Friday, January 13, 2006

Slogging Through the Blogging

My Bible in 90 Days experiment is not going well.

Part of it is simply because I don't have the time to follow the rigorous schedule...or, if I do, I'm speeding through the text at face value.

But part of it is...I think it's probably atrocious netiquette to talk about another blog I participate on on my own blog, but -- oh, well -- I am increasingly dismayed and frustrated by a certain Christian culture that truly believes that the best way to teach people about God is to hand them a Bible, say, "Just read this," and then walk off to hand another Bible to someone else. How crazy is this, really? I hasten to add that that's not the theological motivation or mindset driving our own little group's online experiment; but my experiences this week have made me think back to all the encounters I've had over the years with people who do seem to embue the Bible with an almost magickal quality to interpret itself outside the context of group discernment (which includes both formal scholarship and the kind of informal Talmudic back-and-forth that happens in Christian community).

This irritation is making me something of an agent provocateur on the other blog. I keep waiting for the e-mail suggesting that I'd maybe be happier as a non-participant.

What is someone who has minimal or no religious formation, or no understanding of the various contexts in which Scriptural texts were written -- a state, which, unfortunately, years of churchgoing and catechesis may not have helped at all -- supposed to do with, say, the Book of Leviticus, or Paul's more thinky and verbose theologizing in his epistles, or Revelation? How stupid is it to think that you can just hand someone a Bible, this set of very complex texts, written and edited over many centuries by many people addressing many audiences with in many situations, and say, "Here ya go! It's all in there!"? As I noted on that blog, I may have to turn in my Lutheran union card; although I suspect that when Brother Marty waxed rhapsodic about peasants and household help reading Scripture themselves, he was assuming that they were doing so in a supported way, in a faith community that could provide them with the tools to do this in an informed way.

Here's what happens when you don't provide people with context for reading Scripture: They think God's message to humanity is that snakes are evil animals, that once upon a time they could talk, and that God took away their legs; that women are inherently inferior to men; that there's something wrong with having normal cyclical bodily functions; that mules and triticale and cotton/linen-blend shirts are "sinful"; that the way to deal with people who are "different" is to exclude them, or possibly even kill them; that God has a strangely urgent concern about carbuncles and spotted sheep and priestly haberdashery, and in fact becomes homicidal/genodical if you don't get it all right. And that's just the first five books.

In my opinion it is absolutely irresponsible for the Church to not provide laypeople with the tools they need to read Scripture in an informed way, instead of keeping them in a kind of intellectual infancy regarding what the texts mean. How much of this is simple laziness and incompetence, and how much of it is an ecclesiastical power trip, and how much of it is the laypeople's own unwillingness to be proactive and thoughtful students of Scripture and risk being challenged by what they might learn...who knows. But it's not a good thing.


Sarah Clark said...

Dang...I was actually feeling bad that I didn't have the time right now to follow your example and join that study group--now..not so much. I think I would have lost my temper and posted links to Joseph Campbell and Marcus Borg's collected works while begging one of them to prove to me that they understood either the word Metaphor, or Allegory.

Then the baptists would have banned me, but I think it would've been worth it. *smirk*

However, in all fairness people devote entire academic and ministerial careers trying to comprehend and explain our canon of spiritual texts. It may be a bit much to expect anyone, much less persons of a certain...theological mindset, shall we say, to construct a coherent exegitical viewpoint while reading 10 chapters of the bible daily.

Upon reflection, the thing really seems more like some sort of wierdly punitive endurance ritual than an attempt to truly grasp the scriptures.

jennstall said...

So I'm not the only one losing my mind reading that blog? Because I am about ready to withdraw. I signed up because I was intending to read the Bible straight through anyway, but I'm completely unwilling to engage in heavy analysis of it without the benefit of Church teaching and scholarship on it -- but at the same time, I just want to get an initial feel for it before I wade into that scholarship. I feel like the community blog is a bit at cross purposes and I'm not sure how useful it is going to prove to be for my intentions when practically every single post makes my head hurt.

Jayne said...

This is exactly why my relationship with the Bible is not what I'd wish it could be. I was never given the explanation of the context, and so I am suspicious of it's content. I am only now learning more about it all by reading wonderful authors like Marcus Borg. It's as if some people do think that just reading it and taking it at face value is fully enough. What are they thinking? What is wrong with always wondering and questioning? Why is it enough to read and believe literally everything in there?

Kathryn said...

