The title of this website is Rise to the Level of our Times. It is a paraphrase of José Ortega y Gasset’s exhortation quoted in Insight, the seminal work of Bernard J. Lonergan S.J., considered “to be the finest philosophic thinker of the twentieth century.” Our title captures the heart of the website and its project. Simply put, I have become convinced that historical consciousness is one of the defining factors of our modern world. It has transformed how we understand ourselves and everything else in relation to the modern world. It allows us to speak of primitive, medieval, post modern, etc. Thus it gives shape to our world. It provides an avenue into the divisions that beset our global world; but the divisions at the forefront of my consciousness are among and within Christian, Jew, and Muslim. Mostly we are not aware of the shape of our world, and entry into that shape often takes place in the midst of conflict. To rise to the level of our times is to discover the cognitive dissonance that emerges with the rise of questions – real questions, personal questions – to struggle to reach the truth which answers those questions, to be confronted with the life challenging fact that truth develops over time, and thus ultimately, to live that developing truth consistently over a life time.
For the believer Scripture is the location of a unique encounter with God. It has the power to raise the real questions that invite a rise to the level of our times. So our scripture study begins with a set of very simple questions whose goal is to focus our attention on the text. Each passage that we reflect on is thought of in terms of a story. The three questions are who, when, what.
- Who are the characters in the story?
- The question of when is a bit tricky. It invites us to identify and multiple overlying contexts.
- So there is the when of the story itself, the time of the story
- There is the when of the author[s] of the story, the times of the authors
- There is the when of the readers, the times of the reader
- Finally what is the story about, what is the point of the story in the when of the story, in the when of the author, in our when.
In an hour and half we rarely every get through this set of questions.
A handful of other assumptions of mine that I want to put on the table.
- See #7 below.
- There is a tendency in the adult hearer to hear more in the story than the text states and as well not to hear what the text does states. My role is to listen with care. I attempt then to express my understanding of what the other has said, to invite them to affirm that I have understood them, to honor their understanding because it is theirs. Without understanding there is no conversation and understanding is not easy. It takes work and extends over time, usually years, well really a lifetime.
- I also challenge the very basic notion that the bible “says” anything. The bible is a library of texts and texts in themselves don’t talk; we talk. And our talk emerges in words that reveal out stance in the world.
- So I often ask the individual if they could identify what part of the concrete text they are referencing. If they are not able to do that, I attempt to identify the world that is the context for what they are saying. When they do identify the text, again I attempt to identify the world in which that meaning of the text for them arises. When we are all on the same page, I tend to celebrate.
- I have noticed that the adult learners are very capable of talking about their real, lived life. And it is to that life as lived that I attempt to point both to the meaning of the text and the light that the text is meant to shine on that life.
- Together we walk humbly in search of our life questions, in order to help one another rise to the level of our times, to become more fully alive.
- Finally, I almost always remind the adult learner that nowhere in the book is there any reference to being tested by being asked to quote chapter and verse, to answer catechism questions, etc. The value of any scripture study can be measured quite simply. The evidence without is “I was hungry . . . I was thirty . . . a stranger . . . naked . . . ill . . . in prison . . . .” [Mt. 25:35]. And the evidence within is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” [Gal. 5:22]