Sunday, November 23, 2014
There was a time when the Bible was amazing. They drank up every word, and marked each page with rainbows of highlighter colors. The words were alive. But now it just seems as dry as a stick. What's wrong?
I'd like to propose that what they have outgrown is not the Bible, but rather a particular phase of moral development. They have outgrown the childhood stage which is focused on learning rules. There is also the teenager phase when we rebel against all those rule, but what I really want to talk about is the adult stage of moral development which I think is where many of us find ourselves.
When you are in the adult stage you recognize that the rule-focused stage is childish and overly simplistic. If you only know how to read the Bible like that, then the Bible will seem childish too. Fact is, most of us learn in church how to read the Bible in exactly this childish way. We learn to find what the "right" reading of Scripture is. There are a whole lot of people with PhDs who only read the Bible like that. There are a whole lot of pastors who teach that every Sunday.
That is, however, not what I see Jesus doing when he reads the Bible. Instead I see him questioning things. I see him innovating and creating. I see him constantly pushing people to think about things differently, pulling the rug out from under them. If we want to learn how to do that too, we need to learn how to be creative, how to innovate, not just how to memorize the rules. You might begin as a musician copying the notes from someone else's song, but really the goal is to make your own music. The same is true with following Jesus.
That is where the Bible, and in particular the way of Jesus, is supposed to take us. That means that Just as Jesus read an eye for an eye and said "hey that's pretty good I guess, but I have an even better idea..." we need to also catch the spirit of Jesus and be able to say our own "It has been said, but I say to you" statements where we blow the old religious ways of thinking out of the water with way better ones. Just as Jesus spoke to the cultural issues of his time, we need to have our own things to say to the problems of our day as well.
That's not moving away from Jesus, rather it is moving forward in the way he wants us to go. That's what we need to be trying to do. We will of course make mistakes along the way (as adults I hope we all know this by now), but that does not mean we should stop walking.
There will of course always be those who are at an earlier stage of moral development who will freak out about this, and all I can say here is don't let those people drag you down and keep you from moving further along in the way.
To me that way of creative innovation sounds really exciting. It means we can be at the forefront of moral innovation in the world, breaking new ground. If we can read the Bible like that, like we see Jesus doing, then it becomes a totally different book. It becomes a source for creative moral innovation. It becomes a launchpad, rather than something that tethers us down.
The trouble I think is that we have learned to read the Bible in a way that works well when you are a moral-kindergartner, but that does not work as a moral-grownup. If we go to a church that is stuck there, then all we hear is that same kindergarten-morality message over and over, Sunday after Sunday, like Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day. If that's the case, then I have to say I don't blame people who leave church, if it is keeping them stuck, not challenging them to grow, to move forward in the way.
But it doesn't have to be like that folks. Christianity does not need to be stagnant and stuck. Following Jesus should be a revolution.