A few years ago, I began an experiment of reading the Bible with a dirty mind. I had been working with middle school students for years as an educator and as a youth minister, and it dawned on me that much of my work to correct their misconceptions about Scripture was based on my own assumptions about how the Bible is supposed to be read.
For instance, I expect time to move from a single point, along a line. Also, for instance, I expect that because the Bible is moral, it must of course reinforce the mores of my own culture. But I know from experience that time is not a line. Our memories are not like signposts along a road – fixed reminders of what happened and where. They are more like goats in a meadow – hungry, sociable, curious, and constantly in motion (part of why they’re so hard to grab hold of). And I know from experience that my cultural mores are not necessarily aligned with those of other cultures.
Not even close.
My expectations about time and morality were blinders, keeping me from seeing what the text has to say. To remove these blinders, I knew I would have to practice seeing what I am not allowed to see, what I’m not supposed to see. I needed to learn to read the Bible, not with a pure heart, but with a dirty mind.
What did I notice? I noticed so many things. Here are a few:
I noticed that it is better, in the Old Testament, to marry a family member than to marry outside the family. This noticing reminded me – as if I didn’t already know – that the Old Testament isn’t inherently Christian. Nor does it belong to Christianity. It is a collection of texts that Christians have adopted and adapted.
I remembered that humanity is created in the image of God, and I recognized that I’d always assumed this as the source of my potential for creativity. But what if it means that God has a body? Is God male or female? What if God is both male and female? What if God is neither male nor female? What if God is more than male and female? What parts does God have? This seemed like a dangerous question to think, so I embraced it. Might that have been the problem of the golden calf? Or of the bull at Bethel? Were they anatomically – correct?
Plato tells how original humans – being male, female and hermaphrodite – were bisected by the gods, and I thought of God making a woman out of Adam’s side. They are cut in two, male and female. But because the Scripture has them coming together as “one flesh” (something new), I wonder what this does to Adam’s maleness. Does a healthy marriage water down a man’s masculinity? Or require him to give it up altogether?
I thought about that problem between Noah and one of his sons (the one with the feet). I considered Jacob’s smooth skin and his skills in the kitchen. I thought about Moses’ relationship with God, especially the parts where the texts suggests that Moses has authority in the relationship (definitely a step beyond Abraham’s efforts to cut a deal at Mamre). I wondered about Potiphar’s lack of children and his relatively tame response to the accusation against his slave, Joseph. I took notes on all the women who remain silent. I tried to count how many don’t even have names.
As it turns out, once I started reading the Bible with a dirty mind, I noticed things. I saw things. I wondered.
And I’m not done yet.
Not even close.