Monday, September 29, 2014

Know Your Stuff

Ah, the summer's finally over. My market days are done for another year, and I can finally get back to work on this blog. I have to admit, though, that I'm going to miss it, like I do every year. It is such a joy to meet people from all over the world, and get to know more locals. Every season there seems to be a group of people who come by the booth on a regular basis and the conversations with them make it all worth my time.

A few weeks ago I had a beautiful conversation with a lady from somewhere in the US. She was very nice, and had a bit of a spiritual outlook on life that made talking with her truly delightful. During the course of our conversation, though, I made mention of working at UVic in MultiFaith Services. She got a bit serious and said that I should remember that in the Bible it says that we shouldn't add anything to the Word of God.

"Oh", I replied with enthusiasm, "you're a Deuteronimist. That's so cool."

She was, of course, a bit puzzled.

"Well, that verse", I explained, "is from Deuteronomy. So by following it, you get rid of everything in the Bible after Deuteronomy, like Psalms, Proverbs, the New Testament..."

She was a bit aghast at this, saying no, that's not what it meant.

"I know, but that's the implication of what you said." I didn't go into the history of the book of Deuteronomy and how it seems to have been added quite a bit later than the other books in the Torah. That would have been just too much info at once, I'm sure.

Instead, we got into a really interesting discussion about the "Word of God", and how you recognize it. She initially talked about how it's the Bible, and went on to realize that it was what she was raised to believe. After a few more minutes in which I agreed with her that the Bible was the Word of God, she came up with a few reasonable ideas about how she could tell for herself.

Once she did that, I then encouraged her to read the Upanishads, and the Qur'an, and the Dhammapada, and any other holy scripture that she can find and apply her test to those scriptures, too.

It was a very interesting discussion, and all because I happened to know where that particular quote was in the Bible. (Well, also due a large part to her openness of mind and heart.)

I was telling another friend of mine about this conversation a few days later and I was reminded of another instance like that.

A number of years ago I was staying at a friend's home and I happened to get up before everyone else one morning. I went downstairs, made myself a cup of coffee and was getting ready to read when a knock came on the door.

I went over and opened it, and there were two young ladies standing there. They were Jehovah's Witnesses. I didn't feel comfortable letting them into someone else's home, so I stood out on the porch to talk with them. They talked a bit about why they were there, and proceeded to tell me that I should re-read the Bible again from start to finish and take everything in it absolutely literally.

"Literally", I asked. "Everything literally?"

"Oh yes," they agreed. "Everything."

"Well", I enquired, "how do you explain 1 Timothy 2:12?"

After about a nano-second of a puzzled look, they whipped out their Bibles from their side-holsters, looking like nothing more than a pair of gunslingers facing off in the old West. They whipped over to first Timothy and skimmed straight down to chapter 2, verse 12: "But I suffer not a woman to teach... but to be in silence."

After a few moments of burbling, one of them meekly began to say, "Well, that's metaphorical..." And my friend, who had snuck up behind me said, "I don't know. It sounds kind of literal to me."

To put them at their ease, I explained a little bit about what I understood from the history of Paul, and his letter to Timothy, the troubles Timothy was facing, and Paul's solution for him. I also pointed them in the direction of a few instances where Jesus put the teaching of others in the hands of women, not to mention the importance of Mary being the one who was told to bring the message of His resurrection.

I helped them come to the realization that not everything in the Bible is meant to be literal, but that the general spirit of the teachings is of primary importance.

This, dear Friends, is what I mean by "know your stuff".

Many years ago 'Abdu'l-Baha said that we should know the Bible better then the Christians and encouraged the Baha'is in the West to really study it. In a famous pilgrim note (and yes, He said it elsewhere, too), we read "Study the Holy Words, read your Bible, read the Holy Books, especially study the Holy Utterances of Baha'u'llah; Prayer and Meditation, take much time for these two."

Besides, it's kind of fun to be able to toss these quotes back at people, and help them see the implications of just what it is that they are saying.

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