briefly think “out loud” about that question. This is a quick list of ideas and is limited to my initial process of discovery. But it might help others think “out loud” with me.

Genesis, which literally means “beginning” opens the canon of instruction with a focus on the beginning of language, the beginning of the cosmos, the beginning of humans, the beginning of corruption in humans, and the beginning of family. Actually, there are many more stories of beginning in Genesis, but this gets us started. In Genesis, Torah places value upon knowing our beginning. Like the head of a spring, this beginning opens ideas that keep developing all throughout Scripture. Here are some of aspects of knowing that stand out to me:

a. Knowledge is formed in the midst of the world. The first words of Genesis point to God creating the heavens and the earth. Humans are created within this world. So we are live in the midst of the world we come to know. We learn within the limitations of time and space.

b. Knowledge points beyond the world. God creates man in his image and likeness. Though humans are created within the world, something about us images someone beyond the world. As images of God, we carry a sense of knowing something more than we know, something beyond. This knowing might be connected with the idea of “call and response.” The Lord calls us into being, and we respond.

c. Knowledge of creation is trustworthy. This story of origins differs with many creation stories in that the world is created intentionally , is good, and is created by the word of God. In other words, there is no “cosmic stuff” that preceded creation. The stars are created as stars. So a human can know them as stars as opposed to some illusion or shadow. Creation is not allegory, but material and real and particular.

d. Knowledge develops in discovery. In Genesis 1 and 2, we see the possibility for humans to grow in knowledge and for creation to develop and be discovered. Adam is called upon to name the animals. He observes, discovers and categorizes them by names. The animals have a specific reality outside his naming and yet, somehow his naming, his discovering points to something real about the animals. Additionally, as man engages the animals, he discovers something about himself: he is alone.

e. Knowledge and language are bound up together. God speaks creation. Language is not introduced as a development of man but as God’s mode of creating and communicating with man. Speaking and hearing become the primary way of knowing that develops all through Torah.

e. Knowledge develops in relationship. God creates a second human as a pair for Adam. Now Adam names the other human, but he also sings to her.* While words are at the heart of his knowing, Genesis points to a knowing beyond words. So learning in relation is rooted in language but also develops physically on multiple levels at once.

f. Knowledge has limits. In Genesis 2, man is free to discover all creation, but he is not to eat the fruit of one tree. This limitation indicates that he cannot know the tree by taste, by consuming it. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are seduced by serpent to eat the fruit. While the source of evil is not explained, we discover the impact of this knowledge corrupts other knowledge causing a breach between Adam and God as well as Adam and Eve.

g. Knowledge is corrupted at some level. The violation of Genesis 3 introduces the problem of knowledge that breaks relation which in turn corrupts knowing between persons. This type of knowledge ends in death: Cain kills Abel. This corrupting knowledge is not limited to an abstract idea level but is material, so it sows corruption at all levels of creation, leading the destruction of the world in the flood.

h. There is a connection between knowledge and love. Just as the corrupt knowledge separates and violates relational knowledge at some level, there is a knowledge that reverse this corruption. Deuteronomy will connect knowing Torah with loving God and man. In some sense, true knowing leads is expressed in love.

i. Knowledge is founded and shaped in family. In Genesis and throughout Torah, genealogies form a key aspect of instruction. Additionally, Deuteronomy instructs the parents to teach the children in a way that seems to echo the Lord instructing his people. Thus, the family is a fundamental place of knowing. This has a range of implications, but should always remind us of our need to learn from those around us. Family knowing seems to contrast with the knowing that splits family and moves toward isolation.

j. Knowledge is revealed. Just as humans learn in relation and by discovering the world around them, Torah also shows knowledge coming from outside the world. God speaks to Israel from Mt. Sinai. God speaks to Abraham, Izaak, Jacob and Joseph in dreams and encounters. This revealed knowledge appears to be like a parent correcting the child, clarifying, reordering, and leading the child forward. This type of knowing at times seems to look like letting go of our understanding. Abraham has to follow without knowing exactly where he is going. This knowing is a knowing rooted in trust. In Torah, this knowing is not against the knowing by discovery but does challenge the corrupting knowledge the separates, enslaves, destroys.

