I spent the better part of yesterday morning chatting with Fleming Rutledge for an upcoming episode of the fastest growing UMC flavored podcast around, Crackers & Grape Juice. The original plan was to talk with Fleming about Karl Barth but we ultimately decided to talk about scripture (partly because Jason would have been over stimulated talking about Barth and talking with Fleming at the same time). Fleming’s latest work, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, is something I’ve been slowly working through for the past few months. Reading a bit digesting it, and then reading some more.
Our conversation about scripture today took an unexpected turn when in some strange way my three-year old son’s preschool Sunday school lesson became a relevant part of the almost two-hour long discussion.
Last Sunday Mrs. Kelly taught Camden’s class about Noah’s Ark. We all love the story of Noah’s Ark. It has drama, suspense, horror, and love all wrapped up into a Sunday school sized story. Camden came home from church last week with a new piece of art for the refrigerator. The ark, a dove, and a rainbow are precisely pasted onto a drawing of water which Camden obviously created without any need of help from his Sunday school teachers. When I asked him what he learned he was quick to tell me that God put the animals on the ark. When I asked him who else was on the ark he responded with a decisive “God!”
Immediately I corrected him.
“Camden, Noah was on the ark. Noah and his family.”
Camden ignored me as usual and went off to play with his trains and harass the dog.
Camden knows the story of Noah. For a few months Allison and I read the story of Noah to him from his Noah storybook or his “Bible book” every night. He knows God told Noah to build an ark. He knows God sent the animals. And he knows that rainbows are promises of God’s love.
But his answer of God being on the boat, instead of Noah rubbed me the wrong way. I couldn’t let it go.
Sunday night I pressed him on it, asking him again who was on the boat.
“God and the animals daddy!”
Monday afternoon he had the same response on the way home from school.
By Tuesday morning I had given up. Maybe it was the lack of sleep or the impending staff meeting I was prepping for, but either way I had moved on. Then Fleming had to chime in on the situation.
Yesterday afternoon we were talking about preaching styles, techniques, and the interpretation of scripture. We were supposed to be focused on scripture but we are intentional on C&GJ about letting the guest drive the conversation. Fleming argued that without God as the subject of the story, we will ignore the fact that God is the person setting things into motion. Take for example the story of Moses. Without God in the story, Moses is talking to a burning bush, which in many circles makes him mad and not the person who leads Israel to freedom.
Fleming was pointing to what Camden had already told me three times, and that is without God in scripture we run the risk of reducing sacred texts down to just a “humdinger of a story.” God is the agent transforming what could just be a great bedtime story into a scared text about God delivering on a promise made to Noah, Abraham, Israel, and you and me.
In all of these stories God is calling us towards the divine. Whether it is through Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Paul, or even Christ himself God is speaking and working through their stories.
I was asking leading questions when I asked Camden about his Sunday school lesson. I was not interested (at the time) with how God spoke to him, directly and through his teachers, about the flood story. There was an answer I was looking for and when Camden did not deliver I pushed back thinking he would cave. Fleming warned that, particularly with children, we must guard ourselves to not over direct the (child’s) response, the exact opposite of what I was doing..
So according to Fleming, Camden has a future as a theologian. My only hope is that he continues to think theologically without the baggage I bring to scripture when I read it.
Be on the lookout for this episode of Crackers & Grape Juice. In the coming weeks we have a lineup that you won’t want to miss, Rob Bell, Jerry Herships, and Steve Austin just to name a few. In the meantime, head over to or Spreaker and subscribe so you never miss an episode.