The Excitement of a Large Squirrel, Predicting the Weather Friday, Feb 2 2007 

I’m taking a short break this February 2nd to direct my few readers to one of my favorite films: Groundhog Day. I will not attempt to provide an exhaustive review here, but I will provide a few short thoughts on themes in the films that are valuable to the Christian’s life.

1. The film is first and foremost about transformation. Many have compared Phil Conners living the same day over and over and over to the process of a catepillar becoming the butterfly. It reminds me that God is not done with me. Adversity, relationships, spiritual habits and (perhaps most importantly) time are all being used to refine me into a friend of God.

2. The film is about giving up control. If left to myself, I would waste my life focused on trying to control people and circumstances that are, by design, beyond my control. In perhaps the most important moment in the film, an old man dies. In that moment, Phil Conners is more fully transformed. He accepts that even though he knows everything going on in Punxatawney, he is not controlling everything in Punxatawney. From where I’m standing, losing his thirst for control is the single most important step Phil makes in the film. He begins as a self centered jerk. He then becomes kind of a paternalistic jerk. When the old man dies, Phil becomes a guy committed to doing what good he can and begins living an extraordinary life. In many Christians, our unslakable thirst for control of others is what makes our witness toxic and offensive. The desire for control, even when our motives are good, is one of the things that sabotages our witness in front of other people. The film gives an example of this when Phil takes the old man to the hospital and talks to the ER nurse.

3.  The film is about real community. Phil begins the film being too good, too smart, too refined, too famous, and too everything else to be bothered with any of the people in Punxatawney. At the close of the film, Phil becomes an integral member of the community. Importantly, he doesn’t become the new big fish in Punxatawney. He becomes a part of what’s everyone’s life there. To some people he’s just the “nice young man from the motor club” and he seems fine with that status. In my own Christian life, it is too easy to not engage in my own local church unless I’m in charge of something. The film reminds me that I need other people as much or more than they need me.

 I love the film and wanted to share some things it teaches me. If you want some other reviews on Groundhog Day, you might want to look here, here, and here.

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The Weakest Link Saturday, Jan 27 2007 

In the previous entries, I focused on the method a reader should use to try and understand what’s going on in the Bible. In the last entry, I mentioned the problem of how two people using the same method for Bible study can have very different answers to the simple question: What does it mean? 

In my experience, the biggest roadblock to me understanding the Bible is me. I suspect that the same problems I have with the Bible personally are also responsible for the wide variety of interpretations of the Bible. In short, so many different interpretations of the same Bible passages probably have more to do with the reader than the text.

Please indulge two illustrations. First, think about the experience of wading across a creek. The water can be running so clearly that I can see everything on the streambed and it’s just lovely: until I step in. As soon as I step into the stream, I seem to kick up enormous amounts of mud that immediately clouds a crystal clear stream. Similarly, we do not read the Bible in a vacuum, our very presence tends to cloud and obscure the meaning. However, as in the stream, if we patiently stand still long enough the streambed will settle again and we can be standing in a beautiful crystal clear stream. As we read the scripture, we need to be patient readers who are willing to check and double check ourselves to make sure that we aren’t muddying the water and obscuring the Bible passage that we are trying to understand.

Imagine that each of us is a jug. Then try to imagine the life lessons and insights communicated through Bible is an endless reservior of clean, pure, great tasting water. In a perfect world, I’d be able to be totally open to whatever the Lord wants to teach me and live according to what the Lord says. The problem I’ve always had is my jug is never empty when I go to the Bible in the first place. (Before we go further, I wonder if you’re thinking that I’m about to say that sin is crowding out God’s word in our lives and we need to be clean, empty vessels? The thought occured to me while I was writing and it serves as another good example of what I’m trying to illustrate. We make interpretive decisions all the time. For example, have you ever tried to finish someone’s sentence for them because you were certain of what they meant to say?) What I’ve always found is that my jug is already pretty crowded. There are things beyond my control like my own time, culture, native language, national origin, race, Christian traditions and history. Then things I can control like economic status, politics, worldview, religious beliefs, and life experiences. Add to all of this my frame of mind on that day, my ego, the result I want to find in the Bible, and my own ruinous desire to be right all the time and you can see that the jug I’m taking to the Bible may only allow a few drops from the Lord at any given time.

The point I’m making in this entry is very simple: I am the weakest link between God’s word and the life of faith I want to live. I cannot take myself out of the process. My life will muddy the waters. It is imperative that we recognize that the greatest pitfall we face in reading the scripture is finding exactly what we expect and exactly what we want in the word of God. If left to myself, I’d see Jesus as a middle class, American guy who sounds a lot like John Wayne and has my same priorities, knowledge, interests and goals. We need to work hard and be patient to keep our own lives from robbing the Bible of its power to challenge, upset and ultimately transform us.

In the next few entries, I hope to deal with some pitfalls to interpreting the Bible and a fuller treatment of why there are so many different answers to: what does it mean? The final few entries I will make have to do with implications on how interpretation impacts church and denominational life. Thanks for reading.