Lately I’ve been talking a bit about rethinking rituals of the church so they can be used to bolster resistance. Today let’s talk about the Bible.
I grew up in a church that took the Bible both seriously and literally. We were taught that everything we needed to know about God and about life could be found in the Bible. Reading the Bible in that way causes a lot of problems. It’s why, when I first came out, I was desperate to explain away those clobber passages. Not to mention all of the other contradictions that I had to do mental gymnastics to explain away. So, for a while, as I moved out of my fundamentalist upbringing I started reading the Bible like a textbook. It became something that was best put in historical context, a book that needed to be read with a lot of caution. After a while, though, that way of reading the Bible became kind of dry and I needed a new way to read.
I am appreciative of my upbringing for instilling in me a love of the Bible and a deep knowledge of it, because in my effort to reframe how I read the Bible, that love and knowledge has gone a long way. And I am also thankful for the time of reading it like a textbook because the historical context has brought the Scripture alive in new ways and has deepened my formation as a radical.
If we are going to be communities of resistance, we must learn to read the Bible well and with deep love. We can learn from the Psalms how to pray with honesty. We can learn from the example of the lives of our foremothers and forefathers how to serve God well (and often, how to serve God poorly). Our imaginations can be enriched by parables and prophets. We can learn to dream new futures and get a sense of what it means to live together in community.
We learn from the stories about Jesus what it means to live as a constant resistor to empire. We see what inclusion looks like. We understand more about nonviolence as a way of life. We get a glimpse of a new community struggling to define itself and make sense of their experience.
And as we see all of these various types of literature, all of the stories of flawed and holy people, all of the grasping at language to explain God, we learn how to speak and to think. Our lives are shaped and we are strengthened for the work that is in front of us.
The Bible isn’t a field manual, but it doesn’t need to be. It is instead the story of people on a journey toward God and toward justice. We would do well to let it encourage us and strengthen us, to shape us and change us, to deepen our imagination and to challenge our limited thinking. It is a text that continues to encourage my commitment to resisting imperialism both in the world and in my own heart. It is a text I wrestle with and one that I love. And living in that tension with the Bible helps me also to live in tension in the world.