I’m starting a new occasional series called Can We Talk? The plan is to address questions that we often times don’t want to bring up because of the reaction we expect. This is a place to discuss those important (and probably some unimportant) issues that ruffle people’s feathers. Our first topic? The Bible.
May I ask you some honest questions about the Bible?
Would you be willing to actually entertain these questions, not just give an automatic rebuttal because you fear one question might lead to an undoing of a whole belief system?
I already know I’m supposed to accept some things on faith.
I already know His ways are not our ways.
I already know one day for us could be like a thousand years for Him.
Sometimes it seems that if a person is allowed to voice their observations about inconsistencies, bizzare-ities or just straight-up contradictions in the Bible, people feel threatened by it, as if the questions are a leaking contagion of unbelief that can spread with the faintest breathing of a question. It’s airborne, you know.
But can we admit that some of the stuff in the Bible is just plain weird?
For example, why would God send a plague of snakes to bite the Israelites, whom He had just brought out of Egypt, and the remedy? Look at a bronze snake on a stick. Does that not seem like He is asking them to make and worship an idol? But when they make a bronze calf of their own, He gets mightily mad and people get smote.
If that one’s not your cup of tea, how about the commandment against murder? I realize that you could argue what type of offense could equal murder (first degree, premeditated, etc.) but it seems to me that war is murder on a huge scale. God sends the Israelites to war lots of times, and the Bible is very matter of fact about how hard the Israelites won. Sometimes they won war huge.
“That’s all Old Testament stuff,” you object. “Nobody gets that stuff. Just focus on the New Testament.”
Is that fair?
I think it’s pretty typical of Christians. We focus on the Jesus stuff and ignore the messy, inconsistent and confusing stuff that comes before. Ignoring the entire first half of the Bible only gives part of the picture. (We also forget that Jesus was Jewish, but that’s something for another day.)
Please allow me to mention a concept that might make sense of the Old Testament if you’ve ever been tempted to pitch it in favor of a slimmed down, easy to pack, New-Testament-only Bible. I don’t know if it is a cop out or a perfect explanation.
Don’t let it give you the heebie jeebies, folks. It doesn’t bite.
Is it intellectually tenable that God would reveal Himself in ways a society could comprehend, woo them by speaking their language and then, when they’ve acclimatized to the existence of God, reveal a little more about Himself, something that is a little different than what they’re used to? It’s not a bait and switch. It’s more like not revealing everything about yourself on a first date.
I’m sure some people would push this past the traditional cannon of the Bible and say that if it is allowed that progressive revelation is a possibility, that opens up future revelation, in that Christ is not the end game. Could someone else claim on this premise to be the next revelation of God? Probably, and some probably have (would Mormanism possibly fit this category?). Does that mean the principle is faulty? I don’t think so…but I’m still trying to figure out all the implications.
I’m not questioning Jesus’ death and resurrection, sacrifice and redemption of humankind, but I don’t think it automatically diminishes the Bible’s potency if some of it is metaphorical. Maybe we can agree that the Bible might not have to be taken literally in order to be just as valid, the principles just as important, the person of Christ just as redemptive.
What do you think? Do you think much about the Bible? Do you accept it as being completely literal? Do you pay much attention to the Old Testament?
I’m loving these Five Minute Fridays. Each week, Lisa-Jo Baker (http://lisajobaker.com) chooses a word prompt and people write unedited for five minutes flat. The idea is for me to get out of my own way and just write without the burden of perfection. It’s been fun to meet other bloggers and see the different ways people go with the prompt. Anyone can be a part of the action, so maybe you want to try and link up sometime soon?
Five Minute Friday
One of my friends, a curly-haired henna head, is a gifted artist and performer. She says and does things that other people would never dream of doing. For her, it is no big deal to get in front of people and say outrageous things that are both hilarious and inappropriate (maybe that’s why they are so funny?).
Another friend is quiet and reserved. She serves behind the scenes and avoids any extra attention. She’s thoughtful and considerate.
What might send my one friend thrills of excitement would send my other friend to the bathroom with dry heaves.
Here is a good general principle I’ve found: what is a brave step for one person is easily accomplished before breakfast for someone else. Courage comes when you push past fear to do the thing that scares you.
