Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Confessions of a Biblically Illiterate Seminarian

This may sound strange coming from a minister, but I really never knew much about the Bible growing up. Sure, I went to Sunday school every week, but we spent a lot more time gluing sequins to cardboard crosses than we did delving into scripture. I had a Bible story book that told some of the more child-friendly biblical tales. (And also some less child-friendly ones: I was fascinated by the story of Samson, whose eyes were gouged out.) I memorized the twenty-third psalm and learned to sing the books of the bible in order (I can still do it), and in Sunday school we would usually read a verse or two. But I never really got a handle on what the different books of the Bible were, or where to find the familiar parts, or what to make of the rest. Wisdom books, epistles, apocalypses… it was all Greek to me!

In my youth group experience, a talented lay leader helped us learn how to wrestle with biblical texts.  Rather than having someone tell us what it said, we were encouraged to study and think and question and pray and explore, and scripture began to take on new meaning as I was given the opportunity to interpret it for myself.

In college, I learned a little more about the Bible in some of my religion courses; I started to learn about the historical context: the monarchy, the Babylonian exile, the Roman Empire. I learned how to find the Jordan River on a map, and I figured out that there’s not much snow in Bethlehem. In seminary, I finally (!) undertook the task of reading the whole thing, and I learned biblical Hebrew and Greek, as well as different interpretive methods.  But none of that means much if it's just an irrelevant old book... I came, eventually, to see scripture as an ancient witness to the Living God.  Interpreting together with congregants and seminarians, asking the question, "what does this mean for this community, right now?" was the key that finally unlocked the doors of scripture for me. I began to find joy in being part of a People of the Book.

I still don’t know everything about the Bible, but I love being part of a tradition that is gathered around the life of Jesus and the witness of scripture. I love turning the stories and poems and letters over and over, seeing them take on new meaning as I approach the texts from different standpoints in my life, using different methods, with different communities, reflecting on different events and issues in our contemporary world. One of the founders of congregationalism, John Robinson, told the passengers of the Mayflower that there is always “yet more light and truth to break forth from God’s word."  I guess a more contemporary take on that is the UCC slogan: "God is Still Speaking!"

God of Word and Wisdom, help us to hear your message for us today in the ancient words of scripture.  Bless us with words of challenge, comfort, and promise.  We ask this in the name of Christ, the Word made flesh. Amen.

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