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 a bit problematic.
As an ecumenical, I’ve invited the fast-flowing river to move through me. Like ancient Israel, I’ve tried not to drift, tried to anchor myself to my place on the bank, but unlike they I have made myself a sluice gate instead of a rock. So I’ve 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 they were struggling, I realize I no longer perceive the story from their eyes only. Those stories are not the whole. I know different stories now too, ones that don’t immediately reduce Assyrians to villains nor denounce the ivory beds imported by the Phoenician princess Jezebel.
I’m not an ancient Israelite. It sounds obvious, but having grown up in the mainstream Protestant evangelical church, I can say it’s not clear in the mind, doesn’t go without saying. We identify with “God’s people” so completely, we forget they ever existed in their own right. We forget the millennia that divide us; we forget their descendants that exist today. We indulge in a total mixing of categories. Obvious as it is, it’s also novel: I’m not an ancient Israelite. I don’t agree with everything they wrote. I don’t see it all the way they did. I’m something new, something that cares about them, something that upholds the need to remember as they did; but something else.