The American Bible Society just named Chattanooga the most Bible-minded city in America.
Good news? It's terrible news. Why couldn't we have ranked somewhere in the forgettable middle, crammed in between Waco (ranked 43rd out of 100) and Daytona Beach (65th)? We don't want to be at the front of the line like Peter, but rather on the outskirts, doubting and confused, like Thomas.
First place means the whole world's watching. First place means there is not one city in America that takes the Bible as seriously as we do.
Quick. We'd better get a few things in order.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.
Goodbye, 401(k). Adios, stock portfolio.
Jesus says not to invest in things of this earth, but to double down on the treasures of the spirit. Compassion. Prayer. Equanimity. All the things they don't sell at Walmart.
And get ready, Mr. Mayor. The next time you start talking about pensions, Christian protesters will flood the room, shouting about the sin of saving and storing up our money.
If they packed the house to oppose domestic partner benefits, just think of how angry they'll be about retirement funds, since Jesus talks amply about money (hint: he's not that partial to it) and never once about being gay.
Whatever you eat and drink, do so unto the glory of the Lord.
Next Sunday, I had planned on bathing in light beer and cheese dip, spending a fleshy four hours watching cheerleaders cavort while grown men -- whose combined salaries total more than some Third World countries' entire GDP -- brutalize one another for the chance to win really fat rings and tons of money.
It's called the Super Bowl.
And I'm starting to think it may be a sin.
You can't spell gluttony without g-u-t, and it's hard to experience Super Bowl Sunday without mass commercialism and consumption.
What would Jesus do?
What we really want to know is: What will Peyton do?
Every man that looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery.
At least Beyonce isn't performing at halftime again.
Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.
The top Bible city distinction is great news for the hundreds of homeless people
living in their vans and under the bridges, who undoubtedly will suddenly find themselves housed, fed and employed, as Chattanooga kills the fatted calf on their behalf.
It's wonderful news for all our nonprofits that run on budgets so thin they make shoestrings look fat. They'll be flush with money. (If we can't store it for ourselves, we have to do something with it.)
Every downtown block will have a homeless shelter. Just look at Portland, Maine. They're ranked 91st on the Bible list, and guess how many come-as-you-are, open-every-day, all-year homeless shelters they have?
(We have zero.)
"We have five," said Mark Swann.
Swann is executive director of Preble Street, a part soup kitchen, part shelter, part resource center for Portland's homeless poor. Back in the 1980s, Swann said, the city adopted a mantra: Nobody should ever sleep outside.
"It's part of Portland's values," he said.
And they're ranked 91st?
Lay down your swords.
Taken literally, this is bad news for Civil War reenactors. But with a touch of imagination, we can see that Jesus, who said this to his armed disciples, would in today's lexicon be talking about guns.
No more concealed carry. No more NRA. No more Stand Your Ground. No more guns in bars and trunks and parks.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Would this spell the end of political partisanship? Last call for military recruiters in the area? What does this mean for SEC rivalries?
What does any of this mean?
(It's a question I ask myself a lot while writing).
Let's be honest. The Bible? It's a bear of a book. One moment, I'm awash in divine love, the next, I've got Jesus telling me to sell my possessions, love my enemies and take up my cross.
It's like being embraced by a lover who's also a pickpocket. It's like standing on your head while the world turns upside down.
It's like losing your life.
"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die," Bonhoeffer wrote.
Who wants that? I'm telling you, we ought to tremble at this award, not ho-hum it. Can't we send it back? Thanks, but no thanks?
Because if we take it seriously, everything changes.
Judge not, lest ye be judged.
That doesn't apply to me, does it?
Contact David Cook at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...
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