k. Knowledge is rehearsed through active remembering. Israel remembers the Word by enfleshing it in obedience. If Israel forgets the Word, she falls back into the corrupting, oppressing, destroying knowledge.

l. Knowledge flows from and forms the whole person. Knowledge cannot be isolated from the emotions, the body, and the community. Torah uses the language of heart as the center of the person and in some ways representative of the whole person. If the heart or the very essence of the person is corrupted, this shapes his words, actions, memories, and feeling. Ultimately, Torah points toward the hope of the Lord writing His Wisdom, His Knowledge, His vital life into the very heart of person.

* – This is if we except Genesis 2:23 as a song.

Image by Massimo Valiani on Flickr. Used by permission via Creative Commons.

Faith – The Absurd Step Worth Taking

Today, I have a guest post from my brother Jeremy Floyd, offering a thoughtful reflection on the place where we stand in this confusing world of non-stop change.

jeremyThis weekend I left town for a short trip, and during those quiet moments of in-betweenness I had time to try to process something that is probably one of the hardest issues of parenthood that I’ve encountered. My oldest daughter who is precious and innocent to me will turn 11 in a little over a month. With each passing day, she is shedding the scales of innocence of her youth, and I’m not ready to go through the labor of the loss of innocence. Not yet.

More than anything, I don’t want to say goodbye to that tender little girl that taught me as much about parenting as I have taught about life. Our children are tender and precious, and the last thing that we want to do is take away any part of that. While she is about to step into a torrent of fascination and intrigue, I hope that innocence can be gently exchanged for just enough experience to avoid naivety. Our experience tells us that the bell cannot be unrung; the seen cannot be unseen; and the hurt can’t be stopped, but my hopes are likely futile.

As a culture, the last twelve years have felt tumultuous, painful, and downright scary. The innocence of our society has been ripped from our minds and replaced with images of fear and terror. While we preach resolve and resiliency, our eyes have witnessed horror that cannot be unseen. Our hearts have experienced suffering for those that we likely don’t know, yet we mourn for them as they are our own. There is no way to preserve our own innocence.

Preserving innocence in an exposed world creates absurd results:

  1. Take the military policy of “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.” This policy suggested that homosexuality was not condoned by the military, yet one could be a homosexual as long as they were secretive about it, which essentially was no change in the previous policy other than a few legal caveats.
  2. Or if one is truly innocent and childlike in an exposed world they look like a clown. When I joked with my daughter that I wanted her to stay in fifth grade forever, she said, “Dad, I would be like ELF.” She was specifically talking about how disproportionate it is for an adult to sit at a child’s desk, but the analogy fit well. Will Farrell’s character was entirely innocent in an exposed world, and as a result he looked like a buffoon.

We face the same conundrum that I face with my daughter, I do not want her to be naive in this world because I do not want her to be hurt, yet I don’t want her to experience this world because I don’t want her to hurt. Our longing is for another place where we can believe and not be chided. In literature, we would call this Utopia or Nowhere, but there is a natural longing for a place where the paradox of innocence and exposure may coexist without the being absurd, naive or skeptical.

If we were to plot this out on an axis, we would have innocence and exposure on one axis and skepticism and naivety on the other. In this life, we move towards exposure and skepticism is a natural byproduct. If we do not move towards exposure then we move towards naivety.

faith at the cross

So, as I am pondering these thoughts this morning, I read the following verse: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” John 8:31, 32 Jesus is the living paradox of innocence and experience. The polarity of innocence was broken on the cross, and his crucifixion provided a pathway to live both in the world with the innocence of faith and the experience of life.

A few years ago Doug taught about ERH’s symbolic and actual use of the cross. The cross is significant historically, culturally, politically and socially. It is the pivot point of the universe, and it is the reconciliation of paradox. At the center of the cross is Jesus–Son of man, Spirit of God and God the Father– who died and lived eternally, was sinless yet died for sin, was man yet God and was innocent yet had all of the knowledge of the universe. At the center of the cross was inexplicable paradox.

