Over the past few months I've become increasingly more comfortable with voicing some of my beliefs. In the past, fear of being alienated would have mortified me. Now I'm a bit more confident in my own self-worth, regardless of beliefs, and I'm not quite as spooked by the thought of getting called out or disagreed with.
After writing on the blog for a few months, and especially after sharing how I became an LGBT advocate, I've been asked by several folks to meet up and chat. Normally people who want to chat either disagree with me and want to see how and why I come from the perspective I do. Others have had some of the same sneaking suspicions for years, but they're uncomfortable talking about these hot topics in their churches. I've been asked by multiple people in the past couple of week what exactly I believe about scripture. Those views have evolved over time, and to be honest, if they evolved again, I wouldn't be surprised.
I was raised in a church where scripture was highly valued. At the moment I'm currently a part of the Episcopal tradition where I've read more of the bible than I have in any other church setting. I've never not been eating, sleeping, and breathing the bible. It's always been there. I was lucky enough to have a couple of influences earlier in life who taught me that it was okay to struggle with scripture and not always understand concepts.
However, there weren't really moments when I thought it was acceptable to question it's inerrancy. My default view was that scripture is entirely God-breathed and without flaw. In other words: if the bible says something, you should obey it and hold it to be supreme to your own perspectives and intuition, no matter the circumstance. While I still hold it in high regard, as I mentioned earlier, things have evolved.
One of my favorite questions I receive is "you mean you don't believe the bible?" Typically these questions aren't directed in an accusatory sense, but sometimes they sound that way. My brain typically translates that question to: "you mean you don't believe my interpretation of the bible?" Since each person has their own interpretation of the bible, it's easy to believe that there is no other viewpoint or perspective, because yours is the obviously correct one. It's my belief that we as humans are all looking for the divine in one manner or another. Additionally, we all read holy texts through the lens of our own experiences, understandings of the world, and outside influences. My interpretation of a certain text is likely to be much different than the interpretation of an older Asian woman on the other side of the globe. Neither of us has the right to say that "my interpretation is only right one," because how self-righteous would that be?! I'll go as far to say that if we're not listening to the interpretations of many different people from many different backgrounds, we're really missing out on the truly good stuff.
Head vs. Heart
I've talked with friends again and again about my journey of reconciling my head with my heart. For the first half of life, I believed that the bible was the final authority and absolute truth, and at times it was a painful process continually beating the hell out of the desires of my heart. For instance, when I caught myself wondering if maybe women should be allowed to be pastors and gay people should be accepted just as they are, I got nervous. That meant to me that my thoughts were straying from the "truth." At some point I began to realize that my desires and hopes weren't in a vacuum. They came from somewhere and they had a purpose. The more I've lived, the more I've come to trust my heart, because I truly do believe God gives us our desires. Sometimes this involves taking a leap and not being certain where you'll land in the end. It's not black and white or cut and dry. It's not predictable. You have to lay your desire for control aside. When it comes to encountering topics in the bible that I'm not a huge fan of, I try come at it from a more academic perspective, do some research, read about the historical context, and reconcile that with what I feel in my heart. The head and heart battle one another until a compromise is made and a peace treaty is signed.
Translation, the hand of God, and the hands of humans
Occasionally my church teaches classes on the bible, the episcopal church, and helpful faith practices. As I sat in a class a month or so ago where we discussed and learned about the bible, I felt like I came back to life. For so long I had really had grief with the bible because of the times it had been used against me and others. The put it frankly: every time I picked up a bible, I was expecting to come alive and bitchslap me. As we talked about the bible, we discussed its origins, the councils deciding what's "in" and what's "out," and contexts in which it was written. We talked about how during the translation process, the original Hebrew manuscripts included no grammar or spaces in between words. (I mean, c'mon, there's a huge difference between "let's eat, grandma" and "lets eat grandma.") As we talked, it became more and more evident just how much the hands of humans were all over this text that so many hold dear. If you would have asked me years ago if I thought the human influence on scripture was positive, I would have probably gotten on my soapbox and talked about the sinfulness and negative influence of humanity on scripture. Now I view it as quite a beautiful and unique concept. These days I've come to love scripture for it's beauty and its many cultural layers. It freed me to love the bible again with no strings attached. No more beating myself into submission. I still believe there's something exceptional about the text itself, and I believe whenever you open it up, you're bound to encounter the divine himself. My days are better when I open up the bible.
So do I believe the bible is inerrant anymore? No.
Do I take it all literally? Hell no. I don't even believe Adam & Eve were literal.
Do I struggle with it? Yes. Daily. Happily.
Do I value it highly? Yes.
Do I love it? A tad more everyday.