Magazine article The Christian Century

Telling Details

Magazine article The Christian Century

Telling Details

Article excerpt

AVOID ABSTRACTION," I was told as I prepared to speak to a group of junior high school students. "Seventh graders are still mostly concrete thinkers." The story of David seemed absolutely nonabstract and concrete, so I decided to use it as the basis of my talks.

As I sat down to the task, I imagined myself standing in front of a hundred young people, telling the story of how King Saul's daughter Michal fell in love with David. Saul, being jealous of David's popularity, saw a way to get rid of this shepherd-boy rival. So he had some of his friends suggest to David that it might be a smart political move to become the king's son-in-law and clinch a spot in the royal household. That way he'd have more influence.

Well, when David replied that he didn't have the money to pay the price for such a high-class bride, Saul saw his chance. "Don't worry about money," Saul said. "Just bring me a hundred Philistine foreskins, and it's a done deal." But David did him one better--he brought back 200 foreskins.

A hand shoots up in the audience: "What's a foreskin?"

As my imagined scene faded, I realized that I might want to pick another story and avoid all the blushing and the stammering and all the talk about the circumcision of dead men. But then the other stories about David are not so safe either--stories about how he cut off Goliath's head with his own sword, or wept over the son who was sleeping with his wives.

Sure, there are safe parts. They are the ones for the picture books and the flannel board sets that we buy for Sunday school. There we don't see blood, spit or mutilated genitalia. Our modern sensibilities are constantly making excuses for the Bible, trying to clean it up and make it more presentable to a culture that buys bloodless chicken parts at Safeway and then goes home to spend an evening watching gore and sexual violence on cable TV. We don't like messes, and if we have to have them, we want them well contained.

Life is messy. And the Bible is messy. Yet we keep playing a game. My pastor always sneaks in an "and sisters" if he reads "brothers" in a New Testament epistle. He's trying to cover up language that makes women in our congregation unhappy. We ignore, apologize for, cut out and disregard much of scripture. We'd publish only the parts that we like, except that we'd be left with something so brief that even the Reader's Digest would be embarrassed to print it.

We need to see ourselves among the plotting, whoring, murdering, blaspheming people of God and pay attention to what God makes of the mess. …

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