Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain (Psalm 119:36)
Remember the reindeer games from which poor Rudolph was excluded? Seems there’s more to that than a cute Christmas ditty.
In his fine book Death by Suburb, David Goetz tells about Valerius Geist. Geist is a cervid biologist, which means he knows more about the deer family than most people will ever care to know. Geist generated a buzz among biologists by positing the theory of the “shirker bull.” Shirker bulls are bulls that don’t like to play the reindeer games or any other kind of deer games for that matter.
Among elk and deer there’s a fall ritual in which the bulls square off against each other, butting heads and seeking dominance over other bulls and favor with the does. According to Geist, a “shirker bull” refuses to knock heads. This means that the shirker often grows very large antlers. Geist suggested that those prize heads mounted over lodge fireplaces are likely the heads of shirkers. They have a full spread of antlers because they won’t fight. They won’t engage.
For reasons that escape me, when it comes to the Bible it’s far too easy to be a shirker. We simply will not engage the text. I caught myself this morning. I was supposed to be reading my Bible. Instead I let most of an hour get by me while I sat and thought of something to write that would encourage people to read their Bibles. What’s wrong with that picture?
We talk about the bible and listen to others talk about it in sermons. We debate the Bible with folks we don’t like and give Bibles as gifts to those we do like. Some of us even grew up singing about the B-I-B-L-E yes that’s the book for me.
However, when it comes to reading the Bible we’re somewhat haphazard. We may go long stretches and not read it at all. We don’t engage the text, wrestle with what it means, grapple with how its words speak to 21st century people. That’s hard work, easily left undone. We’re shirkers.
The Bible is a book that requires engagement on two levels.
First, we have to engage the text itself. Let’s admit that the Bible isn’t always an easy book. Getting those words from there to here is sometimes heavy lifting. It’s worth noting that Satan tempted Jesus in the desert by quoting the Bible. His application was faulty but he knew the words. How do we know who is handling scripture responsibly? We won’t know without some effort. Engage the text.
But as we engage the text we also need to engage the world. Shirkers are sometimes those who know alot about the Bible, but never live it in service to others. Their heads are full of bible knowledge, but their lives are narrow and insulated. Hands that hold the sacred book ought not to be too clean.
Today would be a great day to declare your Bible a “no shirking zone.” Open the Bible, lower your head over the text and engage. Engage the words. Engage the world.
Give me a willing heart and a searching mind, O Lord. Teach me to read your words with a listening ear. Help me to be diligent and attentive before you, that what I learn I may then live to the glory of your name and for the good of the world you love. Amen.