The Conversation Stopper

Photo: Michael Smith
Photo: Michael Smith
By Tommy Airey

People who believe that
don’t really care about the Bible, though—
he said it with so
much certainty—like he was coached,
like his life depended on being Right every time.
Anything less is a crime.

If it’s an abomination, well, it’s an abomination.
It obviously goes against creation.
Like he actually knew what an “abomination” was,
like the Bible was just published
in English,
replaced by sentiment,
as if it was all self-evident
like all men are created equal.

Well, Jesus said that the poor
would always be among us
(italics not in the original Greek).
She whipped it out like she
had a concealed carry permit for it,
pulled the trigger—conversation stopper.

He chimed in again: if you confess
with your lips that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart
that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved. Six inches from heaven
is what he told me—it’s got to be felt.
Or else. And be sure to get
the capitalization and gender right.

The Bible: quote it and don’t doubt it.
Just turn the pages and freely spout it.
It’s great for morale too:
true believers vs. everybody else.
First: the Jews.
Then: anyone with a dark-skinned hue.
Queers for fears too.
Hate the sin, love the sinner:
that’s what I do!
(quoting Gandhi without knowing it)

Speaking of Gandhi:
he read the Sermon on the Mount
every day of his civil disobedient life.
It was his playbook—
caused him some serious strife.
That’s not what the Sermon’s for though
(said his Christian oppressors).
It’s there to show us
how sinful we are,
how far
we are from heaven,
point us to the seven
deadly sins,
teach us to feel sorry, to grovel,
to remind us we need The Savior.
Or else. Hallelujah.

Life is straight-forward:
attend class, work your ass off,
go to church, give birth,
buy a home, elevate your pay,
don’t be gay, national anthem before every game,
exercise, celebrate Christmas,
order it on Amazon Prime, be on time,
obey the law and you will be treated just fine.
Officer Friendly’s always laying his life on the line.
It’s all backed by the Bible:
Be fruitful and multiply and
fill the earth and subdue it and
then submit to the governing
authorities, instituted by God alone.

Remember: the only thing that stops
a bad guy with a gun is
a good guy with a gun. Is that
in the Bible? No: just Uncle
Crazy muttering at the Thanksgiving table.
The local Bible Church
betrayed him with a kiss,
turning the cross
into a personal penal-substitutionary wand,
scrubbing it of every uncomfortable,
inconveniently awkward
critique of power and privilege.

Centuries of communities, Professor Walter assures,
have found these texts to be carriers of
and witnesses to the most compelling offer of
a meaningful, responsible, coherent life.

We refuse to throw out the Bible
with the backwater, listening for the dialogue,
always subjecting it to context—
the ancient writing and the always reading.
(this is me talking now).
A Script with choices
needs checks and balances,
especially with all these voices
in our heads.

A rich tapestry of meaning, brimming with
multiple levels of truth, promises Sister Johanna,
for all convinced a redemptive
word from God can be found, and
who possess the courage to ask
disturbing questions all around.

Packaging this Text into
conventional wisdom has been costly,
exposed as a fraud time and time again.
The herd predictably misses the boat and then
claims the Right side of history
years too late. After all the damage has been done.
We can seek community,
authentic & vulnerable, hashing all of this out.
Playing our roles, not checking each other,
not wrecking each other’s souls
like Trump cards—fear combed over!

When we listen, Brother Brian gestures,
God’s Voice becomes an inaudible whisper
whose breathings jangle
the nerves of the human spirit.

The Breath of God, a warm halitosis
confronting and challenging those of us above—
a shove to the overeducated and underconscienced,
nights filled with movie line babbles,
drinking our bubbles,
so sure we know the poor woman’s troubles
with our bird’s eye view,
our pensions glued
to Apple’s revenue.
Inerrancy’s a conspiracy, it inherently
comforts those down below, one day
oppressors will reap what they sow, hoping,
praying, straining that the Movement will grow.

As the empire reckons, Uncle Ched beckons,
Scripture solicits commitment from the reader:
repent, resist and listen to
the perspective of the periphery!

Accountability? Personal responsibility?
Let me be candid, perhaps a bit offensive:
when sweet Jesus preached hell
he was talking to believers,
Bible beaters and achievers. So
when the saints go marching in,
don’t be so certain you’ll
be in that number. We gotta wake up from our
trash heap smoldering neo-liberal slumber.

Let’s put these precious
textual variants to the test,
scripting us into a quest:
to reanimate the life of Jesus,
poets and prophets privileged
over priests and Presidents,
finding it conducive
to risk imperial cred
for the sake of peace and justice,
feasting at the inclusive
table of grace, mercy and forgiveness
on a daily basis.
Then we knock down
pints of humility, service and enemy love.
After all, we, too, must be gluttons and drunkards.
Or in the self-evident words of Leviticus:

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