Wednesday, February 16, 2011

To learn to recognize truth in the voice of the 'other'

Et ego ad te veneram ex gentibus; et intendi in aurum, quod ab Aegypto voluisti ut auferret populus tuus, quoniam tuum erat, ubicumque erat. "

And I had come to you from the Gentiles and fixed my attention on the gold which you willed your people to take from Egypt, since the gold was yours, wherever it was found".
(Augustine, Confessions, IX)

One of the characteristics of a community of wise readers of Scripture is an openness to outsiders, to those who are ‘others’. Without ears to hear the voices of those we consider ‘others’ to ourselves, we can forget that now “we know in part and we prophesy in part… now we see as in a mirror dimly” (I Cor. 13:9, 12). Our interpretations can take on pretensions of permanence.

When our communities fall prey to this greatest interpretive temptations, it is often only the voice of outsiders, of those who are ‘others’, that can set us right. If we have not taken the time to cultivate the skills, habits and dispositions that allow us to hear their voices, we will fall into a situation of interpretive arrogance. That is, we will deceive ourselves into thinking that our words are God’s words, that we are somehow oracles of the divine.

The exercise of power and coercion will characterize our communities. Conformity rather than faithfulness will be the standard to judge our lives. If nothing else, then, our awareness of our own tendencies towards interpretive self-deception should compel us to learn to listen to those who are ‘others’, to those who are outsiders, and to the one who is the ultimate 'other' and 'outsider', he who "emptied himself" and took on our form, bearing in himself everything that we are, everything he was not.

Then will we allow the grace of God to unmask our foolish pretensions, our pride, our arrogance that often masquerade as devotion. Then we will come to understand what Christ wished to teach his disciples two thousand years ago, by his words, by his deeds, by his death: men will be led to the light of truth, never by force, never by coercion, never by dissembling and deceit, but by guiding them to recognize it in the trust and confidence we ourselves place in truth's splendor, which needs no aid from any of our arrogant human constructs. For truth is truth, no matter where it is found. As Augustine says:

"And I had come to you from the Gentiles and fixed my attention on the gold which you willed your people to take from Egypt, since the gold was yours, wherever it was found".

(Adapted from Stephen Fowl and Gregory Jones, Reading in Communion).



"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)