Putting the pen to paper may be a huge step of bravery for one person.
Saying aloud the question they’ve had in their minds may be that step for someone else.
Just opening a search for a new job may be a huge act of faith, regardless of whether an interview is ever secured.
For me, today, my act of bravery is to say aloud that as a Christian, I do not have all the answers. I’m starting to think that the Bible might not have something literal to say about every single aspect of the nuances of modern life.
I do not feel comfortable with the representation the loudest voices are making on my behalf.
I’m tired of hearing about “speaking the truth in love” to people with whom there is no relationship, which would give the slightest responsibility to speak that truth.
I’m tired of the Church being a force of marginalization, polarization and alienation.
I want to be a source of absurd grace, which I truly see in the example of Jesus. So why does it feel like an act of bravery to say that out loud? Maybe it is because the Church only lets grace apply to certain areas of life and not others. Maybe there is an unspoken understanding that there really is a hierarchy of sins, and that some acts are worse than others. So your act of homosexuality, abortion or being a female leader takes up more of the apparently exhaustible bounty of Christ’s grace than my selfishness, envy or gossip. Don’t bogart the grace, man. Is that really what we believe? Cause that’s what it looks like. God’s love is not a limited commodity.
Whew. Well, that came out of nowhere! Thanks for letting me share from the heart. Apparently this is what happens when I silence my inner editor/censor. Putting this out into the world really does scare me, but I am being brave today, hoping we can start a respectful conversation.
What is your reaction to this post? Do you have opinions or feelings about “absurd grace” or the idea of a hierarchy of sins? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. And as always, thanks for reading!
This post is a part of a linkup with the Writers Unite group on Facebook. Search the Twitter hashtag #faithartlife to find other blogs that are participating in the linkup. You’re bound to find some great stuff.
I tend to compartmentalize things.
You wouldn’t be able to tell from looking around my house, since there’s pot holders in with the kitchen knives, potting soil next to the hats and scarves, and Lego guys next to the jewelry box. In the organizational sense, I wish I was better at compartmentalizing. My home could benefit from the “a place for everything, and everything in its place” mentality.
But when it comes to friends, children, work, church, and grocery shopping, I tend to forget these circles overlap. It’s a bit like running into an old high school friend in a different city; you don’t picture that person anywhere other than where you knew them.
Or it’s the same way children think their teachers never leave the school building and are mystified (and slightly alarmed) to run into a teacher at the library or a parade. Are the teachers allowed outside the confines of school? Yes, yes they are.
There are a couple things though, that I can’t contain even if I try, things that can’t be shoved into a box and put away neatly:
my faith in Jesus.
These two just spill out all over the place, willy-nilly.
They pervade my thoughts and attitudes, my observations, the way I listen, and my interactions with others. I can’t control it.
Here’s a practical example. My husband and I made a quick stop at a store last night and while he bought the few items we needed, I picked up coffee and waited for him at a table. Waddoya know, a man sat down at the table next to mine, clearly upset.
Two internal reactions:
1. Here’s a prime candidate for a slightly creepy, unpredictable character straight out of a Flannery O’Connor story. He had bandages on his fingertips, white socks with black orthopedic shoes, mumbled to himself and was sighing loudly and frequently. Another potential character was the employee, a Loud Talker who practically yelled at the poor guy when she asked him to wait while she got the incident report papers. This was great material.
2. Here’s a prime candidate for expressing care to someone who might need a little loving attention, an acknowledgment of his human-ness and inherent value as one of God’s creations. This guy was aching to talk to someone. I found out he fell and twisted his knee while checking out, and was worried that he might have busted stiches in his hand from his recent accident with a TABLE SAW when he almost lost three fingers.
You can’t make this stuff up, folks. Well, you can, but often the real stuff is just as compelling.
It was a brief encounter. I had to make a choice to engage that guy or keep my eyes on my coffee cup. That’s where art is not enough. Studying him to use in an upcoming suspense story is detaching myself from the situation and ignoring my role as an inhabitant of the world I observe.
My faith influences my writing and my writing gives me new insight into my faith. They flow back and forth into one another, leaking all over the place with no thought of compartments or boundaries…
…which is just the way I like it.
