Friday, February 2, 2018


Sacred Traditions often have Sacred Texts; The Bagavad Gita, the Pali Canon, the Tanakh, The Avesta, the works of Abdul-Baha, the Koran, the Bible... and many others out there.  In the Ancient Near East there were other traditions -- each with their own sacred texts; the Assyrians, the Babylonians, Perians, Egyptians, Hittites, Canaanites, and all the uncounted others.

While we might think that what we know as "THE HOLY BIBLE" came down from the heavens to our faith-ancestors as we now see it...  leather-bound and beautiful... the "Bible", like the sacred writings of other traditions, had humbler origins.

But as kids, in our well-intentioned Sunday school classes, taught by well-intentioned teachers, we learned our Bible stories- and the basics of our faith.  At that age, it's our initial delving into the biblical world.  We learned what our teachers and parents showed us, what they felt was important for us to know, to learn.  Nothing too nuanced of course, because at that age (even up to Middle School), we're just not developmentally ready for the detailed back-stories, the nuances, the histories from which the texts come.  It's usually all kept pretty approriate to our ages.

In the formal educational process we provide elementary schoolers with the basics, the theory, the ideals... and assume (hopefully) that as these young people grow more, they will actually learn more of the nuance and details... things not learned in the initial phases of learning.  As an example, remember the School House Rock animated presentation - "How a Bill Becomes a Law"?  This kids program does indeed explain the basics.  But that's it... it's the basics.   The actual process is soooo much more nuanced and complicated, and    yes...  not so simplistic.  Same idea with   "THE   BIBLE" !   

The assumption... nay, the hope...  is that as we mature, as we grow, as we learn, as we experience life...  that our faith would indeed grow and mature and develop with us.

I remember hearing the acrostic B-I-B-L-E:   Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.  It's nice, it's kinda cute, it's pretty simple... but it more fits the developmental nuance of children.  This acrostic lacks biblical literacy, it reduces the profound biblical complexity into very simplistic ideas - that of lessons.  The complexity in this acrostic is just completely lost.   Most of the bible is NOT instructions... there's prose for sure, narratives (stories), proverbs, mythic content, songs, prayers, poetry, and more.  Much is limited to the historical time and place.

We might assume the bible is a One Size Fits All kind of text.  We'd be wrong!   I remember one of my instructors at seminary, at the beginning of the semester of our Old Testament Prophets class say, "The Bible does not reveal its secrets to disinterested passers-by."   If we bring with us the mind-set more appropriate to our Sunday School students, these "secrets" are almost all but lost.

I love hearing people talk about the "Biblical View of Marriage" --  as if there's one unified perspective that the whole of the bible endorses.  Truth is, this is far from the case.

***Do they mean the Genesis chapers 1, 2, and 3 version?  Certainly here, there's one man and one woman.  (But the word "Adam" actually isn't a "name" as we know of names.  It means "Earth Person"...Person from the Earth... or... Human Being). 

***Do they mean the biblical view of marriage as endorsed by the other Genesis story of Jacob...?   ...Who had two wives!    (Another idea that's better left in theory) 

*** Or maybe they mean the King David biblical version of marriage... the very same King David who (as described in the bible) had a wife for sure... and a few others.... and a whole harem full of concubines!   (It's good to be King!)   

***Consider the account of Jesus in the Gospels, he doesn't really provide us  good example of "biblical marriage" because he -at lest in the stories- was single.

*** Due to his belief that Jesus would imminently return, in 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul advises that married people remain married, and single people remain single.  Doesn't help us very much in trying to establish some kind of biblical preference

Or how about when people talk about "Biblical Values" --- again, as if these values are uniformly spread in equal measure throughout the bible, all the (about) three thousand years covered in the texts!   And even if there were some unified set of principles espoused in the bible... why would we want to assume those principles are better than the ones we could come up with today?  What makes the Israelites of three thousand years ago any more qualified than any other Ancient Near Eastern peoples of that era and place to provide us here in the 21st century with guidance for living?   

