not swallowed by the sea

after a very fun and relaxing july 4th weekend spent some 350 miles north of here on the rocky shores of Lake Huron (i didn't think you could get that much further north, but that goes to show how bad my geography is) i was not looking forward to getting back into the swing of things. but time flies, as they say, and yesterday i was unexpectedly looking down the barrel of a very German gun. i got to class about 30 seconds after the prof and, of course, he immediately turned to me to answer the first translation question. i had no idea even what page we were on. but after only a moment's panic--though it always feels much longer than that when you're sitting there like an idiot in front of the whole class--a guy next to me whispered the page number where i would find the answer. that was a long segue to a short but interesting story: the guy who whispered to me was named joshua and he was a mennonite pastor. i thanked him and talked to him a bit after class. it turns out he is at ND in the theology school, which, unlike the seminary (two different institutions) is not catholic at all. in fact, the catholic influence in the theology department is so inconsequential that the school is getting nervous that its catholic distinctiveness is being lost. incidentally, 80% or more of the undergraduates are catholic but very few of the graduate students and even fewer of the graduate faculty are. okay, all of that is an aside. what i really wanted to get to was the discussion that i had with joshua the pastor. i threw out a little quip about seminary really being "cemetery"--it's been common in my past to think of what goes on in seminary as a systematic debunking of all certainty about God, Christianity, the Bible, and all related topics resulting in an unresolvable crisis of faith for the student followed by agnosticism at best. i was being tongue-in-cheek when i said it; i know a couple individuals who have made it through the system of debunking and had their faith strengthened by it. joshua had heard of "cemetery" before, of course. and he must have had experience with people who sincerely or even vehemently meant it, because the next thing he said seemed to indicate that he'd thought about it a bit. to paraphrase what he said (adding some interpretation of what i think he might have meant): we all grow up with various authorities in our lives, our parents, pastors, teachers, etc. eventually we find out that our authorities were simply not right about certain things. so when we're young, we reject those authorities altogether--if they can't give us the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth, we want none of it. but as we get more mature, we realize that there are plenty of things that no one knows enough about to make really solid statements. and yet we make solid statements all the time--i know X to be true. it seems that we always have a few options open to us. we can: (1) ignore/distrust all the contradictions to what we have been told is true and go on saying the same things as our authorities originally said, even when we know they're incorrect; (2) reject/distrust our authorities, set up ourselves as authorities, and find some other way to live; (3) mostly trust authorities, only leaning on other authorities when we find the main ones to be wrong or incomplete; (4) approach even what has been taken for granted by our authorities with some bit of caution and even skepticism but likewise remain cautious and even skeptical about counter-claims and other authorities even in the areas where we think our traditional authorities are wrong. i didn't mean to add that much of my own interpretation, but it's the way what he originally said struck me. so one question i originally had is "how do we know which authorities to believe?" if we get two different interpretations of the passage in Corinthians that talks about male/female relationships and authority in the Church, which one are we more likely to believe: the one that says that Paul's words were all very tightly tied to his own cultural environment or the one that says Paul's words were intended as an across time and space commandment? to me, anyway, it seems like our answer will be based on which authority we find more persuasive based on our own experiences and history, our denominational leanings and our overall feeling about Bible interpretation. How then--and this is my real question I guess--do we know which is the best explanation of a given portion of scripture? How do we know we've got it right?


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