August 20, 2014

Silence at the Sidewalk Cafe

     He was in his mid-sixties. What was left of his hair was cut short and combed back neatly. He was wearing a grey suit with a striped blue tie. The expression on his face was one of consternation, to use exactly the right word for it. Our conversation had started with my outbursts in Sunday School. How all of a sudden I had become argumentative and how my disruptions had slowed down the study to a glacial pace. He said that I had become unchristian-like and that it had to stop.
     At the sound of the word unchristian-like, the other patrons of the sidewalk cafe became quiet. This particular eatery was known to be operated by one of the community's most christian families.
     "And what about what I said in Sunday School? If in the space of your lifetime the word gay switched primary meanings, how can we trust the text that has been translated multiple times over the span of centuries? Especially given the fact that the Hebrew language was extinct for a time before it was revived. There's no telling how much idiom was lost, how many words switched meanings, and there's no way to know if the Bible we use today is faithful to the words Jesus spoke and Paul wrote." I stated.
     "That's why we use the King James Version - it's not like the new translations you've been using which have been mistranslated. The Message will only mix you up and confuse the word of God." He said.
     "King James ascended to the throne when he was a little over a year old. As an adult he was having to deal with complications because some of the law suppressed Catholic worship and the Protestant Christians had a vested interest in keeping what power they had gained to use against them. I'm sure that there's no way he would have allowed his staff of translators to say anything that actually supported Catholic teachings. Then again, whether or not England was Catholic or Protestant depended on their Kings' and Queens' particular religious persuasion." I countered.
     "England's history has nothing to do with us or how we worship at church. And frankly, neither do some of your opinions. Things are the way they're supposed to be." He added.
     "England's history has everything to do with what we believe and how we worship. It's part of our denomination's history. The problem is that anything that isn't in the Bible is treated as of lesser importance. The truth it's that it's the long slow evolution from the Acts 2 church to the divided denominational Christianity that has some of it's most important doctrines decided outside of scripture by imperfect people whose bias rings through history." I responded.
     He was clearly beginning to get a little angry, I could see the tension as his face turned red and he clenched his teeth. He was silent for a bit, probably deciding not to say the first thing that came across his mind. Finally he spoke, "How dare you? Everything that is important is in the Bible! People have carefully protected it and studied it and gave their lives to see to it that we would have it today!" 
     "Slavery has been maintained as perfectly acceptable for thousands of years partially because the Bible does not prohibit it. Christians not only forced their slaves to convert to Christianity, but they used the Bible to keep them as second class citizens. In fact, while today slavery is a thing of the past in America, it still exists in many corners of the world in a form that's clearly reprehensible.  Like in the movie Taken. Unfortunately for tens of thousands of people, there's not a very determined former spy and father chasing down the bad guys to rescue them." I told him.
     "We can't be held responsible for the mistakes of our predecessors. We can't answer for the Crusades or Spanish Inquisition. We have a clearer understand of scripture today that they had then." He said.
     "Precisely, knowing a little bit about Christianity's history allows us to realize that people make mistakes, they ask the wrong questions, they start the wrong wars, fight the wrong battles, and can believe the wrong things. Isn't the saying  'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."? I wonder, what mistakes are we making today that the next generation will denounce us for. How will their clearer understanding of scripture differ than ours?" I said.
     He sat back in his chair, stunned into silence. He would one day tell me that at this moment he was thinking back to the first time we met at Church and I was just a kid. Understandably shy on my first Sunday, but over time I grew into a perfect example of a Christian kid, how every Sunday I was the one raising my hand to say the right things at the Children's moments, how every Vacation Bible School I would lead my friends to church one after the other and telling them all about my best friend Jesus. Somehow this perfect kid had been changed and corrupted into something different.
     The other patrons had begun to whisper among themselves, some had returned to their conversations, others were beginning to ask the right questions. Some glanced sideways at our table, just to see what would happen next.

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