I am a big fan of being present. That is especially true in the spirituality of presence. It is also one of the great dangers of our modern technology. It allows us to be somewhere else, neglecting those we are sitting with, and to be focused on some other time (either future plans or past memories). This has always been a danger. Now, day dreaming or living in regret are one thing but technology enables us and can even encourage us to be some other place or at some other time.
There is a beauty to being here now.
This tendency, if unchecked, can accentuate a mentality in some christians to long for the 1st Century in an idealized form of ‘the early church’ or the ‘church of Acts’. I have talked often about the error of making the early church singular by quoting books like “The Churches the Apostles Left Behind” , “The Emergence of the Church” and “Unity and Diversity in the New Testament“. The is no ‘Early Church” in that homogenized sense. It was never a singular expression. There was always diversity and variation. I actually think that God likes it that way and wants it to be that way. But that is a different conversation.
My main focus here the is the temptation to long for the 1st century as Bible readers. We should be careful what we wish for. We might not be getting what we think we are asking for. In fact, not only is it impossible … even if it were possible, I’m not sure how accurately our romanticized version would measure up to the real deal.
Two things have prodded me in this area recently. The first is a quote that a freind sent me from Alfred North Whitehead
Whereas you can make a replica of an ancient statue, there is no possible replica of an ancient state of mind.
The second prompt came from a recent comment on this blog. It comes from Jason Stewart:
When I get in these sorts of conversations, I find it very helpful to stress that it is IMPOSSIBLE, not simply difficult, to read the scriptures in the same way the original audience would have. Many times I have made this very point, only to find out later in the conversation that the other person thinks I really mean something more to the effect of: “We should be really careful to make sure we’re reading the text in the same way the first audiences would have”.
Not being a premodern man and lacking premodern man experiences, language, culture, and expectations, makes my reading of the text very very different from his from the outset.
These two thoughts have been rattling around and haunting me. On this weekend where we remember that attack of September 11, I am very aware that in so many ways the 21st century is not like the world that we have known. It is not entirely unlike the world we have known but neither is it entirely similar. I want to be awake to the realities that we find ourselves in now. I think that the first step to that may be coming to terms with the fact that A) We can’t go back even if we wanted to. B) the past was never singular and homogenous. There was always diversity and complexity.
We are here now. I thank God that I have the opportunity to be here and to be here now. There is no other place I would rather be.