My dear friend Erica suggested I read Everyday Justice by Julie Clawson, and since I value her opinion, I gladly picked it up. I started reading it on an afternoon when my three kids were being cared for by their grandparents, and I had some alone-time. I got a piece of cake from a tasty bakery and sat down with my dessert and a good cup of coffee.
Not long into the book, I could hardly enjoy one more bite of my cake nor sip my coffee without thinking about the impact my actions were having on the world at large. It kinda felt like I was eating cardboard rather than decadent three-layer chocolate bliss. And my coffee tasted like brewed guilt diluted with half and half of ignorance, rather than the nicest java.
Julie Clawson is kind enough to remind us all through the first chapter of her book, “Don’t panic” which I appreciated even as my snack cemented in my throat. She calmly and matter-of-factly details how many of the choices we make in our everyday lives have significant impact on the world at large. And I mean significant. We’re talking about slave labor, strip mining, long-term repercussions significant. But she also describes how difficult it can be to find alternatives that are mindful of both the environment and the workforce that is employed to deliver certain goods to local stores (one example Clawson used was trying to find a bra that was made with organic cotton AND produced using Fair Trade standards — much more difficult than she thought it would be).
I had to return the book to my pal, but some of the chapters that I remember include: cocoa, coffee, gasoline, debt, clothing and food, and there were probably at least six more chapters. Each of these included practical steps a regular person could take to change the kind of impact she makes.
Even though she told me not to panic, it was overwhelming to even consider reading the entire book through in one sitting. I read it bit by bit. There were way too many things that I should do but would mean a financial investment or complete change of routine, which, as the mother of three kids six and under, I just didn’t feel up to doing. Yes, I am that lazy. So I picked ONE thing to change, and I’ve done it, and it’s an everyday sort of thing.
A luxury that I enjoy is coffee. I’ve stopped buying it at coffee shops very often (is anyone else experiencing sticker shock at paying $4 for a medium latte??), and mostly brew it at home now. Because of this, I know about coffee, I like coffee, and I now like to drink it knowing that my financial investment in a specific company is not rewarding the inhumane or unethical treatment of the people doing the dirty work of producing it for me. Because of Everyday Justice, I’ve started buying Fair Trade coffee whenever I can, sometimes holding off on buying coffee if the store doesn’t offer Fair Trade, and from local companies if I can find it. One that has been pretty easy to find is City Kid Java http://www.citykidjava.com/, a company based in Minneapolis and an offshoot of Urban Ventures. If you haven’t heard about Urban Ventures, it is an amazing non-profit that has committed to breaking the cycle of poverty in their Twin Cities community. http://www.urbanventures.org/ I’ve since discovered that my church has started brewing City Kid Java too! Aside from that specific brand, I was also able to find Fair Trade coffee at Costco, Cub and Byerly’s, and it’s never been über expensive compared to the other brands.
It may not seem like an important change, but if you knew how much coffee I drink, you might realize that it is a bigger impact than you thought. And it was easy to do – it really only involved taking a step to the next two feet of the coffee shelf at the store, in addition to becoming aware of the issues that surround coffee production. Thank you, thank you. Okay, please hold your applause. Settle down now. Really though, I’m such a pathetic, typical American (not at all like you, Gentle Reader); I’m all for making a difference, especially if the work necessary to make that happen is only lifting my arm to the left rather than to the right. Whew! Tough stuff.
This book is one that you can pick up, read a chapter, then go around thinking about that chapter for weeks, or even longer. You don’t need to chuck your old life and implement all the suggestions she makes, but I would bet that if you read Everyday Justice you won’t be able to go away from it without at least wanting to do something different in your everyday decisions. In a way, it is a big pat on the back, because the book acknowledges the significance of the individual and the ability to make a difference in the lives of others just by buying gas from a different station or trying out the local Salvation Army store for certain items (note: once you start looking at thrift shops for things you need or want, it might become an addicting challenge). In any case, it is good to know some of backstory about the items we use everyday, and if nothing else, this book is informative and you’ll go away more knowledgable than you started off, which, in my opinion, Dear Reader, is nearly always a good thing. I highly recommend Julia Clawson’s Everyday Justice and I’d love to hear your reactions if you get a chance to read it.
If you want to check her out, here is an interview she did and I think it is pretty current.