Friday, May 20, 2005


The other day, I visited a longtime friend of my dad's named Bill Kambs. He gave me my dad's Bible.

It's a paperback that has been reinforced on the front and back cover with sturdy cardboard and duct tape. Its cover is made of really soft leather that my dad sewed together. Examining the cover, I noticed red drawings on the inside. They were little kid drawings of crosses and such. I took off the cover and turned it inside out. I think that this was the original cover, and that I drew the pictures when I was small.

What really makes this Bible a treasure is that my dad marked it up. There are many passages that he underlined very neatly, with a fine Rapidigraph pen and a ruler. It is priceless to be able to see which parts struck my dad and inspired him to underline so carefully.

Last night I started reading Matthew. I have never read the New Testament all the way through, much less the entire Bible. On several occasions I have set off to read the New Testament, because it seems an impoortant thing to read, whether you're Christian or not. But I can't recall ever getting much past chapter seven. I get through the sermon on the mount, and my mind is so blown -- or I'm so intimidated -- that I can't go on.

Jesus was a tough son of a, um, God. I read it and I think, How on earth can anyone be a fundamentalist? This time I read it and I became convinced that I will never believe that anyone is a fundamentalist until I meet a person with one eye and one hand.

I had hoped to discover that my dad had underlined my favorite passage:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.

(He underlined this last sentence.)

For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; not for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns,

(Actually, when I really think about this, I have to say that birds do sow, reap and gather.)

and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

(I'm not convinced that I am, but go on.)

And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span?

(Bingo! Now I'm hooked. But my dad didn't underline this.)

And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lillies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these.

But if God arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will he not much more do so for you, O men of little faith.

Do not be anxious then, saying "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "With what shall we clothe ourselves?"

(Here my dad starts underlining again, in green pencil, for the big payoff, the "what you should do" part, the praxis.)

For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek yee first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Makes it all sound so easy, and I feel comfort in it, I guess becauuse it says, basically, Dude! Look at nature. Everything's gonna be alright. Just do your part.

But then, it's the "do your part" part that's a trip. If my part is what Jesus laid out on the mount, I'm fucked. We all are. He says to do the most radical stuff: tear out your eye if you're horny; cut off your hand if it makes you stumble; if someone sues you, giive them everything (hello Mr. President! tort reform?); get beat up; go the extra mile; love enemies and pray for them; if you get mad then you're guilty of murder; pray in secret; give charity so secretly that even half of yourself doesn't know the good things you've done; don't pray with meaningless repetition; forgive everybody no matter what mean, wrongheaded stuff they do to you; don't collect material treasures; don't judge anybody; enter the narrow gate, not the nice big one, and walk the narrow path, not the wide one, where hardly anyone else is.

He wraps it up in a no-nonsense way:

Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does
the will of My Father who is in heaven.

(Which I have a hard time reconciling with this Born Again stuff, like: All we have to do is say "Jesus is Lord" and we're cool, our tickets to heaven will be waiting at the Will Call window.)

Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your
name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?"

And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESS."

Now, when I read this, my first thought is George W. Bush is going to hell. But then I'm like, we all are. How can anybody live up to this stuff?

I know I haven't read the whole book. I'm probably taking it all out of context. There's probably a part in the next chapter or so where Jesus says, "I was just kidding. Just say you believe in me, and you can do whatever you want, except have abortions and gay sex, and you'll be free and clear in heaven. A'ight!"

I wonder what my dad would think of Bush and megachurches and all this stuff that, from my perspective, doesn't seem to gibe with Jesus at all.

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