Bible & Sermon Study that embraces paradox

I’ve just discovered a new conversation partner in Ken Howard over at with the tagline “Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them.” He has a several part series on Midrash: Ancient Bible Study for a Post-Modern World. In the first part (The Need for A Deeper Method of Bible Study) he points out how both Hebrew and Greek resist our attempts at precision in our translation by their alphabetic, linguistic and grammatic structures. Helpful is his observation that both neoconservativism in its drive toward infallibility of the text and liberalism in its opposite journey toward infallibility of forms of criticism set up a false binary resting on a modern presumption of the existence of verifiable certainty. Yet quantum physics is illustrating to us that the nearest certainties are only approximate and always dependent on the position of the observer.

In lue of such certainties, Howard suggests the ancient rabbinic practice of Midrash, which he outlines as a four step process of (to quote from his post):

  1. P’shat (lit. Simple).  Read the text for its simplest, most literal meaning. For example, if the Torah says God spoke to Moses through a burning bush, we are not allowed to say God spoke to Moses through an exploding cigar. It is also known as the grammatical level.
  2. Remez (lit. Hint).  Rather than avoiding what appear to be contradictions or textual errors, or trying to explaining them away, this step calls us seek them out as hints of deeper meaning. This is sometimes called the allegorical level.
  3. D’rash (lit. Investigation).  In this step, we use our imaginations (and the imaginations of others) to explore all possible meanings and applications of the text. This is sometimes called the parabolic or homiletical level of Midrash.
  4. Sod (lit. Secret).  Finally, we are called to open ourselves to the mysteries revealed to us through creative imagination of Drash. This level of meaning is sometimes referred to as the mystical level.

In the succeeding posts (Applying Midrash to the Words of Jesus & Investigation and Mystery) he gives further examples of how to use this method. I look forward to learning from him and trying to apply this in my own bible study and sermon preparation. It seems to me a middle way for those who tend to approach the bible from a more liberal or conservative pov to share common ground in their respect for and listening to the text and the Holy Spirit speaking through it within the community of faithful study. Why not join me?

My review of “The Exit (Blue Moon Chronicles)” by Todd Boddy

The Exit (Blue Moon Chronicles)

Disclaimer – Todd is a friend and colleague. So I wanted to like this debut novel. Even so, I was delighted by just how much I enjoyed it. The characters are engaging – I grew to care about them and their fate and was anxious when it appeared things might not go well. I was continually surprised by the turns in the plot – people and places and times were not what I thought, which is both one of the literary devices, as well as part of the larger point of the story. Things are not always what they seem.
In the spirit of all great science fiction and fantasy, Boddy creates a world in which to explore issues of meaning and human existence, things like truth, commitment, sacrifice, integrity, trust and loyalty. While he is engaged in theological reflection and is in conversation with apocalyptic traditions present in religious teaching, he is not preaching nor proselytizing. He seems to be genuinely saying, “I wonder…” and asking, “What if…?” and he invites us along for the ride. Even within the story it is not clear which construct of reality is held by the author, nor which will prevail in the world of the story, or the multiverse, as it were. It reminded me of the work of Mary Doria Russell: specifically The Sparrow and Children of God.
I think this book fills an important niche in that it employs fantasy, science fiction and religious themes, without speaking exclusively to either of those audiences. This is a book that can be readily enjoyed by folks who would not typically read in any of these genres. It is one you can recommend to family and friends regardless of what kind of fiction they typically read – there is something for everyone.
When I reached the end, I immediately wanted to turn and pick up the next volume. Unfortunately, he hasn’t finished it yet. Get busy man! I want to know what happens!