Sometimes I forget to read my Bible.
There is probably baggage from Evangelical Land there. Having a “quiet time” was really the holiest thing you could do (besides not dating), which means that there is an enormous SHOULD standing in between us and Scripture. The shoulds are like bright orange and teal neon signs outside a package store – tacky, aggressive, insistent.
DO THIS. DO IT. NOW. DO IT. READ THE BIBLE. DO IT.
Some of us did it! We Read the Bible in a Year, or 3 Years, or memorized Philippians (me!), and studied Romans. We were supposed to read the Bible so we did. Then we forgot to read our Bibles…or, God forbid, didn’t forget, but lay in bed squinting at the embossed ESV, snoozing our alarm clock until, with something like relief, we noticed that we’ve run out of time and whooopsie better get up, too late for the Bible now!
Then the guilt comes.
Everyone has a different Go-To in this stage of the guilt cycle. Mine was always to make a Reading Plan, with check-boxes, and either Rewards or Punishments, depending on what stage of life I’m going through. All the stages have charts, though. My guilt monster is insatiable, and I like to feed him charts. Guilt monsters love charts.
But there is a point where you’re tired of feeding the guilt monster. You start to be angry that you are so guilty, or so tired, or so afraid. A day skipped here or there turns into a month, and every day, impossible to ignore, is the flashing neon sign screaming YOU SHOULD YOU SHOULD YOU SHOULD.
I learned as a chaplain that breaking out of an unhealthy cycle in a dysfunctional relationship doesn’t always mean doing the best thing, or even the right thing. It just means doing a different thing. Leaping off the old path, and bushwhacking for a minute. You’re breaking a pattern. Once its power is broken, once you’re out of the grip of the old routine – then you can worry about what is “best.” Right now, though, you just gotta break free.
“Stop asking what is ‘best,'” my mentor used to say. “Take a risk, and just do something new!”
Breaking the cycle of fundamentalism means doing something new. Asking something new. Questioning assumptions, taking them apart, peering at the pieces when it’s disassembled.
The first time I got tired of that goddamn neon sign blaring SHOULD! SHOULD! SHOULD! like a deranged hospital fire alarm that honks and flashes at the same time, and I yelled out of my gut
OK BUT WHY
Time stopped. The neon sign flickered, sizzled, and blacked out. I was standing on a deserted midnight street, holding my Why and mad as hell.
BUT WHY SHOULD I.
Why am I reading this Book, anyway, and can we at least for the love of all that is sacred smash this damn neon sign?
There are a lot of shoulds, but where are they all coming from?
There are a lot of holy disciplines we do by rote – but are they actually good things?
Those of us who are still Christian, but ex-fundamentalist and exvangelical – who grew up in church traditions that were heavy on legalistic neon signs and light on gentleness – sometimes need to stop thinking about what is best, and start thinking about what is different.
Instead of wondering what is good, try what is new.
I know that sounds scary, and possibly like moral (gasp) relativism.
But I don’t know any way out of the suffocating tendrils of a dysfunctional relationship except by taking a risk and doing a brand new thing, for the sake of the thing itself. And there is no relationship as dysfunctional in former fundies lives as the relationship to our church tradition and our faith.
But what if I lose it. What if I lose my faith when I experiment with what is new. What if I stop reading the Bible and never come back to it. What if I stop reading the Bible and stop believing in the Bible?
Here are two words that I have for you. The first is that you don’t need to protect Jesus from absolutely anything. You don’t need to guard Him. You don’t need to protect the Bible. You definitely don’t need to protect God. So let God know your plans, if that’s comforting (it always is for me), take a breath, pull out your machete, and bushwhack for a little bit.
My second word is – anything that can only be kept alive by fear is not really alive in the first place.
If you are reading your Bible because you’re afraid, put it down.
If you’re going to church because you’re afraid, sleep in on Sunday.
Let that old, zombie religion finally die.
God is longing to grow new life in that old patch of earth. God is longing to make us born again.
Aha! A Bible verse! I thought you said that you bushwhacked off that path?
Well, here is the true miracle. When you roar at God that this is terrible, this shitty street is horrible and this path is rocky and I HAVE HAD ENOUGH and you dart into the jungle hacking a path that you think it brand new… you may find yourself in a sunlit, mossy circle where a hundred saints have pitched their tents before you. God has already come before you, and prepared a way.
When we stop trying to sustain our spiritual practices by sheer force of our foolish, self-righteous, self-satisfied, self-loathing, rigid human souls – when we let things that we hate die, and acknowledge that we hate them – when we finally ask the real questions that have been sitting inside our bodies and release the fear of telling God what is really going on – when we yell up at heaven WHY, and then don’t take BECAUSE I SAID SO as an answer –
We start discovering that there is new life growing in that patch of earth.
We may start to discover that there are parts of Scripture that sing.
We may meet the One who breathed Scripture out into the world, who may sing us back to Herself with verses were thought were long dead and useless to us.
I’m getting ready for a sustained plunge into Scripture for the next few months – my Psalms series for Lent starts in two weeks, and after Easter, me and Paul are gonna duke it out in Galatians. These days, Scripture feels less like a chore and more like off-roading. When I don’t feel anxious about what I’ll find, stepping into the world of Scripture is strangely more dangerous, but much less scary.
Sure, the neon sign sometimes whirs to life and screams at me, and I have to rebuke that sign in the name of Jesus because the SHOULDS, those obscene tendrils of legalism, can make us compliant, but they can’t bring us one step closer to loving God and loving our neighbor.
When the legalistic rule of “reading the Bible” gets in the way of loving God and loving our neighbor – it’s time to take a breath and let it go, for now at least. Because, delightfully and subversively, the Bible itself told me that there isn’t a more important commandment than loving God and loving our neighbor, anyway.