The Protestant theologian Karl Barth is often given credit for saying that "one must hold a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other." Turns out that he didn't say that, exactly. What he said was that you should "take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible."
This remains good advice, except for the fact that fewer and fewer people are reading newspapers these days -- maybe fewer than read the Bible. Better guidance for today would be "take the Bible and take Google, and use both. But interpret Google from your Bible."
I take this approach as I write for ON Scripture, the biblical commentary website of Odyssey Networks. I dig deeply into the biblical texts that are assigned for each Sunday, but also examine the current events and trends that scroll across my computer screen. I am always looking for ways that the Bible can help shape our understanding of the world we live in, with all of its joys and horrors, triumphs and tragedies.
I recently wrote on "The Death of Thanksgiving," based on the report that the department store Macy's had decided to open its stores on Thanksgiving Day. This was controversial, for sure, with people denouncing the move as "greedy, misguided and unfair to the employees being forced to work on a day traditionally reserved for family."
But I pointed out that other stores are guilty as well, and Macy's may simply be trying to serve its customers. If no one wanted to shop on Thanksgiving, then no stores would be open. The true Thanksgiving-killer is the person who leaves the table and heads to the mall.
I used this controversy as an opportunity to take the pulse of thanksgiving in both church and culture, and look at how we are doing with the giving of thanks today. With Paul's letter to the Colossians as a guide, I discovered that thanksgiving will never die as long as we see Jesus Christ at the center of creation and the community of faith. In fact, the video that Odyssey Networks produced to accompany my commentary did an excellent job of revealing that many people are most thankful for non-material gifts of God such as children, friends, partners, good health, kindness, generosity, knowledge... as well as the gift of life itself.
Reports of the death of Thanksgiving, like the death of Mark Twain, have been greatly exaggerated.
Earlier this year, I noticed that Memorial Day had shifted from a day of remembrance to a festive three-day weekend. A quick Google search revealed the history of the holiday, and how it had evolved from a day to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers to a celebratory weekend filled with grilling meat, drinking beer, splashing in pools, and watching stock car races.
Feeling a need to interpret this trend biblically, I looked at what Paul said to the Romans about the spiritual process that moves us from suffering to hope. I discovered that Paul had important guidance to give us as we reflect on recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the terrorist attacks of 9-11, the school shootings at Newtown, and the Boston Marathon bombings. In fact, we needed it the very week I was writing, as we struggled to comprehend the devastation of the massive tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, leaving dozens dead -- including many children.
Odyssey Networks again produced a powerful video to accompany this commentary, focused on the story of a survivor of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. This video brought to life, in a compelling way, the journey from suffering to hope. In a variety of creative videos linked to ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks tells stories of faith in action.
My attempts to interpret Google from my Bible have also included an examination of the falling marriage rate, and how Jesus supported the covenant of marriage because he had such concern for the welfare of wives and children. While the Gospel of Mark is often used as a club to beat up the divorced, I believe that this is a misreading -- Jesus wanted marriages to be preserved so that vulnerable women and children would be protected.
In similar fashion, the Gospel of Luke is often read in a way that ignores the fact that Jesus welcomes everyone to his table. Christians today frequently forget that Jesus came to knock down walls and widen the circle of inclusion, rather than draw strict theological and moral lines. So I wrote a commentary called "The Welcoming Table" to show how the Bible critiques the church's tendency to set a small table that includes only a few. And Odyssey Networks provided an excellent video on LGBTQ groups on Catholic campuses.
Whether the topic is marriage or LGBTQ groups, Thanksgiving or Memorial Day, ON Scripture interprets current events from the perspective of the Bible, and this makes it a valuable tool for people of faith across the country. With the Bible in one hand and Google in the other, I am always gratified to be writing ON Scripture.