Mixed Signals: Reclaiming The Old Testament

by - 7:22 PM

I hate, I despise your festivals,
   and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
   I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
   I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
   I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
   and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. - Amos 5:21-24

Today I was having a discussion with a theology friend about my future. In it I said “Eventually I would like to teach Old Testament”
Her response was generally the same response I get from everyone “I don’t really like the Old Testament”.
I was not the least suprised.

Whenever I tell someone I want to teach Old Testament I usually get one of three main reactions.  1. Their eyes glaze over like they've just marathoned the prequal trilogy.
2. They begin listing the reasons they don’t like the Old Testament
or 3. They smile bemusedly and change the subject.

For awhile I thought maybe I was just crazy, maybe all these people were right, maybe the Old Testament should be left on the shelf and trotted out when you want to remind people how Ancient our religion is. Like how the UCC brags about being connected to the Puritans. (Hey I’m UCC and God knows I’ve done it)

But the problem with relegating the Old Testament to the dusty shelves of quaint history isn’t that we lose our claim to being old as dirt.

No, the problem is we lose our backbone, our spine, our gut level humanness.

The problem is, we have lost the humanity of scripture in our quest to make it divine.

We stopped looking for us and started digging for God. Our signals got mixed.

As I sat today in the bathtub while the shower ran over me (sometimes I take showers sitting down….that’s not weird right?) I was contemplating this same problem but for a very pragmatic reason.

My Mom and Me. We ain’t kosher.

I mean really, it’s pretty bad.

She thinks I’m under the influence of the devil. (Cause I’m Trans, Progressive and in a Straight Relationship.)

I disagree.

It’s a thing.

So anyway, a week or so ago I get a message from her. It was the same condemnation, denial of who I am and gaslighting as usual, but buried in the message was this.
“A few weeks ago at church I was standing there as the pastor was leading in worship and I was telling the Lord that I needed to know that you were going to be ok or I didn't think I could handle it. I imagined in my mind that the preacher looked at me and said "your son will be ok". I thought that wasn't enough. I said "Lord I need it to be more specific, like maybe your middle son." Now remember that was just me talking to the Lord in my head. Well, I thought I better stop daydreaming and focus. I opened my eyes and immediately the pastor walked toward our side of the sanctuary and said, "Someone here has a son that you are praying for and every time you get down to pray for him you cry". That got my attention. He continued, " come down to the altar so we can pray for your son" he paused then said "it's an adult son".  It was almost exactly what I had imagined only he said adult instead of middle. “

Now, my initial gut reaction to anything she says is to dismiss it. Because she is actively antagonistic to me and if you know someone is trying to poison you, you don’t eat the free sandwich. BUT. For some reason this stuck with me. I have been mulling it over in my mind and heart and sifting it. Mostly because this message is coming through layers of human prejudice. And so as I sat in my shower (it’s a thing, it’s totally a thing) I thought about this once again and connected it to the conversation I had this morning and It brought me great peace.

You see, what I can glean from this message is a number of things but the most important part is who is being spoken too, and really that goes the same for the Old Testament.

Because I know my Mother and how truly shattered she has been by the revelation that her child is Transgender when I read this it gives me hope. Not for our relationship, that ship has probably sailed, sunk, been raised to the surface, and then burned. But I have hope for her welfare, for her to be able to heal from the damage her own hatred has caused. Because I believe in a God who speaks to people in the words they are willing to hear. I believe that the person who is receiving the message is the most important part of the message.

You see the Old Testament isn’t telling us what God wants. It isn’t even telling us the history of the Hebrew people. The Old Testament is telling us the story of people longing for God in a cruel, barbaric and dangerous world. It’s telling us of a God who met those people, and used the words that they could hear, the ideas that they could hold on to, the methods that they were used to. That is where we get our signals crossed. When we forget that the Bible is about who we are as much or more than it is about who God is.

That is how God speaks to a broken humanity. In words that they will hear.
So when I pray I hear Daughter.
And when my Mom prays she hears son.
And we both get what we need.
Because God doesn’t talk to humanity to burden us with realities, but to touch our wounds.

And that is how I read the Old Testament. To hear the struggle of finding God, with nothing but the hope that He cares. To see how deeply we fail when left to our own devices and opinions about who God is. To find those inner parts of me that have the same terrible uncertainty and to remind myself that God isn’t expecting us to know the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But to live in the only Truth that matters, Love.

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