How would you logically answer this equation 1 + 1 = 3? “1” must not equal 1 or “3” must equal 2 or some information that is outside the equation must come to bear. In other words, there must be a truth greater than our conventional understanding of mathematics. As a side note, what if I said that 1 = 1 and 1+1=10 see Deut. 32:30. In the trinity is a great variable that is greater than our logic and deeper than our understanding. Looking back to the John verse, abiding in truth may be the answer to my conundrum about my daughter and about our country.

So essentially what I’m saying is that faith in God is the only way to preserve my little girl as she steps into the brave new world, and faith is the only way to witness terrorist tragedies and go about our lives with the genuine belief that life is good, secure and predictable. This, however, is just another absurd result.

Faith in an unseen God is absurd. Faith is illogical, yet logic was the second crucifixion. Faith is a leap into an unknown abyss where our map and compass are promises. Faith is the unknown variable to life–not a utopian life of heaven, but to this life. Faith is the bridge that intersects innocence, experience, skepticism and naivety. Faith is the most absurd step worth taking.

* Image of cross by Zonie_Zambonie on flickr (Used via Creative Commons permission)

Bearing Witness


“And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Deuteronomy 5:20)

I remember growing up in churches where the old preacher would pause on the midst of his sermon, intoning “Can I get a witness?” Shouts would rise from the congregation and echo across the ceiling. “Preach it brother!” “Truth!” “Amen!” “Glory!” The robust call and response between preacher and audience taps into a deeply biblical rhythm of bearing witness.

The prohibition in the ninth commandment  is based on the possibility of bearing true witness. Torah talks about this phrase as a legal speech-act:

“Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” (Deuteronomy 19:15).

If someone is accused of a crime, it requires two or three people to establish a charge. In the case of a capital crime, these people must act out their accusation by literally throwing the first stone. To bear false witness is a serious act because it could mean killing someone on the basis of deception. The Stoning of Soraya M.: A True Story tells the horrific story of an entire village bearing false witness against a woman by stoning her to death. If a person is exposed for bearing false witness, they must bear the penalty that related to the specific accusation.

True Witness is not simply a legal action, but is at the heart of all knowledge. We know what we know based on some form of witness. There are a range of witnesses to knowledge including personal experience, the experience of others, the world around us, and the Triune God. For now, I simply want to mention each of these categories. I’ll discuss them in more depth later.

Personal Experience – Each person develops personal knowledge of the world as a whole person. We hear, see, smell, taste and touch the world around us. We think, feel, talk, and engage the world around us. The mystery of our own consciousness is a witness.

Other People – Even as we are immersed into the world we are perceiving, we interact with our people who witness in word and act. From experts telling us to exercise, to our wives telling us to buy more bread, we rely on the witness of other humans to live in this world. This witness can be face to face discussion but it can also be text: witness recorded. This implies some form of text. As humans we rely primarily on language, but witness can also be recorded in pictures, music, buildings and more.

The World – While only humans offer us an articulate voice we can understand, all creation is witnessing at some level. This might be called a passive witness. While the tree may not communicate in a common language, I can learn from watching the tree. I must adapt and the let the tree reveal itself to me “so to speak.” This is not some form of mystic application to creation rather it is the discipline of letting go of my assumptions about what I am observing and learning how to observe it. More on this later.

The Triune God – We encounter this unseen witness through the witnesses above and in a distinctive breaking in as “inner witness.” As a Christian, I would consider this a fundamental witness, but it is also the most challenging because it is not bound by the world. In one sense, the world includes ourselves, other people and the world around us. The Triune witness of Father, Son and Spirit is not contained by the world and may seem to be invisible in the world.

Each of categories require more space to discuss, so I’ll spend more time on that in the future. For now, I’ll simply suggest that witness as knowing may help us to see how knowledge requires some form of trust, relationship, engagement, and adaptation. Since some form of witness is so primary to knowing, false witness threatens to unravel all knowing. 

