Well I don’t know if its appropriate to blog about this on Christmas Day. Is it appropriate to do anything on Christmas Day aside from opening presents, eating and laying around? Well I’m blogging and the rest of my family are cleaning because a guest is coming tonight. I already did my share. On play right now are Carl Perkins, The Statler Bros. and the Carter Family all opening for Johnny Cash at San Quentin (the Legacy Edition).
My daily morning devotions this year have consisted of the following readings: Twenty-Four Hours A Day for Everyone, compiled by Alan L. Roeck, Sieze the Day with Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Ringma (and I use the REB for looking up the scripture references) and then I follow it all up with The One Year Bible (NLT) from Tyndale. Since November 1st this Bible has had me reading through the prophets Ezekial, Daniel, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, and right now I’m in Zechariah. By the first of the year I will have read through the entire Old Testament. I guess that’s something to be proud of.
Well far from feeling proud about it, reading all these prophets has left me bewildered. I read them, then some of the New Testament, the Psalms, and Proverbs as part of this reading. I can usually barely get past the prophetic desire for blood and vengeance to enjoy the NT readings and then so many of the Psalms themselves are so bloody that the verse of Proverbs at the end is usually some really funny and quizzical comical relief. Here’s this morning’s Proverb for Christmas Day(!):
There are three stately monarchs on the earth—no, four: the lion, king of animals, who won’t turn aside for anything, the strutting rooster, the male goat, a king as he leads his army. (30:29-31)
These are all lovely symbols of male testosterone in action. So what am I supposed to do with that? So my final devotional thought was of how George W. Bush must feel when he leads his army into battle. Oh, wait, that’s right. He only visits Iraq and Afghanistan occasionally. So in his morning telecommuniques he must feel really proud sitting in his chair, knowing the movements of every battalion. That’s a biblical image, you know. But what am I supposed to do with that?
Here are some thoughts about these OT prophets: I have done some Bible college study in the Prophets so I have at least an entrance knowledge into their history and issues. But when I’m reading them in this way in the mornings I feel at a loss. I fear I don’t give them the kind of attention they deserve. What I really need to do is go back and study these books in their given time period together and apart. I enjoy Lamentations, Ezekial and Daniel as historical books. What I find troubling are the visions left uninterpreted, like the measuring of the New Heavens, the scroll eating, and the apocalyptic slaughters. Together with the New Testament book of Revelation they don’t make for fun reading to me. I guess they’re meant to be jarring and frightening. The prophets themselves (who are part of the vision) are physically shaken. It takes work to get through them and it doesn’t “bless my spirit.” I don’t even want to get into the various ways these things are interpreted and I certainly don’t want to deal with them in my morning meditation.
Let me ask very brazenly:
Who is this God who imparts troubling passages to us as Eternal Scripture, leaves an imperfect record of the people who receive this word and what they did with it, and is content with our new conversations and questions left unanswered? How is He so patient, attentive, active and yet content? Finally, how do I fit my own boring self, awake in a warm Midwestern house, overpowered right now by Manheim Steamroller playing next to me, and the sounds of my children’s new toys piercing the air, into this Biblical record? Can these be reconciled?
These are some thoughts on Christmas Day. This old quote from Mark Twain would fit right now:
“It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
(Mark Twain / 1835-1910 / in The “Wit and Wisdom, of Mark Twain of Alex Ayres / 1987)
When I hear preachers quote that it always makes me smile. Samuel Clemens had much more to say about the Bible beyond that. And the preacher is generally using that quote in a self-serving way. When I hear it quoted he’s trying to say “We don’t have to understand the Bible to be effected by it.” Yeh, so what? Here’s another quote from Clemens on the Bible:
“Our Bible reveals to us the character of our god with minute and remorseless exactness… It is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere. It makes Nero an angel of light and leading by contrast”
(Mark Twain / 1835-1910 / Reflections on Religion / 1906)
or try this one on:
“[The Bible] has noble poetry in it… and some good morals and a wealth of obscenity, and upwards of a thousand lies.”
(Mark Twain / 1835-1910)
or this one:
“There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing and predatory as it is — in our country particularly, and in all other Christian countries in a somewhat modified degree — it is still a hundred times better than the Christianity of the Bible, with its prodigious crime — the invention of Hell. Measured by our Christianity of to-day, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty and hollow as it is, neither the Deity nor His Son is a Christian, nor qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilt.”
(Mark Twain / 1835-1910 / Reflections on Religion / 1906)
Wow. If I can’t say anything else for him, ole Mark Twain was certainly candid. I don’t agree with much of any of that last quote. [When anyone attacks Christianity my first question is “So what do you mean by “Christianity” and what do you mean by “religion” and what do you mean by “faith”?”] Really, to me, the rewards and punishments for the wicked are not as bad as the apocalypse scenarios which remain without historical interpretation.
Well, Merry Christmas.