from the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Reflections magazine
by Fran Torres Lopez
I imagine there are a variety of reasons why a person reads the Bible. But I never asked the question, “Why do I read the Bible?” until a few years ago when it was posed by an agnostic co-worker. The two of us engaged in periodic walks where conversation ranged from work and gardening to faith and family life.
Impassioned by my co-worker’s question, I explained that I read the Bible because life is complicated at times and the Bible feels as if I have access to the journals of my great-grandmother’s ancestors. I read looking to see what wisdom and lessons were learned by my ancestors that could help guide me in my living today.
The argument could be made that our biblical ancestors lived in times irreconcilably different from our own. I have found that while this might be true in a technological sense, it is not true when it comes to common concerns of the human soul and to humanity’s continued struggle to live out God’s purpose.
In my own life, my entry into adulthood was a struggle. In one sense, my wife and I were living the perfect life. We had no debt, good jobs, excellent retirement funds, and a great house in a cute historic neighborhood that we were set to pay off by the time we were 30.
Like many Americans we spent most weekends consuming. We consumed the next best piece of furniture, a nice home surround-sound system, a closet overflowing with name-brand clothing, and an endless supply of unhealthy food. After living that way for a few years I realized that though we had everything I thought our culture told us we needed for a happy life, I was miserable and life felt meaningless.
This realization led me through a time of darkness that eventually manifested into a period of conversion where we sold and gave a lot away, started going to church again, and after a period of years landed in a biblical reflection group facilitated by the Rev. Dr. John Lewis and the Rev. Dr. Jane Patterson of St. Benedict’s Workshop. The reflection group helped me identify a subtle desire I had as an adult — which was to live a good and meaningful life.
The biblical reflection group also gave me something I took for granted that I now realize is indispensable: a community. For me, reading the Bible in community is one of the best ways to encourage the application of its lessons into daily living. This became clear to me when a friend from the reflection group emailed me the following quotation by the writer Wendell Berry:
“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world — to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it” (The Art of the Commonplace).
This prompted me to purchase and read all of Berry’s essays in The Art of the Commonplace. Berry’s words gave further structure to the vague desire I had to live a good and meaningful life by making the case that the Bible, and Christianity in particular, could offer a way for what the Buddhists call “right livelihood” which involves making a living in a way that does not cause harm. Berry elaborates on this idea with examples like the one from Deuteronomy 22:6-7:
“If you come across a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long.” English Standard Version (ESV)
The guidance offered in these verses is, as Berry puts it, “a perfect paradigm of ecological and agricultural discipline, in which the idea of inheritance is necessarily paramount. The inflexible rule is that the source must be preserved. You may take the young, but you must save the breeding stock. You may eat the harvest, but you must save seed, and you must preserve the fertility of the fields.”
The experience of reading the Bible in community and reading the works of authors like Berry, Walter Brueggemann, and Ron Rolheiser led me to ask questions like: “How can I say I love myself and my neighbor if I knowingly put poison in our water supply by using harsh weed killers in my yard?” And “If God said creation was good, what kind of steward of creation does my faith compel me to be?” And “How can I engage in my livelihood in a way that is pleasing to God?”
All of these questions prompted small changes in my own life and the life of my family. We read Wendell Berry’s book Bringing it to the Table and over time changed the way we shopped and ate. We began to consider how we spent our money and whether or not it supported ethical practices. We looked for foods that were grown and raised in a sustainable manner with ethical treatment towards the laborers and livestock.
In my work as a software developer I became increasingly interested in making small, continuous process improvements in how we build and maintain software systems. Why do this? Because I believe that God sees us as good and that he loves humanity and wants peace and sustainability for us, not an economy of stress, complexity, and misery.
Reading the Bible and allowing it to influence my daily living is a continual journey. Admittedly it is sometimes a discipline; however, over time I hope to see the fruits of a life well-lived offered to the various communities in which I participate.
Fran Torres-Lopez is a software developer who lives in San Antonio. She is a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.