When I preach, I try to find a middle ground where I can say something that accommodates the people's faith and keeps me from feeling like a big liar. I can do it by focusing on the text, identifying what's really happening in that text, and what its message is.
Those people who claim the Bible is inerrant actually believe it to be a written form of god's presence, something to be read and heard with great superstition. Okay, they don't actually have to know its content, they're happy just to fear it.
I actually still like the Bible, and I value it as I do all classic literature. It sheds light on the culture of the times and much of it is still interesting, especially since it has no superstitious hold on me anymore. And I like to teach people to study it critically, as I do at the local college.
So I can relay the meaning of a biblical passage with a certain honesty. And I can speak of right and wrong, as well as mercy and insight and love and generosity and the healing of persons.
And perhaps I can still use the authority that people thrust on me with their superstitions.
This morning I was visiting the nursing home. I sing the old songs with them while I play the guitar and I give them a little preaching to go with the music. Afterward, I shook their hands like I always do and one lady, whose awareness sort of fades in and out, was shaking her head, saying something quietly. I bent down to hear her say repeatedly, "I just don't believe. I just don't believe. I just don't believe."
I touched her shoulder and said, "I'm sorry."
"I am too," she whispered.
It was hard to have a protracted intellectual discussion with a wheelchair bound woman in a crowded room that was busy getting ready for dinner. It's loud and neither of us hear well and it's hard for her (or us) to focus anyway. So I couldn't talk much.
"If god is real," I said, "then he still loves you even if you don't believe. And if he's not real, it's still okay."
I don't know if it got through, but it made me feel a little better.
No matter what, it's okay.