My glorious friend Cathleen Falsani has just co-edited a collection of writing by folk who might identify or be identified by others as ‘misfits’, reflecting on their relationship with the Bible, a text that I was immersed in, growing up in northern Ireland, got so used to that I can’t imagine a time when I wasn’t thinking about, and for me defines the challenge of having to wrestle as human beings with the fact that most glasses are both half empty and half full, life is lived in the in-between spaces, and the point is learning to love it. I love the poetic explorations of Scripture, and I sometimes feel threatened by what some of us have done with it. The book is called (Dis)Quiet Time, and you can find out more about its mystery and wonder here. I’m happy to be counted among its wandering contributors, and here’s the opening of my essay in the book, which is about how my passport was stolen when I visited Golgotha.
My earliest memories are colonized by celluloid dreams – flying over spectacular lit-up Manhattan with that guy who wore red briefs over his blue tights, or with Mickey Mouse magicking an accidental flood into an angry sorceror’s parlor, or bicycling over the moon. We experience movies the way we remember things – Norman Mailer once wrote that the resemblance of cinema to the memory of death is one of the least theorized yet most obvious perspectives through which to view the art. Our memories of the dead are pictures we keep in the paradoxically ever-deepening tunnel, yet ever-expanding kaleidoscope of our minds; there’s not much difference between a photograph of Harrison Ford holding a sword on a rope bridge in India and a memory of a person we love whose body is now mingling with the dust of earth. So when I’m remembering my childhood, I’m remembering something that is, in one very real sense, dead. When I’m remembering movies, I’m remembering something that in a very real sense died when the final print emerged from the dark room. When I’m remembering dead people, I feel like I’m at the movies.
What, you may ask, and I wouldn’t blame you, has this to do with the collection of writings, authorship or coauthorship uncertain (and depending on the tradition, we don’t even agree on what those writings are), that we who may be a little lower than the angels usually simplify to being called ‘the Bible’? Well, it’s like that too. My youth was formed in the crucible of northern Irish civil strife and angry, divisive religion; whose light side included more than a healthy dose of possibly randomly selected (certainly not all) and selectively interpreted biblical stories as the only foundation for living. I heard Daniel in the Lions’ Den and David & Goliath and No Room at the Inn and Jesus on a Donkey and Crucify him! Crucify him! so often that it was hard to distinguish between those tales and those of Elliott & ET, the Goonies & the treasure map, or Marty McFly & the DeLorean. So while there’s a lot of beef to be had with the way scripture has been used to divide and conquer, or how religious institutions have corroded the difference between the spirit and the law to the point where both are emptied of meaning, or of how my – and your – very personhood has been subject to death-dealing social practices justified by an appeal to either testament, and entrenched by the unarguable-with ‘all scripture is God-breathed’, such analysis or angst or alternativizing is not my focus here. What I want – or sometimes think I want – is to be able to return to a time when I didn’t ‘know’ what the Bible said. I’d like to experience it as if it wasn’t the undergirding text of the imperialistic culture into which I was born, whose privileges I inherit, and whose sins I cannot deny. I wish bad interpretations of the text had not been woven into a discordant symphony of autobiographical background music. I’d like some distance. In short, I’d like to remember the Bible as if it were not a movie.
If you’d like to read the rest of this, I encourage you to support the independent writing found in (Dis)Quiet Time. Thanks!