Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A journey with biblical proportions

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Couldn't find the Samson picture from this
My journey with Scripture began as a child growing up in my home congregation, the Prairie City Church of the Brethren (my hometown heroes). While my family was all happily Christian, my father was a pastor's kid, we did not practice the reading of Scripture in our home. This was left for Sunday at church. I don't have any specific memories with specific scriptures from my childhood but I do remember my children's Bible which had interesting pictures. I particularly remember a picture of blinded Samson, in the process of pushing apart the pillars that would in mere seconds kill him and all those Philistines. His gauged-out eyes continued to draw my seeing eyes back to his. Such willing self-sacrifice (revenge?) seemed heroic and puzzling to me.

Even through high school and college, my engagement with Scripture – either personal or communal – was minimal at best. When I got old enough, I listened to Scripture readings in worship services and the sermons which followed, trying to rationally piece together what the preacher was saying should apply to my daily life. Most lessons came out of the New Testament, so I had an unspoken disinterest for the Old and was intimidated by its size next to the svelte latter testament. Having come from a non-sacramental tradition, though, sermonic exercises with Scripture tended to be mostly rational in nature, not engaging the body or senses. The Brethren Love Feast was the one glowing exception to this “overly rational, aesthetically thin” worship practice (to borrow Stanley Hauerwas' criticism of Mennonite worship). Enacting Christ's last supper with his disciples, including washing feet, as a teenager and in my early twenties was a deeply formative experience with rich connections to Scripture.

When I began to sense a call to ministry is when my Bible reading began to grow more serious. But by putting it that way, I may have it backwards. As I look back at pivotal moments in my ministerial journey – even back into high school – serious engagement with Scripture was always going on, whatever my exegetical abilities were at that moment in time. Preaching a sermon in high school got me the first affirmation from my home congregation. Reading Acts with my pastor in my mid-20s, while going through painful vocational discernment got me thinking toward completing a BA so I might some day go on to seminary. Studying the Bible with my wife in a congregational small group in my late 20s got a Presbyterian minister to look me in the eyes and ask, “Brian, when are you going to seminary?” Six months later and five states away from my Iowa home, I was starting seminary.

Since coming to seminary three years ago, I have been given tools to read, interpret, and expound on Scripture that have unlocked new worlds within the text and ignited my imagination. Most significantly, I've fallen in love with the Old Testament, particularly the prophetic works, having been previously ambivalent about it. I've had a chance to go back and read the book of Acts with scholarly material that made it seem like a completely new book in some ways, while still maintaining the sense of newness and excitement that you see in the early days of the church, Christ's body. I've been able to read violent passages in the Old Testament (and New) and not have to resort to dismissing or ignoring parts that – at least on the surface – offend my Christian pacifist sensibilities. Revelation no longer seems like the mysterious code book for crazy fundamentalists, but rather a wildly imaginative vision of God's final and glorious reconciliation of all creation found in a letter to churches “in the province of Asia” (1:4).

Finally, having been inspired by a Christian in England who is daily tweeting a summary of every chapter of the Bible – which will take over three years – I have committed to reading the entire Bible straight through for the first time in my life. Despite having been Christian my whole life, being in seminary for three-plus years, and preaching numerous times, I cannot yet say I have read the entire Bible. So while other intense and more focused study on passages will continue, I will also be making the march through this many-splendored, formative, normative narrative and library of narratives we call Scripture, the Bible. Such work will no doubt attend shedding light on my family's next big steps come graduation in April.

[This post was later picked up by the Anabaptist Missional Project blog under the same title.]

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