The Bible does us a disservice sometimes…

Even if you’re not a follower of Jesus, you may have heard some familiar Bible stories – Daniel in the lion’s den…David and Goliath…Jonah…and, during this season, stories of Mary and Joseph and their baby Jesus, the shepherds, and the wisemen.

We know the outlines of the stories; we may even know how the Bible tells them. But I think the Bible does us a disservice in how it tells them sometimes.

Why?

Because most of the time, once God (or an angelic messenger) gives someone a message, they tend to respond positively without any questioning. Really?

I don’t know about you, but I think if I were the person involved in some of these stories, my reactions might have been quite different! How, you ask?

Daniel: Okay, God, I know I said I would worship only you–and I still mean it. But I wasn’t counting on it involving lions! Yes, I know you promise to protect those who follow you; I sure hope that promise is still true!

David: What did I get myself into, God? Was I just boasting? or did you really call me to say what I did? Am I crazy to think that I can take care of this guy Goliath with just my slingshot? Saul offered me his armor, but it was way too big. So I’m on my way–and I’m counting on you to make my slingshot fly true like it does with the lions in the field.

Mary: Who did you say you were? Gabriel? and you came from God? You’re telling me what?!? That I’m going to have a baby? You’ve got to be nuts! Yes, I’m engaged to Joseph, but we haven’t slept together, so how can I be pregnant? And if he decides to break our engagement, then what am I supposed to do? You do know what I’d be facing, don’t you? Shame at the best…stoning at the worst.

Joseph: What am I going to do now? You’re telling me that Mary’s pregnant? It’s sure not my baby! Huh, she’s carrying God’s son? Are you kidding? How is that even possible? Maybe I can break our engagement quietly so that I don’t have to be laughed at…and she can may quietly just leave town to go visit some relatives. She is a sweet girl. I just don’t know if I can go through with our marriage after this.

Jonah is the only one I can think of who responded in what I would consider a “normal” way. When God told him to go preach to Nineveh, he didn’t want to–and ran as far as he could in the opposite direction!

What if we did know “the rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey used to say)? Would we be more likely to feel like the biblical characters were real people? Could we relate to them better?

I think so. But the biblical writers didn’t give us that information…so we just have to imagine it ourselves!

Being peacemakers…

I’ve been spending the last several days focusing on the passage in the Bible commonly known as the Beatitudes.

For those of us who are followers of Jesus, how long has it been since you read them? Really read them…and then thought about what it would mean to live them. There are a number of translations of them, but I’m going to suggest looking at The Message, since that brings them into modern language and makes the challenge more apparent.

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Matthew 5:1-7 The Message

What would happen if we were content with who we are and what we have? Or if we truly cared for others?

What would happen if our “inside world” was right? What would we see in the outside world?

What would happen if we focused on helping people cooperate instead of focusing on all the ways we divide ourselves?

After Jesus finished that part of his message, he had another challenge for his followers…that we are to be light-bringers, bringing into focus all of the wonderful colors and diversity that God created in this world.

We need light-bringers…desperately! I don’t care what name you use for the Divine or how you worship…if you are willing to be a light-bringer, let’s work together. It’s the only way we can heal our world that is in so much pain.

Where is your guide rope?

A book I am reading for a spiritual formation program I am taking part in reminded me of a story from American history that I had forgotten about. It’s a story I think is appropriate for us today.

Many years ago, when farmers and ranchers became aware that a blizzard was coming, they would run a clothesline from the house to the barn so that they could safely get between them. There were incidents of people getting lost in their own backyards and dying during blizzards, because they couldn’t see which way to go.

We’re in a blizzard today. In his book A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer says it better than I can, so I’m simply going to quote him:

Today we live in a blizzard of another sort. It swirls around us as economic injustice, ecological ruin, physical and spiritual violence, and their inevitable outcome, war. It swirls within us as fear and frenzy, greed and deceit, and indifference to the suffering of others. We all know stories of people who have wandered off into this madness and been separated from their own souls, losing their moral bearings and even their mortal lives: they make headlines because they take so many innocents down with them.