LC thank you so so much. I'm finding this read through a huge non event in terms of connections with God along the's kind of interesting as an academic exercise, because I've never actually done it (indeed, though I kind of tremble to admit it, as a priest, but there are still chunks of the Bible that are totally uncharted territory as far as I'm concerned) but it's absolutely not doing anything for me and my faith.
Not sure whether it would be helpful or not to raise my head above the parapet and say this...It's definitely getting harder to read the blog, that's for sure. Oh dear...and this exercise was supposed to improve my relationship with the Bible :-(

PamBG said...

You said: In my opinion it is absolutely irresponsible for the Church to not provide laypeople with the tools they need to read Scripture in an informed way, instead of keeping them in a kind of intellectual infancy regarding what the texts mean.

I agree. A few years back, I was taking a theology course that was for people intending to go into the ministry. There were a handful of independent students, including one 65 year old man who had grown up in a fairly fundamentalist environment. He kept saying, over and over, that he felt that the Church had the tools to help people understand the bible in a rational way and that the church deliberately withheld these tools from the people in the pew. He genuinely felt angry and betrayed and it took him the entire academic year to work through his feeling of betrayal.

HeyJules said...

LC, this is exactly my reasoning for not participating in this "event." I desperately want to understand the books of the bible better but thought speedreading was not the way for me to attain that goal. I think its a wonderful idea for someone who has all the knowledge and just needs a refresher course, so to speak, but for a first timer like me, I knew I'd be sunk.

Now, I almost NEVER dis my church because I really love it but the only time they offer bible study is when they offer other classes as well and each time I find myself torn between something that could seriously help me in "the real world" (like financial counseling or learning to use my spiritual gifts for my church)and getting some good insight on the bible.

You'd think with Christianity being as large as it is, somebody would have found a way to make up a class where we could all learn the bible IN CONTEXT and not have it be part of a grab bag of classes!

Okay, done ranting... thanks for the space!

Unknown said...

Heyjules, and others, you may want to look into Kerygma, a serious and lengthy Bible study curriculum that does just what you ask. It requires homework, and to do the whole program is a commitment of several years.
They also offer shorter courses on individual books of the Bible as well as thematic Bible Studies. I taught a class on Acts a couple of years ago, something I wanted as much for myself as my parishioners, because the class I wanted to take on it in seminary was cancelled the only semester I had an opportunity to take it.
I bet if any of you told your pastors you wanted to take a serious Bible study and were willing to commit the time, they would faint, then hop up and order the curriculum.

LutheranChik said...

The program I'm in uses visiting seminary professors to teach biblical studies. It's great; my pastor is not joking when he says he wishes everyone in our church could go through the program.

I'd also strongly encourage people to, if they can, take advantage of any biblical studies courses that may be offered through their local college or university. If you haven't had the opportunity to do so's like watching old silent movies your entire life, then going to an I-MAX and having the story just burst out at you from multiple dimensions.

Fisher's Net is an online clearinghouse for Christian distance learning -- it's a Lutheran website, but it has a link to an ecumencial website called Faith and Wisdom, that offers similar learning opportunities. I took an online Torah class via Fisher's Net.

And...I love my New Interpreter's Study Bible. It rocks. It's twice as big as a regular Bible, because half of it is reference and commentary.

Jody Harrington said...

I second Songbird's suggestion. We are using two Kergyma courses now as follow-ups to our bible in 90 days classes from the fall: Amos/Hosea and Luke.

The point of reading the Bible in 90 days is to help the reader grasp the whole panorama of scripture and to encourage follow-up with the type of intensive, supported Bible study you describe.

LutheranChik said...

Pam: I agree. I've had the same conversations with people: "Why don't they teach this? Why aren't they telling us this?" It's disillusioning to people to discover that there's a body of knowledge out there that their pastor or priest knows, that they don't.

And laypeople tend to have two reactions to this: One is to, indeed, become disillusioned and cynical; the other is to run in the opposite direction and embrace fundamentalism: "Don't confuse me with too much information!"

Now, I know enough about learning styles/phases of intellectual and spiritual development to know that in any given congregation you're going to have people all over the map in their ability to process information; there are some fully functioning, intelligent adults who nonetheless simply aren't abstract thinkers, and if they read Genesis and then get told that Adam and Eve and the talking snake weren't actual beings in an historical event, they're just not going to be able to handle that. The trick is to provide Christian formation opportunities that are going to support these people, while at the same time supporting people who want and need the sort of rigorous biblical education that seminarians receive. I'm not sure how that can be done without creating a sort of stratified educational system reminiscent of the "red group" and "blue group" back in first grade. But I think that that churches drop the ball when they seek to avoid controversy by offering only devotional Bible studies.

