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Digging Below the Surface

What I'm Reading Today: Exodus 21-23

Over the last several years lots of folks ask me why they should bother reading the rules contained in the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament. "After all," they suggest, "they are culturally bound pronouncements that don't make any sense within the context of our time and our culture."

On one level, there is some truth to that assessment. On another level, however, such an approach misses an important point.

Let me use an example from my teaching days to help spell out why I think reading such passages has value.

As some of you know, I taught English and Social Studies in a juvenile detention center for six years. Because it was an extremely dangerous environment, we had to be very strict (and explicit) in spelling out our expectations of the students. One of the most basic rules was that a student couldn't get out of his or her chair without permission. On the surface, this may sound excessive– but the rule was necessary because the students could have easily acted out against each other if they were able to move around freely in the classroom. In other words, the purpose of the rule was to ensure the students' safety.

One day we had the fire alarm go off. Most students instinctively figured out that they needed to stand up and get in line in order to make it to a place of safety. There was one student, however, that didn't get in line. When I asked him why, he said: "The rules say 'Don't get up without permission'. You didn't give me permission to stand up so I'm staying seated!"

It was a great example of someone learning the rules, but entirely missing the point of those same rules. It was a reminder for me to spend some time with the students helping them understand some of the reasoning behind the rules.

There are lots of religious fundamentalists who make that same mistake when they read the scriptures. They become so obsessed with the literal expression of a rule back in the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament that they entirely forget to ask why that rule was communicated in that particular time and place. If we dig below the surface and ask ourselves that question, we begin to move away from a rigid and moralistic approach to our faith – toward a living and breathing application of the principles of our faith that can guide us no matter in what age we live.

Today I would invite you to examine those rules that you've decided to live your life by. Are there some of them where you've become so focused on the rule itself, that you've lost sight of the underlying principles and perhaps become somewhat rigid and inflexible?

Til next time …

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