***The bible indeed not only endorses slavery... it promotes it too!  Exodus 21, in various places gives a pretty good picture of the circumstances under which one could have slaves (both Hebrew and Gentile).  Read it... it's just amazing!

***I mentioned King David...   promoting the value of polygamy!  In the bible!... which makes it biblical!!   Ask your wife if this would work!  Go ahead... tell her it's biblical!    I dare you.

**So is the idea of Monarchy!  For generations, European leaders promoted the idea of "royal monarchy" because it was biblically endorsed!  The Lord did indeed "give" the people a system of kings.  We live in a country whose original principles expressly rejected this biblical  principle... oh, the irony!

**What might your view be on Capital Punishment?  How 'bout it, Liberals??  Conservatives that endorse this are more biblical than you are!       

***Or how about the ideas of executing homosexuals?  (Leviticus 20)
Or witches?  (Exodus 22, Leviticus 20)
Or foreigners... there are various places where the Israelites fought enemies, but also killed others they might not have been in active combat with (Jericho).

The "sacred-ness" of the bible isn't that it purports to have, from start to finish, one unified cohesive set of principles and values.   It didn't drop out of the sky, leather-bound and chaptered, like how we see it in bookstores.   To me, its "sacred-ness" comes from the idea that it is, among other things, a record of a relationship between a peolpe and their God... unavoidably reflecting elements of their times, cultures, world-views, theologies, and understandings.    

A thought experiment:
If you could have started recording your faith-journey from Day 1...  your experiences, your perspectives, your beliefs, and learnings, --on life   --humanity   --God   --people   etc.   And recording how these views and perspectives might have changed over time (hopefully you'd have learned from your experiences), reflecting how you've grown, deepened perhaps...    If you'd recorded your challenges and mistakes... and what you've learned from them...  all this recorded in some volumes of your life - because I assume this would be more than one volume!

Now imagine you've come to the end of your life... imagine passing this record of your journey (the stories that meant something to you, and how you interpreted these stories, and how they influenced you) to your children... grand-children... and will be handed to your great-grand-children...  and so on, generation after generation.

Imagine you being gifted with a series of volumes handed down from generations before you, covering hundreds of years...  volumes that once belonged to one of your ancestors, who, but for these volumes (of prose, poetry, reflections of life, plans for their futures, etc.) would have been all but lost to time.

These works would be powerful indeed!

The bible we have is just this... only more so!  The stories, the events, the people... some we might want to meet and others we would want to avoid for sure!   Some views are indeed still helpfull to us, and some would do us no good at all (and some might very well be down-right dangerous!), some relationships would be wonderfully life-giving while others would be gigantically disfunctional!

The bible is a legacy left to us... to delve into, to grow deeper with, to grapple with, to sift out gems from, to learn from.   This legacy calls us toward a life of better health --  mental, emotional, relational, psychological, and perhaps physical as well.  It rests on us -- just like each of the characters in the various stories  -- to engage in our faith journey, our own learnings and listenings, our own reflections and interpretations, our own struggles to be better people... and recognize that while we have always had a tendency to shape the God of the Universe into our own images... God is indeed much broader, deeper, and more encompassing than any one of our stories.

We too --  in our own time and place -- are called to live as best we are able... in spite of the fact that we will not always do so.   We too are called to do the hard work of responding to a deeper call... even though we don't always succeed.

Like Adam and Eve...  like Sarah...   and her grandson Jacob...   like Moses...   and Ruth and Naomi...   like David...   and all the "Marys" in the Gospels...    and Peter...

 We too are called to lift our eyes to a higher view - as best we're able.

We too are called to speak from a deeper sense of Just-ness, Right-ness in our time...  even though we don't always succeed here too!

We too are called to live as best we are able... in spite of our proclivities towards selfishness.  

We, like the biblical characters, are called to live out our faith - in our time!  Called to live out our higher ideals!

 It is our challenge to add our own "text" to this profoundly moving story of life!

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