The holiday season is now upon us, and that means I will for sure, at least once, be watching my very favorite movie of all time, It's a Wonderful Life. I've seen it a gadjillion times, and, like Pavlov's dog I know I will begin weeping the moment I hear young George cry out to Mr. Gower, "You're hurting my sore ear!", I'll sigh wishing I could kiss someone like George and Mary do in super close-up as they share the phone, I'll say a quiet but enthusiastic "Yesss!" when Ellen Corby tells George she only needs $17.50 to get through the stock market crash weekend even though she's offered $20, I'll giggle when I hear Donna Reed say, "Oh George why must you torture the children?" only because it's become an inside joke between my sister and me, and I'll do it all five times as much when at the end everyone in Bedford Falls and then some shows up to make George the richest guy in town.
When the movie is over (and several Kleenex are spent) I'll get up refreshed and transformed, having learned once more -- and anew -- what life is all about and who I want to be; George Bailey's story will shape the choices I make in how to think, act and love.
However, I won't for a moment expect George Bailey to have ever lived or the things he goes through to have ever really happened. Nothing in It's a Wonderful Life needs to be true in order for it to be True for the living of my life. In fact, if I were to need to pull myself out of experiencing the story in order to determine whether things were factually true, the connection of inspiration would be broken and I'd probably be a much crankier (and friendless) person today.
In my role as an ordained clergyperson, I regularly encourage my flock to read the Bible like they watch their favorite movie, like I watch "It's a Wonderful Life." I encourage them to jump into the story and enjoy and absorb all it seeks to say but not worry about whether or not it "really happened."
For some this may sound absolutely heretical and untenable -- of course the Bible must be true in order to be True! It may sound crazy to say like It's a Wonderful Life, the Bible is True without it necessarily being true.
However, in the ancient world, history and fantasy were considered equally valid and equally real and were easily woven together in order to explore and explain Truth. For example, if you read the annals of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, you will note he easily mixes accounts of wars with myths and legends in order to accurately describe what was going on. This is how ancients understood reality. It's only since the Age of Enlightenment that Truth has been limited to that which is empirically provable.
Before we begin exploring the Bible as comedy, I think it is important to acknowledge that to do so implies the texts, as inspired as they are, are not "factual" nor were they ever meant to be. They are artful creations that lead us, often laughing, to the mystery we call God. And to the Truth about who we want to be and what life (on a banana peel) is all about.
Read the Bible with a bowl of popcorn nearby.