When photographer Henri Cartier Bresson looked through his lens, he wanted to capture the “Decisive Moment”. His aim was to thrust the viewer into a situation which forced them to respond and make sense of that situation from the inside. In doing this he invented photojournalism where photos are used in the same way as words to make sense of the world.
We rarely have the opportunity to stand outside, reflect and then enter. More often than not we have to make sense of the world from inside circumstances we find ourselves in but don’t always have control over.
Scripture works like this too. When we read it as wisdom or as a set of instructions that will shape our world in exactly the way God intended, we don’t often succeed. The decisive moments of the journey with God are identified only when we are in the midst of them. it is hard to plan for them. Inside those moments we discover our there is a big gulf between being called to be a new creation and actually being one.
In recent arguments about sexuality and gender in the Church of England we have come at the issues with carefully prepared poses and set pieces rather than working out if being a new creation means living in a different way than prescribed or understood in the past. Frankly, it’s been embarrassing since all anyone outside the church has heard is that we really aren’t interested in how wide the gates of kingdom can open but rather in how tightly we can shut them.
As I’ve aged and tried to take a bit more time to read situations more deeply, I’ve found that I’ve needed a better scriptural way of interpreting those situations for what they are. I miss the decisive moments when I just go for my list of dos and don’ts. I’ve needed a better lens through which to view the world in real time and with real people.
Over the last year, there are three passages which have formed a foundational lenses for me:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29
Each passage leads us deeper into being participants in the story rather than observers of it. God seeks to save us through Jesus rather than condemn us. The heart of that “saved” life has two commandments which, if followed, will lead us to attempt to do the right things with other people and with God. That obedience erodes the divisions we like to make between each other. These scriptures form a foundation underlying my on-going discernment of the stuff of the world ranging from relationships to business practices.
When we live by the scraps of scripture, the ones we trot out to tell others they are wrong or right, it is more like viewing a series of annual Christmas photos a family sends out. Details in the photos will change: hair styles, fashion, signs of wealth, new locations. Those photos don’t tell us about life or instinctively invite us to learn about living from them. They just capture a picture of what life was like at that moment and tell us that over the years, life doesn’t stand still.
Christians are called to live in the decisive moments of a dynamic living God. Life makes a lot more sense that way.