Easy Answers to a Challenging Bible?

The Wild Goose Festival was this past weekend at Benton County fairgrounds near Corvallis. It is a two-year-old spirituality festival with sermons, speakers, music, arts, and conversation. This was the first west-coast festival that they’ve held and about 20 United Methodists from around this part of the country attended, including several from our district.

While there were many speakers that I appreciated, there was one that I particularly enjoyed. Rachel Held Evans is a blogger, speaker, and an author of the forthcoming book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.” She spoke about her book, which is a reference to A.J. Jacob’s “A Year of Living Biblically.” She lived for a year following as closely as possible the biblical requirements and instructions towards women. For example:

This meant, among other things, submitting to my husband (Colossians 3:18), growing out my hair (1 Corinthians 11:15), making my own clothes, (Proverbs 31:22), learning how to cook (Titus 2:3-5), praising my husband at the city gate (Proverbs 31:23), covering my head when in prayer (1 Corinthians 11:5), calling Dan “master” (1 Peter 3:5-6), caring for the poor (Proverbs 31:25), nurturing a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4), abstaining from gossip (Proverbs 20:19), and camping out in the front yard for the duration of my period (Leviticus 15:19-33).

Evans undertook this project as a social experiment to show that the Bible may not be meant to be a blueprint for behavior. For every prohibition against women, the bible venerates a woman who exhibited exactly the opposite values. For example, Proverbs 31, oft-quoted as depicting the perfect female companion, would be in complete disagreement with Ruth. Ruth was a foreigner, poor and childless, and a widow who was aggressive to receive her justification and her livelihood. And in the face of most cultural norms, Ruth asked for marriage, not her spouse. And yet she is venerated for her courage, called a “woman of valor” which is the same language used in Proverbs 31.

So what are we to do? When the Bible says to do one thing and lifts up a woman who did exactly the opposite, what “blueprint for living” do we get from that? And more importantly, how do we respond? Does this mean we throw out the bible for its inconsistencies? Pull a Thomas Jefferson and cut out the scriptures we don’t like? In Evan’s language, growing up as a fundamentalist, she says

“I thought I needed to have quick answer to every question in the Bible…but now I realize that taking the Bible seriously means that we confront the passages that we don’t understand and sit with them…even for a lifetime.”

At First Church, one of my observations (having been here for two months now) is that we are not satisfied with easy whitewashing answers, nor are we satisfied with ignoring troublesome passages. Instead, like Evans, we are invited each week to sit with the passages and concepts of faith…and some of the answers may not come until much later in our lifetime. But we sit with them, read the stories of the troublesome women and men, understand the blueprints and what they mean, and ultimately leave each time of worship with more questions to ponder than answers to be silenced by.

I hope you join us this Sunday as we continue this journey together. May we all be given a blessed curiosity and together grow towards approaches that enliven our faith journey.