During Holy Week Barry tweeted,
I’m thinking this Maundy Thursday foot-washing business is a distraction-the point isn’t washing feet-that was a cultural signifier-ours is?
— barry taylor (@BarryT256) March 28, 2013
What is our cultural signifier? What habit or practice would approximate foot washing today that at the same time might be infused with the weight of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet?
Reading the Gospel narratives we cannot miss the reference to foot washing when the Pharisees objected to the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears. Jesus noted his host was inhospitable and therefore an unjust judge of the woman’s actions. Jesus’ feet were washed with tears and anointed with perfume. He washed the disciples feet with water. The act in John appears more noteworthy than the observance of the Last Supper.
The exchange spurred by the Tweet pointed up the practices surrounding holiday Easter. Few Christian groups practice foot washing today. After all we do not wear sandals and walk dusty roads. We are still left to wonder what habit or practice would give us the same example?
A visit from a friend set me to thinking about this again. In fact, I was going to write something during Holy Week on the subject but the week got away.
My friend stopped by to chat. He noticed my unkempt writing table. There are several stacks of books. He surmised I was studying or doing some sort of research. I told him I had been listening to a debate over the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. A couple of days listening to radical theologians will leave you thinking about the reality of the Resurrection. I digress.
“Debates rarely change anyone’s mind,” my friend remarked. I agreed, for the most part. It was at that point I mused aloud that what may have been more transformative, at least scandalous, would have been for William Lane Craig to wash Bart Ehrman’s feet. Here is where I need help to think through what cultural signifier would have demonstrated that above well rehearsed arguments and concise rebuttals the Resurrection of Jesus alters our interactions. I do mean something beyond being polite – please and thank you.
Our conversation took an interesting turn at that point. An underlying dilemma surfaced. First, how may we do a better job considering our way of life with others in light of Jesus’ Way? Second, what happens when it is realized all reading is interpretation.
First, we need the further collapse of the sacred and secular to the degree that we erase the experience of differentiated living. That is, practicing radical faithfulness would require us to live undifferentiated. As such any interaction we we face will inherently follow the pattern and habits of Jesus. We do not differentiate according to our surroundings or the people we encounter. This is evangelism. It is not Bible thumping. It is Jesus living.
Second, and this grows out of the first, we must recognize Scripture, under the influence of the Spirit, emits a polyphonic resonance. My friend and I turned to discuss reading, interpretation, and, the Constitution. Not the Bible as Constitution, but we talked about how the United States Constitution is read.
You should know my friend served in the United States Army. He is proud of his Country. It is also noteworthy that when he described that we may read the Bible faithfully and still come away with different interpretations – both being right – he is no postmodern liberal. In fact, I would not make that suggestion. He does have his conceal and carry.
We talked about the phrase, “all men are created equal.” For his reading this line signaled what might happen to the writers own places of privilege should someone come and claim more privilege. My read suggests that at the time the only ones described were white, land owning men. That our history records the fight for women’s rights and minority rights betrays reading equal too hard. We disagreed. We did agree there are a variety of interpretations. While he joked that I might be wrong, he opened up a way to say this is how and what happens when we read the Bible. Which he did.
What he does describe is the one conundrum many in my tribe face – the plurality of interpretations. We do find the Scriptures to be polyphonic. When we in the first world read Luke’s story of the lost son, we tend to vilify the younger son. When others read the story in the two-thirds world, the older son is vilified. Some even praise the younger son. (Consider the book, How Do They Hear?)
Radical faithfulness to Jesus and his Way requires something of us, something from us. Rather than double down on our positions, we may need to spend time with our cultural signifiers. Which one(s) may be used in the viable transmission of a very real event that transforms our way of being in the world?
I suggest it is not in rehearsing our well-worn arguments. It will not come in enterprising nuances. No, I contend it will come when we exert the energy to connect our cultural signifiers comparable to foot washing that we will offer something beyond the ethereal to those suspicious of the Resurrection of Jesus.