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Said the Sluice Gate

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Ancient Israel was not ecumenical. Their whole mission was to keep from mixing with their surroundings, to preserve a distinct identity in the midst of shifting political currents, lodged as they were in a geographical corridor that lay between powers, a river of trade and influence whose forces threatened to wash them away.

I am ecumenical. This fundamental difference between me and the writers of my holy book seems just slightly problematic.

As an ecumenical, I have invited the fast-flowing river to move through me. Like ancient Israel, I have tried not to drift, tried to anchor myself to my place on the bank, but unlike them I have made myself a sluice gate instead of a rock. So I have invited a whole different set of consequences into my life than those they once faced.

“Sometimes I wonder who I am,” said the sluice gate.

“Sometimes I feel worn around the edges,” said the rock.

As I read about the surrounding peoples against whose influence ancient Israel was struggling, I realize I no longer perceive the story from their eyes. Those stories, those myths, are not the whole; I know different stories too, different myths, ones that do not immediately reduce the Assyrians to villains, nor denounce the ivory beds imported by the Phoenicians or the Phoenician princess Jezebel.

I am not an ancient Israelite. It sounds obvious, but having grown up in the mainstream American church, I can say it is not clear in the mind, does not go without being said. We identify with “God’s people” so completely, we forget that they ever existed in their own right; we forget the millennia that divide us; we allow a blending of categories to creep upon us. Obvious as it is, it is also novel. I am not an ancient Israelite. I do not share everything they believed. I am something new, something that cares deeply about them, something that passionately upholds the need to remember, as they did; yet also something distinct.

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