I went back to Santa Barbara several years after moving to BC to look up my friend Lex Crane [Dr. John Alexie Crane]. It was quite amazing: we just started talking as if there had been no separation! I showed him the ms for my planned book on the bible and he said he would read it. He then agreed to write a brief forward:
The Bible. It has for centuries loomed very large indeed in our society, our culture. So, you have no doubt thought about it, wondered about it from time to time. If you were brought up in a tradition that celebrates the Bible, you may, out of curiosity, have tried occasionally to read it, and each time found it be a strange, exotic, and baffling work. Opaque.
As indeed it is for those who encounter it without some preparation. The Bible was written centuries ago, in an ancient culture, with a world view radically different from our own. As a result, there are things you need to be aware of before you can penetrate the veil of time that is draped over it.
In addition, most of us find it difficult to approach the Bible dispassionately, without prejudice. We read it through a haze of culturally induced preconceptions (whether positive of negative). The mist that clouds the Bible has been, for both believers and non-believers, a serious obstacle to their reading the text with clear understanding and appreciation of its contents. When we approach it with open minds, with awareness of its historical and cultural context, it emerges as a work with remarkable properties.
It is helpful to have a guide to enable you to find your way to the rich rewards the can make available to you. Robert Lane, the author of this book you are now holding, is an eminently qualified and gifted guide.
First of all, he has a deep affection for and long acquaintance with the stories of the Bible: he has for many years taught courses (among many others) in the Bible as a literary work, on that he himself found richly provocative to reflect upon, has found to be stimulating in his thinking about the problems and possibilities of human existence.
Second, the author approaches the Bible free of any dogmatic assumptions. He is not a believer in the Bible, but rather a lover of its riches. Third, he has a profound knowledge of the cultural context out of which the Old and New Testaments emerged; fourth, he is a trained, practiced, and sensitive literary critic, since he taught English and American literature for many years.
Fifth, he has studied and taught philosophy, including logic, for years, and this is reflected in the quality of his thinking. It is at once precise, disciplined, and sensitive. It repeatedly reflects strength in logical thought, in philosophical insight, as well as a high level of literary sensibility.
Lane is a unique combination of philosopher, artist, scholar, and literary critic, moved by passion as well as by precision of thought. Even all this, however, does not give a full inventory of his talents. He also taught mathematics to pilots in the US Marine Corps. He is competent at repairing automobiles, at building houses, and is entirely at home in the new world of computers. He is without doubt a fully alive and creative human being.
What you have here, in this book, is an author, a guide with an extraordinary range of gifts who will open or eyes to the meaning and beauty caught up in the stories of the Bible, will enable you to use them as an endless source of reflection and insight, not only into the human adventure but also into yourself, your own person, set down in the context of this larger adventure.
Consider, as an example, the provocative distinction Lane makes between official line and story line, that is, between the accepted world view of the writers of the Bible, the set of generally accepted assumptions from which they worked, and, on the other hand, the lasting contents of the stories themselves, their history and philosophical merits.
This pair of ideas (among a great many others in the book) is likely to open up congenial pathways for you in the thicket of biblical narrative, and traveling along these paths will undoubtedly enrich your awareness of the world and yourself set down in it.
I had described our relationship in the introduction:
“When not at the university I spent my time cleaning the Unitarian Church in Santa Barbara, which meant that I had the opportunity to talk with Lex Crane, who was ministering there then. His background in literature was extensive and we used to have long talks about “meaning” while I should have been cleaning the toilets. I flirted with the idea of becoming a Unitarian minister, but never got the “call.” Because of this and more, I believe the Bible is worth reading and studying, not as moribund scripture but as living literature.” [from Reading the Bible: Intention, Text, Interpretation]
Lex is writing his memoirs now and has a paragraph on our friendship:
“A Philosophical Friend from Far Off”
Early in my ministry in Santa Barbara, I became the lifelong friend of a janitor who worked at the church. He was not an ordinary janitor. He was a former US Marine and a student at the nearby campus of the University of California. Better still, he was, like myself, an English major. So we had a lot in common. Furthermore, the church had bought the property adjacent to the church, and on it there was an old house that at that time was vacant. Even before we became friends, he had moved into the house with his wife, Karen. Bob and I spent a great deal of time discussing literature, politics, and philosophy. His interest in philosophy moved him later to earn a PhD in the subject, and he began teaching it at a college on the east side of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. He’s been there for years now.
Ginny and I visited him, and he now and then came to stay in Santa Barbara at the University Club on UCSB’s campus. We, of course, got together then, and kept in touch regularly by email. We also used email as a medium for philosophical debate. I was somewhat handicapped in this digital dialogue because he was an exceedingly rational humanist, as well as a specialist in logic. I cautioned him to beware of logic, as it is an organized way of going wrong with confidence. But he brushed this aside as inconsequential.
In addition, he regarded religion with hostility. I found it impossible to penetrate his defenses, but this did not undermine my lasting affection for him. I first encountered Bob in about 1960. Here it is 50 years later, and the friendship continues. He’s a good man. He is also unusually bright, and hard headed. But lovable, even with all his faults.
Bob Lane and Lex Crane 2008 Santa Barbara
Read one of Lex’s sermons here.