Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Living the Bible Literally

I must warn that this blog will probably be a long one. Perhaps I’ll split this into multiple parts if I feel its gone on too long.

I just read “The Year of Living Biblically” by A.J. Jacobs. I’ll admit, my original attraction to this book was A) I needed a good book to read in the bathroom. (This means the chapters are somewhat short and entertaining.) B) I’ve been craving an essay collection written in the form of a comedy.

This book quickly moved from the bathroom to my workspace. It started out silly enough. Agnostic New Yorker, tries to get in touch with his spiritual side by following the bible as literally as he can. (Over 700 rules in the bible) It started out with a crazy man named Mr. Berkowitz that came over to A.J.’s house to check for clothing with mixed fibers.

The eccentric Berkowitz proves to be a sort of Mr. Miyagi, off putting to most, but those that want to listen will collect wisdom beyond the most scholastic college professor or learned religious leader.

A.J. discusses the meaning of Bible passages, rules, and traditions with several sects of Judaism and Christianity from Jerry Falwell, to snake handling Christians, to a gay Christian psychiatrists that runs a Friday night bible study, to the extreme right wing eccentric Jew like Mr. Berkowitz.

Every religious leader and sect brought some wisdom or explanation or tradition to the table (I told Amanda, my good friend and local Jewish expert that I want to celebrate Simchas Torah with her.)

This only helped confirm my belief that there is no one religion. There is no way everyone has gotten everything right and there is no way anyone has gotten everything wrong. The fighting that goes on within religious sects and because of religion is maddening to me when the one thing just about every major religion in the world promotes is peace and goodwill.

I want to pray with my friend Islamic friend Adnan, celebrate Simchas with Amanda, attend a Baptist potluck, go to temple with Alann and Becca (but since I’m locked out of the temple, I’ll settle for having intense talking with’s), and invite outsiders to a Catholic fish fry. There is something very divinely human about celebrating our likenesses and differences. How can we truly know what we believe until we experience what others have to bring to the feast? It’s vain and egotistical to think that “my religious beliefs are the right ones!” Religion is just the structure, faith and growth as a human being is where god truly is.

Ecclesiastes 6:12 says “For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?”

A.J. Jacobs soon finds that his life runs parallel to where his spiritual journey brings him. Often finding comfort in bible passages when his wife becomes pregnant, or his lust takes the best of him, or his constant stream of lies that he finds come from his mouth. There is some answer in the bible for him.

The heartbreaking part of the book is a friend of the authors is promised help from A.J. Without ruining the plot, he makes the promise and sort of puts it in the back of his mind. This friend ends up dead before A.J. can come through on his promise. It’s a heartbreaking lesson that all of us will learn at some point in our life. It’s one that even people that have learned it need a reminder. This book provided that reminder to me. I instantly flashed back to the death of my best friend Jake, and the immediate guilt and loneliness I felt.

This sort of lesson is relevant to the Storys’ life as of late. Sallie and I have spent so much time working that we only have on average 10 hours a week of free time. Every weekend we have obligations, usually with people we don’t really want to see. Does this happen to everyone? Do we have obligations to people we only marginally care for to take up our free time?

Basically free time or “personal development time” as I like to think of it, is in short demand. Overtime, commutes, chores, bills, obligations… these are all things that keep us from reaching that “nirvanic” state where we feel whole. Striving for something more is just human, but can we not get there because there is too much interrupting the journey?

Take a couple hours this weekend just to lay in the grass and think, and make sure you leave a weekend or two blank in your daily planner.