Tonight at my church we begin a yearlong overview of the Bible.
We're using a very, very basic set of texts called The Old Testament and The New Testament from Scratch. All these books offer is the most basic summary of what's in the Bible. They don't contain any of the pertinent critical methods for studying the Bible and they aren't formational types of study ~ none of the depth of the Methodist Disciple Series or the Presbyterian Kerygma series.
They represent a beginning.
To give my congregation credit, several of our members have been wading through a fairly dry study of the Gospel of Mark in Sunday School since January. I suggested that we try a study of the lectionary gospel text for the year, and offered some suggestions; the class teacher made the final selection. I might have chosen otherwise had I realized (a) that no one would read during the week; that we would read aloud together from our little study book each Sunday, a couple of pages at a time, discussing each question posed as we went, so that it would take us until October to complete a book of less than 80 pages and (b) that no one had the kind of familiarity with the gospels that would enable them to approach one of them topically rather than chronologically.
But, as I say, I truly have to give my folks a lot of credit for making their way through unfamiliar material in an unfamiliar way, and getting into some excellent discussions along the way.
Tonight we'll be introducing ourselves and talking a bit about our own connections to the Bible: how we were introduced to it, how we study it, how we spend time with it. I'm pretty sure what kinds of things most of the class will say -- and they do vary widely. Some people are intensely curious and deeply thoughtful, but have had little exposure to the world of Biblical scholarship, and others have a few favorite verses and stories with which they pray.
For me, although I was sent to Sunday school on erratic and rare occasions as a child and attended a Catholic boarding school for grades 7-9, my real introduction to the Bible came in my 10th grade Old Testament class at Northfield (now Northfield Mount Hermon) School, when our teacher tossed a college text on each of our desks and wrote the letters J,E,D, and P on the board. In the words of my classmate Barb who, like me, arrived in a large Protestant mainline church in adulthood only to discover that most of what we had learned fifteen years before was routinely ignored in both sermons and adult classes, "Can you believe how fortunate we were? That we were taken so seriously at the age of fifteen?"
That has not been the case for my church members. And I am going to try hard to remember well Cindy's words of a couple of posts back:
"But what if we are called to speak the difficult or the challenging? Not the hurtful and spiteful, I'm not talking about that. I don't think of that as God's way (not in my universe of God)...but as Purple says about challenging foundational beliefs. What do we do when after careful scrutiny, reflection and spiritual direction we know that the next few steps are, indeed, going to challenge someone's foundational belief and that it is highly likely that there will be pain?"
Me, every time I learn about a new set of questions regarding Scripture, I am excited and challenged. Every time that new historical material, a new literary lens, a new possibility for interpretation emerges, I can hardly wait to read and discuss.
But I also know, from my own Disciple classes in the Methodist church twenty years ago, that there are people who simply cannot absorb the news that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible. That that news is, quite literally, painful for them ~ because it violates what was passed down by beloved grandparents and Sunday School teachers. And that's only the first page.
So: Gently, gently; that's my mantra.