“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” Romans 11:3, NIV
Wednesday was an interesting day in my Shakespeare class. I generally find Shakespeare plays thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining and so class time is always a little interesting, but today was interesting because the class was spurred into theological debates surrounding a student presentation. The presentation was an argument that claimed the existence of strong parallels between Shakespeare’s plot of brother Claudius murdering brother Old Hamlet and the story of Cain and Abel presented in Genesis 4 of the Christian Bible. It was an interesting debate because it caused me to reflect on how sensitive I am about people – mainly self-announced (this creating a whole new problem in my perception of them) Protestant Christians – coming into an argument about Biblical authority with the steadfast claim that “The Bible says….” or, “well it says in the Bible…..” – as though these arguments showed perfect understanding and not just a human interpretation of various unnamed translations of the Bible……(not naming any certain translation for the reference is another pet peeve it seems).
I listened, and attempted to be open minded, searching my own understandings and beliefs….and still I bristled every time this statement was made by various students – the 7 out of 26 that actually engaged the conversation.
I found myself trying to imagine how the teacher must be feeling – trying to diffuse a debate which is so much over the understanding or scope of a 1 hour class time….how to mediate the discussion in a way that allows ideas to be brought forward and logical fallacies to be pointed out – all in a way that broadens the way the students think……I found myself watching the faces of the other silent students in the classroom, trying to ascertain whether they found themselves aligned in any way to this discussion – Did they even know the story? Honestly, they’re all English majors and as such have come in to contact with Christian literature throughout their studies I’m sure (British lit requires a certain lens be introduced) – but how do the students who do not share any sort of belief being offered as a truth – how do they contribute or add to this conversation? do they feel interested? do they feel completely outcast?
The latter answer is the one that scares me – I found myself in that classroom wanting just to speak out and say -” not all Christian’s are like this! please please please don’t base your judgement on this class period! Why don’t we all go out for a cup of coffee or a beer and share our beliefs and question each other? Then we can come back to this class with a better way to argue a point – a way to argue that doesn’t leave someone out of the conversation but allows everyone to discuss and share – to feel like their beliefs have just as much weight in this discussion as someone else’s…..please, please don’t judge me (or Christianity) based on this class….” But I worry and sometimes I know that they will – because really – why not? If that class discussion is the only context you are given for Christian thinking – one which claims it is a truth beyond question – beyond differing interpretations - beyond study – how would you create a different picture of Christianity than the one being performed in your Shakespeare class? Why would actively seek out people who will discredit your argument on the basis of “I’m right, you’re wrong”?
Tonight my family and I headed to the Tenebrae Service held at our Church which is meant to act as a solemn reminder of why this season is important in our faith. Why it is that Easter and the Resurrection of Christ should be something that we prepare for in humbling ways and then Celebrate with all our might. Over the course of about 45 minutes, the story of Jesus’s path from the Communion table to the Cross is told and between each reading, candles – lights – are extinguished while music is sung. As the service progresses, the darkness takes over and the music lessens until the Church is left in darkness – silence – and one candle – to symbolize Christ is re-lit. It is one of my favorite services and I have a hard time not weeping by the end of it – it’s just beautiful.
As we walked swiftly and silently to our car and then headed home, I had to smile as our kids talked about how boring it was to sit through stories, but also how it was neat that the candles were blown out – and then to listen as they question what we believe…..Our oldest kiddo asks: “Why is it that some people believe Jesus was just a prophet when we know he died and came back?!” and “Did you know that some people don’t even know about Jesus and they think there really is an Easter bunny?” , etc…. I love these questions because it means they’re thinking – it means they notice that there is more to the world than just what they know and I think it’s so important for them to be able to engage in discussions with their friends about their different beliefs. How should we, as parents, answer these questions? Well, because we’re constantly learning as we go, we encourage the discussion – we encourage the questions – the seeking of answers, and also let them know that we really don’t know all the answers. We don’t know how to answer all the questions – we’re really only human too (parent human, so we get to make decisions that stick more than they do, but human nonetheless).
It’s hard to believe in something in this world that is not provable by scientific method. There is no hypothesis or theory or test which will prove that our beliefs are right, or that someone else is actually right. This is the reason that my classmate’s “Well, the bible says…” answers vex me to no end. How do you teach that to a child or an adult; who is otherwise taught a method to figure things out – how to solve a math problem, how to test a hypothesis, how to read and write - these problems have concrete answers that the solving and creating and learning will reach – that they will know for sure. So what do we do with a belief? I only hope they continue the conversation. Continue seeking answers to questions they don’t even really understand – and I hope we can teach them to listen to the questions that others are seeking to answer as well. I hope they can contribute to the theological debates that will occur in their lifetime – Shakespeare and otherwise, in a way that is inclusive to the host of other religions present – in a way that helps them to grow in understanding and confusion, it’s the only way to continue learning. And I hope they will remember the solemn evenings when they sat, “bored” as the lights faded and the same story of Jesus’s sad, lonely, human death was told again.