My lay ministry group, BTW, also contains people all over the map, and some people are having a VERY hard time having their literalist assumptions about the Old Testament challenged. When our one visiting prof pointed out that a few scholars doubted the existence of an actual Moses, or speculate that he may be a kind of folkloric composite of several early Hebrew leaders...I thought there was going to be a mutiny.;-)

PamBG said...


I grew up in a doggedly fundamentalist church and, for the life of me, I truly do not comprehend the idea that Christian faith falls apart if the smallest details of the bible are not 'objectively factual'. I truly have no insight into fundamentalism; I almost wish I did.

You ask an important question about how do you teach people with different views. I dont know the answer but I'm convinced that a lack of rational adult perspective on faith is what drives people away from Christianity. When I talk to non-churched people and they realise that I'm studying for the ministry but that I don't believe in abracadabra 'God magic' and that I don't fob off their hard questions with 'It's God's mysterious will', people get quite interested and are willing to engage in conversation.

I have an intuition that part of the solution is transitioning teenagers as they move out of the 'concrete thinking' stage of life. The older teenagers at my home church are quite comfortable with the hermenutic that God inspired human writers, the church has accepted their writings as canon but that the human writers may have got some things wrong.

Charlotte said...

I hadn't heard of "Bible in 90 days" before LC mentioned it. Even the now-common "One Year Bibles" were unknown in my con evo youth ;). Unlike a lot of people in the ECUSA, I have actually read the whole thing (although RCs and Orthodox would argue that I didn't, because we totally ignored the Apocrypha) and to me it seems like a schedule that doesn't allow for much absorption or interpretation. Of course I've just spent around 90 days reading, marking, inwardly digesting, and discussing Genesis in my EFM class, which I think has been JUST GRAND, so that colors my perspective.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

I'm sorry that the "experiment" is distressing to some of you. Perhaps I had a different idea from the start? I don't know, but I did not expect to broaden my understanding of certain books, or to have deep discussion. I just knew I wanted to focus, and this seems like a good way to do that. There is no way I'm finishing in 90 days, but I see value, albeit a different sort of value, then what is received from pondering, discussion and scholarly insight. All have their place, and probably a more important place to be sure, but there is value in a relatively quick panorama. At least I think so.

Anonymous said...

Hey LC, thanks for this post. I responded over at my place.

Mary Sue said...

I've been considering the Read the Bible in 90 Days thing, generally because I have read the whole thing about four times, but that was ages ago and I'm feeling like I need a refresher. I'm not the kind of person who will sit down and think about something and go, 'Ah, yes, this is great and wise and applies/needs to be applied RIGHT NOW in my life!'

I was also blessed with an irregular yet comprehensive youth catechial (did I spell that right?) program that did give me a lot of tools to understand the who/what/when/where and especially why.

I think I'm going to start the reading plan tonight. But I'm going to do it like I do my other reading; curled up in my comfy chair with the beverage du jour, not sitting at the desk with notepad ready to take down my every observation.

Rachel Nguyen said...

I think the fact that it is uncomfortable may be ok. Why should this be easy? Jesus was all about shocking people.. and for me, his kind of shocking is way easier to cope with than the shocks coming from Leviticus. And yet, it is the begining of the story and so much a part of Jesus' background it is, for me, valuable.

Also, this isn't an in depth study, it's true, but in my case I have never read the histories or the prophets, so I am hoping it will at least give me a basic overview so I can go back and study in more detail later.

Anyway, I can't seriously believe you are going to get kicked out of the blog, LOL! We need you over there!


Bad Alice said...

I joined a Yahoo group called Lectio Divina that is reading through the Bible in a year. It's a motly assortment of people--some conservative and some moderate Christians, a Gnostic, a lot of pagans, and some who are just curious. I'm continually surprised at the information that people dig up to aid in understanding the text. I don't think I could read any faster!

I think the evangelical idea of the Bible as the silver bullet and complete guide to life belittles the scripture and turns it into some sort of formulaic self-help manual (though a very weird one), but I think I understand it. People I work with sometimes express how grateful they are that they can actually read the Bible. They don't have to worry about being persecuted. They can own a copy and read it whenever and wherever they want. They can read it themselves, without having to rely on a third party. And for many of them reading the scripture on their own led to conversion.

Steph Youstra said...

I was tracking back through RevGals, looking for the Ordinary Time info, and I came across this post. Sad to say, as the originator of all this, that I haven't even really READ the blog at all. I would like to say that the blog came more out of someone's comments/suggestions. My thought was just, as I had said, suggestion on "Who else is gonna read?" on a whim and, quite frankly, the blog made it seem all the more serious and work-involved. But, like I said, I've done nothing with it.

Sorry it's been bad .... guess I don't feel so bad for not keeping up with it. Know that this wasn't my attempt.