In an article I wrote last month, My Colander List of Roles to Play, I mentioned I once had the good fortune to play the Reverend Jeremiah Brown in the epic play, Inherit the Wind. Reverend Brown, as I mentioned, was a man prone to getting carried away in the pulpit. So frothing-at-the-mouth mad did I play the character that, during a break backstage, I had occasion to tell the rest of the cast, “By the way, I am a believer, but not a fanatic.”
Still, even as the one, but not the other, I have considerable admiration for a great deal of the Bible, both Testaments, even if I do believe in evolution, rather than “intelligent design.” Of course, I am referring to the King James edition of the Bible, inasmuch as my knowledge of Greek and Hebrew are on a par with my knowledge of Japanese, except I know a little more Japanese than I do either of those other two.
I am also referring to the King James edition as opposed to the many “modern” versions. Along that line, I recall a now-defunct comic strip called Kudzu, one of whose characters was a preacher. In one strip, he is in the pulpit, trying to read the Sermon on the Mount to the faithful, from a supposedly-new translation. In one of the columns to the strip, he proclaims, “Blessed are the wimps, for they shall inherit the whole nine yards.”
At this point, I would like to list my five favorite Biblical passages. I do not recall looking to any one of them in a specific moment of adversity-I am more inclined to go with a spur-of-the-moment prayer-but, in their own ways, each has served as a moral and spiritual compass for me as I somehow bugle through my life. I will list them in reverse order of importance, though they are all inspirational to one extent or another.
5. The Twenty-third Psalm
Perhaps the most assuring passage in the Bible, it has been a source of comfort for Jews and Christians alike. If you are not immediately familiar with the text I am referring to, this is the The 23rd Psalm. Note that it is not just a passage about trepidation, but about gratitude and belief.
If I may return to that production of Inherit the Wind, our director encouraged creative improvisation among the cast, so long as they did not stray from the thrust of the original script. At the point toward the end of the play, when the chief prosecutor, Mathew Harrison Brady, is overcome with a stroke, my character, the preacher, recites the 23rd Psalm as others in the room bear the man off. There was not enough time in that interval to recite the entire passage, but I always made sure I got up to the part of “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
4. 1 Corinthians 13
The passage is actually from St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. It is the most widely-known and admired segment of the collection.
I look to this passage, particularly Verse 4, to maintain a proper degree of humility on those occasions when, as they say in the song, “It’s Hard to be Humble.” Consider the words of that verse: “If I give all my possessions to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” And, by having love, the passage means the love that should be in the speaker’s heart, rather than the love the speaker should expect to receive from without.
Back during the so-called gilded age, when robber-barons exploited the Industrial Revolution to their advantage and the detriment of millions, those who amassed the great wealth took up philanthropy to combat the rage against them that the growing populist movement had begun to generate. Today, we have some major philanthropists, such as the Gates’ and Warren Buffet, who genuinely seem to care about their fellow human beings, while, on the other hand, we have financial tycoons who can’t even be bothered to pretend. I think this passage may be unnecessary for the former and altogether unnoticed by the latter.
By the way, without meaning to, St. Paul caused centuries of trouble for millions of Christians when he decreed that priests should not marry. Remember, Jesus Christ never preached such a doctrine. But, in this passage, Paul provided us all with inspirational words to live by.
3. Ecclesiastes 3
People (myself among them) tend to think of this passage simply as “Ecclesiastes,” but the beautiful poetry of the time for every purpose unto Heaven is actually the third chapter in the book of that name.
As many of you know, this passage was made into a wonderful folk song by Pete Seeger, a number of years ago. If you do not know it or, if you do and want to hear it again, please feel free to link to my second article about Favorite Folk Songs to Hear and Sing, where you will find another link to Seeger and the wonderful Judy Collins singing the song.
The passage serves to remind me that there is a time and place for everything in life, but it especially helps me through bad times. Because there are so many times for so many other, better things, I can stay aware that, whatever it is I hate, it too shall pass.
2. John 8: 1-11
If that reference does not ring a bell, it is the story about the stoning of the “adulteress” (actually, a prostitute). The sentiment Christ expressed in that passage, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” was a constant one in His teaching and philosophy. In the Book of Matthew, we have Him cautioning his listeners, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
We should not let ourselves be unduly confused by these passages. They warn us against hypocrisy and self-righteousness, but they are not meant to advocate a completely relativist way of thinking. Remember, at the end of the passage from John, He tells the prostitute, “Go and sin no more.”
We still should be entitled to our anger at evil in human form. Just because you may have swiped a candy bar from the grocery shelf when you were seven does not disqualify you from despising that notorious wrecker of peoples’ lives, Bernie Madoff, for his horrendous thievery. In doing so, though, we must remember that God, not we, will determine where he spends his afterlife.
I will have more to say about this passage in an upcoming book review.
1. Matthew 7:1
The Biblical passage I cited does not use the exact words by which we now know it, but this, the absolutely and unquestionably most influential passage in the entire Judeo-Christian ethic, is the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
So fundamentally important is this concept that it shows up clearly and unmistakably in at least six other religions: Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism and Zoroastrianism.
It is so simple and so universal, yet countless multitudes, throughout history, who could not be bothered to remember it, have made life a Hell on Earth for so many living beings.
Even if you are an atheist, does this not still apply to you? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s your whole package, right there.
The Bible, King James Version
Doug Marlette, Kudzu