[This is the text of the talk I recently gave at Christianity21 in Phoenix]
I am confident that my great-grandkids, when they play sword-fighting, will make lightsabre “vwing-vwing” noises. But I am less confident that they will know and tell stories about the guy who got eaten by the fish or the guy with the talking donkey. Why? Because my kids know my love for Star Wars is full-throated and uncomplicated, and they share in that love. And because for most of their lives so far, they know my love for the Bible has been, well, complicated. My kids tend to care about the things I love. But the things I’m half-hearted about… those are the things they’ve learned to ignore.
Why has my love for the Bible been complicated? Because it’s not what I was taught it was — a series of chapters in a cohesive uni-vocal history of God providing individuals with guidance in behavior defined by a consistent moral code. Whenever I tried to tell my kids Bible stories, I had that lens in the back of my mind, and I knew it wasn’t true, so every time we talked Bible, I couldn’t stop feeling like a total God-whore.
And the thing is, Star Wars is neither consistent nor moral either. Did Han shoot first or didn’t he? Is Luke Skywalker a hero, or is he a terrorist who used his religion to blow up a gazillion storm troopers?
I love Star Wars because I am able to let it be what it is, instead of turning it into some kind of god. It has been hard for me to love the Bible because I have been conditioned to put it into a role it is not fit to play — a uni-vocal source of moral, historic, and scientific information which I am not allowed to think critically about. If I had to approach Star Wars that way, I’d hate Star Wars.
But the truth is, Star Wars is one set of stories among many. We also have Star TREK, Doctor Who, Spider-Man, Batman, Lord of the Rings, and the nerdly list goes on and on. All of those stories give us something different. We are surrounded by a cloud of voices telling us how things are, and wisdom lies in learning which voices work best in what specific circumstances. Today am I going to listen to Jack-n-the-Beanstalk, which tells me success comes from daring great things, or am I going to listen to Cinderella, which tells me success comes from being patient and waiting for my fairy godmother and/or prince to show up? Each can be a useful strategy in different situations, and wisdom consists in being able to rightly name the story I’m in.
The Bible is that set of stories that our people have used for thousands of years to grasp Reality. Those stories come from many different voices and diverse models of how reality works, and that is precisely what is awesome about them. It is those spaces in between the stories where we find fertile fields for growing in wisdom.
I am learning to love the Bible for being what it is rather than what I’ve been taught it should be.
Here’s your takeaway: TEACH THE TENSIONS. Don’t avoid the tensions. Don’t be uncomfortable about them. Don’t try to pave them over and pretend everything agrees with everything else. Don’t change “Three Little Pigs” to make it morally consistent with “Hansel and Gretel.” Instead, find the tensions, grab hold of them, and TALK about them. Your kids can hold Superman and the Hulk in their heads at the same time. They can handle Jesus alongside Gideon.
When there’s a story that is in tension with another story, I always tell those stories together. I say “Here are these 2 stories. What do you think about them?” For example, we talk about Joshua, who says God wants us to kill our enemies and take their stuff, and then we talk about Jesus, who says God wants us to love our enemies and give them our stuff. What do my kids think about that? At their age, their best take on it is that Joshua is wrong and Jesus is right. I think it’s more complicated than that, and I expect them to do more thinking about it in the future, but they are ENGAGING with the real stories, and that’s the point.
My kids live in the midst of stories telling them to be violent, and I want them to THINK about those stories. Why? Because every cell in their bodies contains DNA that tells them to be violent. I want them to have lots of practice thinking about the impulse to kill their enemies, because that impulse will not go away as long as they are Homo Sapiens. And as their father, I can say confidently that on most days, they are.
By letting the Bible be what it is, I am learning to love it as completely and un-complicatedly as I love Star Wars. The Bible is harder than Star Wars because LIFE is harder than Star Wars, and that’s why we’re willing to work at it. And our FAITH is that the Bible is teaching us to work at the right questions that will make us wise unto Life.