This article was originally published in the San Marino Tribune on March 4th, 2016.
The Bible remains the world’s best-selling book, perhaps because it contains so many good stories. Oral traditions were passed down through generations until they were committed to animal skins and papyrus and rolled up for safe-keeping: poetry and psalms, wisdom literature, chronicles, prophecies, visions and eventually letters and Gospels…a banquet of human reflection.
One ancient story read again this Lenten Season is about Moses as he glimpses a burning bush from out of the corner of his eye. Moses turns aside. He attends to this bush that is both burning and yet not consumed, and from the bush Moses hears a divine summons to set an oppressed people free.
Moses understands that he is expected to do something about the suffering of others in a particular time and place, but he is not quite certain who has laid claim to his heart and his energies. “Who shall I say sends me?” Moses wants to know. “Who summons me, and what is your Name?” God answers “I AM WHO I AM,” or, as the fine Jewish theologian Martin Buber renders the text: “I will be there as the One who will be there.”
That is the only answer Moses gets. The answer isn’t as much as he wanted and may have been more than he bargained for. Moses is not given certainty. Instead he is offered promise and direction.
Our pluralistic American culture spreads before us a banqueting table of ideas and traditions…and also foods. Most of the world’s best culinary delights can be found in the San Gabriel Valley, and it can be difficult to choose between them on any given Friday night. The abundance of our culture can, though, be disorienting. There are days we wish for a five o’clock blue plate special, and for a simplicity not meant for human beings.
Political seasons, as essential as they are, can amplify our desire for certainty and for answers that fit our personal narrative and disposition, or that equate God’s agenda with our own. We know deep down that our national challenges and a troubled world are complex and resistant to easy answers. Like Moses, we need to align with a stronger narrative, and finding that narrative begins with a lesson in humility. If we would sample ideas as quickly as we move between Italian and Thai, Schezwan and Californian cuisine, our intellectual palate would expand in glad ways. There is no reason for any of us to be right on all points, and it is unseemly when we pretend we are.
Moses turned aside and studied that strange bush. It may be that we also should strive to be less assertive about those things we think we know, and less certain of our verities. As we attend to one another with modesty and empathy, as we consider the fires of suffering that never seem to burn themselves out, and together venture the right questions, we will discover ourselves better poised for promise and direction.