|A Christmas candle and an open bible. Image source.|
We weren't allowed to think "this is wrong" or "this is bad" or "this is pointless." Yes, we were allowed to think "I don't understand this" or "this seems wrong/bad/pointless" but that just meant we needed to go ask around to find someone who could explain why the awful passage in question totally was NOT awful. (Ever notice how Christians in that culture use terms like "she has doubts" or "she has questions" to describe someone who VERY CONFIDENTLY DOES NOT BELIEVE what the bible says and is very much NOT looking for "answers" about it? It's because, in their experience, criticism of the bible is not allowed to just be criticism of the bible; no, it's always a precursor to an apologetics lesson on why the criticism is invalid and the bible is totally right and good.)
In short, it was a method of reading the bible which did not allow me to be honest. And I've realized that even though I'm no longer evangelical, I still think of bible-reading that way. I read a passage and I see all these WTF-tastic things, and then I feel bad because I can't turn it into some cute little life lesson, tied up in a nice bow, and then just move on with my day. And I feel like I'm a bad Christian because I'm not able to read the bible that way anymore.
That's why I decided to do Honest Advent. Just read it and honestly tell you what I think. If it's awful, I'm going to say it's awful.
And wow, this was really really good for me. I'm so glad I did it. There were passages I read this month that were awful, and I said so. There were passages that challenged central doctrines in the evangelical church- and I said so. And there were passages that were so good. And I said so.
And the passages that were good were very good.
About justice, about love and goodness and incarnation. I'm so excited about those things. I found myself thinking, "YES, I really believe this."
When I gave myself the freedom to say that some things in the bible were bad, it meant that when I said some things were good, I really meant it. I would read a passage and say "I love this" and I knew that was honest, that I really did love it, that I really did believe it- because if I didn't, I would totally say so.
It showed me that my excitement over things like incarnation and resurrection is really genuine. I really do believe in those things. If I didn't, I would say so, just like I very explicitly say things like "I don't have a personal relationship with God" or "I don't believe God intervenes in the world in response to prayer" and I would not feel one bit bad about it.
I actually enjoyed reading the bible for Honest Advent. Because I didn't see it as a situation where I have to manufacture certain positive feelings or else I'm a bad Christian (which is how I had been thinking of it, which is why my choice to very rarely read the bible is healthy for me). There was no pressure; I just wrote what I really thought. It was really freeing to read the bible that way.
Because yeah, there's stuff in the bible that's awful and wrong and bad. If I'm free to say that, then I know that when I say something is good, I really mean it. And that makes me feel like a Christian again.