Monday, November 24, 2008

Reading the Bible Again For The First Time

Chippendale Bible BeltImage by alimander via Flickr
I was having trouble coming up with a title for this post.   The titles from two books I've read, Reading The Bible Again For the First Time (Borg) and Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism (Spong) came to mind and both apply equally for me.  The last several weeks at church we have been discussing Matthew.  Specifically, last week Matthew 24 and this week Matthew 25, the chapters many Christians takes as "last days" prophecies and the final judgment at the end of the world where the sheep go to "eternal" reward and the goats to "eternal" punishment.

When I heard Mike would be covering these chapters, I had mixed emotions.  As an aside,  I recently learned that emotions actually come from a part of the brain before the thinking part of the brain.  So, while emotions are extremely efficient at influencing our thinking, our thinking brain is pretty lousy at controlling our emotions.  These particular parts of Matthew are the ones that caused me migraine headaches for about 8 years and panic attacks for almost another 30 on top of that. So, just hearing that we're going to be talking about them in church triggers old emotions that I have spent the last 8 years or so trying to work through.  Emotions of fear, judgment, wondering whether I'm a sheep or a goat, etc.  When I hear these topics are going to be discussed at Nexus, I always have to remind myself that it's likely to be in a way I've never heard them discussed before.  I have to try to enter with "beginner's mind" as if I'm hearing them discussed for the first time.

Mike did a great job with the sermons about the wise and foolish virgins, the servants given the talents and the sheep and the goats stories.  In each of his sermons, I learned something I didn't already know, which is pretty impressive to me.  I don't mean that to sound as arrogant as it might.  While I'm not Bible scholar, I have read an awful lot about the Bible for a lay-person and I typically don't learn a lot anymore from your standard sermon.  I've even read an entire book dedicated solely to Matthew 24  because that is an extremely important chapter for people trying to predict the "last days".    For some reason, I have a need to "rescue" the Bible from the fundamentalism of my youth.   Some, who I engage with, accuse me of not taking the Bible seriously.  Nothing could be further from the truth. I cannot simply let the Bible go.  Even though, at one time ,I would have thought these stories to be just beyond redemption (even as I was once thinking Christianity was beyond redemption for me).

As usual, I had a lot to say about the stories during our "talk back" time.  I could go on and on (and usually do).  I agreed with everything Mike pointed out- as I usually do.  Mike is an excellent preacher, well researched, animated and engaging.  But, I always have more to add.  And, of course, I have to give my ex-fundy perspective on everything.  I wonder if the people of Nexus get sick of me saying "When I was a kid, I was taught this meant...". However, after church someone approached me and said he appreciates hearing my perspective because it helps him understand fundamentalists.  That was really helpful for me because I was afraid maybe I was starting to come off as competing for attention or trying to show off how much I know (which is very little).  I only want to share what I think might be helpful.  It's actually very bizarre for me to be in a place where most of the people there can't even understand the fear and the judgment I was taught was in the Bible.  They find it odd that I believed the things I did for so long.  But, I think my perspective helps them understand that many people who do believe those things have not chosen to believe them but feel they have no choice.  It's either take the entire Bible literally and inerrantly or literally have no guide in life for morality or truth.  When fundamentalists and former fundamentalists object to the more progress view of things, the objection I hear more than a refutation of the perspective is one of fear.  Fear that if they don't take the whole Bible literally and inerrantly, that they will lose their way in the world and will have no way of know the "will of G-d".

BTW, on the sheep and goats thing there are many fascinating interpretations.  Some say it's about G-d judging the Gentile nations (due to a reference at the beginning of the story).  Some say we're all a little sheep and a little goat.  I think an interesting read would be  that the judgment was based on actions, not faith.    Perhaps some of the goats were believers who had hidden their talents under a rock and done nothing with them.  They were surprised that the requirement went beyond mere "belief" and they were being judged based on their actions.  Fundamentalist Christian churches that teach this story is about final salvation.  And, OTOH, teach that salvation is by "faith" not by works seem to overlook the fact that, in this story, faith isn't mentioned at all.  It's possible that those who did the works were Buddhists, Muslims or even Atheists.  In actuality, I believe the story is just that, a story.  Just like the other parables weren't meant to be taken literally, neither was this one.  It conveyed a principle (that your faith must be put into action).  But, it was not a telling of a specific future event.

If you've read my blog for any amount of time you know over the last couple of years I've really struggled with the whole idea of church.  Where do I fit in?  Do I fit in? What's the point?  What do I get out of this?  Am I contributing enough to make it worth my while?  My real community has been my on-line friends for the most part.   That's where I can learn and grow.  But, I have to say that I see things at Nexus as really coming together. It's so nice to finally have someone I can discuss my new view of the Bible with face-to-face.  

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Don said...

Our reading seems to coinciding at present. I find it refreshing that you have found an ekkesia where you are somewhat comfortable. I can really identify with this post as I, and you are obviously looking for a way to more successfully include the Bible in my life again. Thanks for touching me again.

kc bob said...

Very cool that people can't really relate to fundamentalism. Where we church I come across strands of it now and then.. I usually have interesting interactions when it happens :)

Sue said...

"It's actually very bizarre for me to be in a place where most of the people there can't even understand the fear and the judgment I was taught was in the Bible"


Wow, that would be so surreal! :)

karen said...

Ditto Sue....that would be surreal and wonderful...

"For some reason, I have a need to "rescue" the Bible...." Golly, that really resonates...I want to rescue it from the meanness that people say it says. Another of my women friends has been wounded by men in church telling her she cannot do "pastoral care" because of her gender.
My blog community is a powerful church for me....
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Brian!