Thursday, May 21, 2009

What the Bible Says

So I'm here in Salt Lake City, where I met some of my nephew Christopher's friends over this past weekend. Tattooed, somewhat punked out kids (to my eyes), twenty- or thirtysomethings doing beer bongs on the front porch of a spectacular old house on 8th South. You wouldn't think they were the types that thought much about religion, and they probably aren't all that much so, although later Gordon mentioned that the people who lived there had a vision for the house to be a real community. And the subject of religion did come up (without my prompting), as it often does in SLC— Mormonism etc, of course. They're all still separating from it. It takes a while, even if you grew up Catholic here, as many of them had.

But Gordon surprised me by saying he was completely pacifist, a strong believer in reincarnation, and I guessed rightly that he got a lot of his ideas from psychedelics, and he volunteered also Graham Hancock. We chatted a bit about the earth as a seed; humankind will go to the stars. Interesting eschatology, but I didn't get what the ultimate need or purpose for the journey was. And then Justin said at first he was an atheist, but then took it back, he didn't know what he believed, but the ultimate value seemed to be love. But then he mentioned something about being excluding someone for some reason I forget, and I pointed out that there was then some higher value for him, that trumped and limited love in some way. I wasn't clear how much he understood my point as I pressed it, but later he said he had heard me and had really been thinking about it ever since.

Lot of idealism in these kids, and I love talking with them because of it, but as usual it has very little form or structure, and really not much opportunity to express itself in bold, swashbuckling, imaginative moves, and only such community as can be developed among seven housemates. And God knows how poorly my own idealism works, even with all the form and structure and swashbuckling I have subscribed to and done. So I sense a lot of yearning, which may, alas, not get to be altogether fulfilled.

Justin, it turns out, is the boyfriend of Christopher's half-sister Barb, and Chris invited them over to Mom's for a barbecue more or less on my account on sunday night. So we had a good chance to talk and he said he was getting really interested in religion, actually; he suspects there's something there because so many key people in history have been into it, but he just doesn't know where to start, and most of what he encounters just seems like bullshit. But he'd really like to know what the Bible is about, for example— he has some notion that it's all rules or something, based on some kind of "spiritual truths". I said no, it tells a story and if you want to know, I can tell it.

He did, so I talked about God's plan to create a beautiful world and to fill it with his own life and energy and love, and how he made Adam (man) to be the center of the whole program— the priest offering the world to God, and the mediator bringing God into the world. But Adam turned away, and to turn away from the source of life is already death, so man lies in corruption and death; the priest has become just dead bones. This was not pleasing to God, and God set out to fix it.

I spoke of Abraham's call as the beginning of the solution— a solution he would bring about through Abraham's descendants, Israel. But Israel turned away also, by trying to make their own kingdom into the center of God's plan. Nonetheless, God was serious about his plan, and what he wanted was a faithful Israelite, a Messiah. That was who Jesus was. Nonetheless, the powers of death— particularly the high priests of his own religion and the rulers of the gentiles— put him to death. And so it looked like death had triumphed after all. But God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead, and through him poured out the Spirit of the resurrection on all, to heal, empower, renew, and recreate the world. Adam was restored when Adam's son got up from death; and Adam's restoration, in Jesus the Messiah, is the key, finally, to the originally intended union of heaven and earth.

They seemed impressed, in the sense that it made sense and they wanted to know more.

And that's the problem: where can they go to get this 'more'? They won't get i directly from any of the Orthodox churches around here, or anywhere else. They're not really likely to get it from any other church either, although Julianne's friend Gwen, also at the party, mentioned that her pastor talks a lot about NT Wright in his sermons so I know this is what he's on to; and in those places, the rest of the story— the wisdom tradition and the spiritual practice that's part of it— is altogether missing.

That narrative is there in our churches, and certainly the wisdom tradition as well, but none the less, Israel is buried and forgotten, and we don't talk much about Abraham as the key and initial turning point of the whole story. So we don't actually tell the story of the Bible all that effectively. And frankly, I'm pretty sceptical about the value of passive listening to foreign sounding music sung by a few more (or less) proficient specialists— often inaudibly and incomprehensibly— that we consider to be "liturgy". Maybe it will catch him; maybe not. But I can't really suggest anywhere else for them to go, so I said, Well, you could try this out. But be patient if it doesn't seize you.

Justin says he doesn't read. He's not so unusual in that; few people will enjoy the books I push myself to read... sometimes. And this is America. No African is that literate, at all. So here is the challenge of the 'good news' everywhere in the world: how to tell the basic story so that people will get it? And how will enough people get it, so that we're all telling the story (once again). Because this is, after all, the One Story!

I could definitely hone my presentation— I think this is the first time I've really tried telling the story of the Bible as the main thing people need to know, but I'm convinced that it's the only way to talk about religion and christianity. What needed to be said is what the Bible is about, and I think it got across.

I think it was also clear enough in telling the story that way that it's not about rules and it's not about a belief structure which everyone who doesn't accept it is supposedly going to hell. I said the Bible doesn't talk about going to heaven or hell. It talks about how God achieved his plan— his original plan and his plan to fix the world, which both come down to the same thing— and about how an opportunity is offered to us to join God's program, no matter where we are at any given moment, no matter what our beliefs are already. That's all.

And the rest is not about rules you have to follow, but just about coming to terms with what it takes to really be effective and alive in that program, or not. The same as you might decide you need to do or not do things in order to develop in a relationship with a woman or a friend or some work you valued.

Just for fun, I was even able to talk a bit about the Eighth Day. That's always a little hard to grasp because people are not really used to thinking of the week as a deeply meaningful structure that even has an eschatology, but it's clear enough once they get the distinction between Sabbath / Lord's Day as that between creation and redemption. This basic liturgical insight, again, depends on understanding the sweep of the scriptures as a whole.


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