* Image by thebristolkid on Flickr (used by permission via Creative Commons)

Singing Peace to the Neighborhood

Los Lobos

Los Lobos

The_Neighborhood_-_Los_LobosReleased in 1990, Los Lobos’ album “The Neighborhood” continues to sing peace into the community.The themes  that highlight this album have resounded across the 40 year span that Los Lobos has been singing, performing and producing albums. They sing about living in a family, a community, a culture. Though considered a Chicano rock band, their music draws sounds from folk, rock, rhythm & blues, bayou, country, and soul not to mention Spanish and Mexican sounds. Their sound and their words bring together a rang of characters and sounds in a common celebration.

For the last several months, I’ve been listening to “The Neighborhood” almost every day as I walk through my neighborhood. The music still sounds as fresh as the day I first heard in the early 1990s. And the words still provoke my heart to pray that the Lord will “bring peace to the neighborhood.” The title sounds repeats the refrain as a litany,

Thank you Lord for another day
Help my brother along his way
And please bring peace to the Neighborhood

This prayer appears in a song that highlights the pain and brokenness of the neighborhood. The songs finds a brother looking for trouble, a sister rocking her new baby, a father drinking whiskey in his chair, and a mother working nine to five and hardly “making enough to keep alive,” but praying with tears in her eyes,

Thank you Lord for another day
Help my brother along his way
And please bring peace to the Neighborhood
Grant us all peace and serenity
They’re just songs sung on a dirty street
Echoes of hope lie beneath their feet
Struggling hard to make ends meet

These prayers, these songs echo hope in the midst of a messy and broken world. I cannot but help think of the people of God revealed in the Torah praying for and bringing blessing to the world around them. If we follow the story of Abraham, Izaak, Jacob and Joseph, we see each of these men contributing to the flourishing of their surrounding cultures. They bring blessings. Their blessings are not limited to their ethnic group, they bring blessing to the world around them.

The Lord tells Abraham that through him all the families of the earth will be blessed. Abraham even prays for mercy over Sodom and Gomorrah when judgment is at hand. Joseph acts to bless Potiphar’s house and later to bless Pharaoh’s house and all of Egypt. Later Moses commands Israel to care for the sojourner and the stranger at the gate. Hospitality is celebrated all through the Old and New Testament.

This takes me back to Los Lobos. They direct our eyes to the people living in the community. In “The Neighborhood” they sing about families, young lovers, parties, troubled hearts, those struggling with depression, broken relationships, struggle and joy. They sing a song of praise about a boy with limitations, calling him “Little John of God.” In their songs, I hear a reminder that echoes back from ancient Israel: bless the world around you, be present to the world around you, offer yourself in love to serve the world around you, and ask God’s blessings upon the world around you. Their song “The Giving Tree” captures this spirit of love and grace that permeates the music:

A warm wind is blowing through the valleys and the mountain tops
Down the road to a place we know so well
The children are running with ribbons in their baby hands
While we all gather ’round the Giving Tree

Let’s go sing songs, the blue ones
Let’s go sing about the Lord above
And thank the old sun for all we have
The sad times, the glad times
The babies swinging in our arms
Just don’t seem like much like rain ’round the Giving Tree

Like the shedherds once followed a star bright up in the sky
We’ve come to say, come be with us know
Come give us a good one
Come give us a happy time
While we all here dance ’round the Giving Tree


Image by Dena Flows (used by Creative Commons Permission via Flickr)

The Beautiful Beloved


“There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”
― G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton articulates a Gospel-shaped wisdom: love makes lovable. The Lord loved us even when we were enemies (Romans 5:8). His love transforms us into friends (John 15:15) and then to lovers (1 John 4:11). God’s love toward us in Christ is what makes us beloved. We are beautiful because we are loved by the true lover. In the opening pages of Genesis, we hear the Creator repeatedly proclaim over His creation, “It is good!”

