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Commentary Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 22, 2010

Well versed: Learning from life about Biblical verses

By Jo E. Prout

The Bible is not a textbook, but a book of historical poetry. One looks up verses, not empirical weights, in its pages.

This thought occupied me after reading last week’s Enterprise story about Joe Levinger, a man who escorts, or opens the door and welcomes, people into Planned Parenthood offices. I was charmed with his story; in his role as escort he personifies Christ on earth, reaching out to those who are weakest, those who are outcast, or those who seek relief from either physical or financial constraint.

The reason I kept reaching for my Bible after reading the article was to check the verse Levinger mentioned as being on pro-life — yes, “anti-abortion” works, too, but every cause wants to be positive — placards carried by protesters barricading Planned Parenthood offices. Levinger didn’t see the relevance of John 3:17. I kept wanting to correct him and say that he must have meant John 3:16, which is usually the verse seen on highway signs, bumper stickers, and cards floating in football stadium crowd shots. Then the Sunday School song “John 3:16” would get stuck in my head and I’d be distracted as I tried to extract it, annoying my family by singing and clapping it out several times.

“John 3:16 said that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall never die, but have eternal life.”

Are you clapping yet? Then, the song “First John 3:16” from the musical Operation Christmas Child would get stuck in my head, instead.

“This is how we show what love is, to meet a need with a Godly deed as we learn in First John three sixteen.”

And, while that song is still appropriate to associate with Levinger, as he does meet an unpopular and even a dangerous need by helping women as his Godly deed, singing it didn’t get me any farther with John 3:17.

A quick digression: How is helping women get safely to a place considered by some to be spiritually and physically harmful to woman and child a Godly deed? To answer this, you must look at the verb, not the noun. If you disagree, you probably stopped reading once you saw the words Christ and Planned Parenthood in the same, somewhat positive, paragraph. In that case, let me digress, again.

Last week’s Enterprise also featured a pull quote from someone upset about potholes. The poor man was quoted using the name Christ at the beginning of his sentence. We all know that being quoted is a nerve-wracking business, and that, unless one takes time to write out a statement, common language usage can be pretty, well, common.

Did the man swear on purpose? Maybe, or maybe not. Hel — , I mean, heck, even my minister says “Thank God,” a phrase that got me sent to my room or spanked as a kid. In my minister’s case, though, she (yes, she and not he) really means to thank God.

In my case, I learned early to switch to “Thank goodness.” Now, I use an approximation of what everyone knows I really mean when I want to say “Thank God,” unless I am serious enough at the time to truly and mindfully thank God, and then I say “Thank you, Lord,” because speaking to God and calling God “God” was also akin to being rude to the Lord, who could only be addressed as “Dear Lord” at the beginning of a prayer, or as “Yes, Lord,” interjected into one.

Now, as anyone who has ever studied theology knows, there are just as many interpretations as there are readers of the Good Book. Even so, I was surprised one year when another minister admonished me for using approximations and said that they were faux-curses.

I didn’t mean to curse when I said “geesh,” I swear! Or rather, I don’t! Or, to be honest, I curse like a sailor, but only when “geesh” doesn’t seem appropriate.

Cursing, this sin I bear, gets me back to John 3:17, once again. Here it is, for those of you without your handy dandy Bible on hand:

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

Here’s my dime-store interpretation: Jesus wasn’t born to judge us or to make us suffer. He was born so that all of us, even those of us who cross barricades to get birth control, or those of us who do things considered hurtful to God, are welcome to spend eternity with God, if we only accept that gift of Grace.

Those John 3:17 signs at pro-life protests, among so many negative but heartfelt slogans, can be interpreted as offerings of hope and love. Just like that open door held by a protective escort.


Jo E. Prout is a staff reporter for The Enterprise. Her freelance work has been published in religious periodicals. She is, like so many others, an ordained elder in the Reformed Church of America, and she enjoys giving Children’s Sermons more than attending chicken barbecues.

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