The lost ones come from every walk of life: clergy and corporate executives, politicians and people on the street, celebrities and schoolchildren. Some of us fear that we, or those we love, will become lost in the storm. Some are lost at this moment and are trying to find the way home. Some are lost without knowing it. And some are using the blizzard as cover while cynically exploiting its chaos for private gain.

A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer, published by Jossey-Bass, 2004, p. 1

It sometimes feels like we’re not going to survive the blizzard…that we’re lost with no way to find ourselves again. But Palmer doesn’t believe that, and neither do I. We do still have a chance–if we find…and tie–that guide rope that helps us connect safely.

It’s a challenge for all of us. As I’ve said before, it’s not going to be easy. But if/when we connect with that part inside of us that is life-giving at its core, that hungers for truth, justice, love, forgiveness–the part that we describe as the soul–then, as Palmer again says,

…we can survive the blizzard without losing our hope or our way. When we catch sight of the soul, we can become healers in a wounded world–in the family, in the neighborhood, in the workplace, and in political life–as we are called back to our “hidden wholeness” amid the violence of the storm.

Palmer, p. 2

What is truth?

According to the Bible, as Jesus was coming to the end of his life, he was taken before Pilate, the Roman procurator, to be questioned. In the course of the brief exchange between them, Pilate asked a question that has resonated through the years: What is truth?

That seems an especially appropriate question for today.

What is truth? Is there a single truth?

Yes…and no.

How do we define truth?

There are some areas where there is only one truth. Sometimes it’s taken us a while to discover that truth, but once discovered, it impacts all of life. Some of those truths have to do with science and medicine. It is something that can be replicated–that remains the same.

There are other areas where “truth” may be more fluid. Sometimes we discover that what we learned as truth changes as we gain more information. The “truth” of history is one of those categories.

For example, I’ve been watching the HBO series on John Adams–and last night’s episode included the building of the White House. Reading about how it was built is one thing, but to see it being built on the backs of slave labor impacted my understanding of that truth.

It’s important for us to understand the differences between truth that is unchanging and truth that is impacted and changed by new information…and not confuse the two.

Why dredge up old stories?

Over the past few months, I’ve heard variations of this comment a number of times: “Why dredge up old stories? Why not just let the past stay in the past?”

The problem with that kind of thinking is that it ignores the impact those stories of the past are still having today.

On a recent trip, I listened to the audio version of the book Blood at the Root, read by the author, Patrick Phillips. He became interested in the history of the county he grew up in as a child–Forsyth County, Georgia…an all-white county.

The event that caused it to be a “sundowner county” occurred in 1912, but the impact of that event lasted beyond 1987. It was a heritage of hate, fear, bigotry, and intolerance that lasted for generations, passed down from father to son.

It was a difficult book to listen to. It would have been difficult to read in print, but hearing the words that were spoken…the graphic descriptions of the violence perpetrated against innocent people…made it a powerful experience.

There is evidence that the impact of trauma can be passed down through the generations genetically and through the ways those parents and grandparents deal with those traumas. That means that these “old stories” don’t just die away and should be put aside. We are still living with the results of those traumas–and that can help us understand what is happening today with the seemingly sudden explosion of racial anger.

It’s not coming out of nowhere. It’s been building for a long, long time. We’ve just been doing our best to ignore it.

So how do we get rid of the impact of these stories?

Yael Danieli and Brent Bezo, psychologists who have been studying this question, both say one of the most important steps is to acknowledge and discuss the atrocities. Doing so allows the survivors to process their pain and helps the families understand and make sense of their parents’ and grandparents’ behaviors.

So are we ready to do so? It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to require those of us who are white to rethink a lot of what we’ve learned. It’s going to require us to hear uncomfortable truths–to acknowledge our own complicity in creating a society which has perpetuated trauma for minorities.

But unless we do so, unless we are willing to truly listen to those stories we would rather keep hidden away, nothing will change–and we will continue to be a society that perpetuates the rights of a few against the cries for help and change of the many.