The Graffiti Bible
The Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow has a new exhibit. As part of its ‘Made in God’s Image’ exhibition it is showing an open copy of the bible, together with a notice inviting visitors to add their own message. ‘If you feel you have been excluded from the Bible,’ it reads, ‘please write your way back into it.’
Visitors have responded in large numbers, leaving messages all over the bible: ‘this is all sexist pish, so disregard it all’; ‘I am bi, female and proud. I want no god who is disappointed in this.’ However after a large number of offensive messages and expletives the exhibit had to be placed under glass, with pen and paper provided for visitors to leave thoughts which could be inserted into the bible later.
The idea behind the exhibit resonates well with our society. We do not live in a secular society. Most people today would say they believe in God, and many would describe themselves, not as religious, but definitely spiritual. The god that suits the modern man or woman, though, is not the God of the bible. People are searching for meaning but there is an instinctive distrust of authority, of institutional religion, of a limit to personal freedom. My ‘god’ is a spiritual force that represents who I am, my spirituality is constructed around my needs and circumstances. If I – the person I believe myself to be and the things I feel define me – feel excluded from the Bible then it must be the Bible that is at fault.
Now of course there has been far too much excluding done through the history of the Christian church. Too often we have sought power instead of servanthood, respectability instead of God’s bias to the poor and marginalised. If women, black people, homosexuals or anyone else feels that there is no place for them in the church then those of us who have found God’s grace and a place to belong should be asking ourselves some very hard questions.
Foremost among those questions is the issue of pride. For there is one issue which is not negotiable with God, one bit of baggage we can never carry into the Kingdom of Heaven, and that is pride. Nobody is written out of the bible, excluded from God’s kingdom. But apart from grace none of us has the right of entry either. We cannot write our own way back in but need to seek God’s forgiveness and his transforming power to make us the people he calls us to be. To find our true selves in his image, rather than remaking him in ours. That applies to us whose faces fit in church circles just as much as those who feel excluded – perhaps more so, because like the tax collector they have glimpsed a gap between them and God, whereas we like the Pharisee may well think we have something positive to offer (Luke 18:9-14)!
Jesus once described the Kingdom of Heaven as a pearl of great price, so worthwhile that anyone who found it would sell all they possessed to own it (Matthew 13:45,46). Many nowadays would rather collect nuggets of philosophy and experience, like a string of pearls, and fashion them to suit their own needs and taste. In fact even in Jesus’ day this was a popular view of religion. But God’s word to us – not just the Bible but his personal and loving communication in Jesus – is not one way among many, it is priceless and unique. We do not add it to our personal collection but give up all we have and all we are to be part of it, because it is the only way to a truly abundant life.
(Information on exhibition from The Times, July 23rd & 29th. Gospel commentary: Matthew for Everyone, Tom Wright).
Jane Cornish is a Reader at All Saints church in Ipswich. She is actively involved with local Traidcraft activities, and regularly contributes to Scripture Union Daily Bread Bible notes. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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