There is a religious ditty that, once you hear it, sticks in your mind forever:
Read your Bible pray every day, pray every day, pray every day
Read your Bible pray every day
And you’ll grow, grow, grow.
And, because people who compose, and sing, mentally paralyzing bromide like this are captivated by symmetry, there is a second verse:
Don’t read your Bible, FORget to pray, FORget . . . etc.
And you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink.
While the level of banality is justified because this twaddle is designed for children — who really deserve better — more than one adult in Sunday School has sung this, in the spirit of “being like little children.” Not to get overly theological here, but Jesus meant more, and better, than that in Matthew 18:3. Really.
But let’s talk about theology for a minute — it’s a term that we as laymen, whether we’re in the Catholic or Protestant camps, are coached to fear, because theology is something that is taught (supposedly) in seminary, along with Successful Sermon Thematics 101, Coalescing Your Leadership Team, and Essentials of the Successful Building Program, so the study of the nature of God and of beliefs in Him (which is the definition of theology) is professedly beyond the ordinary mind.
We Don’t Read
For this reason, even though the Bible is no longer in Latin and thereby inaccessible to the average reader (which kept its message, words, truth, and interpretations locked up for centuries), many intelligent, literate people avoid reading it in any depth, cracking that book open once a week for Adult Learning Focus and maybe a second time for Small Groups Intensive Study. There, they are given a small, comfortable number of verses to plow through, with helpful commentary and funny teaching stories that gently lead them to the proper interpretation of whatever it is that they are “studying.”
Songs like the ditty above make such itinerant readers feel bad about themselves and their spirituality, and to avoid shrink, shrink, shrinking, they may pick up a book of devotions, which offers a little verse at the top in italics, a teaching story in the non-italicized paragraph below, and a pithy prayer at the end to neatly tie things up. It’s just a little longer than a Facebook meme.
Calling this “study” is a generous use of the term, and while it is true that we are becoming a society that is less and less literate, it doesn’t have to be this way. The Bible, while it is dense, complicated, and not easily summarized into easy-to-digest platitudes (although authors, pastors, celebrity Christians, and denominational corporations do their best to provide pre-chewed fare), is not unreadable, and if the myths of history that we’re taught in school or church have any basis in truth, apparently people in the past brought themselves from illiterate to literate by reading this consistently best-selling book.
We can do the same.
Yep, We Can
But let’s say we are already sufficiently literate to read novels beyond Young Adult vampire, zombie, dystopian, and paranormal fare, which isn’t unreasonable to expect in a society where so many people get their high school, and even college, diplomas: we can tackle the Bible with the confidence of rational, educated, astute adults, capable of asking questions, seeking answers, and recognizing that, just because we don’t have a complete answer, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. We’ll just keep reading, researching, and digging, or, as Jesus puts it:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7
Now the pastors of prosperity teach, to people who don’t bother to read and learn for themselves, that this verse and others like it are a magic path to get whatever we want: just ask (confidently) and seek (with a positive attitude) and knock (insistently) and God, who doesn’t really want us to know the “secret” behind manipulating Him, will have to capitulate. It’s a system, and if you’re clever enough to figure it out, you’ll win.
Well, it’s a system all right, but it’s not Christianity, and those who truly want to know God, and find truth, and free themselves from the illusory visions that are packaged and sold to us as reality, will eventually understand that these words promise more than shallow, temporal, fleeting, materialistic goods: they promise wisdom, teaching, and truth:
You do not have to be a seminary graduate to read the Bible and learn from it. You do not have to be a slave of teachings by celebrity Christian psychologists, radio hosts, “news” commentators, doctors of divinity, economic gurus, CEOs of humanitarian organizations, speakers in football stadiums, and major, well-endowed denominations that interpret the words of all sorts of church fathers for us so we don’t have to. You don’t even have to be a slave to the words of the church fathers — they don’t all agree, you know, but were doing what many of us have given up doing: tackling difficult concepts and passages, and developing theories about what they mean. Theories.
In the process of reading the Bible for yourself, you will probably find that the answers and truths you have been given — different ones, depending upon the denomination — aren’t so firm and pat as you have been led to believe. More disturbingly for those who prefer that you remain asleep, you will ask Why? and, How could a loving God be this way? and, Is this truly the good news Christ preached? If so, why did it mean so much to poor people? What does it look like to be a Christian in a society — including religious society — that worships wealth, fame, and power? By these standards, does being a Christian mean that we’re no longer poor?
Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where I encourage individual Christians to follow Christ, not celebrities, and stop being drawn into the culture of myth and illusion that pretends to be reality. If we would wake up and see the lies, then those lies wouldn’t have the power to direct our behavior.
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