When planning my month-long September adventure in Europe, one suggestion kept coming my way:
"Go to Germany for the celebration of the Reformation’s 500th!"
This refers, as you may know, to the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg (or at the very least the mailing to Archbishop Albert of Brandenburg) his “Ninety-five Theses” or “Disputation on the Power of Indulgences.”
As you also may know, then-Brother Luther, in this document, roundly condemned the Roman Church’s current practice of offering “Get Out of Hell Free” cards (as it were) to any layperson wanting to purchase them for unredeemed dead relatives most likely still sitting in the way-station of Purgatory. Profits from these GOOHF indulgences went to the Pope for the construction of a grand cathedral and, more importantly, a grand papal army tasked with keeping Europe’s many emerging nations under Rome’s consecrated thumb.
Luther’s 95 “propositions for an academic disputation” (Wikipedia) were nailed or sent or both on October 31, 1517, and they pretty much blew Western Civilization apart. They exposed the Roman Church’s gross ecclesial and theological corruption and neutralized its omnipotence. They gave birth to a major religious Reformation, the Protestant Church, the Catholic Counter-Reformation and, 500 years later, lots and lots of hoopla.
This summer and fall, super special tours of Wittenberg and surrounding “Luther Country” have abounded, as have Reformation-themed concerts,
special cakes for fellowship hour
and, of course my favorite: several super-fun and well-used Luther toys!
Nevertheless, I didn’t include Germany in my September itinerary (way too crowded and expensive because of all the 500th hoopla), but, upon return to the States, I would like to festively mark the event “The Comic Lens” Way before 2017 concludes.
“Hola Scriptura!” Hellooooo Bible! That’s my plan.
One of Luther’s most famous ideas was that of “sola scriptura.” This is a doctrine that insists that the Bible, and the Bible alone, is and was always intended to serve as the ultimate authority in Christian faith and practice. While this may seem obvious, back in the day this authority was granted the Pope, and he could say the Bible contained whatever he wanted it to say (God’s blessed establishment of indulgences and Purgatory, for example), since scripture at that time was written in Latin, a language no one but the priest caste could read let alone understand.
By 1517, however, because enough people could read; scripture was being translated into people’s spoken languages; and the printing press made it possible for everyone to have their own copy of God’s Word for reading, practice, sharing and salvation. They could read for themselves how so much of what they’d been taught was a sham. Sola scriptura offered a spiritual journey ahead that promised all things freeing and empowering.
However, in many ways, this concept of sola scriptura hasn’t been all that helpful. After all, the Bible is an ancient and mystical text, and for any number of reasons it can be very hard to even begin to understand. Most people must rely on pastors and teachers to tell them what the Bible means, even as they can read the words on its pages just fine.
Another big problem is that a perusal through the Good Book reveals a lot of really violent, offensive, objectionable stuff. It often really doesn’t seem that Good. All the laws about keeping women subservient to men, condemning homosexuals and Jews and anyone really who doesn’t believe correctly, demanding we give allegiance to a “loving” God who sure seems overly angry, violent and cruel a lot of the time. These are more than a few roadblocks for the thinking, honest seeker to embrace scripture solely or wholly. Or maybe at all.
For many of my friends, even those attending church, the biggest turn-off to becoming a Christian is the Bible. I might as well try roping people in by selling indulgences.
However, since I've begun wearing Comic Lenses, I’ve come to see the Bible in a different way: as a joyful, playful, ironic, light-hearted comedy! Even as sad and scary stuff abounds...to set up the punch lines.
I don’t say this because it’s gonna be a great way to get kids engaged with scripture. I do it because I believe the people (including lots of grown-ups!) of the ancient Israelite and Christian communities had very hard and heartbreaking lives generation after generation. And yet they found the Divine Dance endlessly emanated, believe it or not, comic impulses that were surprisingly and truly life-giving. And the texts they embraced as sacred - the texts of the Bible - fit into Aristotle’s “Characteristics of Comedy” (rather than “Characteristics of Tragedy”) time after time after time.
So, for such a time as this, and as a way of celebrating both the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the past three years of my work exploring the Bible through “The Comic Lens”….
I’d like to take this opportunity to take on some of the toughest, most objectionable, disgusting even texts in the Bible. The worst!! Put on Comic Lenses and explore how even they may be way more truly life-giving than we’ve initially, or even after lots of study, imagined. Rejoice and discover in new ways how our holy scriptures — and all of them — bring redemption and connection to God in ways that nothing else can. (Although those Martin Luther dolls come close.)
Let’s see what we can do! And what the gleaning of humor from these otherwise awfully and objectionable texts can do for the living of hard and heartbreaking life in 2017. First stop will be 2 Timothy 2:12: Women are not supposed to teach or have authority over men. Oh boy! (Pun totally intended.)
And Germany, I'll see you soon. I promise.