You may have heard the story of the rabbi who stood up in the midst of the congregation and said, “I have an answer. Does anybody have a question?”
For me, this semester, I have had three questions, and they are, after a fashion, rabbinical questions. And all of them have been motivated by the challenges of trying to share a text with others so they can hear it in fresh ways. I’m thinking of the Seerveld Ecclesiastes production and then in an oral interpretive performance from the Book of Job (at a Wheaton conference on the King James Version). I suspect that you folks are people who live with texts, too–and not just on your phone. So, maybe these are questions that chase you around as well.
1. Doth Job fear God for nought? It’s the satan’s question in the first chapter of the book of Job. And it’s a pestiferous one. Somebody ought to write a play about Job’s Satan in conversation with Qohelet. If you think about it, the satan’s question, “Doth Job fear God for nought?” sounds a great deal like the loaded observations that the Teacher in Ecclesiastes–or “Q” as we call him in Seerveld Country–likes to make. “All the effort at work and all the hardwon success at managing things, I saw that too; and I saw it was (simply) jealous man or woman trying to get ahead of their neighbour.” Hard questions about human motives. They’re questions that moved Kenneth Burke to write books laying out both a rhetoric and a grammar of human motives. They’re questions we ask of ourselves, as Pastor Bill was inviting us to recall a week or so back, “How could I be so stupid? What was I thinking?”
2. Hast thou considered my servant Job? Last night at Tea, Holli and Brian and Andrew and Brooke were talking about how you can sometimes size up other people’s lives in a way that they themselves cannot. (Holli thought you could; Andrew had his doubts.) The practice of considering other people’s lives. But this practice of consideration might be a bit different from that. It’s a bit like looking from someone’s life to the world, sighting off it, so to speak, to see what you can make of things. I have myself found that sighting off of Q and Job is disconcerting. Sometimes I’ve actually found myself shuddering off consideration, averting my gaze, not wanting to know what considering Job will mean for me.
3. How do you read it? This is actually a Jesus question–one that he asks of a lawyer. The question has a double valence. “How do you read it?” in the sense of “How do you interpret it?” as well as “How do you read it?” in the sense of “How do you give it voice?” For me, in trying to articulate Q’s pained, relentless, concentric inquires this semester has been, well, a weariness to the flesh. Not just in the sense that he made you weary with the world, but in the very physical sense that his language, his grammar, his tacking of clause on clause (admittedly, through a Seerveldian syntactical filter), plum wears a reader out. But Job, too, presents tough questions for how things are to be read: what does the Lord sound like in chapter 39? Lord Voldemort? Darth Vader? How do you read it? And, yes, I think this is a question that shows up, or should show up in your classses, too, I imagine. Rick Sanchez in my COMM 111 course remarked the other day that he has to read Plato aloud with someone else. So he and his peer are always confronted, as they read, with the question of how you read it.
Yesterday at lunch, Josh DeJong, who’s been bracing to do some oral interpretation of his own, asked, “So,what’s it like to live with those kinds of texts for a long time?” Hmm. Maybe I should answer with a rabbinical shrug and say, “I have a question–three actually–does anyone have an answer?”