News, views, notes, and quotes

28 May 2015 •  No. 23

Special issue on
The Bible

“What bothers me about the Bible is not the parts I can't understand, but the parts I can understand.” —Mark Twain

¶  “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of [another]. . . . There are just some kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.” —Harper Lee, “To Kill a Mockingbird”

"Most people who profess a deep love of the Bible have never actually read the book. They have memorized parts of texts that they can string together to prove the biblical basis for whatever it is they believe in, but they ignore the vast majority of the text." —Rabbi Rami Shapiro, noting that a student in his Bible class at Middle Tennessee State University believed the saying “This dog won’t hunt” is a biblical proverb

“When the white man came we had the land and they had the bibles; now they have the land and we have the bibles.” —Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation

The first English settlers to this “new” world were not hesitant to plunder the graves and winter grain storages of the indigenous population. Among the biblical texts they favored was Psalm 2:8: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.”

“There's a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, "Why on our hearts, and not in them?" The rabbi answered, "Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.”  —Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

“Avoid stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” —2 Timothy 2:23

Polis is the Greek word for 'city,' and thus politics is concerned with the 'shape' of the city, and by extension, of any human community.  Indeed, it concerns both the shaping and the shape, process as well as result.  In this sense of the word, biblical religion is intrinsically political, for it is persistently concerned with the life of a community living in history.” —Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: A New Vision

“The biblical writers are clear that faith generally reflects the social fabric of the nation. The ramifications of social injustice quickly spread to the temple, where faith tends to reinforce rather than transform the structures of oppression. For this reason Amos [13:13-15] announces that God's judgment will strike both temple (the center of religious life) and mansion (the embodiment of an economy of luxury built on the backs of the poor).” —Jack Nelson, Hunger for Justice

“We do not read the Bible the way it is; we read it the way we are.” —Evelyn Uyemura

“I could never work out whether we were to view religion as a life-insurance policy or a life sentence. I can understand a wrathful God who’d just as soon dangle us all from a hook. And I can understand a tender, unprejudiced Jesus. But I could never quite feature the two of them living in the same house.” —Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

As the story goes, a Catholic monk was asked if Jesus was his personal Lord and Savior. The monk replied, “Nope. I prefer to share him.”

Is there justification for barbarity in the Qur’an? Better ask, first, is there such justification in the Bible? What about 1 Samuel 15: “Samuel said to Saul, ‘[L]isten to the words of the Lord. . . . Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” (vv. 1, 3). The psalmists have plenty of payback resolves, including “Happy shall they be who take your [speaking of Babylonians] little ones and dash them against the rock!” (137:9) And blood fairly runs in the streets several times in John’s Revelation.

“Evangelical Christianity . . . once harbored an ancient biblical bias in favor of the poor, but now, at least in its high-profile megachurch manifestations, it has abandoned the book of Matthew for a ‘prosperity gospel’ that counts wealth as a mark of God’s favor.” —Barbara Ehrenreich

You may recall the “Open Letter to Dr. Laura,” a satirical jab at biblical literalism, which circulated on the internet some years ago (and was adapted and put in the mouth of "The West Wing" television series’ President Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen).

“How does my reading of the Bible affect my relationship to others? As Augustine states in De Doctrina Christiana, if it does not teach you to love, read it again until it does!” —Scripture scholar Ray Hobbs

“I was assigned as chaplain to the battalion defending the Remagen bridgehead in Germany in World War II. My company took over a house a few miles upstream from the bridge. The house had been the home of a German pastor. A corporal hailed me and said, "Look, Chappie, what I found" and he handed me a Bible. On close inspection I was surprised to find a big lot of pages torn out. They were after Nehemiah and before Job. The book of Esther was missing. I recalled that Hitler had ordered all loyal pastors to excise the book of Esther, which recorded another attempt by a tyrant, from biblical days, to annihilate the Jewish race.”  —C.B. Hastings

"The Bible is a mirror with true reflection. If an ass looks into it, don’t expect an apostle to look back." —William Sloan Coffin

“Scripture is indeed at the center of our conversations, but is not their parameter. Our reflections begin in the text but are not exhausted by it. For the Bible does not reference itself, only Another, Another so elusive and unbounded as to have an unnameable Name.
        “Scripture emits the aroma of God, an echo of God, a taste of God, a grace-and-pathos filled touch of God, a fleeting backside glimpse of God whose purpose is to whet our senses and thereby draw us into a world aflame with Heaven’s impassioned presence still hidden in the shadows of brutal temporal affairs.
       "As Northern Irish theologian Peter Rollins says, ‘God is not a fact to be grasped but an incoming to be undergone.’” —Ken Sehested

“If the scriptures do not justify slavery, I know not what they do justify. If we err in maintaining this relation, I know not when we are right—truth then has parted her usual moorings and floated off into an ocean of uncertainty.” —The Reverend Ferdinand Jacobs, Presbyterian pastor in Charleston, SC, 1850

Pictured at left: Isaiah 2:4, carved into stone at the Ralph Bunche Park across from the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Bunche, a key figure in creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, was the first African American recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation work in Israel-Palestine.

