On the kitchen wall over the sideboard at our family’s camp up in Maine hangs a small combination bulletin and chalkboard. Actually, it’s been there as long as I can remember; no doubt my mother put it there years ago as a receptacle for summertime grocery lists, appointment reminders and the like. However, over time it’s become much more than that; as little bits and pieces of three generations’ worth of our family’s comings and goings that have slowly accumulated and have becoming more or less permanently enshrined on the cork.
For instance, along with a variety of chalk-scrawled smiley faces and greetings from friend and family alike, there are, amongst other items, pastoral business cards posted from each of the five congregations I’ve served; an example of one of our daughter’s earliest attempts at both handwriting and poetry (“roses are red, voilats are blue, you love me and I love you! Love, Sarah”); and lengthy and detailed instructions for the opening and closing of camp in the spring and fall (including, incidentally, the proper assembly and use of ratchets and strapping, which includes a bit of philosophical commentary courtesy of our oldest son: “Step two: Stop. Smell the Roses. Think… Where do I need the handle to be in relation to myself?”). And this, incidentally, is attached to the board via a “Brothers of the Brush” pin, issued circa 1982, recalling the time my father joined with several other men in attempting to grow a beard in commemoration of our hometown’s 75th Anniversary.
Admittedly, there’s nothing much on that bulletin board that has any real intrinsic value; and frankly, after so many years, the board itself had long since begun to look rather haggard and in serious need of replacement. However, last summer when Lisa quietly suggested that perhaps the time had finally come to remove the bulletin board from the kitchen wall, her good intentions were met with vehement protest on the part of our now adult children: You can’t take that down! That bulletin board is part of the camp; it’s part of us! It’s tradition, and it needs to stay right where it is!
Suffice to say that sometimes history and tradition trumps function and practicality – especially when you’re “uptacamp!” – and the bulletin board hangs there still.
This summer I’ve been seeing a great deal written online and elsewhere that has sought to challenge the relevance and legitimacy of the Bible in these so-called “post-modern” times; an on-going debate amongst theologians and social commentators spurred in recent months by all the talk of religious freedom, especially in light of concerns surrounding matters of racism, marriage equality and economic justice, amongst others. Some of what I’ve been reading has been troubling, to say the least; there are clearly those out there who for the sake of political or social correctness would quickly and easily dismiss the Bible as antiquated and as any sort of societal arbiter. Admittedly, such assertions can feel a little threatening; and yet it’s a worthy discussion that forces us to look at the history, tradition and practice of our faith in a new way, and in that regard, it seems to me that ultimately it’s all part of a larger discussion that’s as old as scripture itself: what my homiletics professor in seminary used to refer to as the task of all Christians to “bring the ‘there and then’ of Holy Scripture too the ‘here and now.’”
Granted, at times this can be a process that’s formidable if not downright difficult, especially when one encounters the considerable tone of judgment and the resulting carnage that can be found deep within the Old Testament (as a very sweet woman in a prior parish once remarked to me during a year-long survey of the whole Bible, “I just don’t think I like that God very much!”) and the societal and cultural norms that while shocking and inappropriate to us now, was once commonplace and still provides a historical framework for the Gospel story and the Epistles that follow (anyone wish to defend the assertion that a woman should stay silent in church [1 Cor. 14:34], or that there’s an suitable way to own and treat slaves?[Col.4:1] I didn’t think so…). Indeed, there is a great deal in the Bible that runs headlong into our modern sensibilities; much that requires us to prayerfully consider the ways its truth touches not only the powers and principalities of the world as we know it today, but also the very ways that you and I seek to live our very lives within it! And that’s a challenge, to be sure; however, contrary to the vocal assertions of religious critics and skeptics of this and every generation, that’s no reason to, as the saying goes, “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Rather, it should stir us to a renewal of a timeless faith in a new era!
Because after all, what is the Bible, anyway? As Christians, we understand it to be the inspired Word of God, full of divine truth and guidance for the faithful life; but it’s also our story, the story of our faithful relationship with God: the God who created us and who loves us beyond measure; the God who despite our propensity to turn away from him time and time again throughout history is relentless in bringing each one of us back into his loving care, even the point of coming to us in the guise of his Son, who is Jesus our Savior.
It’s our history and tradition, and as such, it’s part of us as God’s faithful people. And so, even while times continue to change, with each new generation seeking fresh ways to respond in the context of its own experience, God’s Word will remain, and it will abide… just as it has from the very beginning.
As well it should.
c. 2015 Rev. Michael W. Lowry