Just say "No!" to oversimplification!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What Does the Bible Mean? I

I have God, and know that I do.

This is not because of who I am, but because of Who God is. Some people live on mountains, some in deep shadowed valleys, some are too rich and some too poor -- and thus one can tell us apart.

As a later rabbi put it: "When Caesar stamps his image on 1000 coins, they all come out alike. When God puts His image on 1000 people, they all come out different." But God does well by every person, even if not always visibly so in any one life in this world.

So why do I need the Bible?

To answer that... I'll need to talk about my life; because that is what's brought me to the perspective I have.

Nothing in my life has been an accident; and the Bible is here. Abraham didn't need it or have it; but I have it. Nothing in it is an accident either, and I need to come to terms with it; just as sometimes I need to come to terms with difficult people. Sometimes I need to come to terms with being a difficult person!

I read some good chunks of it in my childhood; some of it served to enlighten me and some just scared me for no good reason I know, except that it helped me understand why some people find it so repellent.

So did listening to my atheist father, and reading Mark Twain's rants against the absurdities of American Protestantism in his day.

So I was an atheist -- but kept looking over my shoulder for the One I didn't think could be there, but wished could be there -- and talking to Him defiantly in the name of all He truly stands for...

 It isn't easy for me to explain how I came to recognize God taking a hand in my life, because that recognition was a gradual process.

My first love played a crucial role: a deep and thoughtful woman who struggled for words to explain to me what the word "God" meant, but whom I couldn't dismiss with any of the stereotypes I'd associated with religious people until then. Not only was I in love with her, but I saw she was aware of something real I hadn't known.

A certain patterning of events became gradually apparent to me. A "Skeptic" would have said these were merely coincidental, nothing that couldn't easily be explained, and at first I used to think about the odds of each such incident.

But this [early 60's] was a time of powerful spiritual awakenings, when people were starting to talk openly about the spiritual realm and to use drugs that could heighten one's awareness, sometimes to a shattering extent. [In the years to come I lost several good people to heroin and methamphetamines, which were quite unrelated to the kind of spiritual exploration I'm talking about. But there was as much indiscriminate approval of drug experimentation as there was indiscriminate disapproval in the respectable population.]

Until this time I'd been an incomplete human being. I could want love intensely; I could feel love intensely... and I was too emotionally injured to maintain love for anyone whatsoever.

I was idealistic and well-intentioned; I might have given my life for some good cause with a snap of my fingers... but I could not have put in a year at any boring job -- and my mind had a mind of its own. Anyone who'd known about high-functioning ADD cases [see http://www.scatteredminds.com/about.htm ] could have diagnosed me all too easily.

So I suffered, and had a wonderful time, and met some very good and holy people over the years. Somewhere in that time I met the doctrine that God is our teacher, and learned to look for such teaching in everything that happened, learned to 'feel' my way to where I was 'supposed to' go next, to which book I could take from a shelf and find my next lesson in. There were many friends who would feed each other without question, lend enough to tide each other over, welcome each other in need, to sleep on the floor for awhile. People who'd say "It will all work out" because we knew it was true.

One day when my college town was empty after summer; when the sky was red from wildfires; and the National Guard had been shooting kids in Ohio -- When it was looking like the world might end at any moment... I took it into my head to visit my parents, to make my peace with them and hope there might be some small constructive thing I could still do while the world went all to hell.

My mother, unduly alarmed by the slight sore throat I was feeling, took me immediately to her doctor. "Mononucleosis," he said. For the next month or so, ages would go by during the time I'd glance at a clock, fall into oblivion, open my eyes again to find the time unchanged. The two-block walk to a neighborhood bookstore required a rest along the way.

I got a letter from a woman who'd been taken off to jail in Utah for a  tiny pot transaction she'd done as a favor... "Some of us," she said, "are doomed to live alone all of our lives." I wrote her back -- the beginning of a long, doomed marriage. A good woman whom I liked very much -- but we were entirely unsuited for each other. Meanwhile, however, I went back to school nearby.

Feeling loved (and with any reputation for brilliance shredded) it became easy to finish a math degree at a State College with one semester's work added to the credits from my occasional good quarters at UC Berkeley. Feeling loved (for an ADD person especially) was key.

But I was aiming for the local nursing program, and that was hard to enter. I think the prevailing horror at our war against Vietnam, the feeling that our own nation was starting to disintegrate in blood, was driving many to want to learn how to heal and repair, however we could. There was a waiting list; and classes to take in preparation, and time to take classes in Religious Studies.

I'd gone back to reading the Bible while I was still in the turmoil of 1970 Isla Vista, where a feeling of apocalyptic imminence seemed to have possessed the local zeitgeist...

Until then, I'd found my religious nourishment everywhere but in Christianity. I'd continued to be fascinated with anything promising I could find about Jesus, whatever he'd actually been doing and preaching -- but back then there wasn't much worthwhile available. The popular 'Christian' books were repellent. But I'd found a copy of Lamsa's New Testament and started searching for any way I could read this stuff that didn't simply reek of condemnation and sheeply self-congratulation.

Back home, I started reading the Bible from the top... and devoting each Sabbath to rest, recreation and religious reading. After the degree, I had time for classes on 'New Testament', 'Old Testament', and 'African Religions' [very interesting, that one!] In the NT class, where I'd given the [Episcopalian] prof an [unassigned] account of my experiences and my efforts to interpret the doctrine of 'Atonement' in some way that didn't make God look like a mad bastard... I was surprized to learn that he considered me 'orthodox'!

Whenever  circumstances forced me to choose between adherence to my then-wife, and observance of my Sabbaths, I did what she felt "had to be done" -- and felt guilty, disloyal to God, fearful of Divine Blame... Marrying her in the first place, had resulted from reading a passage on the proper way to treat female slaves: If she's been with you a year, marry her or let her go. Even after it [later] became clear that she was fundamentally conventional, and angrily contemptuous of my best qualities, I was resigned to an affectionate but estranged life-sentence together. And almost ten years later I was roused from my dutiful slumbers by her announcement: "You know, Forrest, we've really got nothing in common...!" We went to marital counselling from Kaiser, where I came to see that we could negotiate a better way of living together... but that it would be pointless.

So much for my initial way of reading the Bible. I couldn't just go on loving a "wife" in a dutiful spirit -- and clearly God had just freed me, granted me a new life to mess up in a new way.

I'd never entirely forgotten God; but there'd been long times when the so-called real world felt all too much like the reality I'd been consigned to, when the occasional flashes of SynchroniciDaddy-at-work were only oases in a long desert wandering. Now the planets were returning to a new ten-year realignment, in the recurring dance of Jupiter's enthusiasm vs Saturn's long endurance. It was 1980; and Jupiter was returning to power on the very degree of my birth. Whatever that meant -- I could feel it breaking loose in my life, in the chaos of new-found loves & rejections, in my sudden blooming into poetry.