Our dad loved photography and photo albums. No digital when we were young and he was dad. He would quite happily stop the traffic by standing in the middle of the road to get the best angle for a group shot. There was a family sigh whenever he appeared with his camera to usher us all off for another group snap. And yet he had the best photo collection I have ever known. Homemade albums of card, spines of screw-able brass, each picture glued lovingly in its rightful place, a chronological sequencing as accurate as the calendar, each picture assigned a few words of context and names, each album grouped by year(s). Not only that, but he made a beautiful cabinet to store and easily access these albums.
Our children would be entranced when we visited mum and dad. Each would pick a year and settle into a comfy chair with their chosen album. Pictures of me as a baby – then a child – then an adult – and then Mrs Paul appeared looking very young – the two of us together before our children were even a twinkle – and then some of them – and their uncles and aunts, their cousins, the places we visited, the things we did …
Each time we visited it was the same ritual during a quiet patch – and we relived those memories with them.
Years later I was listening to a celeb God speaker. Even amongst the Children of God there is a celeb list. But God celebs there are (when looking around the entranced audience).
This chap was weaving a wonderful tale of the bible. Drawing anecdotes and images … bible celebs and villains … the good and the bad … the family of God going back to Creation … all the way through to me and all of us listening to his words that day. A family album he called the bible. Complete with badly behaved uncles, and the flighty teenagers, and the sensible patriarchs, alongside the maternal figures of love and unconditional forgiveness. All of life – warts and all – all written over the ages into this “family album”. I loved his words! Give me a good God celeb any day!
And yet …
In the years since, I find myself thinking of my dad’s albums and our children’s response. They picked a few minutes of quiet time when we needed to stop rushing around. Needed to stop facing life full on in a field, the woods, the town centre, the beach, the river, the family dining table loaded with food, the television, the board games, the magazines and all the rest. These “family albums” were not where they lived and breathed – they were a quiet layby for a short rest before they were off again – living each moment of life full-on.
Whereas I was brought-up to live in the bible. To return to it for answers and inspiration. To study it for nuances of God. To seek God within these ancient words, revised and revised again. To pray over the bible To feed on the bible. To be in The Word and The Word in me.
That is way more than an album – that is a lifestyle. Except a lifestyle with conditions. A forgiveness with conditions. An eternal life with conditions. Or “transaction” as it seems to me.
Which is why I asked myself this …
How will I ever become Love when I am focused on rooting out sin and keeping so many commandments? How will I ever become Love when my focus is on the bible rather than facing life full-on? How can I ever become I Am when I spend so much time not facing life full-on, but centred on understanding better the correct way to read the bible … the correct way of interpreting it … seeing my prize as being biblically correct …
Isn’t that like asking our children to study those photograph albums to the point where they “know” their own mum and dad (Mrs Paul and I living every second of every day with them) without ever living and being and facing life full-on with their living mum and dad right there? If God is a Living God as I was taught – then surely living with him is to know him better than “finding God” in the bible.
I knew a chap of a certain denomination. He called the bible “The Manual” because it holds every answer to every question. Last year he told me it actually foretold the corona pandemic. How about that Paul – The Manual is that relevant! This partway through the global pandemic. I was talking to someone else about that conversation and their response was very simple. So why didn’t he do something about it beforehand then?
I think it too easy to have
biblical hindsight. I think it gives Christians a bad name. It gives most people a bad name to trot out “hindsight”. So I wonder whether this obsession with the bible is more Pharisaic than good Christians like to admit. It makes me wonder whether this is what God Soft Hands Jesus craves for each of us – this focus on behaving-acting as this studied being “biblically correct” demands.
It is a need or desire I don’t see in the one about whom the bible is written.
But he does like a good chuckle! That I do know.
It is what I hear most as we walk together.