Tuesday on my way to the coffee club, I saw Rev. Farley O’Stoutville on his morning walk and invited him to go with me for a cup of coffee.
“Sure, I could use a break from dealing with church needs.”
“You might not get a break. Something you said the other day got me thinking about the Bible.”
“That’s a good thing to think about. Reading it is better,” he said and then blurted, “Forgive me. That was such a pietistic thing to say.”
“It’s OK. The other day you seemed to question whether the Bible was liberal or conservative because of the reaction someone had to your shirt. I’ve never really thought about that because I know conservatives and liberals alike claim the Bible as their own and seem to give it their own spin.”
“That’s certainly one way to understand how people read the Bible. By giving it their own spin.”
“Wrong choice of words,” I said. “It isn’t that they spin the Bible so much as what they bring to this job of reading it. But you know walking gives a person time to think and I’ve been thinking about what you said. I’m sure theologians have written about this, but I think the Bible is a pretty liberal document. People caricature it, but I think it gives people a way to deal with chaos and it’s liberal in the sense of its concern for the well-being of people. What do you think, Rev?”
“I think you’re on target as far as you go,” the Rev. said. “But the Bible also conserves certain traditions and expects people to maintain those traditions. And tradition by its nature is conservative.”
“I’ll give you that side of it, but tradition doesn’t necessarily mean rigidity.” My response surprised me. “As I read the book, the Bible expects certain traditions to be kept as a way to honor the past or to honor the relationship with the divine, but it doesn’t stipulate that these holy days must be done exactly the same every time. And I don’t see the message of the prophets—whether Isaiah or Amos or Micah—as conservative. “ Now we had come to Ms. Anne Thrope’s. “What do you think, Rev? I’ll make the coffee.”
“I applaud your effort—and I look forward to the coffee–but you’re trying to make the Bible conform to criteria that it cannot meet because the Bible is not one grand book with one theme. It is multiple books with multiple authors written over multiple centuries. It is history and poetry, wisdom literature and the words of prophets. So yes, it would seem liberal at some points during those times when the community pulled into itself and forgot to care for others, such as widows and orphans and strangers. But it would seem conservative during times when people experienced no meaning in the rituals and wanted to quit doing them. People always try to force it to become what it isn’t.”
“Stop! I can’t take it. Different authors, different times. Different centuries?! I guess I’ve known that it wasn’t all written at once, but hadn’t really thought about what that means. Mind-boggling it is! I don’t know what to say.”
“You could say, ‘Coffee’s ready.’ You’ve made me work for it. Let’s jump to the hot stove league and talk about the Yankees.”
And he did. But I confess that I despise the sameness of conversations about sports.