the event, held on the grounds of, and paid for by, a large church was called "red, white and blast." on one end of a large grassy field, a giant usa flag hung from a line supported by two "cherry-pickers" extended from utility trucks. at the other end of the field, bounce houses provided amusement for scores of children. hundreds of small usa flags marked the route leading to and from large parking lots and still more of the flags were planted around the field. families sat in lawn chairs and on blankets all over the field between the giant flag and the bounce houses, awaiting the arrival of dark and the promised fireworks spectacular, as vendors sold frozen treats and drinks on the pavement beside the field.
on the stage in front of the giant flag a brass ensemble played. during a break between songs the members of the musical group performed a skit in which one musician, acting the part of a baseball player, bemoaned the hiring of a new umpire to one of the other musicians, who played the role of a fellow baseball player. As a pretend pitch was thrown, the new umpire seemed to be unable to make a decision about whether the pitch was a strike or a ball, finally deciding it should be deemed a "strike-ball," exhibiting characteristics of both. the next pretend pitch made contact with a phantom bat, and the umpire, unable to determine "fair" or "foul," asked the audience to vote on what call should be made. this was too much for the players, who brought out the rulebook. the umpire pointed out that the rules called for "subjective" determinations to be made and that many of the rules were quite old and might no longer apply. the players stalked away, calling over their shoulders that there was no longer any reason to play a game that had no rules.
the obvious point of the skit was that society was abandoning the rule book, that is, the bible. without the biblical rule book, there was no point to life. right or wrong was determined by the position of the majority. there was no prevailing morality because the "objective" criterion of the rule book had been abandoned. the problem with this point of view is that the bible is not a rule book. it is a religious document that is often self-contradictory. those who espouse the rule-book view of the bible are the self-appointed umpires who get to choose which rules are to be obeyed and which are to be ignored. they claim to have an absolutist position on what is right and what is wrong, but even the most cursory examination of history demonstrates that the interpretation of the biblical rules changes over time. the practice of slavery that was supported by biblical rules is no longer considered to be right; this "right" has now become a "wrong." the legitimate use of birth control and abortion that evangelical christians once considered "right" has now become "wrong."
as a preacher i heard recently put it, there are many in our society who use the bible as a hammer with which they drive nails into the hands and feet of those with whom they disagree. they pick and choose which of its contradictory rules to follow; they ignore those they find unpleasant or "antiquated." they forget the simple, profound "rule" of micah 6:8: "what does the lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
may we not use any "sacred" book in ways that were never intended. may we instead use our reason as we read these books, gleaning what wisdom we can without using them as weapons against those who disagree with us. may we more concerned with cultivating lovingkindness and compassion within ourselves than we are in insisting that others conform to our views of right and wrong. shalom.