Re-engaging the Bible (aka the Mess)

Re-engaging the Bible (aka the Mess) May 14, 2016

themess“I stopped reading the Bible because I can’t handle the mess.”

My friend let this out in the middle of Sunday morning House Church. It wasn’t a surprise. I know the struggles that she is going through. I thought it was a really concise statement about how many people feel about the Bible. And many times, when going through this, there isn’t anyone there to walk through it with safely.

Over the last 2 years, as my house church has ebbed and flowed, we have developed a pattern that seems really helpful in re-engaging a bumpy relationship with the text. It helps us acknowledge where we are and where we’ve been with the Bible. It gives us a safe way to move forward.

For one, I exclusively choose the texts that are assigned by the lectionary. What we get, is what we’re going to talk about. That’s it. No changing the story. No using a passage for something specific. Sometimes I choose the primary passage out of the options or we choose together what to focus on. But mostly, we just use what we’re given.

Then we read. Often we start with a Psalm, to just hear it. But we are honest about those too. Psalms are great for cherry picking passages. A lot of hallmark inspirational cards come out of the Psalms. Sometimes that’s what they are there for and sometimes they are really taken out of context. So we are honest about the text, even when we are meditating on it.

From there, or out of the next passage, we generally follow this pattern.

  • What jumps out at me from the text?
  • What am I hearing new in the text today?
  • What old narratives do I hear in the text?
  • What faulty or bad interpretations have I heard around this text?
  • Where do I see cultural context shaping the way this text has been used?
  • What new things/ideas/applications do I see in this text?
  • How do I currently apply this to my life?
  • What other topics/concerns connect into the narrative of this text?

Now, one of the blessings in my group is that everyone is pretty well read, in grad school, or has done lots of other reading. We probably aren’t a group everyone would enjoy. But, we do take the text seriously and try to enter into it honestly. Most of us have studied the Bible and theology.

Out of these questions have emerged some patterns about what we see:

We see cultural context. We honestly note when something conforms to the cultural context it was happening in. You can’t read a document outside of its time and place and expect to apply it universally to everywhere and every time. That leads to misinterpretation, inconsistent application, and abuse of the text.

It’s because we value the text that we want to uncover the things that require us to think, question, and interact with the text now. We honestly want to engage with inconsistencies, the biases, and the messages that no longer apply.  By doing this, we are confronted with a lot of -isms.

Sexism and the oppression of women. You just can’t ignore this. Not in the Bible in its time, or in the church presently. The growth of movements in the conservative church to oppress and control women has pushed many women out. The continued emphasis and normalization of sexism in the church endangers the well-being of women and girls in the church. Treating sexism as a “non-salvation” issue (whatever that means), is just justification for continued bad behavior.

Classism and the oppression of the poor (and sick). The poor are neglected all throughout the text and are neglected in huge portions of the church. You just can’t read the Bible without confronting the way that it marginalizes different people groups. The sick are cast out or pushed the the edges of society.

Racism and genocide. The Old Testament is an ugly place. There are some beautiful stories and some really ugly stories. And over and over, people groups are annihilated by the people of God. It’s an ugly reality and one that continues to be propagated in a “Christian” America. Look no further than projected nominee Trump…

Now, if this is all we did on Sunday, clearly we would quit. There isn’t much good news here. There isn’t much to carry you forward or much to build a life around. So please take note, our honesty about the text helps us break down the old narratives and to name the ways in which the text has been misused and has hurt us.

But we also see beautiful things in this story. Stories of redemption, and newness, and hope. We see actors in the stories working to stand in the face of oppression and bringing hope back into the forefront.

Freedom for women. Women and men are ALL created as the image of God. In wholeness, in beauty, and in form. We are all like God. We are subordinate to him but we stand together with each other. We are the same power, standing together to face the world. That’s what we see in the story of creation.

We see women being used to move God’s story forward all throughout the Old Testament. Often in very difficult circumstances. We see Jesus regularly and consistently use his power and strength to change the lives of women. We see Paul training female disciples to spread the gospel throughout the world.

Freedom for the poor and sick. We are all called to care for the poor and the sick. Not once a year, not as an exception, but as a regular pattern in our lives. For some people that’s a career, for others it’s volunteering, or taking care of a parent. But it’s something that we do as a response to what we see Christ do.

The man lowered through the roof, the sick daughter, the man at the pool at Salome. All healed. All given new life. The gates are opened wide, and all the people are called into the banquet. The workers are paid for their labors. The hungry, sitting on a hill, are fed.

Freedom from bias and hate. Really all that needs to be said here is Love Your Neighbor. That’s it. We’re all neighbors. So love your neighbor – each and everyone. There aren’t caveats and footnotes here. It’s a general call – love your neighbor as yourself.

Do you fear becoming a minority and losing all your privilege? Love your neighbor. Invite them over for a drink, or cookies, or mow their lawn, or just say hi. Love your neighbor. It doesn’t matter where they come from, what they look like, what color skin they have or what language they speak. Love your neighbor. Don’t shoot your neighbor – love them. Don’t sit in fear of your neighbor – love them. Don’t assume things about them – love them.

It’s radical and hard. It seems impossible. But it is the cure we are looking for and it comes with a power that is unmatchable.

The new creation that blossomed on Easter morning is the power that fuels all these efforts, no matter how much they challenge us. Christ HAS conquered it and we are called to partake of that.

As we make the text real, and live it out.
As we fight the things that are hard.
As we engage the Bible and take it seriously.

As we find a path through the mess.


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