Moore: From black and white to living color (column)
Happy Sunday, coffee lovers. Last month I described how the simple joy of a cup of coffee is possible because of the art, complexity and labor of coffee roasting. As a follower of Christ, I see this same dynamic at work when it comes to the Bible. Even if you aren’t a person of faith, you probably are familiar with at least a few famous Bible verses, such as John 3:16.
We Christians like to serve up these statements like single cups of coffee while understanding what the Bible really says is more akin to the art of coffee roasting. Let me share a parallel analogy, this one from an incredible film I saw a few weeks back, the World War I documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old.”
Released to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I, this documentary produced by Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings”), is a remarkable film focused on the humanity and experience of the young English soldiers on the Western Front. The project involved four years of painstaking restoration of 100-year-old black and white film, overlaid with narration by actual English World War I veterans.
We’ve all seen this vintage footage. Filmed on hand-cranked cameras, the film is jerky, grainy, blurred and spotted by 100 years of degradation. In restoring the film, Jackson’s team employed state of the art technology to give a natural speed, reduce the blurry and grainy distortions, and bring realistic colorization to the footage. Most remarkable was the addition of sound to these originally silent tracks, including voices, down to the local accents of these very real human beings.
The deeply moving result is a transformation of something very old and distant into an experience of who these young men were and the suffering and sacrifice they endured. Whereas before the film showed a barely recognizable face blurred by 100 years of time, now we see the living, speaking and emotional face of a young man who could be our neighbor, brother or son. Even if you aren’t a history fan, I highly recommend this film.
Here’s my point. To so many — including Christians — scripture is like a vintage film. Set in a time we don’t remember, written in a historical context we don’t understand, in a language difficult to translate, the Bible becomes a series of blurry images telling a story rooted in history, but distant from our own lives and experience.
Part of this problem is our attempt to understand these texts as if they were written last year, in English, in bite-size chunks devoid of context. This can lead to all sorts of confusion and misunderstanding, as a message vibrant and transformative to first-century hearers becomes for us a single frame from blurry footage filmed 2,000 years ago. Similar is the phenomenon of people taking an issue and proclaiming, “this is what the Bible clearly says” with their basis being a bite-size chunk devoid of context as if written in English last year. In both scenarios, it’s like taking a frame of 100-year-old World War I film and assuming that life in 1918 must have been in blurry black and white moving a little too fast, because, well, that’s what it looks like now.
Friends, opening the Bible doesn’t have to be like watching a vintage film. But transforming the grainy black and white into living color takes time, effort, thought and tools — a task most people decline. It’s much easier to take someone else’s word for what scripture says, or just ignore it as an ancient relic with no relevance to life today. I humbly suggest both of those paths miss a great richness that comes from personally engaging what Christians claim to be the word of God. Even if this isn’t your belief, I dare you to join me for a dive into the New Testament. Pick a topic, and let’s go there. Over coffee, of course.
Ethan is the pastor of Trinity Church in Edwards. He and his wife Lisa have lived in the valley since 1995. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he would love to have a cup of coffee with you.