This may be a little too nerdy for some of you, but I want to describe just how easy this day was. Do you remember when I posted about riding along the Salmon River out of Stanley for over 80 miles? I followed the river downstream and enjoyed what felt like an extended “Sunday drive” in the country with little effort. That day I averaged 16.4 mph. Today I averaged 16.7 mph and I actually gained 700 feet in elevation. What gives? Believe me, it wasn’t that I suddenly garnered super-human strength. Wind! Lots of wind! And it was all going my way! There is really nothing else to report except that I sailed along effortlessly for 4 hours and arrived in Laramie in fresh condition.
This gives me a chance to reflect on one of the conversations I had today. I stopped for a quick cold drink in the little town of Rock River and there met Carol at the counter of the convenience store. We got into sharing snake stories and made a segway into religion. I wasn’t sure if I negotiated that or she did, but we ended up there. Carol is a member of the Religious Science community. She was very clear that that wasn’t Christian Science or Scientologists! She said one very important thing in our conversation about “all anyone has is their own perspective which is why we have so many interpretations of the Bible”. She added that because we all have different backgrounds and unique personalities we can’t help but to see these differently. This is very close to something I have been saying in recent years. “We can only come to a text or a story through the lens of our own lives and experience. There is no one right way to see things.”
Yesterday I passed by a sign promoting the Holy Bible as being “inspired, absolute and final”. I am really a bad person because I couldn’t help but to capture the irony that right next to it was a road sign that said, “Wrong Way”. It said it for me. My conversation with Carol and this billboard represent the widening gap that is happening in the world of Christianity. Isn’t it interesting that I can make a soul connection with some motorcyclists who have committed to serve the community and don’t go to church while being critical of a Christian billboard? But, that is the nature of things today.
Carol only goes to church occasionally, but has a healthy appetite for religious literature. I couldn’t keep up with all the names of writers of religious and philosophical works that she was quoting. But, what makes her an example of our modern age is that she was keenly aware that her reading and her exploration was about following HER path, not THE path. She was glad to share with me her passion and her insight, but she in no way felt compelled to sway me to toward Religious Science. She was just sharing the beliefs that were important to her.
The billboard on the other hand was making an objective claim that the Bible is inspired by God, the absolute truth, and is the final word on all things material and spiritual. “Accept it for eternal salvation or reject it at your own peril,” it seems to proclaim.
Look, I am a serious student of the Bible. My sarcasm is not directed at the Bible. It is a rich resource and a window into the lives of poeple thousands of years ago who were asking questions about what it meant to be faithful, how they should treat each other, and what the ultimate meaning and source of life is. It’s lovely stuff, even if it can be confusing and troubling at times. My sarcasm is directed at the lack of intellectual integrity that this billboard and the assumptions behind it portray.
I have not called the number on the billboard. But, if I did I would want to ask, “Which version of the Holy Bible do you consider inspired, absolute and final? Is it the narratives the early Christians used before canonization in the fourth century? Is it the Bible that was canonized 400 years after Jesus life? Is it the Protestant Bible that removed the Apocrypha from the Catholic Bible? And what about translations–KJV, NIV, NRSV, Good News, etc.?
Carol is on to something. All we can have is our own perspective because we are shaped by our backgrounds, cultures, and personalities. I say it only slightly differently. We can only see the world through the lens of our own lives and experiences. Is it just coincidence that people in the West see the Bible as true and people in the Middle East see the Quran as true?
Carol and I talked about how many of our Christian friends think we are going to hell for our more tolerant (they might say wishy-washy)views and lifestyles. She has a friend who has decided that when that time comes she doesn’t really want to be in heaven where everyone has an aura of righteousness about them and is all buttoned down. She decided she would rather be in hell calling bingo numbers!
American Christianity is definitely at a crossroads. No longer can Christians assume they have something in common with other Christians just by name. I am sorry that it has come to this, but I have more in common with Religious Scientist, Carol, with motorcyclists Gary and Glenn, and with Warmshower hosts who have picked up the old mantle of Christian hospitality.
I have now traveled over 1600 miles of diverse and rich landscapes–mountain passes, dry deserts, rainy forests, and endless wheatfields. All of it has felt infused with the spirit and pulse of God. Why should it be any different with people?