Drawing From A Deep Well
I grew up in a fundamentalist church. There are dozens of breeds of this kind of church, but my formational years were spent in a non-denominational church deep in the boondocks of Oregon in an old truck stop turned cheap-steeple. I learned to do church in community. Everybody was working class -- save my family and one other family. Everybodies survival was deeply entangled in the success of the whole – an example I frequently cite is this: my family raised birds and our land had alfalfa growing. We traded eggs, meat or grass for fresh goats’ milk from the pastor. That part of the working class, rural, fundamentalist church is beautiful, communities are at their best when they weave their lives together. We, as Americans, would probably all be better off if we could more clearly see the bonds of God which holds our communities together in the age-old pilgrimage for survival.
The fundamentalists believe that the only things worth knowing are confined in those books which are the literal words of God. In their opinion the bible is infallible, unchanging, and perfect in every way. Academic study, historical context, cultural notes, or even the acknowledgement of how the texts were literally compiled are trite at best and often heretical. Christians are, too fundamentalists, in a fierce spiritual battle against secularism (re: evil) and biblical study is your only shield against a secular (re: evil) world which will seduce you into personal sin.
As a result, we who come from fundamentalism know the bible inside and out. We played games which centered around being able to quote entire chapters of the bible at random. Imagine a drafty room in the back of a dirty truck stop with a bunch of middle schoolers sitting in a circle and a volunteer pulls a flash card out which lists a bible & chapter. Whoever can recite the most scripture of the rest of that book wins.
Now, I draw from a deep well of resources which inform my understanding of the bible as a messy, imperfect, sacred library which was written down at a time and place for a reason. Giving myself permission to understand the who, what, when, where & why of the bible has transformed my relationship with it into a friend for whom I can give permission to fail. When I find her inconsistencies, her little quirks, her cultural sins -- I appreciate them as part of the story of humankind trying to find their way to a God whose voice is often muted.
Genealogy as a Sacred Oath to the Invisible People
This makes the bible more interesting too. For example, remember all that boring genealogy in the beginning of your bible? “Some dead dude then some other dead dude and then some other dead dude,” and on and on and on. If you read that without context, at best, you’re like “sounds like Adam & Steve to me, but okay.”
But if you put that into context – suddenly the Genealogy is a sacred promise with God and a Revolutionary Act. The Jewish people wrote that scripture while they were suffering under brutal slavery. A Jewish person born at that time had the promise of a painful life and a painful death. Each person was considered property and their life and inevitable death would have been treated like livestock.
However, the Jewish people memorized through verbal repetition their family heritage. As a reminder that their life also has value not just to them but to God. This was unprecedented—the gods of the past did not know or love individual people. But for the Jewish People it was different: neither their children nor their God would forget their names. So each generation memorized the last generations names and taught it to their children that they are a sacred and loved people who God has not forgotten. Read each name and hear the prayer and the promise. The promise that there was a time before, there will be a time after, and that every person has the Love of God.
It can also be read as a promise to the people of our time whose lives we do not mourn – the people who work our fields, make our clothes, and who fill our nations ghettos.
“Blessed are the Meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
I hope that if you are not currently doing so then in your spiritual journey, you will read the bible and ask harder questions of it. Ask those books who, what, when, where and why?
And my favorite question: where is the scandal? In the bible, God is almost always found in the midst of the scandal.