Literally speaking

  • By TARI STAGE-HARVEY
  • Sunday, July 1, 2018 8:33am
  • Neighbors

We used to love reading the Amelia Bedelia stories when my kids were young because she took everything literally. She douses a woman with water for her wedding shower, cuts up Mrs. Rogers’ dress when asked to remove the spots, and turns right when Mr. Roger directs her to bear left (she wanted to avoid the bear).

Before “literally” peppered our language as a modifier to all our exaggerations, it meant, “taking words in their usual or most basic sense without metaphor or allegory.”

If you’ve never noticed while driving around Juneau, there are lots of churches. Half of us don’t talk to each other on a good day and say disparaging remarks on bad ones.

It breaks my heart and makes me kind of tired.

I’m going to imagine that all of these churches are seeking to be faithful and most consider the canon of scripture handed down to be true. (We can have all kinds of arguments about what truth means, but that’s a different article).

I’m guessing we disagree most about what parts to take literally. I hadn’t really thought about what I take literally until a young woman joined us for our 30 minute service, which is pretty much led by toddlers, and as she was leaving she said, “Wow, you take scripture literally when it says to welcome the little children.”

No one has ever said that to me. I can’t say I normally lean on the literal side — too much warning from Amelia Bedelia. But there are times.

There is another part of scripture that I take literally and it wakes me up sometimes at night.

Jesus gathers his mess of disciples, the zealot who opposes the government and the tax collector who gathers money for them; the brothers who fight over who is best; the one who claims to love him more than his own life and the one who betrays him, and Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (John 13:34).”

This is what we call the great commandment and there are great moments of shame when I realize how far from this command those who claim to follow Christ are, myself included.

So, I’d like to have an Amelia Bedelia moment and at least try to take these words in their usual or most basic sense, I’d like to figure out how to love my brothers and sisters in this community who claim to follow Christ. (Don’t fret, I hang out with those who don’t seek to follow Christ too, but again that’s another article).

We find at Shepherd of the Valley that it’s a lot easier to learn to love folks if music and food are involved so I’d like to host a party. This can get a little awkward because I’ve put invites to other churches out there before and some doors have been closed.

Anyway, I’m up for a party to figure out how to love as we are loved. I’m thinking Sunday, Aug. 12. Let’s say 6 p.m. and you can bring a dish to share and an instrument to play. I don’t really care who shows up; I just want to stop being a jerk and making assumptions about other churches and people. I still won’t stop the car to pick up the fork in the road, but literalism has its place.


• Tari Stage-Harvey is pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.


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