Monday, March 4, 2013

Bumps, Bruises, and the Bible

Have a conversation with horse people, and after an appropriate span of time, we will always start talking about the time a horse bucked with us and tossed us on our fannies. Or the time a horse got spooked and took off in a full gallop with us hanging on for our dear lives.  Or when a horse stepped on us or kicked us or inflicted some other misfortune that left a nasty bruise, broken bone, deep cut, or ripped-off toenail.  We usually smile or laugh when we recount these experiences.  We're not quite right, as a friend notes.  But we love horses.

Face it, being around thousand pound creatures of God with regularity will result in some injuries. Horses are big, even though most of them think they are the size of teacup poodles.  Horses like to nibble and bite - fences, apples, you.  Horses shift and move, often unaware your foot is exactly where they want place their hoof and all their weight.  And they get scared, annoyed, or just silly.  And off you go...right down on the ground.

Our love for horses, for riding them and being in their company, for feeling a nuzzle after a good ride, is true love.  It accepts the bruises and bumps that come from being in relationship with these magnificent creatures of God.  Life with horses demands occasional pain, discomfort, and ugly.  Unless you are willing to take the messy, don't ride.  It will never be safe enough for you.

Of course, life with horses isn't any different than life as a whole.  Our interactions with other people is messy, leaves bumps and bruises when they bite or we kick.  That's just the way the equation works.  I don't know why.  The answer to that question is significantly above my pay grade.

Which is one reason I love the Bible (the book, not the movie or mini-series).  I love that the collection of myth, history, poetry, prophecy, Gospel, letters, and some apocalyptic what-the-heck is messy and beautiful.  I love that there is frequently more than one account of the same story.  Three accounts of creation, two accounts of Goliath's death (and David actually does the killing in only one), four accounts of Jesus' life and ministry, among a few examples.  I love that dirt, greed, sex, and salvation are all words that can be used to describe humanity's accounts and interactions with God.  In the Bible, people kill others for no really good reason, sleep around, cheat and steal, violate the dignity of women to save their own male skins, have arguments with God, and run around naked - and that's just the patriarchs of our faith.

The Psalms, the songs of the Israelites, sing of glory and praise, of the magnificence of God's creation, and of the love of God.  They lament the pain of heartbreak, loss, and tragedy.  And they give words to anger so great that murder of children seems remarkably rational.

I love that the stories of our faith are not simple, neat, and tidy.  They are complex and rich, and they invite us to struggle and study their words over and over again.  The magnificent stories of love and salvation are right alongside the bruises and bumps of human messiness.  David the great king began life as, quite honestly, a highwayman who becomes a great king, breaks the heart of one of his wives, takes a lover, kills her husband, and a host of other things that would make a great movie, if only we were willing to drop into the depths of the mess of his life to see the heights.  Three of the women named in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus - Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth - are all sexually suspect and/or outsiders with really great stories that, besides Ruth, most people have never read.  The prophet Jeremiah is so angry and annoyed with God that he accuses God of raping him.  And Jael gives a great warrior milk before slamming a tent peg into his head.  Oh yes, women do some b-a-d things, too.

What a witness that our ancestors in faith were so unafraid of their beautiful mess.  What a witness that the full spectrum of human emotion is woven tightly in their relationship with God.  What a witness that the people who eventually wrote down the sacred account of humanity and God felt no apparent need to conceal the bruises and wounds to pretty up humans and, for that matter, God.

God, it seems, cares little for our perfection, which doesn't exist, except as a false idol. God's love for the whole of who we are and God's work with the whole of who we are is uncomfortable for many of us.  We pretend that the matriarchs, patriarchs, and saints of the faith were nice, polite, and perfect people, and we will condense, edit, and interpret that in Scripture to fit our agenda.  This agenda, as far as I can tell, only serves to shame us, and shame has no place in the love of God or a community of love.

