Thursday, February 17, 2011
EY Mailbag: The Bible, Church & Movies
There is not one voice in Scripture, and to give any one voice in Scripture or in tradition authority to silence other voices surely distorts the text and misconstrues the loveliness that the text itself engenders in the interpretive community.
It's a thin line between heaven and here.
Bubbles, The Wire
Every so often, we answer imaginary questions from actual readers.
We get into your head so you don't have to.
Q: If you believe that the Bible is filled with errors & contradictions, then why do you still read it? (Collin from Nottingham, UK)
EY: Over the past 1800 years (or so) Christian communities have construed the Bible in a variety of ways. The obsession with "inerrancy" is a relatively new dynamic, a key component to the American Christian Fundamentalist movement from the 1910s until yesterday. Modernity has been characterized by an obsession with a kind of certainty that can only be obtained by securing a error-proof foundation to build upon. This is what the Bible has been for Fundamentalists (a name they gave themselves: it's all about the fundamentals). In this construal, the Bible is 100% historically, scientifically and theologically precise. They believe that these human authors wrote down what was dictated directly and accurately by God's Spirit. And God's Spirit is a key player in the end-game as well, breathing guidance and self-evident understanding for the reader (this is called "perspicuity").
Most of the Christians that we know are shaped by this modern understanding of the Bible. For them, the Bible is both God's Direct Word (an encyclopedia of truths and principles) and God's Love Letter (a personal message for me). This construal is quite appealing in a world that is becoming more and more confusing and complex by the second. The Bible is a retreat and fort, beating back the craziness. It functions like a Google search bar: type in question, get immediate answers.
This is not how we construe the Bible. We believe the Bible is authoritative, not authoritarian. We seek to worship God, not a book about God. We believe that God's Spirit still guides and inspires us through these words, but it takes a lot of effort, time, patience and a vigilant community to join us as we seek to interpret it. We engage with postmodern sensibilities, bringing accountability and humility to all of our interpretive efforts. The Bible contains a lot of diverse voices, a compendium of perspectives about who God is and what it means to be a part of what God is doing in the world. It is not one book, but more like a library of books about God and life from a variety of Jewish perspectives. We refuse to use the Bible as a simplistic defense of personal convictions and public policy stances. Inerrancy makes it too easy for people to abuse the Bible to support their own skewed agendas that fail the basic "love thy neighbor" test of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament (justifying war, slavery & relegating women and gays/lesbians to second class status all fail the test no matter how one slices it).
As a Script, it is a series of documents (from Genesis to Revelation) that tells a basic Story about the God who created the world and is absolutely determined to redeem it. The Script is read and re-read for action. We are characters in the ongoing Story and God invites anyone and everyone to pledge allegiance to participate. Characters who want to be effective and inspirational in the kingdom of God meditate and memorize the Script. Taken as a whole (and in historical context), the Script champions those pushed to the margins of just about every society that has ever existed on this planet: women, the poor, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, the diseased, the mentally and physically handicapped, peasants and immigrants. It calls for committed characters of the Story to cherish virtues like humility & empathy and to live intentionally, disciplined and impassioned. The Script makes it clear that there's no room for apathy, cynacism, relativism or arrogant absolutism in this Story. In the end, the Bible is only authoritative when it results in bonified action that reflects the Way of Jesus.
Q: Do you heretics go to church? (Dan from Pasadena, CA)
EY: No, the church actually comes to us. A half dozen of us meets in our studio apartment every Sunday morning to seek God together through the transparent sharing of our lives with each other. Tears and laughter are regular fodder for our faith. We are all leaders in the community, each gifted in a variety of unique ways. Every Sunday we read rules of engagement & remind each other of why we continue to do what we do. We all have homework, taking our own personal inventory during the week. We are authentic about triggering situations that have the potential to dehumanize us. We have tremendous trust in the "inner Christ" that God has planted within each of us to access the Truth about ourselves and the world. We seek to break patterns that keep us from experiencing Love and healing the wounds that have kept us in bondage to self-protecting and anxiety-binding ways.
Is this really "church?" Yes. The only two places that Jesus refers to "ekklesia" in the Gospels are in Matthew where the disciples are challenged to heal and transform through honest and gentle confrontation with each other. In the Roman Empire, ekklesia was a political term, a city council (Acts 19) or town hall meeting that made important decisions for the community. The first Christians believed that church should be a political structure, a town hall meeting, where we work out what it means to be citizens of "the Kingdom of God." Our church is that kind of place. It is a space to practice a different kind of "politics." Our culture teaches us how to hide. We open up and share. Our culture teaches us to self-promote. We look out for the interests of each other. Our culture teaches us to identify with celebrities. We identify with the pain & weakness in each other. Our culture finds security in numbers (the herding instinct). We keep it intimate.
Our community is not branded by a denomination or a senior pastor, but by our commitment to the process and to each other. We don't have collectively precise theological articulations, but we value the inherently diverse perspectives we all possess. God loves variety.
Q: You seen any good movies lately? (Matt from Aliso Viejo, CA)
EY: No. We've been movie deprived. We just completed all 5 seasons of The Wire, a TV show that ran from 2002 to 2006 on HBO. I highly recommend it because it captures the web of mutuality that makes up human networks. None of the characters are perfect, yet all of them have redemptive qualities. Most of the characters do not fit neatly into "good guy" or "bad guy" categories. It portrays systems very well and beckons us into a more realistic perspective of poverty and human nature. But narrative always seems to do that a lot better than op-eds, formulas and doctrines.