This Week in Church: The Bible and Jay Z

Welcome to the series wherein I share my take-aways from church. The things that, I think, are beneficial to all of us to know or think about, whether or not we believe in any church-related things.

This week in church we talked about what the Bible really is.

We think of the Bible as a book because it's all bound together and looks like a book, but maybe it's better to think of it as a library, since it contains multiple authors, genres, and perspectives, like libraries do.

The pastor also went on to suggest that the Bible is the story of God's redemption in the midst of struggle, which is a beautiful way to look at it, don't you think? Now, he made the point that the Bible is a unified story of God's redemption in the midst of struggle, which I don't think really jives with the whole "library" thing - a collection of books on a theme don't have a unified story arch.

Here's what I like: I like the idea of a librarian who is really into books about one theme. In this case, the theme is God's hand in the lives of this particular group of people (Israelites) and then the outfall for another group (followers of Jesus). So the librarian collects everything she can find on the topic: poetry, science fiction, histories, legal documents, letters, and anecdotal stories.

Sure, all the documents are connected by a theme, and could even be arranged into something of a story arch, but they are ultimately individual accounts.

I like this approach a lot. If I'm in a library looking at a mystery novel and a self-help book, I wouldn't expect a line in the mystery novel to explain a chapter in the self-help book; that would be silly. I might, however, read a line in a mystery novel that drops into my heart in the a way that the chapter in the self-help book didn't, thus illuminating the entire concept of that self-help chapter, opening it up for me to really dig in.

This week in church we talked about the uncomfortable contradictions in the Bible.

The Bible has been used to justify slavery, sexism, and ethnic cleansing. It's also been used to empower the weak and inspire resistance, charity, and social change. You can find both the poison and the cure in the Bible.

There was a long and excellent quote by someone named Peter Enns that I didn't write down. It basically says, "what if the Bible is just fine the way it is, with its messy, troubling, and weird bits? What if we don't have to 'make it work' or smooth over any of that stuff that feels yucky? What if the problem isn't the Bible, but what we expect from it?"

If you expect a perfectly consistent instruction manual for life, you will probably be disappointed and have to do a lot of work to make it fit. If you expect a collection of stories about God's redemption and attempts at relationship with some humans in a particular time, then maybe the uncomfortable bits can be there, in their context, and teach us something.

This week in church we talked about Jay Z.

The song is called 99 Problems, and it is generally considered to be a very sexist song. I mean, the chorus is, "If you've got girl problems I feel bad for you son, I've got 99 problems and a bitch ain't one." Not super respectful to women, right?

Turns out that, in at least one of the instances, the song is using the term "bitch" to refer to an actual dog.

The second verse talks about a time Jay Z was pulled over (driving while black), and he had drugs hidden in a locked compartment of his car. When he refused to let the police search the car, they called for drug-sniffing dogs, and he knew his goose was cooked. Then, as luck would have it, they took too long and he was let go! As he pulled away, the police van with the dogs in it arrived, so right in the nick of time he avoided the "bitch" of a drug-sniffing dog.

I mean, at the very least Jay Z is still playing off sexism and using it to his advantage, which is probably still at least a little bit sexist. It's an interesting bit of context, though.

Of all the random facts I expected to learn in church, this was not one of them.

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