by Elsa A. Peters
While we search for epiphanies after the birth of our salvation, I'd like to offer a review of a book that I have learned to cherish with my whole heart. It didn't come naturally. I had to literally learn to love this book like a fourth grader forced to write a book report. I couldn't tell you exactly where it clicked or how this book became like an old friend. I can only tell you that this book – the one that we call the Bible – has been a long-time best-seller in America for very good reason.
It has songs that sing the deepest of human lamentations. It has stories that speak of impossible hope. It has parables that can twist around your mind. It has some women that totally contradict the attitude that the Apostle Paul uses to attempt to belittle them — although those particular epistles weren't actually written by Paul at all. This Good Book even has a few good miracles that make our ordinary god-sightings look plain.
But, let's review. This isn't a book filled with simple stories about a God that checked out of the world two thousand years ago. This book hasn't been shared with friends and neighbors because it was irrelevant to their daily lives. On the contrary, it has something to say about our lives. This is a book that forms our faith in each other and in our God.
I need to repeat that to myself. I need to remind myself that this is why this book matters to me. It's not just the strong women or the radical teachings of Jesus or even the fact God created this world to be good that stirs my conviction in this book. Sure. I love the stories. I love the words in this text. Even when they boil my blood and confuse me, I love these holy words. I don't care who wrote them. Okay. I do. I totally do. I'm lying. I care where these words came from. I care about Biblical literacy as much as Kristin Swenson does, but lately, I find myself wondering more about the people that use these words. When there are too people using my Good Book to explain things that I don't believe, so I'm trying to remember all of those hands. I'm trying to imagine their papery skin touching this book. I'm trying to feel the clammy warmth of those that have thumbed through its pages and even notice the dry, winter-chapped skin of those that have studied the words of my Good Book in kitchens and parlors. I'm thinking about all of those hands from years ago and those connected to the I serve that want these words to make sense.
I'll admit it. I have a little fire burning in me. I have a little righteous anger bubbling up because I love these words. If you were the kind of pastor I am, you would interrupt me right now. You would gently ask me to describe my anger. You would sweetly ask, "What does your anger look like?"
So, I'll tell you.
My anger is red like the ribbons we wore in Maine throughout the summer and into the autumn to demonstrate our hope for marriage equality. It has tentacles. I don't know where the tentacles are going or what they touch but it has tentacles because I stood in our state capital and listened to the words I love being used against the people that I love. I felt the crushing weight of that anger when we lost the campaign to bring marriage equality to my state. My anger doesn't care that the election is over. My anger has tentacles that don't want to go away. Weeks after the vote against marriage equality, my anger and I boarded a bus to drive all-night from Portland, ME to Washington, DC so that I could tell my own senators not to support any language resembling the Stupak amendment. Among those pro-choice activists, of which most were young women, I was feared because I wore a collar. I represented something that they assumed condemned them.
The problem is that Jesus told me to love them. Jesus told me to love them all — pro-choice activists, gays, queers, straights, women who have had abortions and the lobbyists that serve them. My love affair with these words began when I first heard Jesus speak the words in Luke 4:18-19. I don't remember where I was or who was speaking them. I only remember how this articulated a salvation I could get my hands on. Sure, they are just words on a page. But in that moment, I heard these ordinary words become holy. They were no longer just words. They were about the people that I loved — even if I didn't know them. These words were holy because they had good news for me and for you.
So, I'm angry. I'm angry that these holy words have been hijacked by people that won't even talk to me because I'm a so-called liberal. I'm angry that there are people that won't look me in the eye when I'm wearing my collar because there are other faith-based voices monopolizing the airwaves. I'm angry that I have colleagues that don't want to do Bible study together when the sharing of these holy words seems to be the only thing that unites us.
This could just be my tirade. After all, if you were my pastor, and listened to these words, you might quote St. Francis to me. You would remind me — as I remind myself — that sometimes when we preach the gospel, it doesn't require words at all. And yet, I love these words. I love them all. Moreover, I don't want to be angry. I want those words that Jesus read on a scroll to take shape before my very eyes. It's in this hope that I hope my review goes beyond a tirade. In this New Year, I'd like to challenge my young clergy women sisters to open our Bibles in uncomfortable settings and talk about these words of hope to people that don't want to hear it. No matter what, I hope that these words become holy in your our own hands.