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Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson

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The Bible is a Book of Inclusion and Love

Posted: 06/06/2012 8:30 am

I would like to offer you a relationship to the Bible that allows us to do what, I think, it was originally intended to be, which is a source of light, a source of affirmation, a source of deeper humanity. The Bible that you hear preached by some is a bible of rules, a bible of rigidity; occasionally, a bible of fear. This is not what draws me to the Bible, and it is important that somebody publicly present a different take.

So here goes.

The Bible starts with two profound stories: The first story we are given is of a God who cannot bear to be alone. A God who is driven by love to create a world of flowering and cascading diversity in which nothing is precisely like what came before it; in which each new creature is delightfully fresh and novel; in which God, thrilled by each new creation, says: This is good. And then God creates a creature with the capacity, also, to look at diversity, and to look at novelty, and to say: This is good! And we are told in this story that we are made in that God's image.

What is the characteristic of the God of Genesis? Unearned love that can only be made real when it is given away. And so without obligation, God creates a diverse and flowering universe, because God cannot be God if God cannot love. We are, my friends, in God's image. And we also, though, shrivel up and die if we do not have the ability to pour out our love; to celebrate difference; to rejoice in novelty; to see in each other's divine sparks; and to be delighted and thrilled by what we see. That is, says the Bible, our most God-like attribute.

The second book of the Bible, the Book of Exodus, tells the second foundational story of Western civilization. It is the shocker! The story tells of an obscure small group of people who are described by the Hebrew term to'evah -- abomination. Those people are so abominable that the Egyptians will not even sit at a table with them; they will not eat with them; they force them to live in a different neighborhood so they do not have to deal with them. And they oppress them, ruthlessly and harshly. And the Torah announces that the force that created the cosmos, the force that is known in the giving away of unearned love, that force cannot abide pharaohs. That force will rise up on behalf of the oppressed, on behalf of the abominable and that force will set them free. We Jews know that as our core story. Every year we recall that we, each of us, were slaves in a land that viewed us as outsiders, and that we were visited by the very forces that make the universe what it is: forces of liberation and freedom and wholeness. And that we were brought out of that narrow land into a place where we were free to be ourselves.

I am not making these stories up; I am not that good a writer. I am telling you, that the guys who are preaching hate are skipping the most important stuff. The God who is found on every page of the Bible is a God of love so radical, says the prophet Jeremiah, that it is an unending love; an eternal love.

So my message for you is that if you see someone hold up this Book, and sound full of fear and hate, they have not really read it right. We need to be the love. Love is not flighty; love is not fickle. Any of you who have truly loved know that love is resilient and persistent and determined and irrepressible. We need to face the people who are so afraid that they speak in hate. We need to face them with the resilient love that resides in justice. We need to let them know that the One who created each of us special and different delights in difference and sees all of God's children as flowers of divinity -- each of us as special and precious.

We need to remind them that we learned those lessons right here, in this Book. That love reverberates right here, in our hearts. It echoes right here, amidst our families and our loved ones.

My son Jacob is a 19-year-old man who struggles with autism. When I told Jacob that I would be writing about human dignity and the honor of LGBTQ people (and Jacob is very used to the struggle of gay people, because his Dad is the only straight sibling in his family), Jacob said, "That's my story too." And it is. So here is the last point I want to assert:

Freedom and dignity are indivisible. Either they include all of us, or we are all of us in danger. Those who are judged by the color of their skin, by their gender, by their faith or their lack of faith, by their looks, by their orientation, by their abilities or by some people's perception of disability, need to remember -- all of us -- that we already the way God would have us be, with one exception: God cannot force us to love ourselves or each other. We have to do that ourselves.

 
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