When I was very young (pre-teenage) we lived almost directly across the road from an independent grocer’s shop – the sort typified in ‘Open All Hours’ on BBC TV. (The shopkeeper was much nicer than Arkwright). One of the thrills was being sent across the road (looking both ways and watching and listening as I went) to buy something, especially if I had some pocket money and could buy some sweets. This was in the ‘good old days’ when we had 1/2p coins and you could get several little sweets for 1/2p.
You would pick up a little paper bag and browse the shelves for your favourite little sweets: a couple of fruit salads, maybe a gobstopper, a lollipop and if I was really going to splash out a small bar of chocolate. With the paper bag stuffed full of the little sweets you would go up to the counter and offer the bag along with the collection of copper coins you had scrimped and saved (or found down the back of the sofa) and hope that you had added it up right.
Or, you would peruse the wonderful array of jars of sweets behind the till and ask for a quarter of bon bons or sherbert lemons. The shopkeeper would tip them into the stainless steel tray on the scales and you would watch carefully as the needle crept up towards the limit of what you could spend. And then, just as the needle stopped at the quarter mark, joy of joys the shopkeeper would pop an extra one on the scales!
I think this is why today I like ‘Pick’n’mix’. It reminds me of those childhood visits to the shop across the road. It requires a similar level of discernment to get the most out of it, but I think it is also a way of me being the shopkeeper. And of course you can leave alone the sweets you don’t like. I like the opportunity to choose a couple of sweets from one section, a couple from the other, and so on. It used to be that pick’n’mix was paid for by weight so the trick was to find the lightest sweets so you get lots. Now many are paid for by quantity (how many you can fit in a cup) so the trick now is to find the smallest sweets, or the heaviest ones, so you get more for your money.
Before you get worried about the state of my teeth or my waistline let me say that I don’t often buy pick’n’mix. Indeed I honestly can’t remember the last time I did. But I like the idea and the experience when it happens.
I have heard people criticise others for having a ‘pick’n’mix’ attitude to faith. They like the stories Jesus told, but they also like the idea of reincarnation and they are rather keen on Buddhist meditation, with perhaps a few crystals and horoscopes thrown in for good luck (literally). And this mixture of different religions and superstitions forms ‘what works for me’. In our tolerant society that is deemed the appropriate evaluation tool. If it works for you, it’s okay.
That would be okay if there weren’t some serious contradictions in all of that. Jesus’ teaching, for example, was somewhat exclusive: he taught that he was all you need to know about God, the only way to be reconciled to God, and the one who enables us to live life in all its fullness. That is not a ‘laissez faire’ approach to faith.
Christians may well be nodding and agreeing with me at this. You may even hear a loud ‘Amen!’ from some of them.
So why is it that we have the same ‘pick’n’mix’ attitude to the Bible? Why do we have the same attitude to what Jesus said? We are happy to quote some parts of the Bible out of context and apply them to reinforce our view of things but happy to ignore those which contradict us. We are happy to universalise Jesus telling Nicodemus that he must be ‘born again’ but not him telling the rich young man to ‘go, sell all your possessions, give the money to the poor and then come and follow me.’ If Jesus is ‘all or nothing’ for everyone then surely he is ‘all or nothing’ for us too?
I know, I know. Lots of you are jumping up and down excitedly and shouting that you have to look at the context. I agree. I definitely agree. So how about we agree not to lob phrases of the Bible at one another without also considering the context in which those words are found? How about we agree not to approach the Bible with our preconceived ideas of what it means and instead let God speak to us through it?
That’s dangerous. It’s difficult. But isn’t it what Jesus’ friends had to do when he was speaking to them? How many times do the gospel writers tell us that Jesus’ friends wondered what he meant, murmured to each other that what he was saying was difficult, or just bluntly came to him and said that they didn’t understand? I think it was because he often challenged their preconceived ideas (we might say prejudice) about how God saw things. It’s not that Jesus thought outside the box, he broke out of the box and destroyed it in the process!
Which parts of the Bible would you choose in a pick’n’mix? Which parts don’t you pick?
Be blessed, be a blessing