The Bible meets us in a dark alley and says, "Hey, this is who I really am," and exposes itself from stories appropriate for children to oh my gosh THAT'S in the Bible?!!?  Usually, I might add, by the same person.  The glory of God's love in inexplicably intertwined with the messy mistakes of human action.  That is one of the big messages of the Bible that Luther put so well:  God carves the rotten wood and rides the lame horse.  To only see the clean, tidy parts made even prettier by editors, filmmakers, and preachers erases the dark mud that roots us into the deep love of God.  And to only want the fun and pretty without the messy and difficult reduces our relationship with God to a thin veneer of nice that provides nothing for nourishment and deep growth.

I love the Bible, and I love and honor this sacred text so much that I read the stories - all of them - over and over again (thank you Daily Office).  I struggle with the texts that horrify and offend me.  I muddle through texts that bore me (and Hiram begat Schem, who begat Zoarh, who begat Mr. Darcy, who begat...).  I breathe in the familiar words that refresh me.  I laugh with the stories that are filled with humor, sarcasm, and snark (oh yes, snark is not a modern invention - read Jonah).  I pray this holy text with reverence, awe, discomfort, and joy.  And I give thanks for all of it that has engaged, enraged, enlightened, and empowered humanity for thousands of years.

I hope those of us who study, meditate, preach, and read the Bible are willing to fall into the fullness of the words of Holy Scripture, all of it.  Read the stories that bring joy and pain.  Read the stories that offend and inspire.  Read the whole of the books, not just a piece here and there that suits your taste. Discuss the stories with a community to let other voices be heard.  Let the stories break your bones and heart, bruise you, heal you, and change you.

As you read their stories and live your story with God, remember, no, we aren't quite right, but we are loved by God.  And that will always, always be enough.


If you are interested in reading the whole Bible, I recommend The Bible Challenge as a way to make this journey as an individual or as a group study.








9 comments:

Deirdre said...

Tiny point: there are more than 3 women in Matthew's genealogy (see Mt 1)! The wife of Uriah might not fall into your category of "sexually suspect" nor might Mary, "of whom Jesus was born." Which indicates the need for more discussion!

Dirty Sexy Ministry said...

Ladies and gentlemen, my New Testament professor, who never stops teaching me. Deirdre, I corrected the sentence - an editing error. I still hold a young woman impregnated by God is sexually suspect. I'm amazed she wasn't stoned.

I still remember your observation - what's truly amazing is that ANY women's names made it into the Bible at all.

Sheldon Curry said...

As a horse-person myself, I grinned at everything you said. My left knee will never “work right”, I know the pain of sneezing with a broken rib. But when get around a horse you’ve known a long time, the almost holy connection – the way s/he knows your thoughts and mood and heart – is a mystic treat worth any pain attached.

Your metaphor with the Bible is perfect. In fact, as I have with Moby Dick, Middlemarch and Lonesome Dove, I think I’ll start it again – for the fourth time. Just to see how it’s grown since we last took the long way home.

Dirty Sexy Ministry said...

Reading Lonesome Dove over Lent. It gets better with every read.

Ansku said...

What an excellent picture of the Bible! Thank you.

LivyAbele said...

As a Lenten Madness follower, I am aware and so sorry for your latest & terrible "bump and bruise"....
I had sent your post to my young mothers' bible study ( before I knew of your accident) and I have already heard from at least one that it made the difficult passages they have been reading during Lent more accessible.....
You are in my prayers for healing and peace....

Pastor Dwight said...

Thank you for this post. It made me smile more than once and made me think too. I am going to share The Bible Challenge with the congregation I serve. Peace be with you.

Dirty Sexy Ministry said...

Oh, the irony (I hadn't had my latest bump and bruise when I wrote this. I am recovering well, and expect to be back in the saddle after Easter. Glad this made the difficult passages a bit easier to read. Thank you for your good wishes.

Sally Eslinger said...

Exquisite. Thank you.