Laotian folks, when recounting their own individual pilgrimages, used to tell me how mercantile their Buddhist temples were back home in Laos. The temple, they said, became a place for business--of all kinds. Since it was, in many ways, the center of the community, it simply swallowed up other functions, becoming Wall Street, Main Street, and even Las Vegas. The place was corrupt, they told me, explaining at least part of their motivation to become Christian.
Yesterday, the gospel reading from the church year was that remarkable passage where Jesus, the Prince of Peace, gets so cranked that he becomes Dodge City's Marshall Dillon, flipping temple tables as if the the place had become a Laotian (or Las Vegan) casino.
Our preacher maintained that the temple businessmen actually played required roles in the religious life of the community; after all, to buy a goat or a lamb for sacrifice required the standard currency. The money-changers, weren't Shylocks at all, but good pious folks.
Interesting. If our preacher's vision of things is accurate, Christ's rant, whip in hand, feels even more blood-curdling. I always thought the temple businessmen were cut from the same cloth as Laotian temple shysters. If they were essentially good upright folks, it's much tougher to understand Jesus's rage.
When I hear that story, I remember the late 60s because in my anti-war years Christ's industrial-strength cleansing of the temple was wonderfully endearing. That Jesus was someone I liked. His smackdown of those white-collar creeps was perfectly counter-cultural and made anti-war violence, well, legitimate. If the Prince of Peace could turn the temple upside down, then why couldn't his followers upset cultural applecarts? Shut down the universities! Strike the military/industrial complex! Power to the people!
Like many other boomers (like McCains, the Clintons, W, and Cheney), I'm still haunted by that war, still not sure I was right, even though I'm less sure the Nixonians were.
But when I look back now, it's easy to determine how dangerous it is to spin scripture--for all of us. The Bible is really divinely-inspired firewater, or so it seems: you have to be generous in your vigilence when you use it, and very prudent about a designated driver. Calvin will do--or Luther. You can do worse than Aquinas, too--or Augustine.
But then, no one's got it all down, and we're all aces at spinning. Me too.