more, instead of less

“It was presented as something simple and clear. Not thick stories full of twists and tangles and layers, but thin little narratives only perfectly factual. It was about moral instruction. It told us how we were to behave. And the way it got communicated it seemed about as interesting as you might expect an instructor in discipline to be, not wild and passionate and engaged with life, all full of sex and blood and fighting, but neat and prudish and mean and dull. It was a text in the service of some anti-sensual agenda.

How anyone managed to pull that presentation off is fairly amazing. There are monsters in that book. These are graphic stories about people with names and every petty human emotion. It’s all about barrenness and fertility and eating. It’s full of love and pain and anger and death and all sorts of poetry. It is not so abstract. It is so concrete. it is so many layered.

Somehow, sometimes it seems that believing the Bible is the Word of God can end up making it less instead of more, stiff and dead and thin instead of crazy and full and alive. It may have to do with the people in charge (whether they’re scholars or , fundamentalists, or ministers of the institution) being so tight about it. It may be something unfortunate that happens with reverence. Reverence and love seem different to me. Reverence is more like distance, Love is engagement.

The Word of God, the word of anybody is the attempt of a live being to communicate something. If God is in any meaningful sense living, then you’d think the Word of God might engage us in a conversation or some sort of relationship rather than hit us like stone tablets falling form the sky. If God is in any meaningful sense alive, then the Word of God wouldn’t be like an untouchable repository of facts about God that you must handle barely and gingerly, but something true you could crash around in, actually wrestle with. Wrestling seems like a good way to handle it. Like really handle it. Lots of contact. You might grab it by the neck, yank it around, roll with it in the dirt. Your fingernails won’t stay clean. It’s not going to break. Instead of approaching it abstractly, we might approach it like a farm wife handles a chicken, carefully but not delicately, thoroughly but not exactly cautiously.

I might be wrong, but what guides my exegesis is the belief that if I hear the Word of God in the struggle it will be the word of a lover. A loved who wants the world to believe in that love and live in that love, not the Supreme Being who wants his subjects lined up properly with their buttons all buttoned right and their shirts clean, their bodies bent in just the right position of supplication. Believing in the living lover at least a little, or in spite of yourself, or starting there even if you don’t at the moment believe it that much, makes reading the Bible a pretty interesting adventure…”

And so writes Debbie Blue in the preface of Sensual Orthodoxy. I ordered this book when I found out that she would be doing the evening homily at the Glen Workshop this year. Since I’ll be attending, I was curious to learn a little more about her. What I didn’t expect to find was someone who so clearly articulates what my early exposure to the Bible and church was like.

While the God I have wrestled with in the last couple of years is still the same God that was depicted on a flannel-graph board while I sat attentively in a semi-circle of little wooden chairs, he sure looks and feels different. And I’m pretty sure that the scene in Acts 2 looked and sounded a little different than a Hoover upright, or The Rushing Mighty Vacuum Cleaner, as we were taught. I still maintain that I memorized the Trinity from a Violent Femmes song (How I love the Lord of Hosts, Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost.)

I’m savoring this book of sermons, reading one each night, and resonating more and more with Blue’s honest grappling with the text.


4 Comments on “more, instead of less”

  1. I enjoyed reading this. Sometimes I miss those simpler times when we all sat in those little wooden chairs in Ms. Lora’s class, in our own little cocoons. I went back to visit that class years later with my kids and noticed that the Jesus was really a “Vinnie Barbarino” doll. It made me smile.

  2. Laura…that made me laugh so hard. Life was so simple back then. It does amaze me when I think of the passion Ms. Lora had to teach 5 year olds. But I can’t get the vision of the Vinnie Barbarino Jesus out of my head. I think it was even funnier when I remembered that I had a Welcome Back Kotter jumpsuit (yes, you read that right) that was a hand-me-down from Allison Woodson!

  3. And that little Vinnie Barbarino grew up to play the archangel Michael! He gets around.This book sounds really good. Gotta add it to my list.

  4. LJ – No, little Vinnie certainly does not let grass grow under his feet!

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