Up on the Roof
This is a picture of a roof garden in Manhattan; I took the photo while walking along the High Line Park near West 14th Street. One of the nifty things about the High Line is that one has the opportunity to view the familiar urban landscape from a slightly different vantage point. One can see what's on the roofs (many, many of them feature gardens or even greenhouses) of the mid-size buildings and also be able to appreciate the architectural details that are difficult to see from the ground level. The little people heads, the brickwork or frescoes or tile work or other ornamental work along the tops of windows or just below the rooflines. Inscriptions, lion heads, all sorts of interesting things are on the top quarter of many buildings and yet the people on the sidewalks below are oblivious of them. There are lovely, unexpected things up there.
A change of scenery is always a good thing, in my mind. But it is not always feasible to get out of town as often as one might like. The next best thing is a change in vantage point. Seeing the same thing from a different angle.
This is, actually, a good way to consider the Scriptures as well. We read them again and again, but see them differently, depending on our vantage point, which changes from time to time. And if it doesn't change naturally (uh-oh, perhaps one is not growing?), one ought to try to do it deliberately. So that we can get out of the rut we are in, seeing what we expect to see, reading half a verse and saying, "oh, yeah, that's where God does this and says that, yada yada yada. Already know it." Granted, there are times when one needs to hear the 23rd Psalm from the King James (Authorized) Version, like when someone you love dies or when you are being treated for cancer. But often, we really need to be willing to be surprised, to encounter the unexpected, to find loveliness or challenge or just something new.
Sometimes, however, we are not willing to examine the Scriptures in this way. (What would happen if I look at the Gospel through this lens, or that one, or try to get understanding of who the Gospel's first readers/hearers were etc.? Would I be zapped? Or lose my faith?) Just as some folks are not willing to write in their Bibles, there is this sort of taboo about examining the Good Book too closely or messing with things like point of view. Which is, when one thinks about it, pretty crazy. We believe that the Scriptures are the inspired word of God (or something like that) and yet we don't really think we should get too close or handle them or treat them too familiarly, other than being able to quote certain verses on demand.
But there is an anti-intellectual strain in Christianity that suggests that somehow it is disrespectful to ask questions or wonder or deconstruct or otherwise engage the Scriptures. We are somehow just supposed to read God's word and take it at face value.
In my mind, however, taking it all at face value is disrespectful. If we believe the Scriptures are God-breathed, wouldn't we want to get as close as we can, learn as much as we can, immerse ourselves not only in the words but try to understand meaning and context and admire the literary genius shown forth by use of irony, special vocabulary, poetic imagery, rhetorical style, as well as imagery and theme? Not to mention those nifty intercalations in Mark. (Look it up.)
So get out there and change your point of view occasionally. It's a good spiritual exercise.