This week I am at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas for an intensive week of Spanish language and culture. And it is in fact intense!
I took four years of French in high school and two semesters of it in college - thirty years ago! As for Spanish I learned the word for beer when I traveled in Nicaragua in the early 1990s. (So did I mention that this is intense?!)
But also a lot of fun. In addition to the language, focused mostly on liturgical language to help us pray and lead worship in Spanish - there are lectures on culture including one today on "Remembering the Alamo with an Accent." The opening line of the lecture went like this: to really understand Germany, ask a Pole. To really understand the English, ask an Irish person. And to really understand the United States, ask a Mexican. So his "remembering of the Alamo" was from the other side of things, from the underside.
Perspective. And context. These are so very important to remember when studying history, written by the victors. They are also important skills in reading the Bible. Too often, however, we forget this and we do so at our peril. Where we stand matters. And we need to learn to hear how others hear "familiar texts" from their own angle. So one example that came out in his second lecture today, about the holy family "immigrating" to Northern Africa after the birth of Jesus. Just that word reminds us about perspective and context, and how a Mexican reader of the birth narrative will hear that story differently from someone who is settled in a certain place with all the privileges that accompany citizenship.
As I get ready for A Journey With Matthew and prepare to welcome others along on this trip, I am thinking about these things. I am thinking that it helps to know something about Matthew's perspective and context, in contrast say, to Mark's or Luke's or John's. What is it that Matthew sees in Jesus that he wants to convey as "good news?" How does his angle on the birth of Jesus through the eyes of Joseph (rather than Mary) shape not only him (or more accurately his faith community) and us, as readers?
And what can I see, and hear, as a straight white male ordained person that others may not see and even more importantly what am I not able to see, or hear, that a gay Latina lay woman would see so clearly?
Unless we are reading in Greek, every Bible is a translation and the language we are reading also shapes this seeing and this hearing. Yesterday we heard the familiar Pentecost story from Acts 2 in Spanish and then we translated it verse by verse. It forced us to slow down; it also revealed new layers of meaning that are not so obvious in English. It served as an important reminder to me that one important practice in reading and marking and learning and inwardly digesting Holy Scripture is to slow down. And not to assume we know the story but to read it with fresh eyes and inquiring and discerning hearts. And to be humble, knowing that every text is multivalent - which is to say, it has multiple layers of meaning.
This is why reading texts together is such a rich experience, because in community we see and hear things we would otherwise miss.