This week I’m sharing a series of stories and reflections from my time spent studying abroad in Central America. These are excerpts from my memoir in progress; stories that have shaped me, shattered my pretenses and preset beliefs, and sculpted the way I live and love and encounter God today. I hope in some small way, you can relate and be challenged to reflect more deeply on the experiences that have influenced you and your faith. Check out Monday’s, Tuesday’s, and Wednesday’s posts to catch up.
Weapons of Mass Deception?
I scribbled down my Biblical reflection, bracing my journal and pen as we puttered along a narrow highway in Cuba halfway through my semester abroad. Throughout the semester, we were required to complete Biblical Reflection assignments, where we were given a verse or chapter of the Bible to reflect on in light of what we were learning about Jesus’ life and God’s overall concern for the poor. By then, the Bible made me especially uncomfortable—I saw it as a collection of words used to convince, cajole, compel, and condemn.
I’d already scrawled out half the reflection against the rocking bus seat, and I hadn’t even opened my Bible yet. I knew what I was going to find and I knew what my program wanted to hear: Jesus condemns the empire-supporting Pharisees and embraces the poor. We got bonus points if we made the connection between the hypocritical Pharisees and our own friends and families who claimed to follow Jesus but refused to sell everything they owned and live with the poor.
Up until then, I had never doubted the validity or divine inspiration of the Bible, but after examining Biblical passages through so many different lenses, I’d come to the conclusion that anyone could make the Bible say whatever she wanted. I found that feminists ignore Paul’s call for womanly submission in Timothy. Poor people cling to Jesus’ revolutionary declaration bringing good news to the poor. Rich Christians spiritualize hunger and thirst, focusing instead on the souls that need to be won while overlooking the physical and economic needs that need to be met.
I could make the Bible say whatever I wanted, too, or whatever my program wanted. The Bible was no longer Absolute Truth, but a tool. A political tool. An emotional tool. A justification tool.
At best, a tool; at worst, a weapon.
I share this story to illuminate where I am today, six years later.
Today I still find myself resisting the Bible and anyone who claims their actions are justified because “the Bible says so.” I still find myself asking questions. Analyzing and dissecting my beliefs. I still bristle at “God has blessed America” language and I still thoughtfully reflect on my own role in perpetuating political and economic systems that favor the few, the wealthy, and the powerful.
Instead of a weapon, what if the Bible was used as a starting point? Rachel Held Evans says the Bible should be a conversation starter, not a conversation ender. I like that.
In a devotional I read this morning adapted from Richard Rohr’s, A Teaching on Wondrous Encounters, I discovered an even more satisfactory way to frame the Bible:
“How can we look at the Biblical text in a manner that will convert us or change us? I am going to define the Bible in a new way for some of you. The Bible is an honest conversation with humanity about where power really is. All spiritual texts, including the Bible, are books whose primary focus lies outside of themselves, in the Holy Mystery. The Bible is to illuminate your human experience through struggling with it. It is not a substitute for human experience. It is an invitation into the struggle itself—you are supposed to be bothered by some of the texts. Human beings come to consciousness by struggle, and most especially struggle with God and sacred texts. We largely remain unconscious if we avoid all conflicts, dilemmas, paradoxes, inconsistencies, or contradictions.”
“The Bible is an honest conversation with humanity about where power really is.”
I really like that.
I don’t want to be unconscious. I don’t want to parrot rules and right phrases. I don’t want to substitute words for my own experience. As I said yesterday, I want to be more than words. I want my faith to be more than a hollow shell or a list of moral behaviors.
I want to struggle. I want to live. I want to change. I want to experience the living God. And I’m beginning to see that, maybe, just maybe, the Bible might be a good invitation into the struggle itself.
Have you ever felt like the Bible has been used against you as a weapon? What did you do? What do you think of the idea of the Bible as an “honest conversation with humanity about where power really is?” How do you keep from only focusing on the verses that appeal to you while throwing out all the rest?