Sunday, January 28, 2007

So Much For The Kinder, Gentler...

Rating: I have no fucking idea. Really. Oh, wait... SL, I guess. At least for the rating.

My Fortune Cookie told me:
On Wednesday, you will be unable to make an omlette without breaking any legs.
Get a cookie from Miss Fortune

OK then--watch out. You has been warned.

yours in the struggle,

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bible?!? Are You Effing KIDDING Me???

Rating: GT

A few years ago, my orientation to biblical scholarship was as an interested onlooker; I enjoyed the idea of biblical scholarship and was excited about the prospect of devoting time and energy to doing some of it myself. I believed it to be a useful and necessary tool for Christians who are struggling to live into their faith, and that therefore Scripture must be read in context so that its true meaning could be grasped and applied to the differing contexts of our own lives. I believed further that everything in Scripture is relevant to us and God is always good and loving if one reads it correctly.

It was my experience that the interpretations that came from biblical scholarship, whether referred to as such or as “literal reading,” were often misused for personal reasons. Some people, especially the conservative right, but also people on the liberal left and others who are off the chart altogether, like to distort Scripture to support their own agenda of oppressing people they don’t like and maintaining their own image of superiority and power over everyone else. Growing up as a middle-class white kid in the Texas Bible Belt I heard Scripture quoted as justification for censorship, subjugation of women, physical abuse of children, beating and murder of gay men, rape and murder of lesbians, racial genocide, exploitation of native peoples, assassination of medical professionals providing abortions and reproductive services to women, atrocities against Jews, and the active opposition of AIDS research and education.

In response, I became hypersensitive to the danger of elitism in the reading of the Bible and the interpretation, “literal” or otherwise, of God’s Word. Elitism thrives in and perpetuates an atmosphere of secrecy: These Are Mysteries You Can’t Possibly Understand, So We’ll Just Tell You What To Believe. As a survivor of sexual abuse, I had developed a strong personal reaction against the secrecy in which abuse thrives. I learned that truth is powerful and destructive to the status quo and therefore feared by those who perpetrate abuse. My desire to engage in biblical scholarship had everything to do with my desire to claim the Bible as mine, not theirs.

I chose to read the stories of war, such as the Book of Joshua, as pure allegory in which the enemies of the Israelites were not actual human beings, but figurative representations of Danger: sometimes physical danger, but more often psychological or spiritual danger. This made it OK to rout it out completely and subject every embodiment of it to the ban. This required a good bit of doublethink on my part, as I knew that there was some historical evidence for at least some of the military conflicts described, but anyway it was so long ago and people’s moral and ethical ontologies were so different then that for our purposes today they might as well be folktales…so we’ll just treat them as such. I think being, as I said earlier, a middle-class white kid from a so-called "good family" made it the path of least resistance to just turn a blind eye to the fact that these are stories of genocide. Oh my, that’s distressing. Let me see if I can’t find some big words to comfort myself with. And maybe I’ll just happen to casually mention my collection of “Sweet Honey In The Rock” CDs.

Now, on the other side of some formal study of the Hebrew Bible, I see the Book of Joshua very differently. I now read this story as descriptive of exactly the way in which we torture and murder and exploit and destroy our fellow human beings in the name of God, today, right now. Now, today, in this moment, on this blog, I lift up this book and say, Do you see? Look, look at what we are doing. This is not someone else. This is me and you, right now. We have enacted the ban on Afghanistan, on Iraq. We have enacted the ban on the homeless. We have enacted the ban on every man, woman and child infected with HIV. Are we saved? Are we the "new Israel," supposing ourselves somehow different or better or closer to God than the "old Israel"? Do we imagine that we are getting it right where our spiritual forebears did not? Because we are behaving exactly like this. Only we've gotten a lot better at it.

This story is our birthright. It holds up a mirror and shines a big spotlight, not on who we ought to be, but on who we have been and who we still are. For this reason, the Bible—all of it—has to be available to all of us, not just a few specialized academics and not just those with the chutzpah to claim they read it “literally.” The Bible must be laid out for everyone, delved into and pulled apart and discussed in depth by as many people as possible.

Does this mean there will be a lot of mistakes, a lot of trouble, a lot of disagreement and tension? You bet it does. Is it efficient? Not even a little bit. So what? The most efficient thing we have learned to do is annihilate life. Mercy is not efficient and life is not free of tension. If we are ever to stop choosing death, if we are ever to begin to choose life, we must annihilate the fortress in which we have imprisoned the sacred. We must relinquish the notion that God is under our control and needs our protection from the misunderstanding of people with whom we disagree.

This is what I would write and teach and preach and shout on the street corner until they haul me away. This is what the intentional, deep, brain-wracking study of scripture has done for me. This is how my life has been irrevocably changed. For good. I hope-I pray-for good.

yours in the struggle,

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