It was when I was twelve years old that I first read through the Bible in an entire year. My Pastor said that someone had made small, home altars for everyone who completed reading the Bible in the year. I work well with positive reinforcement and wanted my Bible medal as a sign of my accomplishment. That’s how I ran my first half-marathon, I wanted the medal. Positive reinforcement works well for me. So that year I began reading through the entire Bible in my brightly colored Teen Study Bible. I made notes in the side and had a journal that allowed me to pray through the different passages. At the end of the year, after reading through the Bible in a year, I received my wood altar. I didn’t realize it at the time that the foundation with my relationship with Scripture was forming and would take on different forms. My Pastor told me that the Bible laid the foundation for our relationship with God.
A few years later in youth group, highly evangelical, we had Bible games called Bible drills. You hold the Bible in the air and the leader calls out a passage and the first one to find the passage stands up and reads it. It was a competition to learn the passages of the Bible. The winner of the Bible drills would win candy or recognition. This worked well for my learning style and I found that I could flip through the pages of the Bible quickly and by the end of the year many of the passages were memorized. My youth pastor told me that the Bible is a sword.
In college I learned a fancy word, hermeneutics. Perhaps it was because I had a crush on the woman who was teaching hermeneutics and every time she said it I wanted to repeat what she said, but it was learning the interpretation of Scripture that added a whole new layer to my relationship to God and the text. What was the context of the story? What did the author hope to convey? Who is the audience? Where was this written? Scripture became a lush forest of adventurous paths to know God and the people of God. My professor told me the Bible was layered.
Then I met the Benedictines and oh do I love them. I learned about dwelling in the Word and reading Scripture through another fancy word, lectio divinia. The Bible was not a sword, the Bible was not an academic research book, but the Bible was sacred words to be savored slowly. Morsels to be tasted in smaller bites. The Holy Spirit spoke in one word or phrase in this way of reading the Bible. The text is living and I encountered the living God each time I read Scripture this way. The Benedictines taught me how to savor the poetry of the living God.
Then the Bible hurt. The Bible hurt a lot. Professors told me women couldn’t preach. Love couldn’t be experienced between two women or two men. That the purity of Scripture was stronger than the grace of God. The gospel was not good news anymore to me. The Gospel was mean. It was these Christians who taught me I didn’t want to read the Bible anymore.
Who enters seminary having a very strained relationship with Scripture? Me. Slowly it was Dr. Tom Boogaart who taught me the prophetic and poetic nature of Scripture again and my heart began to heal. It was Dr. Carol Bechtel who taught me the humanness of the Psalms. It was Dr. Van Dyk who taught me about feminism and Scripture. It was Dr. Brown who taught me how to memorize Scripture again and the Living Word began to heal the hurt that some Christians had caused from a Gospel that looked more like fear than grace. Seminary taught me how to love Scripture again.
Fast-forward ten years to me standing in the pulpit preaching in New York City as a Minister of Word and Sacrament from the Gospel of John. I know the passage I’m preaching on. I memorized it when I was twelve. I later had a strained relationship with it because some used it as a form of judgment instead of God’s comforting words of assurance. Somehow the beginning of the passage “Do not let your hearts be troubled” was left out when I would harshly hear “I am the way, the truth, and the life” out of context from a judgmental preacher. When you put these phrases together the living God is much more personal. The Bible is what I love to preach.
It is one of my greatest joys to teach and preach Scripture. Someone who used to be evangelical and was so hurt by the tradition decided to walk away from faith all together asked me “How did you get here?” I think he meant, how did I get even stronger in my proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus and vocally socially forward thinking. I told him “It is Scripture that got me here. I kept searching for the good news or rather I kept hearing God calling out the good news in new ways through teachers until I became one of the teachers myself.” My friend said “You are now giving me a new understanding of Scripture and that perhaps I can return to it with new eyes.” Perhaps you can, my friend. Good news is not meant to be mean. The Bible is about life and the gift of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.
May Scripture bring us life and joy and preserve us this day and evermore.