The Abbey is so delighted to be offering an online retreat for men starting January 20th – Exile and Coming Home: Priest, Prophet, Politician, and Poet – An Online Journey for Men – facilitated by John Valters Paintner, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, Roy Deleon, and Michael Landron. John shares some insights and an invitation to join him:
Greetings My Fellow Monks!
A year and a half ago, I made a huge life change. I gave up a full-time job teaching theology at a Catholic high school. The main reason for leaving my teaching position was because the Hebrew Scriptures class I had taught for nine years was being dropped to make room for the new curriculum mandated by the US Catholic Bishops. Over the course of the nine years I taught the Hebrew Scriptures I delved into my own study for continued education and really fell in love with these ancient stories of faith. I loved teaching teenagers and believe it to be very important, but I could not get behind a curriculum that I felt was both theologically and educationally lacking.
And so I am thrilled to be teaching the Hebrew Scriptures again here at the Abbey of the Arts with our first men’s-only online retreat (Exile and Coming Home: Priest, Prophet, Politician, and Poet – An Online Journey for Men). Certainly things are different this time around. I will be co-teaching with some wonderful men rather than teaching alone. My fellow pilgrims along this spiritual journey (we are all students) will be more mature and are willing participants. And best of all, I am free from the constraints of a Church structure.
I am not anti-Church, but my spiritual journey has taken me beyond the pale of traditional Church confines. I still consider myself a Catholic and while the course is not Christ centered, Jesus of Nazareth is very central to my faith. However, as a Christian theologian I believe very strongly that the Old Testament is an equally sacred text that can stand alone as a testament to our human understanding of God and should be studied as such.
As much as I love the Bible, I have come to realize that it has not necessarily traveled well down through the centuries. There is much in those ancient books that are difficult or troubling for many modern readers. Finding a good linguistic translation is easy, they abound. The difficult part of modern Biblical studies is the cultural translation. By this I mean to say that most of us are not nomadic herders or farmers and so some of the analogies and the very mindset of the Biblical authors are easily lost. These cultural misunderstandings lead, unfortunately, to the Bible often being misunderstood. The biggest issue, I feel, is made by both fundamentalists and (some) atheists, alike. They both demand that the Bible be perfect. Therefore the fundamentalist reads every line of Scripture as literal fact. (I have heard some remarkable leaps and twists of logic to explain away or ignore blaring contradictions or troubling texts from some otherwise very erstwhile Christians.) Similarly, expecting the Bible to be true in every detail, the atheist will dismiss the entire Bible over the first inaccuracy. (I have heard atheists, who I otherwise greatly respect, ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ when it comes to the Bible.)
But love (of Scripture) is neither blind to faults nor critically dismissive. True love sees the flaws and understands them as part of the whole, which can then be loved and understood for what it really is. The Bible is the inspired word of God, not God’s dictation. The Bible is not definitive proof of God, the assumption is one of a divine presence . . . even if the nature of the Divine is always just beyond our grasp. The Bible (Old & New Testaments) is the collected sacred writings of ancient people trying to understand God. The three key moments of questioning that led to the writing of Scripture are the Exodus, the Exile, and the Crucifixion. In each of these instances, people thought they understood God, but are then so surprised by God’s actions that a great spiritual wrestling begins that ultimately results in the writing of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. The answers that the Biblical authors arrive at are deeply profound, but often colored by their ancient cultural worldview. And so to best understand
what they are trying to tell us through their writings, we must do our best to understand who they were (to put ourselves in their sandals, so to speak) to better understand their message.
We won’t have time to delve into all three of these big questions of Biblical faith in one class. We will only scratch the surface of one of them in our online men’s retreat, but what better place to begin than at the start of the Bible. Not chronologically at “the beginning,” but with the event that prompted the ancient Jews to sit down together and ask themselves, “if we are the beloved children of God, how did we become Exiled and how do we return home?”
I invite you to join me on a journey through some of these ancient stories and listen for the wisdom they offer to us as we strive to live in more contemplative ways in the world.
Join us starting January 20th: Exile and Coming Home: Priest, Prophet, Politician, and Poet – An Online Journey for Men
Love your words and deep reflection. And love the picture of you, shimmering radiance!
Thank you, Tonja! I credit the lovely photographer for the shimmering radiance. ;-)
John, Like the many others I, too, look forward to future offerings on the Scriptures. thank you for sharing your story.
Thank you, Gracia. I am also excited about what the future holds for my work with here at the Abbey.
Thank you , John, for your story and your thought. When I studied Catholic Theology many years ago we had a Prof who did a great job in updating Old Testamen’s stories for our understanding. Reading your post I felt really sorry not to be a man ( as in former times as a girl when I assesed and experienced women as under-privileged.. Ha,ha.)
Hopfully you will offer your retreat again – for both gender!
Thank you, Joy. We will be offering more Scripture courses online for everyone in the future.
Sorry about the typo – my tablet tends to alter words after I have pressed the send button. ;-(Please read ‘fundamentalist’ rather than ‘fundamentally’.
Thank you John – early in my Christian life I was a fundamentally, but by many winding paths and study of theology He has freed me to revel in His word with all its inaccuracies and contradictions.without fear and false guilt. :-) Now, like you I have moved beyond traditional Church to become a Dancing Monk.
Thank you, JudyLisette. It’s always good to find a kindred spirit!
Lovely to see this enthusiasm! I am sure we can convince Prior John to make an offering for the whole community in the near future. :-)
Hooray! Holding that request in prayer as I would love to take such a course. Blessings to all.
Oh, yes! John, you must do the same for women…..in Jesus there are neither male nor female. I wonder if I can sneak into the current class?….LOL…..I am currently reading one of Borg’s books….and another lies here, begging to also be read and devoured. Please have a joint class, because men and women both profit from the perspective of the ‘opposite’ gender. Thank you!
Being the belt of the Bible belt here in Oklahoma it would be so VERY refreshing to have something like this, as many have said, a co-ed group or just a group for we women. So many times I would love to sink my teeth into the scripture in a new way and have done so through Richard Rohr but would also like to see from many perspectives not just one or two. Being older when I became a Christian I became an evangelical fundamentalist as well and finally was able to contemplate myself out of that mind trap so please do consider this!!
I’ll add my voice to the requests for an OT program for women or men and women together. I live in a strongly Jewish area and the past couple years have studied Judaism in some detail, which has led to keen interest in the Hebrew scriptures. In fact, my husband and I will be participating in Torah study at a nearby synagogue this winter!
Thank you, Peg. I’ve loved what I’ve learned about Scripture from my experiences in the Jewish community. Many blessings to you and your husband in your Torah studies!
Thanks for this piece, John. I am so looking forward to the “Exile and Coming Home” journey with you.
Thanks, Richard! I’m also looking forward to the class. We’re getting more men signed up every week. It should be a wonderful experience for all!
I agree with Ann…please consider leading such a retreat for women too! I love the scroptures but have struggled to leave behind hyper evangelical/fundamentalist teaching…would so love to return to studying the scriptures in a forum where I flet able to ask questions.
Thank you, Polly. I think questioning Scripture is the best way study it.
John, your words are so inspiring! I have longed to find someone who is willing to dive deep into the sacred texts of the Bible and share that understanding with others. I have read much of Elaine Pagels and Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg and found their take on the Bible refreshing. Please consider leading a retreat for woman and the Old Testament. We have many wounds that have been inflicted upon us in the name of the Bible and much healing could be done, I believe, by such a course.
Thank you, Ann. Plans are in the works for more Biblical classes here at the Abbey.
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