It has been said that a good poem should resist the intelligence almost successfully. I take that to mean that for a poem (or any work of art) to have depth, significance, and the capacity to transcend the moment, it should be challenging enough to evoke repeated reading, thought and contemplation. There should be more than one possible interpretation; different people responding differently, each finding a meaning that may be unique or may be shared with others. Such a response does justice to the writer and rewards the reader. This is what sets apart “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” let’s say, from Eliot’s “The Wasteland.”
This same quality characterizes the world’s great religious scriptures. Readers in these great, time-tested vessels of humankind’s religious strivings will discover passages, stories and sayings that resist the intelligence quite robustly. They require some contemplation and study. That this is so gives the lie to the claims of Christian fundamentalists, for example, that the Bible is very easy to understand and has a very clear message that is right there for anyone to see. Spend any time at all with this material and you quickly realize that any “message” is dependent upon subjective reading and interpretation. It is far easier to read meaning into religious scripture than it is to read meaning out of it.
Because of that, the experience of centuries shows it most fruitful to approach scripture, not as a plain and simple textbook that has only to be read once to get the message, but as if it were a work of art. Think of scripture more like a poem, piece of music or painting that calls us back again and again for fresh insight and inspiration.
The current occupant of the White House and his Vice President, along with their enablers among a certain right-wing brand of Christian politics, promote the opposite approach. Trump cynically, but Pence perhaps quite sincerely, would have us believe that the message of the Bible is quite plain and simple and—what do you know?—supports the very political agenda that they are pushing upon the country: Greed, not generosity; hardness of heart, not compassion; hatred, not love; fear, not courage. That is their attempt to read into the Bible a mean- and small-spirited “message.” They are wrong, wrong, wrong! The Bible is greater and more powerful than that; study and contemplation of scripture, as when we engage the most transcendent music and art, will always call us into a larger and more generous spirit.
See you in church,