Richard Rohr: learning from midrash

10 Jan

Richard Rohr reminds us of the ‘yes and no’ approach to Bible study, learned from Jewish tradition, where it was called midrash.  In community we learn from each other and respond to invitations to go in different directions by those in our midst.

Yes, And. by Richard Rohr

Yes, And. by Richard Rohr

Jewish Midrash

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I think we learned the Sic et Non approach in the early Christian period from our Jewish ancestors. They called it midrash. Midrash was a different way of coming to truth. It was simply where you get together and look at Scripture in an open—but faith-filled—way: It could mean this; it could mean that. It might challenge you in this direction; it might invite you in that direction. [1]

Jewish midrash extrapolated from the mere story to find its actual spiritual message. We all do the same when we read anyway, but Jesus and his Jewish people were much more honest and up front about this. Fundamentalists pretend they are giving the text total and literal authority, but then it always ends up looking like what people in that culture would want to believe anyway. (Remember, good Bible Christians in the U.S. Confederacy and in South Africa were quite sure the Scriptures justified oppression and enslavement of black people.)

To take the Scriptures seriously is not to take them literally. Literalism is invariably the lowest and least level of meaning. Serious reading of Scripture will allow you to find an ever-new spiritual meaning for the liberation of history, the liberation of the soul, and the liberation of God in every generation. Then the text is true on many levels, instead of trying to prove it is true on just the one simple, factual level. Sacred texts always maximize your possibilities for life and love, which is why we call them sacred. I am afraid we have for too long used the Bible merely to prove various church positions, which largely narrows their range and depth. Instead of transforming people, the Biblical texts became utilitarian and handy ammunition. [2]

[1] From Sic et Non; Yes, And webcast recording (MP3 download)

[2] Adapted from Yes, And . . . : Daily Meditations, p. x

Gateway to Silence:
Yes . . . and . . .

Of course, we make the association with women’s ministry (or lack thereof) in the Lutheran Church of Australia, in which this blog’s authors reside.   Decades of Bible study on this matter within our communion surely have given understanding that literal use of Scripture to prove various church position erodes its power to transform people. “Let darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness (be) our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines.

We can live with each other. In fact, we must. We are family – a family of diverse experience and world view. We can love each other and not pretend that we are identical. We are, after all, not so different to the sit-coms that have family seated around the Christmas table, rubbing up against each others prejudices and making faux pas to be laughed about in coming years.

By loving each other in our difference, we will grow together toward places yet unimagined.  God’s work is surely not complete – there is more in store for each of us.


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4 responses to “Richard Rohr: learning from midrash

  1. Graham Semmler

    January 10, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    I agree totally, I can’t see what the problem is with excepting Women in the Ministry, all we have to do is let the Congregations that want a Woman Minister be allowed to call one, and the Congregations that want a male Pastor call a Male. Problem solved. If anyone can show me where in Scripture that it says God says we can’t have Women Pastors, It isn’t in the Bible, it is only Mans interpritation.
    Regards Graham Semmler

    • Katie and Martin

      January 12, 2014 at 9:55 pm

      The current situation is one where a minority, which supports the status quo, is imposing their cultural beliefs (albeit in the name of following Scripture) on another group of people. No group can continue indefinitely in such circumstances. People only tolerate oppression for so long. People don’t indefinitely stay in organisations where they feel oppressed. Graham, as you say, congregations should be able to call female or male pastors according to how they see their call to faithfulness. The debate, of course, will come to that of women bishops. Those opposing WO will insist that they cannot remain part of the same communion because women will eventually become bishops. I think we have precedents from UK Church of England to help us through that dilemma. We do worry that women bishops will be sacrificed until another generation to deal with.

  2. Karin

    January 10, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    It is worth noting that many of the arguments in favour of WO have also been based on literal interpretations of scripture. Perhaps this is the reason why this discussion has gone nowhere but into the world of black/white, either/or. There has been no room for transformation.

    • Katie and Martin

      January 12, 2014 at 10:09 pm

      Yes, Karin. Richard Rohr might suggest that both sides have been using Scripture as ‘handy ammunition’. We need a different paradigm for dealing with Scripture, which Richard Rohr seems to provide. “Methodology: Scripture as validated by experience, and experience as validated by tradition, are good scales for one’s spiritual worldview. ”
      Now that’s something that would challenge traditional Lutheran theologians!


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