Saturday, April 4, 2009

Reading the Bible in 20 months: peace in the OT

Often in the past when I read in the Bible, I wanted to force it to fit the grid I'd placed over it.

Controlling the Bible, however, is like trying to hold a living, hopping frog in my hand: The only way I can control it is to kill it. We often do kill frogs--this is in science class-- and pin them down and cut them open and catalogue their insides. This can be interesting, once we get over that we've killed a sentient being. But the key thing is that once the frog is dead, you can catalogue it's parts, but whatever made it a living being is gone. It's lost its essential frogness.

Thus, you can dissect the Bible, but once you do that, whatever makes it alive goes away. And you are left, I think, with a lot of pieces that can never really be put back together again. Somewhere, the spirit is lost or distorted.

When I understood that the Bible was alive and that to try to control it was to kill it, that changed my relationship to it. I suddenly didn't need to control it. I didn't need to force it into my pattern. I could just let it hop around (well, sometimes I could do this). I also understood that the term "living Bible," which I had often heard and thought was some sort of evangelical weirdness, was actually descriptive.

When I embarked on my one year (actually 20 month) Bible read, I decided to approach the bible with as open a mind as possible. For me, this meant an old-fashioned New Critical reading: What do I learn from what's "in" the text? (Yes, I know, I know, there is no "in," that's a metaphor, etc, etc). Nevertheless, I have found the old-fashioned New Critical approach to be fruitful. Without much scholarship (and I know I am reacting to people who over-rely on the flavor du jour book "on" the Bible), I can glean an amazing amount of information and wisdom, as long as I read attentively. I also find that the Bible teaches me how to read it. I don't need an external guide. So, while, of course, I have a little background in secondary sources, history, etc,, as almost everybody does who hasn't grown up in a complete vacuum, I chose to read the Bible straight through primarily as a standalone document. I found this a Quakerly and useful approach.

Now, naturally, there were parts of the Bible that caused me to glaze over, such as the genealogies, but I tried to find ways to stay engaged even in those ... and my stratgies didn't always work. It took me 20 rather than 12 months because my attention would flag --or there was too much to absorb-- or I would become too horrified-- so I would put down a reading in the middle and pick it up the next day. And even with all my attempts to stay attentive, there were days when my eyes would scan the words and nothing would penetrate, and so I'd go back and reread the same section the next day.

What does this have to do with peace in the Old Testament? I'll have to save that for another entry, as this blog is getting too long.


forrest said...

I too sometimes find times when the Bible has much to say to me, and times when God is speaking more through something else...

and so I have been neglecting the Bible study blog I inherited (by driving everyone else off? I hope otherwise, but how would I know?)

Now my main reason for commenting here was to point out that I WANT more people to comment there. (

Particularly I need people who are aware of God using it to bring us what Fox called "openings", what I've sometimes called "holy wows!" Know anyone like that?

Tmothy Travis said...

Great post!

I love that book and when I say that I invariably find myself in trouble with practically everyone.

Some Friends say I am loving an unworthy partner, others say I do not honor that partner, that I actually abuse it.


Karen Armstrong's book (The Bible, Biography) is wonderful in that it leads away from a "founders' intention" construction and reveals that generations before us were more interested in reading it in light of our own times and experience than trying to figure out what it did or didn't mean 1500 or more years ago and sticking with that--sticking people with that.

The distinction is between "the word of God" and "words about God."

See? In trouble, again.

Thanks, again, for keeping discussion going among Friends.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Interesting and good thoughts here, Diane.

I keep going over the Bible again and again, through listening to it (in "The Bible Experience") and that is good. But it's also important for me to slow down and work through portions. And I would do well, at the same time to do what you're doing here. I have done something like that, though I tend to keep pressing on and not reflect enough.

I wonder about reading in a community oriented way. Along with others. Seems like this is a needed ingredient as well. That we come together and share from what God is saying to us from his living word.

Blessed end of the Holy Week to you and yours. The Lord is risen indeed!

Tom Smith said...

I sometimes think of "Peace in the Old Testament" as a parallel of Peace in US History. All too often US History is full of wars and that is the main focus of many textbooks. However, there is another thread that could be written, but is too often left to "prophets," those on the outside of the prevailing culture, to tell the story and they are often not given much hearing.

One small example. might be the "Indian Wars" and the federal agents that often abused and robbed the ones they were to be protecting. Seldom is mentioned that some of the earliest agents were Quakers who were trusted by the Native Americans and started to assist them. However, greed and political power soon overwhelmed that movement and led to the establishment of Indian agents that were more interested in their own benefit than those of their charges.

A similar "overlook" in the Old Testament is the story of Gideon in which "I AM" says that he(sic) is on neither side. Gideon's "troops" did not inflict wounds on the enemy but let fear and physical stregth be used by the enemy against themselves.

The prophets maintained a parallel history of justice rolling down like a river, etc. Much of the time the prophets saw the Hebrews as reaping what they sowed rather than following wht Yahweh asked for.