Today was the first time I got to take part in building a tipi (or actually ‘raising’ a tipi). The tipi consists of 15 wooden poles, some rope, a canvass outside (used to be buffalo hides), wooden stakes, and teamwork. I got to tie the 3 main poles together that were the bare-bones of the beginning of the tipi. Then like 7 of us worked together to build the whole thing (which is quite the process but apparently can take as little as 10 minutes to do). This was part of my new socialization effort (getting out there with others) and it felt great.
The elder who helped us build the tipi taught us about the tipi and First Nations society. All the poles are equally important in the strength of the structure. Tipi’s face certain ways due to the way the wind blows. He explained how they would fortify these things so both wind and extreme cold wouldn’t phase the ‘home-owner’. He explained some traditions like: the tipi belonged to the woman (as her place to raise kids in case the husband left), at marriages a tipi was given to the new pair, the tipi was also used as a cart to move from place to place, and if someone was ostracized from the community was a lone man wandering (since his presence hurt his whole community). I was in awe in some way after putting up the tipi and then sitting in it an learning about it. I had one of those epiphanies sitting on the ground in the tipi.
I started to think about the rabbinical lifetstyle and their ownership of their teachings, and I thought about Jesus in the gospels as a rabbi (teacher). It then clicked in to me about what the teachings are meant to be that are written down, they are meant to be elaborated on by us. The teachings are not ‘stone’ but ‘clay’ and are within the hands of the skillful worker. They are not ‘static’ truths but something we are to ‘own’ as ours also and elaborate further upon. They are in some sense alive and still moving.
I see this stronly in Jesus’ teachings and how he challenged previous assumptions about the law. He made changes where things were being mis-represented and offered new experiences in their place (he updated them with his life in some senses). I saw this from the elder as he spoke about old traditions and why they existed – for the safety and cohesiveness of the society – but things changed from 1860 to 2007. I no longer live in a tipi and community is not what it once was – not as dependant person to person one with another. Things changed and teachings also do in some ways.
The elder spoke on about traditions and the power of observation (which has not changed) on university grounds (an intellectual community). I started to listen to the elder intently and saw his ownership of his knowledge and how things changed from his elders to him (but he changed few things and elaborated). Now this is what he was showing us – here is what I have learned in life – do the same and pass those on also. I saw the what a pastor should be, a rabbi should be, any teacher needs to be – someone who lives and elaborates on what he knows and then teaches what he learned from that living (and only on that can he teach).
Now I read a lot of Jesus’ teachings and remember practically the whole gospels, but rote memorization is nothing. I see that learning with these teachings means ‘owning’ them – elaborating on them – becoming them and them becoming mine. I can say ‘love your neighbor’ but what does that mean to ‘me’? What is love? Who is my neighbor? How do they connect? These are things I have to look into and start to ‘own’. Then when I have learned (or continually learn about them) then I speak.
But I do not merely say ‘love your neighbor’ as copying the text but elaborating on the text – love the people both close to you and not so near – love them with the things you ‘own’ and ‘are’. I might as well also say ‘love everyone as much as you can and when you can’. I see why there was paraphrasing in a lot of Jesus’ teachings and within Paul, it’s about ownership and pure understanding. Why recite the 10 commandments (everyone knows them in that community) when you can say ‘you break one you break them all’. It’s a deeper understanding they came to about the essence of the law and what ‘breaking’ them meant to them. This is a paraphrased sentence that shows an understanding of what they learned.
But the bible does not stop with the writer’s. It keeps moving and living within is and our elaborations of it. I see lots of books on my bookshelf about new writer’s elaborating on what the gospel teachings mean to them. I see this in blogs also. We become the words as the words become us. Maybe this was part fo what John meant by ‘the word made flesh’ (in reference to Jesus – but also holds a deeper meaning for us to). We are now the flesh that holds those words – what are we learning and elaborating upon? What have we decided to own and make part of our teachings?