Thursday, July 05, 2007

Read in order to live

Please read Heather's post about how not to read the Bible and then come back here when you're finished.

(Reads the Bible while you have been elsewhere.)

One point I want to object to: throwing out the Old Testament (otherwise known as the Hebrew Scriptures) because Jesus said to. I don't believe he actually said that. He said that he had come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Genesis through Malachi is not just a backdrop to Jesus and the early Church. On its own it is still the bible of the Jewish faith (it is also part of the Muslim faith) and as such, we Christians cannot refer to it as just backdrop. Nor can we consider it unnecessary, because it tells us from where and from whom this Christ came, which is important knowledge.

We need the family stories of Genesis and Exodus to inform us that this is a very imperfect people that God has chosen and that God does not exactly expect that to change. What God expects is a relationship with humanity and that human beings will respond authentically, with God, one another and the created order/chaos.

We need to read those $%&*# laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy to know that purity was a major concern and requirement when it comes to being in right relationship with God, one another and the created order/chaos. As creatures with hearts and brains we know, for the most part, that the specifics of these laws are irrelevant but the intention of these laws is highly relevant. When was the last time we concerned ourselves with the purity of our actions, our intentions, our attitudes in any of our relationships, including the divine Presence? This is what Jesus was after in the Sermon on the Mount.

We need to read all that history on how a nomadic people became a nation with a monarchy and all their bloody wars and corrupt rulers and occupations and exile and rebuilding, believing God to be on their side. We certainly haven't learned those lessons as yet.

Wisdom literature we need all the time--to remind us that the entire scope of human experience is a doorway to God, from our most poignant moments to the ecstatic joys to the rage of betrayal and hurt to the humdrum tedium that threads many of our days. All of these books, especially the Psalms, remind us that all of this is appropriate to bring before God in worship, that God wants us to do this.

Prophets! Lord, do we need our share of prophets today! Mystical Seeker has written a wonderful post on the subject of prophecy. In fact, I think preachers need to be linking the gospel message with the voice of the OT prophets more than ever, especially where the prophets speak out against empire and all its trappings. Prophets insist that God is the center of the universe--and not some God we dreamed up in our imagination, but God as God reveals himself or herself.

And I do think we need to be biblically literate, especially when we have an ever-growing subculture in this nation that reads it literally, incorrectly, and bases a lot of its politics on that reading. Perhaps we need to be Zen in our Bible reading: to read it well but to also not read it. We need to read it so well that it becomes a part of us, like breathing, the heartbeat, the muscles that carry us forward; that we then don't have to read it because it's in the rhythm of our blood, in the dirt on our hands, in the ways we have been stripped of our illusions and our fears that we then allow ourselves to lean on others, have others lean on us, all of us knowing God, learning how to live without God, like an adult.

Until we are adults (we're still in adolescence as a species), I think we still need this whole Bible, with all its faults and imperfections, with all its poetry and beauty, with all its horror and pain, with all its challenges and stories, with all its love and comfort and power to transform. It has not yet become a part of who we are to the point that we no longer need to read it.

So read, read, any book that opens your worldview, challenges your way of life, engages your mind, teaches you something you didn't know before, and include the Bible--all of it--on your list. If you don't want to be scholarly about it and want to read it as a book of literature, I recommend The Message by Eugene Peterson--a modern paraphrase with no messy verse numbers. Also recommended is Marcus Borg's Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, particularly what it has to say about the OT, Revelation, and empire.


Mystical Seeker said...

Wow, I just got through leaving a comment in both Kay's and Heather's blog in which I expressed why I disagreed with throwing out the Old Testament, but I didn't explain my position as eloquently as you did. Thanks for writing this, and thanks for the link to my blog entry.

Cynthia said...

I'll have to go look to see what you said. I often find it difficult to respond with a blog entry to others' posts when what I first want to do is have a conversation with someone about it.

Jan said...

I especially like your last paragraph. I wish everyone I knew would read that! Read what challenges and opens us!

About the OT, I have a friend who is reading the 90-day Bible, and she says that somehow she could chant Leviticus and it turned into prayer. Give it a chance!

Andy said...

"So read, read, any book that opens your worldview, challenges your way of life, engages your mind, teaches you something you didn't know before..." - True words, my friend. Important words.

And they need to be said to many more people than those who read this blog.

Eileen said...

The OT is hard for me - some of the Psalms positively make me cringe, and the tribal stuff makes me gag.

But...the imperfection of God's chosen people is, I think, a fundamental "truth" about humanity.

Great things can come from imperfection. Look what God has been able to do. So, I do agree with you about the OT. It is good to know where you came from, and why, even though you might know you don't want to go that way again.

Mystical Seeker said...

Regarding the psalms and some of the nasty tribal stuff that they often contain, there are a couple of interesting translations of them that the Taize services that I attend use in their readings. One is Nan Merrill's "Invitation to Wholeness", and the other is "Opening to You: Zen-Inspired translations of the Psalms". Both of them leave the tribalism behind and are quite nice to hear in a service.

Cynthia said...

But we are so tribal ourselves; our country smacks of it. Perhaps it makes us uncomfortable precisely because our own nation and most of the world is that way. If it were not, we could read that tribalism with a sense of history and "oh, how quaint".

Eileen said...

I think what makes me cringe most about the tribal stuff, is that many fundamentalists use them as fodder to "prove" God wants us to be at war, to fight holy wars, to conquer peole in his name.

I know that base agression is part of the human condition; I know that conquest seems to be genetically engineered into us. But, I dispise it. It's one thing to acknowledge feeling bereft and down trodden, and on the flip side, triumphant.

It scares the crap out of me that human beings in a "civilized" country still take these verses to mean we should continue to behave that way - as LICENSE to continue to behave that way.

And some of the passages about reigning death on the children of your enemies - not too Christ-like. At least not for me.

Cynthia said...

Eileen, I agree wholeheartedly.

It's as if we've left our brains in a jar. We still have a lot of growing up to do.