Tuesday, July 8, 2014

When Everyone Knows and Everyone Knows that Everyone Knows

July 4th, we were at Thomas Jefferson's scenic, historic vacation home, nicknamed by our third president: Poplar Forest.

Celebrators were assembled listening to a Virginia politician, in 17th-century garb, dramatically reading the Declaration of Independence. As his voice shot past all the strollers and little children holding small US flags, across all the moms in floppy straw hats and dads in cargo pants to the thick green foliage edging the back lawn, the moment was electrical. And it made me start to think. 

I had just read the Declaration of Independence a few weeks prior while doing some research. This was vastly different from my personal reading. 

Public vs. Private Reading

I realized that there was a critical dynamic that had changed inside me at the hearing of the public words in comparison to those I read comfortably at home. And it was the same about everything I read alone versus something I heard in public. Something happens when truth is read to a listening crowd. Something more than when it is read alone. It is mystical, like a birth.

As we silently read, vulnerable and infant concepts inside our brain-womb, are protected from sight. Insulated, hidden facts and their interpretations shape and reshape first inside our heads. Then, even though the facts are in black against the white page, we are unsure who, if anyone else, knows about this information. And those who do know them, do they care? The insecure doubts press us to keep quiet about what we read. Mostly the information remains pliable inside our head.

But when said aloud in public, those ideas are thrust from their isolation into reality and born into the world. When reading-infused thoughts are voiced publicly something fascinating happens.  

When we can see the whites of the eyes of a crowd, an idea morphs into something solid. It become immovable, not because the thoughts are of themselves brilliant and immovable, but because they quit being our own, locked secretly inside our brains but are now out there....unable to be withdrawn back into silence. What was before between the reader and the piece of paper moves from the subjective realm to the objective realm. The most shocking of all is:

The thought is now known. We now all know.

Not only that but we all know that we all know. 

The information is now vulnerable, exposed and unable to hide from judgment. And since we look around and the information is out and everyone knows that everyone knows, we now share the responsibility for the information. 

Examples of the Dynamics:

Someone suspected of smoking marijuana reads in a local newspaper that the city is going to crack down on pot users. He may react with irritation, but knows now to be more careful. But if a city council member unexpectedly announces it a big high school sporting event where the user is with a crowd of his family and friends, he may feel exposed and uncomfortable. He may wonder if everyone is looking at him. 

What if there is an undercurrent of sexual promiscuity in your church's youth? Compare the reaction of a worried parent who leaves a book on chastity for their teenager to privately or if his parent were to read it aloud to the whole youth department. This isn't about the embarrassment of the teenagers (although there would be a roomful of that) but the dynamic of the group to the information that is now so real. 

Or what about a terrorist threat? The information is far more concrete when a mayor announces it at a city gathering rather than a citizen reading on the internet.

Our perceptions of information fundamentally change when everyone knows and everyone knows that everyone else knows. There is no more sheltering of fact. They are no longer shadowy wonderings and the realization of their realness can be terrifying. 

God Desires Everyone to Know that Everyone Knows

I bet you didn't expect this twist---but this post is about God and His desire for words to come to realization through community readings. 

Yes, God isn't concerned about anyone's feelings of embarrassment when it comes to the public exposure of what is truth. He knows that Truth is going to hurt some people, but His ways demand that we not only have private understandings of what we read, but there should always, first and foremost, be a public reading of His Truth in the assembling of His people. It is important to God that everyone knows the truth, but it is also vital that everyone knows that everyone knows. Truth must be utterly public. This cleanses us of deception, excuses and makes us each responsible. For it takes truth from the private isolation of our imagination and makes it concrete to the group. 

We can prove this in the history of God's people. 

Israel didn't have personal scrolls of the Torah or Writings. They didn't sit by themselves at night reading by firelight. The Torah was kept in the tabernacle and read liturgically by a lector to a congregation during a Temple or synagogue service. This continued with the early church. 

The first passages of Revelation tell us that he (singular) who reads (lector) the words of the prophecy and those who hear (congregation) are blessed. The context is public reading, not private.

American's Need for Everyone Not to Know that Everyone Knows 

This is America's nightmare. We value our privacy so much that we have made a right of it. Our motto is, "Stick your nose out of my

business." But this attitude bleeds over into our spirituality. We read our Bible independently, personally and conclude that our private interpretation of God's words and sins are no one's business but our own. It's between "Jesus and me". Don't judge. This is part of the American need for control. 

God wrenches that control from us with communal hearing and the dynamics of understanding that God's Word is not private, nor to be privately interpreted. Truth is not to be trapped inside your head, never to be born into reality. Truth cannot ever mature if it is only inside your imagination and subject to your personal judgement.

A huge difference between the Protestant worldview and Catholic is that, although we encourage individual reading of Bible, we put an emphasis on the liturgical reading of scripture in mass. Truth is communal so that everyone knows that everyone knows. That is a call for action on everyone's part. No one can excuse themselves for not knowing. For everyone knows that you know. You cannot hide.

Good and Evil are Known

Isolated individual have small world views.   Knowledge, education, and various levels of spiritual maturity influence the reading of scripture. Interpreting spirituality inside our heads continually causes us to search out affirmation outside of it. We tend to congregate with people who see things like we do. And our group springs from the source of truth inside our individual heads rather than the group springing from the truth outside of us that we accept into our heads.  

Personal consciousness need to develop through community consciousness. Our interpretation of truth needs to be ripped of its vulnerability by exposure. For that is how we move from an imaginary God to a God outside our manipulation, a God stripped of the embarrassing sins we excuse and assume He approves of, stripped of our own design and making, stripped of our control and put outside of ourselves. A God whose commandments are not secret, whose people are not invisible, laws are not ephemeral or vaporous, whose truths are inflexible, absolute and not relative to the thoughts of the individual. 

God wants everyone to know His Truth, and know that everyone knows that everyone knows.  

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