“The Bible is a library,” I told the confirmation class meeting in the library. “It includes a wide variety of writings: poetry, history, gospel, letters, prophecy, apocalyptic, and so on. Most of it was written more than than 2000 years ago, between 500 BCE and 200 ACE.”
I continued, “If the Bible is so old, why do we still use it?”
“The Bible tells us what to believe,” one kid answered.
“So we can know what our religion is about,” another said.
“But,” I quipped, “it isn’t about learning things.”
“We find out about God in the Bible,” one boy chimed in.
“You can find out about God lots of places,” I pressed. “There are thousands and thousands of books written about God. Just look around this room.” I pointed to the thousand books about God on the church conference room shelves. “Why the Bible?”
The kids seemed engaged, or at least as engaged as thirteen year-olds are likely to be when it comes to religion, and I wanted to take advantage. Lord knows, it is hard enough to convince adults to read Scripture, much less over-scheduled kids with tons of homework, swimming, mountain biking, and skateboarding.
When I was confirmed, my parents gave me a red-letter King James Bible. Jesus’ words were printed in red ink, and the Bible zipped all the way around to protect it. That night, my parents offered a suggestion that would change my life: “Try reading one chapter each day.” Because I was literal and wanted to please my parents – even though I knew they didn’t read the Bible daily - I started reading that night.
I was pacing. “Do you think when the Bible says God created the earth in six days it means God created the earth in six days?” That question got the kids’ attention. Most kids are taught like I was, that any written word is literal. Our age is post-modern, and nothing, if not scientific. “What makes you think we read Scripture to learn facts about God?” I asked. The kids didn’t – couldn’t – understand what I was getting at. Naturally, the Bible provides facts about God, but they could see I had something else in mind.
Now I spoke plainly. “Fact and truth aren’t the same thing.”
The same night, after my parents offered their advice, I read the first couple of chapters of Matthew. The next night I read several more. I continued reading straight through Matthew, then the other Gospels, continuing with Paul’s letters, and finishing with the Book of Revelation. Next I read the story of the Beginning (Genesis), and about Abraham, friend of God. The story of the unlikely boy David who God picked to become king. I read about Esther saving the Israelites, and Ruth, King David’s grandmother and a foreigner whose blood was integrated into Jesus’ lineage. Over the course of years, I read and reread, a chapter, two or three each day, and in the process I did just what the kids were trying to tell me that reading the Bible ought to do: I learned about God, and “the faith.” But I learned far more than simple facts.
With the teens watching me carefully, I grabbed a Bible, opened it randomly, and began rubbing one of the onion-skin pages. “A fellow named Rabbi Levinas says, ‘You rub the page until it bleeds.’” I looked each teen in the eye and repeated myself: “You rub the page until it bleeds. You don’t read the Bible to learn about God. If the page doesn’t bleed, you’ve wasted your time.”
I must have sounded a little like JK Rowling with her Harry Potter wizardry. I paused for effect, silence gathering curiosity about the room like gauzy material. After a strained minute, I said, “You go to Scripture to meet God. Not to learn about God. To meet God. God like blood emerges between the words, between the letters. The page bleeds. It bleeds God.”
Facts explain the physical world. Truth imbues the same physical world with meaning. Facts are black and white. Truth is color. God created the earth in six literal days or six billion years - who cares? God creates, and God still creates, and God re-creates again and again and again. God takes what is old and makes it new; God takes the ancient and brings it forward.
So there we were, the kids and I, and I could tell: they finally got it, sort-of.
“Not just the Bible,” one of the boys spoke up. I didn’t say a word, encouraging him to go on. Everyone in the room looked at him. “You have to try with God.”
I smiled. “Yes! Be there,” I answered. “Think of the contest where the rules say you have to be present to win. Ever hear of that?” All the kids nodded. Rub the page until it bleeds; be present to win. Hocus, pocus, and I suppose that is all some people think about Christianity, that it is all hocus, pocus, but these kids got it. You have to show-up. Be present to win.
Where is God? We all want to know the answer to that question. Where is God? Between the letters and the words on the page, and between the letters and the words in your life. Rub the page.