The Bible isn't broken

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Trying to decide if it makes sense to fix something you own or buy new is one reason I'm paying a lot of attention to the current issue of Consumer Reports. I'm a subscriber to the magazine, and while most things inside are not terribly relevant to me, the "Repair or Replace?" article caught my eye.

When it comes to technological advancements, shelving the outdated and passe is what we've always done. The personal calculator replaced the slide rule; the electric typewriter replaced the old Underwood manual; word processing made the best typewriter virtually obsolete.

This past week, our Centenary youths were in St. Joseph, Mo. for a mission trip. In that northwest Missouri city they became personally acquainted with an outdated system that was replaced by something better. The Pony Express mail service promised the well-off of the mid-19th century that their letters and parcels would be delivered from St. Joe to Sacramento, Calif., in 10 days. A relay system of horsemen would carry the cargo -- at the exorbitant (for the time) price of $5 per half-ounce. It was an arduous and dangerous occupation for the young riders. Bad weather was a frequent occurrence as were attacks from bandits who knew the territory the express riders were traversing much better. The Wild West indeed. The originators of the Pony Express were hoping for an exclusive government contract to carry the mail over the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains and the High Sierras. That contract never came and the Pony Express didn't last long -- from April 1860 to October 1861. It wasn't that the system was flawed or that parcels were arriving broken or tattered. The express riders did a laudable job, by all accounts. No, the problem was that something better came along -- the telegraph. When the telegraph system was finally completed, linking the West Coast to the heartland of America, the need for the Pony Express vanished. It died overnight.

We love finding a better, quicker, less expensive way to do something. But in our zeal, it's important not to replace what isn't broken. Assuming that last sentence was unfortunately obtuse, allow me to explain.

The Holy Bible is the best-selling book in the United States. There is no hard data to support my next statement, nothing beyond observation and intuition: I suspect the Bible is the most widely possessed and least read publication in any American home. Revered but largely ignored. We decide it's too hard, too impenetrable, too dense. People who say the Bible is boring betray their own unfamiliarity with its pages. We own it but don't peruse it. Instead we buy self-help books from the Joel Osteens and Joyce Meyers of the religious world, hoping the understanding they bring to the Bible can somehow be relevant to our life and to our living. Don't give away your own reasoning power to someone else, particularly when it comes to something as vital as God's written revelation to men and women.

A sermon, ideally, should whet the appetite for the listener to do his or her own Bible reading and reflection. God has buried gems in the pages of scripture and is waiting for us to unearth them. Those gems can provide something Joel and Joyce, for all of their popularity, simply do not have. If you can't understand the Bible you own find a more readable rendering. Even the "Message" translation, for all of its weaknesses, is far better than not reading the Bible at all.

The Bible isn't broken. And, more to the point, it can't be replaced. As for me, I'm not buying new. I'm staying with the old standard, which is life's gold standard.

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Long is senior pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married to his college sweetheart, he is the father of two teenaged daughters.

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