Whose Bible?


I have several large Bibles with commentaries but only two, one King James Version and one Revised Standard Version, which are small enough to carry around.  Both were gifts and both are wearing out at the bindings.  I decided to shop for a portable New Revised Standard Bible (NRSV).  It turned out this translation is out of favor.  The rows of Bibles at Barnes and Noble feature, along with KJV, NIT, NLT, ESV and a few other versions.  I scanned the shelves, closing in on those which were smaller, but none were NRSV.

One such smaller volume in the row turned out to be labeled “The American Patriot’s Bible.”  The WHAT?

This is a puzzling confusion of categories.  I wasn’t willing to pay the $12 to find out what gives this edition the claim to patriotism.  I pictured a focus on the stories of Ezra and Nehemiah, in which the Israelites are trying to make themselves right with God by cleaning up their laws and purifying their blood lines.  Does anyone still give those stories much weight?

I’m proud to be an American, but I can’t figure out what in the Bible connects to that.  There are passages about welcoming the stranger and about caring for widows and orphans that suggest to me some good principles for responsible citizenship.  Is this what the editors have in mind?  When I say I suspect that it is not I reveal my own bias: those who wave the flag of patriotism often have another agenda.

Perhaps this “Patriot’s Bible” makes the claim that America is, or was, or should be a “Christian nation.”  Christian reformers have been a force for good in our history, but they are not the whole story.

I’ll stop at that and let the reader ponder what an “American Patriot’s Bible” might be, while I continue my search for a portable NRSV Bible for use when I travel.


Rereading Sacred Text, With a Poem


In my last post I mentioned in passing the feminist interpretation of the Biblical record.  There have been many kinds and layers of this.  I was involved in a number of them.  I attended meetings of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus.  I read Daughters of Sarah and Free Indeed, two periodicals produced by women seeking to reinterpret what they had been taught.  Both survived only for a time, which is typical of small magazines of all kinds. Free Indeed took its name from the passage from John, “If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.”  Daughters of Sarah published a few of my poems.

I learned to think for myself through looking at the many different women’s approaches to scripture.  I had gotten through college as a very good student who believed what I read, whether it agreed with my own experience or not.  Amid all the women’s perspectives, it was necessary to make choices, and one of the keys to those choices was “does it fit with my experience” instead of “does it fit with what I’ve been taught.”  This approach was the gift, for me, of feminist interpretation.

There are many stories about women in the Bible.  Some are extensive, some seem to be only fragments.  At one time I concluded, “The named woman is the one who got into trouble.”  Here is a poem I wrote during this period.


As I circle stony islands
where ten foot tides turn ledges
into granite waves,
threats to an outboard propeller,
I hear Delilah sing
with Jael and Judith.

On a bluff of ragged rock
these three women, servants
to god and country, sing by turns
of Sisera, Holophernes, Samson,
of tent peg, sword, and scissors.
The song repeats like blues,
like scissors, rock, paper,
break, cover, or cut
to the next story,
the next severed head
served up on a fine platter.

The trays have corroded
on which the tribes they served
once served them empty honors.
Their hungry song blends
with calls of cormorants and gulls.
From such contagious sorrow
I flee to deeper water.

Among other things, this poem is meant to suggest that the situation for women is similar on both sides of the conflict; Delilah was, in the history, an enemy of Jael and Judith, yet I imagine their stories were similar.  I’ve placed them not in the Mediterranean but on the Maine shore, which I know, can describe more vividly, and have used to reflect their mood and situation.

Many of the women whose work I was reading in those days gave up on the patriarchy of Christianity, and Judaism as well, altogether; some became Wiccan.  I stayed in my tradition, but continued to rethink the reading of Scripture.  Now I look at my sacred texts from many points of view.  Some days I take the words quite literally, but I am convinced that, however much inspired, they were written down by people who could only communicate in the language of their time.  Other times I am struck by how much of our God language is, and has to be, metaphor.  Always I find it a rich source of story, language and reflection on the human condition.

“Sirens” was published in Daughters of Sarah in 1990.