Those of you who know me–or who have explored my blog–know that I love to read. Reading provides me with varying (and new) perspectives…fills in gaps…makes me think. I enjoy sharing books that have challenged me with my “Book(s) of the Month” posts, and some of those books are what has precipitated this post.
Three books got me to thinking this month. Two of them are fiction, the other a history (or, as it is described, a “biography”) of another book. What they all have in common is that they all deal with religion in some form. One of them, Beyond the Sacred Page by Jack Cavanaugh, is a novel about the challenges faced under Henry VIII as Tyndale’s followers were seeking to translate the Bible into English and share it with anyone who could read. That was considered heresy, and those found with copies of the forbidden book were likely to be burned at the stake. The “biography” by Alan Jacobs from the same time period deals with the history of The Book of Common Prayer–a book intended to unite the church with one form of worship after the fractures caused by Henry’s break with Rome. It never really accomplished that purpose, since it was caught up in church/state political battles. The third book, Havoc, in Its Third Year by Ronan Bennett, is a parable set about 100 years after the other two–a time when there were hatreds and fears between Royalists and Parliamentarians and Catholics and Protestants in England.
All three of them deal with individuals and societies who were seeking to live God’s will as they understood it…yet the two novels also have frightening parallels to our world today. They–and we–desire to live righteously, and to have others live according to their understanding…but in their societies there was no room for differing perspectives, no room for error, no room for sin…for being human.
So what does this have to do with the question I posed in the title? For me, everything.
What does it mean to live righteously? and how do we go about it? For some, it seems to be mean that everyone must live according to my understanding of what the Bible says, of what God asks (demands?) of us…with no room for differing understandings. Unfortunately I have heard some preach from this perspective–in effect saying that if I don’t worship or understand God the same way they do, then I’m wrong…in error…and, in effect, damned.
My response to this question is diametrically opposed to that rigidity–whether it is from a Christian perspective or any other. Perhaps part of that comes from the variety of religious traditions in my own family–Christianity, Judaism, Wiccan. But I think–I hope!–that my willingness to allow others the same freedom to experience God as I want for myself comes from my reading of the Bible. I have read the Scriptures several times in several translations…and what challenges me the most is an exchange between Jesus and a questioner who wants Jesus to tell him how to live righteously. Rather than giving him a list of “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not” commandments, Jesus gave a simple response:
- Love God with all your being
- Love you neighbor as you love yourself
Everything else–everything else–according to Jesus hangs on these two commandments.
That passage of Scripture has shaped me. Have I always lived according to it? No, unfortunately not. But it has become my “go to” scripture when I wonder if what I am doing is a good representation of the One I follow. It has allowed me to give others room to experience God…allowed God to work with others as God chooses to.
So perhaps the answer for me is simply this: I live righteously by doing what I believe God calls me to do…sharing in ways that still gives other their freedom to choose…and by being willing to admit that I don’t have all the answers……..and that perhaps by being open to how others experience God, I just might learn more about living righteously myself!