Tuesday 7 April 2009

How to read the Bible story fruitfully

Holy Week is built around multiple retellings of the passion story. As well as events in Church, round here that means listening to the whole of two Bach passions. To profit from this week’s activity, we need to hear the story in itself as for the first time, noticing fresh details, engaging our imaginations with the world around us and our personal circumstances, and listening for a sympathetc resonance between those realities.

We live in a world of powers and empires, of brands, logos and globalized world order. St Paul’s letter to the Colossians engages with the realities of empire, its principalities and powers, and reveals Christ above and beyond it all, yet also deep within us.

There’s a wonderful description of how the Church uses Scripture corporately for this purpose in a great, creative commentary on Colossians I have been reading recently:
In order to have vision we must have memory. Indeed forgetfulness or amnesia is precisely what strips us of vision — without the past there can be no future. So our contemporary improvisation must be informed and directed by both a profound indwelling of the biblical vision of life and a discerning attentiveness to the postbiblical scenes that have already been acted out in the history of the church.

There is a certain dynamic in this approach to Biblical authority that could be described as a dance between innovation and consistency. Our serious reading of Scripture must be characterized by fidelity to the thrust of the narrative and thus provide our life with a stability and consistency, a rootedness. At the same time, however, the Bible as an unfinished drama gives us freedom for historical innovation and thus a creative and imaginative flexibility in our historical responses. It is only by maintaining the essential relationship between stability and flexibility that we “may avoid the hazards” of both a rigid fossilization of our faith and “a deeper relativizing that gives up everything for a moment of contemporary relevance.”

As we read through the Biblical Story, it is clear that the Israelites themselves retold their stories with such fidelity and innovation. As the ancient Israelites encountered new situations, they remembered and interpreted their traditions in such a way that they engaged contemporary problems and concerns. Indeed without such dynamic interpretation, the texts and traditions contained within them were seen to be incomplete...

Stability and flexibility, fidelity and creativity, consistency and innovation — these are key if a narrative text is to have any current authority in our lives.
Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat
Colossians remixed — Subverting the Empire
pp 134-5


Ernest said...

Interesting commentary on reading the Bible. Rethinking and interpreting the text to apply to modern day circumstances is what we all try to do.

Good sermons written with that in mind, can help us to do just that.

My Vicar always gets me thinking, each and every time I hear him.

I like to engage with this, as Bible Study is important to me at this time, when I am trying to discern a call to service within the Church.

JohnG said...

One of the best services I have been to in the last year was last Christmas where they played back the Christmas story in 60 seconds as done in animated fashion by the Christian Advertising group then invited members of the congregation to tell the best version of the Christmas story in 60 seconds with a panel of wise men as line judges! It was engaging, funny and moving and fantastic to listen to the story evolve as it was repeated and as the storytellers tried not to repeat each other and to outdo the others by bringing in material not already mentioned. We must have heard a dozen versions in as many minutes. Richer than a sermon!

I am also interested in the technique of remembered Bible - getting the congregation to reconstruct the reading from collective memory before it is read - largely because the forgeting of key motifs and phrases is selective and often revealing.

Ann said...

We did the Way of the Cross from the view of the spectators in our online EfM class last night -- here is a copy of what we used.

Ann said...

JohnG - I did a paper on this in Div School - what people remember has a lot to do with what is going on in their lives. The things that stand out are evoked by current life. It will change when circumstances change. Why diverse preachers are good - they see different things in the scriptures.

JohnG said...

(sorry - comments shouldn't annotate!)

it might also be useful to link to 2 resources:

Thomas Boomershine and the Network of Biblical Storytellers - who memorise whole books of the Bible and deliver them with claimed 90-95% accuracy. What is good about Boomershines method is that you use gesture and repetition to lock the text into memory. You can teach a group the story so they can repeat it verbatim with gestures in 5-10 minutes. This is great and easy once as a leader you get past the fear factor - its like being a cantor with text and gestures instead: http://nbsint.org/

another resource is Lyffe from the Bible Society. Which is basically an unmoderated biblestudy using a photocopied text (no Bibles) and no guide. V similar to base community readings of scripture and commentary in community as the text is linked to people's live. The other rule for Lyffe is that you are supposed to use the material in a public place such as a cafe - it isn't supposed to take place on privatised or sacred turf. I've tried it I like it:

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