Saturday, July 25, 2015

Myths Again, and &

More sleep all in one batch would be nice, but predawn has for years been my favorite time of day, and I wouldn't miss it. The silence, and magnificent lightning in the southern sky far off over the Gulf of Mexico, too distant to hear even the faintest rumble of thunder. Terrific photo ops here, but my camera is on my iPhone and I've not been able to capture the lightning, or zoom shots of birds carrying fish. For better pictures I'll have to do better than iPhone. At any event, about the sleep, if it's really short at night there are morning or early afternoon naps. I mean, I'm retired, baby.

One of an infinite number of enjoyable things about living into this electronic age is the endless availability of information, instantly retrievable. And with that, the discovery and rediscovery of my clueless ignorance, which makes me rejoice that there’s so much more to learn. It's far better than the long gone Britannica we bought in 1968. And just this week two things came along that never occurred to me that, once opened, seem so obvious and ponderable. 

Tuesday, a friend emailed me an article that used a term “Christian LXX.” I have a Septuagint, the Greek language Bible of the Jews dating a couple centuries before Christ, that I've used for years, also for years I’ve used online versions of the Septuagint. I’ve always blithely assumed (yep, I know) that what I’m using is the same the Alexandrian and other Greek-speaking-and-reading Jews used in those centuries BCE, that Jesus and his contemporaries would have used, and that demonstrably the gospel writers used. It is so obvious, but never even swept through my cluttered mind, that the LXX would have been “christianized” in various ways over the centuries before showing up on my computer screen. That realization has been even more helpful to me than the author’s basic premise in his article, a theory that LXX and early Christian writers wrote the Hebrew tetragram instead of a Greek translation such as kyrios when writing the divine name quoting from Jewish scripture. That seems far-fetched until one remembers that those early writers and their copiers were not using computer fonts, typefaces, or setting linotype, but scribing by hand, and it wouldn't matter to them whether they inked down YHWH in Hebrew or Kyrios in Greek. That becomes even more thinkable when one contemplates the scene of a reader reading aloud to a room full of scribes -- both what the reader dares read aloud, and what each scribe hears, understands, and writes. But it has had me worrying a notion that this is how Jesus got so intermingled with YHWH, which I think would have scandalized both him and Paul. Jesus had no idea of a high christology, and in my view Paul the apocalyptic Pharisee (who was not trying to introduce a new or expanded deity but working to unite "the nations" under the banner of the God of Jesus before the eschaton came and it was too late) did not either, including not in Philippians 2:5-11, which we so love to misunderstand. But the idea that mingling the kyrios of YHWH and the kyrios of Jesus in the minds and understandings of early Christian writers and Church Fathers — by confusion and/or intention — has given us our sacred story.

But that isn’t what my aged mind is worrying at the moment. Rather, it’s a extract from last Monday, July 20th, discussing what makes us human. Thought-provokingly its sentence, “The truly unique feature of [Homo Sapiens or Sapiens] language is not its ability to transmit information about the [tangible]. Rather, it's the ability to transmit information about things that do not exist at all.” About theoretical, hypothetical things. It’s talking not just about religion and religious concepts, belief and faith (that too) but about most any human construct that unites us, ties us together, makes us community because we have in common a myth. Illustration may work best when all are strangers, such as strangers at the battlefront fighting for and protecting each other because everybody’s wearing gray and the battleflag fluttering over them signifies their common myth; but I’m thinking in the extreme about stories of two brothers, one in blue and one in gray, confronting each other on the battlefield and some myths are deeper held than others, that is to say, "family" over "nation." For many, including Christian martyrs down through the ages, the sacred story is worth dying for, as Onward, Christian soldiers … with the Cross of Jesus going on before. For others and in other times, including for me, it's a flag that obscures all other symbols and is at the center of my own self-identification. Flag, and its song -- "still there." Flag, song and myth eclipse all others. This is why I do not like the flag in church: if I can see the flag, myths collide and I cannot see the Cross.

Symbols signify, unite. I recall Bishop John Shelby Spong saying that even though he's not literally into the myths they proclaim, he loves the Christmas carols and hymns, loves the music, loves singing them, loves being in the community of God's people. 

That’s enough. It isn’t at all that the myth idea is worrying me, but that my mind is worrying the myth idea. It's one more thing that never before occurred to me in quite this way. So --

"We believe in …" but Seek the Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will said the lintel over the library door of my Episcopal seminary. Seek, then, and slowly awaken to why you "know" you are what you hold yourself to be, and to why you believe what you claim to believe. And to why sapiens in far lands are willing to kill and die for their very different myths, and we for ours.

Myths are not lies, not fables, not fairy tales, but sacred stories that unite us, make us what we "know" ourselves to be.  


Morning 20150725

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