“Linda and Rob Robertson, whose gay son died of complications after a drug overdose, now run a weekly Bible-study group for about 40 LGBT adults in the Seattle area. Linda runs a private Facebook group, "Just Because They Breathe," for nearly 350 conservative evangelical moms of gay and lesbian children. The work is slow, she says, but important: she devotes her days to talking to mothers who feel they have to abandon their faith to love their child or who are afraid to voice their questions with their nonaffirming churches.” —Elizabeth Dias, “A Change of Heart: Inside the evangelical war over gay marriage,” Time magazine

The Bible is “the place where the church hears God speaking and discerns God’s presence when their words are studied and pondered and questioned—and opened for us by the Stranger who accompanies us on our journey and breaks bread with us.” —Phyllis Ann Bird, The Bible as the Church's Book

“It is from the Bible that man has learned cruelty, rapine, and murder; for the belief of a cruel God makes a cruel man.” ―Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

“Once we recognize that the most basic questions about economic systems were entwined with biblical religion and fought over as an intrinsic aspect of living religiously, we gain leverage to criticize and evaluate economic systems today.” —Norman Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible in Its Social World and in Ours

“It is common that we are prone to use the Bible as a drunk uses a lamppost—for support rather than illumination.” —William Sloan Coffin, Credo

Pictured at right: US Marines in an M1 Abram tank in Anbar Province, Iraq, with its gun barrel christened as the "New Testament."

 ¶ “Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a different thing from reading it with a full belly. If it is read in the light of the experience and hopes of the oppressed, the Bible’s revolutionary themes—promise, exodus, resurrection and spirit—come alive.” —Jürgen Moltman, The Church in the Power of the Spirit

“Do we really need to break a cow's neck at the sight of an unsolved murder (Deuteronomy 21:1-6)? What about the prohibitions on two kinds of material in the same garment (Leviticus 19:19)? If I get into a fight and my wife inadvertently grabs the privates of my opponent I do not want to have to cut off her hand (Deuteronomy 25:11-12). It may even be time to let go of capital punishment for breaking the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14)." —Brett Younger

“The innermost truth of a text resides in a life that exhibits its power.” —Belden Lane, Backpacking With the Saints

“In my seminary preparation in the USA, I never dreamed I was preparing for a career as a professor of ‘subversive literature’! Now I am not surprised when I hear how the American Bible Society landed in trouble for publishing a modern, comprehensible translation of Amos with the red cover and the simple word ‘Justice’ printed on the cover (banned in Pinochet's Chile).  Or that the use of a Spanish version of Mary's Magnificat in the Catholic Mass was prohibited in one area of Argentina.” —Thomas D. Hanks, God So Loved the Third World

“The central vision of world history in the Bible is that all of creation is one, every creature in commune with every other, living in harmony and security toward the joy and well-being of every other creature.” —Walter Brueggemann, Living Toward a Vision

“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” —Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

“How would it change the nature of our wrestling if we did so in the context of continuous Bible study and singing and worship?  For those still working their way out from under the weight of an oppressively pious upbringing, that probably does not resound as good news, but it is. It is the way increasing numbers of others have learned they must live, in order to keep on struggling against the Beast without being made bestial.” —Walter Wink, Naming the Powers

“The Bible is the story of the breakthrough of God in human history.” —George Williamson

“One of my seminary colleagues had taken a pair of scissors to an old Bible, and he proceeded to cut out every single reference to the poor. It took him a very long time. When he finally was finished . . . the Bible was full of holes. I used to take it out with me to preach. I’d hold it high above church congregations and say, ‘Brothers and sisters, this is our American Bible! It’s full of holes!’” —Jim Wallis, Faith Works: How Faith-based Organizations are Changing Lives, Neighborhoods and America

“For we do not go hawking the word of God about, as so many do.” —2 Corinthians 2:17 (New English)

The Spanish, in their conquest of Americas, looked to Scripture to justify their imperial reign: “For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks. Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. The whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. Every one of them brought a present, objects of silver and gold, garments, weaponry, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year” (1 Kings 10:22-25).

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people." —G. K. Chesterton

“An agricultural student from India who was studying at Florida State University visited Koinonia Farm for a weekend, and he expressed an interest in attending an American Protestant worship service. The Jordans escorted him to Rehoboth, where the presence of his dark skin miraculously chilled the hot, humid southern Georgia atmosphere. Obviously Koinonia had disguised a "ni**er," called him a Indian, and sneaked him into divine worship. 
        “A group of men from the church came to the farm and confronted Clarence again with a plea for Koinonians to stay away from the church. Clarence said that he and the others would be willing to apologize before the congregation if they had done anything to offend anyone. He handed a Bible to one of the men and asked him to show, through the Scriptures, how any wrong had been committed. The man slammed the book down and said: ‘Don't give me any of this Bible stuff!’
        “Clarence, who always geared down to a soft but confident tone in such encounters, replied: ‘I'm not giving you any Bible stuff. I'm asking you to give it to me.’ He then suggested to the deacon that if he could not accept the Bible as the ‘Holy inspired Word of God,’ that perhaps he should get out of the Baptist church himself. Exasperated, the men left.” —Dallas Lee, Cotton Patch Evidence

“There are some [Scripture texts] . . . which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction.” —2 Peter 3:16b (English Standard)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “Bowling in Baghdad: Which memorial will guide?”, a Memorial Day reflection

• “Hallelujah,” new lyrics to Leonard Cohen’s song, adapted from Psalm 23

©Ken Sehested @ Don’t let the “copyright” notice keep you from circulating material you find here (and elsewhere in this site). Reprint permission is hereby granted in advance for noncommercial purposes.

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