The Day The Music Died
What did it for me was "Lasciviousness." I might need to explain: not the word so much as the way we used it. I was probably fourteen at the time and had been very well schooled in every doctrine and argument of the church. No kidding: I had read all of Foy E. Wallace Jr.'s books, all three volumes of "Axe at the Root" by Ira Rice, and every Freed-Hardeman lectureship book printed up to that time. I had read scores of debate books and listened to hundreds of sermons by red faced men damning the world and the church for their errors (I tried to sit back three or four rows to get out of the splash zone, but my parents feared that was a sign of backsliding and ordered me forward again). I was ready to face my hormone-laden years with all the pat answers and slogans with which the true church had faced down the devil, Baptists, Democrats, and Elvis over the last several decades.
Until a kid at school asked me a question. He had noticed that I had Dared to Be A Daniel; I was a true pioneer of the faith, a martyr for the cause of Christ. He could tell all that because I didn't dance. While the rest of the gym class skipped and toed their way into the arms of Beelzebub, I had a note from my parents allowing me to sit -- and sit in judgment -- oozing pure righteousness from every pore. While the rest of my peers folk danced their way right into the fiery pit where they would forever dance on the hot coals of their own sins, I was all right with God. I told my friend that I didn't dance because the Bible said not to. There was even a word in the Bible for dancing: lasciviousness. My friend asked me for some materials on the subject and boy was I ready! I showed up the next day with three tracts against dancing I'd grabbed from the church's welcome table (yes, we had three tracts on the subject at our welcome table...), all of which used extensive arguments about how dancing led to pregnancy, liberalism, alcoholism, and car wrecks. We had been warned, for the Bible railed against lascivious behavior and the word "lascivious" meant "dancing." I knew that for sure because I had been told it time and again and it was in the tracts, too.
My friend had the gall to question my definition of the word "lascivious" so I trotted off to my father's huge library and pulled out all the Greek books and thesaurus's I could find. I poured over them for days before the music died: Lascivious didn't mean dancing. It wasn't even mentioned in any of the definitions. I searched for days, but I didn't dare ask anyone at church about it because asking questions was a sure sign of imminent perdition. Right after this, we had a youth rally (old style, where red faced preachers yelled at us between songs sung out of Sacred Selections...) where lascivious and dancing were equated constantly. My faith was breaking.
I knew something that didn't fit with what I had been told. More followed. I can remember being taught that the Bible was a simple book: if you just read it, you would understand it. The reason other churches didn't do as we did? They didn't believe the Bible! Simple, really. We even made fun of churches that had educated preachers because you didn't need any education to understand the Bible.
And then a friend asked me a question. Is it a sin to drink a beer, even if you don't get drunk? I assured him that it was a terrible sin and went off to get the most firepower I could (but not firewater) to prove the point. One of my main sources was a book called "The Bible, The Saint, and The Liquor Industry" by Jim McGuiggan (one of the finest men I know, by the way, and none of what happens next should indicate otherwise! It isn't his fault I'm an idiot). He dissected the words for wine and drink to the nth degree; so much so that my head spun with the complicated nature of the whole subject. My belief that the Bible was a simple book died that week. Without a ton of knowledge and wisdom there was no way to get out of those words what Jim did. And that was just the beginning. I found that the more I read, the more complicated some things got. I ended up having to say with Peter that some things Paul wrote are just very hard to understand. I had to admit to people that I wasn't sure what Ezekiel had in mind sometimes and I didn't have a moment to moment timeline of what was going to happen when the world ends (although that filmstrip, "The Day Christ Came Again" was a real cracker, wasn't it?).
Now I am 48 and hurtling down the track towards 49. I am less certain of many of our arguments than I used to be. I listen more and argue less. I do a lot of shrugging and saying, "I really don't know." But one thing I know: the more these old weights drop off me the clearer I see Jesus in scripture and in life. The less I fight with other believers -- including my own brothers -- the more time I have to act like Jesus. I haven't arrived yet -- far from it -- but I have found the journey a wonderful thing.
For the less I know, the more I know. The less I see, the more I believe. The less certain I am, the more trusting I am. In my weakness, His strength is a thing to inspire awe.
[Cheerio, my friends. I leave Friday morning on a cruise to celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary (thank you, Jesus!). We will return, the Lord and Carnival Cruises willing, on the evening of July 9th. Sad to say -- but true -- I won't be thinking of you very often, but when I get back I'll think about you extra hard, okay? You can always listen to my lessons online at www.rochestercoc.org. Until then, may grace and peace be with you, especially when certainty can't be]