Monday, December 6, 2010
Adventures in Reading the Bible
So all this to say that the children have never been to church around here. We go when we're in North Carolina and they're generally interested in the pageantry and the stained glass windows (one of which bears my grandparents' names) and the awesome barbecue and fried chicken and pie afterwards. (And I do know that one of the great benefits of religion is community, but that's not the discussion here, the relationship to the text is). But there's not a whole lot more engagement for them. And I do want more for them. But how? And then (who knew?) I discovered the Bible App on my iPhone. I'd been looking for access to an on-line Bible for the trip to Israel, and lo and behold, there was one for free with not only 23 English translations and 46 overall translations, but various and sundry Reading Plans (the Bible in 90 days! the Essential 100 passages!) including one entitled Rediscovering the Christmas Season. And there it was: the framework within which I would be eager to talk about the Bible with my children. A dematerialized text, one lifted out of ritual and community and what clearly is for me a consequential amount of baggage - a dematerialized, digitized, serialized text. That was the answer.
And so we threw ourselves into it with gusto. Too much gusto. For it turns out that one is only to read a very few select verses from the chapter for that day. And when it came time to read Mark 9, I was only supposed to read verses 33-37 (which are really cool and about Christ lifting a child up on his knees and telling the disciples that to be first you must be last and a servant to all - it has the "welcome the little children in my name" line). But like a fool I kept reading and in verse 43 Jesus tells the disciples that if their hand causes them to stumble, they should cut it off, because it's better to be maimed than to go to hell. (The kids got quiet.) Verse 44: if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off, because, well, better than hell. (Good grief, I'm thinking, what is this text doing to my kids? It's ok, we're going to talk about it, but what the Christmas message is here, is lost on me.) Verse 45: if your eye... yep, pluck it out. There's a total silence at the table at this point, and Oliver ventures "Maybe this is the Halloween reading."
So what's the lesson here? Read bits and pieces of the Bible? This is not a coherent text (how do you emotionally follow helping the helpless with brutal self-mutilation, even if it is metaphorical?) (and then that really weird passage about salt losing its saltiness in verse 50) and one of the hardest discussions about the Bible is how all of these parts are meant to relate to each other. Once you start reading there's nothing simple and coherent about it. And that's what makes it interesting. That's what makes the struggle come. And so we've kept on reading, past the maiming bit, and on to Christ as the light of the world, to the idea of a light of the world, of hope - the very cool and demanding concept of hope that humans have come up with. Do animals hope, or just desire? Is hope more painful than desire? What can hope push you to do? to endure? We talked. We talked about Biblical text, and it didn't necessarily make sense, and there was no one message to walk away with, but there they were my little ones talking about it all.
I feel like Oliver at breakfast yesterday morning whose first words of the day, completely unrelated to all of this, were: "I'm overwhelmed. There's just so much to say."