We live in an age when the word “good” seems a bit devalued. To help us get a sense of its richness, we might consider the implications of the Hebrew word (towb) for good used in Genesis 1. “Towb” can mean good, merry, prosperous, precious, beautiful, favored, and more. The Lord delights in His good creation. After sin has scarred the world, He loves His creation so completely that the He overcomes the corruption of sin in and through His Son Jesus Christ. This is the same love of Christ that is transforming us into His image.

Even as we speak of becoming His image, we hear His call, “Love one another as I have loved you.” In this new command, we see a fulfilling of the old commands: honor your father and mother, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not covet. Each of these commands are rooted in proper love to parent, sibling/neighbor, and spouse. As Christ restores His image in us, we are reordered to love properly. In turn, the object of love becomes lovable.

Humans struggle to love enemy and family alike. We fail to love those close to us because we no longer see their loveliness: many adult children disrespect their aging parents, many spouses fail to see the beauty of their once beloved. In Christ, the command to love precedes the vision of beauty. We love first, then we behold the lovely. This act of loving changes us. As C.S. Lewis writes,

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
― C.S. Lewis

We act in love, trusting that the vision of love and the affection of love will follow. We follow Christ and by His Spirit we honor our parents, our spouses, our neighbors. In His love, we begin to see again, and though the people surrounding us are still imperfect, we learn to see the mystery and wonder and goodness of His creation in them.

* Image by Vinoth Chandar. Used by permission via Creative Commons.

Hearing Stories in Torah

Stories are an irreducible part of the way we understand and talk about our world. We are all natural storytellers, story-thinkers, story-actors, and story-listeners. Stories are one of the ways that the Lord addresses us and calls us to respond.

The Lord created humans with the ability to hear, see, smell, taste, and touch. Corresponding with these outward physical senses, we also think, imagine, feel emotions, and decide. He addresses us and calls us to respond on all levels. Thus when the Lord addresses each of us, He addresses the whole person. As Hans Urs Von Balthasar writes,

“For man in the Old Testament, the only possible encounter with God is one which involves the whole person. The Jew does not distinguish here between spirit and sensibility, soul and body. He is approached and summoned by God as a whole person, and it is as a whole person that he must answer.”[1]

When we reading the opening texts of the Bible, we encounter songs, stories, laws, genealogies, and more. We are invited into a multi-dimensional world that requires us to listen and respond with our whole person. In Ralph Smith’s helpful article on meditation, he discusses the role of story in this rich Biblical world.  Smith writes,

Our worldviews, in other words, are story-haunted. Stories are lurking beneath the surface and behind the scenes of every event and action in our lives, even every word we speak. In the nature of the case, this is no less true for ancient Israelites than for modern men. Thus, the narrative approach to worldview questions that characterized Paul was not original with him. It is typical of all the authors of Scripture beginning with Moses. What this means for Torah is obvious. Moses wrote laws and history that are haunted by the stories that preceded them. Virtually every law in the book of Deuteronomy presupposes, alludes to, recalls, reflects on, or inescapably reminds readers of stories in Genesis to Numbers.[2]

As we read Scripture, we should take time to soak in the stories. Read and read stories. Follow the stories throughout the whole Scripture. For instance, if I am reading the creation story in Genesis 1 and 2, it might help me to reflect on the rhythms of Genesis 1 and 2 by reading how the rest of Scripture references this vital story.  The book of Hebrews present God as a Masterbuilder of Creation. In Job, the Lord points to wonders of His creation to challenge Job’s limited view of him. In Jeremiah, the Lord reminds the lamenting prophet that He is creator and sustainer of the world.

As you read, pause and listen. Soak in the story. Let it fill your imagination. Use your sense if possible. Ask questions of the text. Look for patterns that repeat in various stories. Through His Word, the Lord is training our whole person to be attuned to His instruction and His faithful love.

[1] Hans Urs Von Balthasar. The Glory of the Lord, a Theological Aesthetics I: Seeing the Form. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2009 (p. 253).
[2] Ralph Smith. “Law and History: How to Read the Law of Moses.” Trinity House Institute, 3/11/13 <http://trinityhouseinstitute.com/law-and-history-how-to-read-the-law-of-moses/>


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