My friend, Roger, and I have irregular email conversations. Roger is a Systematic Theologian. I, as some of you know, am a Theological Librarian. Interestingly enough, most of our conversations are political in nature. We are both politically liberal.
For some reason our last conversation triggered me to write a bit about my background that is different from the trauma narrative that I regularly go over and over in my mind. Here I’m going to share that “alternative narrative.” This has led me to realize that our lives are made up of more than one narrative stream. We are complex creatures. This post is about the development of my intellectual life. Bits and pieces really but quite truly as much a part of my life as the trauma.
“Roger, our emails back and forth have sparked within me something that has been dormant for decades. I haven’t seriously stopped to think about my own understanding of the value of Scripture and the particular meaning I ascribe to it. I have always said that hermeneutics, even unknown and unexamined, say more about one’s faith than what one typically articulates with respect to the Gospel. As you know, we can say the same words and mean quite different things by them. Anyway, I am rusty and dusty but for my own sake I am going to give this a go.
“First of all, I went to a very liberal seminary and, to be forthcoming, my Old Testament professor in college was very “progressive” in his approach to theology.
“But before that I was reading Pythagorus, Plato/Socrates, Aristotle, Plotinus’s neo-Platonism, et cetera – starting in the 5th or 6th grade. I ate this stuff up and discovered early on that I was a Platonist. That classical school of thought simply made the most sense to me. (I was not so thrilled by the Roman schools. I found them to be derivatives and redundant. In my view, oratory, in addition to Lex Rex, was Rome’s only real gift to Western civilization. I know this is a brash, maybe arrogant, statement. Probably heresy.)
“My propensity to Plato translates into my belief that I am really ‘mystically’ oriented from the ‘get go.’ I dabbled briefly in Eastern mysticism, mainly Buddhism and Taoism; entertaining both of them indeed with some very practical applications. For example, while working in the woods along the Canadian border in the late fall, early winter there was a time before I could afford proper footwear to protect my feet from the wet and cold when I was pretty desperate. Using a practice I had learned from Buddhism, I was able to keep my feet and fingers warm. Believe it or not, I even meddled briefly in Egyptian metaphysics but, to be honest, that stuff actually frightened me a bit.
“I became a Christian in a season of depression and despair, contemplating suicide. I had the means to die by suicide in my hands when I sensed an overwhelming Love. Since I was reading Matthew at the time, I naturally presumed this Love was the Christian God’s Love. The minister at the church I went to after this suggested I might have ‘the stuff’ to be a minister and sent me to his alma mater. When I arrived at college, which was more a preacher’s college than a Bible college, I knew virtually nothing about the Bible. I knew there was an Old Testament and a New Testament and I could name quite a number of the books in each but the content was lost on me.
“So, this was the milieu in a nutshell in which I arrived at college. I took every Bible class I could fit into my schedule and was soon proficient navigating my way through the Scriptures. My abilities in philosophical enquiry were soon discovered such that when our professor of philosophy became ill, I was asked to fill in for him. I spent my senior year instructing philosophy and taking my own load of courses. Some of the most fun I had was taking Greek for two years, especially syntax. It helped put some things in place that puzzled me about my studies. I began to read the beautiful Greek found in Philo, a middle Platonist.”