Many days, I tremble to read the Bible. It's no picnic, no easy street. There are lion's dens and crucifixions, miracles and lepers. A whirlwind God appears as a burning bush then demands me to forgive and love my enemies while warning me it's easier to fit through a needle's eye than sneak into heaven with my mutual funds.
Who wants that?
Yet, with a straight face, Nashville legislators passed a bill to make the Bible into Tennessee's official state book. It was a reckless, incoherent thing to do, and yes, probably unconstitutional, as well, which is one reason the governor vetoed the bill Thursday.
And, as some have said, the Bible is too holy to become a state book.
Yet the real hitch?
The Bible is an anthem for all that Nashville power doesn't represent.
The Bible is meant to be clutched in the least stately of places — a runaway shelter for gay teens, a squatter camp, under the fading dome light of a homeless family huddled in their car at a Wal-Mart parking lot, the wooden table where widows hunch over checkbooks, trying to choose between paying for medicine or the light bill.
That's where the Bible is most at home, not among a group of politicians who only recently and begrudgingly took down Confederate icons from the capitol, and, in one of the grossest gestures in state history, voted on the .50-caliber rifle as state weapon, which is not some flinty thing Davy Crockett carried but a weapon of mass destruction able to shoot planes out of sky praise Jesus!
The Bible locates power at the base or root of things, among the least of these, not among political campaigns or war chests. For the strongest political body in the state to endorse the Bible is a misappropriation and distortion of the Bible's message: the low made strong, the crooked straight, not the mighty become mightier.
Too many Nashville politicians seem like the kind of people who like to feast in front of hungry people, and they carry the Bible the way they might a gun: as a weapon. Endorsing the Bible as a state book with one hand while consistently sending a cruel message of anti-gay, anti-poor, anti-teacher, anti-Muslim, anti-Creation is the exact opposite of the Bible's call.
So why would they do it?
"Most people don't want religion. They want tribalism," says theologian Richard Rohr. "They don't want mystical union, they want to somehow define the legitimacy of their country, ethnicity or own neighborhood."
Making the Bible into the state book is an attempt at status quo belonging, like a sort of patriotic security blanket in King James verse.
Used in this way, the Bible represents the same things the Confederate flag did: old-time power and comfort. In this seemingly chaotic world, the Bible-as-state-book is like sticking a tent post deeper into the ground. In a time of fear, it reaffirms.
Yet Judaism and Christianity have always been about old ways becoming new. You cannot serve both God and the N.R.A.
One core theme of the Bible is a realignment of values and identification; what was once right is now left. North becomes south. The shepherd becomes king. The poor move to the front of the line. The giants are defeated by teenagers, no less. The slaves are freed, and the slave owners drowned among locusts and seawater.
The Bible is a waystation into the arms of God, who cares not about morality, but transformation.
The Bible is the shove at the end of the gangplank; it is less about security and more about walking on water, less about right versus wrong and more about finding the light among the great darkness.
Love, acres and acres.
Mercy, miles and miles.
Grace, forever and ever.
God's signature is inclusion, which means two things.
The kingdom of God already exists within the hearts and minds of all 6.5 million Tennesseans.
And God doesn't need any votes.
David Cook writes a Sunday column. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329.