(Continued from previous post)
New Life and Death
By the time I entered college, I had gone about as far as the prescribed morning devotional reading and topical Bible studies (all on the New Testament) would take me on their own and I yearned for there to be more buried in the Bible. The courses and professors at Hesston opened up vast new caverns of possibility in the individual books and overarching “salvation story” of the whole canon. Vibrant new life sprung up from these depths and the Bible drew me in more deeply than ever. But I lost God in the mix.
In the new rhythms of college life breakfast devotional reading vanished (you mean there was a 7:30am?) and my familiar communities of Bible study and spiritual support were still at home in Iowa. In the excitement of newfound independence, I didn’t look for anything or anyone to function in those former nurturing roles. At the same time I discovered transformative new life in the whole canon of scripture through my class work, my visceral devotional connection to the very God to whom the Bible points, died.For two years I stumbled along with a fresh Bible in this bewildering paradox of new life and new death until my service term in Jamaica disordered my routines yet again.
Living apart from my Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) team, the sheer learning curves adjusting alone to a new culture and new jobs threw me back at God as my last resort for daily sustenance (that and the noise of the dogs, the penny-whistle frogs, the old-man street sweeper and muffler-less quarry trucks and forced me to rediscover that 5:30am indeed exists). My early mornings and dark, lonely late evenings were again filled with prayer and reading of the Bible. Within four months I had coursed through the entire Old and New Testaments. Unlike either my high school or college experiences, devotional reading, academic study and community nurture occurred together adding new sustainability to my experience of the Bible and God. I was kept alive that year through varied and regular forms of encounter with scripture and prayer both on my own and with others (St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Sister Ann and the Jesuits, my MCC team members, the authors of many books).
When I returned to the U.S. the next year to finish my undergraduate studies, the college routines and lack of community again challenged my regular intimate connections to the Bible. The relative ease and familiarity of the American context left me without desperate need for God’s daily sustenance. I disconnected again from scripture, this time both devotionally and academically. Within me welled new skepticism about the safety or usefulness of the Bible for anything (Paul’s a windbag, Timothy). I experienced the misuse and abuse of biblical language profoundly and no longer trusted the Bible’s validity due to the demerits of its potential (and real) destructiveness. I no longer believed it possible to find unity in the polyvalent voices of scripture itself or in the strident arguments over meaning by interpreters and faith communities.
In my time at Easter Mennonite University (EMU) and in the five years since I retreated from the Bible into the relative safety of theology. While scripture seemed too fixed and too sacred to allow me to satisfactorily reconcile my difficulties with its portrayals of God, theology was infinitely open to tweaking until it said something more palatable about God. I stopped reading scripture so heavily in favor of reading overarching theological frameworks in order to make sense of it all (some of which are secular, others still clearly biblical). In my distaste for some of the irreconcilable canonical portrayals of God and attributions to God, and in my anger with the ease of misunderstanding and misusing scripture, I have been searching for a unifying story of God, Jesus, the Spirit, humanity and creation in theologies of all kinds. Today I stand in the crucible of this search but by God’s grace I have begun a slow turn back to the Bible as the best possibility for unifying language on God and God’s call to humans.
Called Home Again
Through courses like Galatians Greek Exegesis where I sat with one small text for a whole semester and taught it to church groups through the next, through the love-struck approach of my professors and pastor to the Bible as God’s viable words for all peoples in our time, through the committed witness of missional ministers like the late Leslie Newbigin and yourselves to the centrality of our scripture even in pluralistic and interfaith contexts, with the unwavering proclamation by biblical studies giants like N.T. Wright or Walter Brueggemann, and by the illogical fidelity to scripture as the defining story by faithful, doubtful peers I am being transformed.
Today I am seeing the Bible in new life-giving ways. Even while I don’t fully believe or trust scripture and even as I fear and loathe its capacity to destroy the church through wrong-related interpretive battles, I do cling to faith in its unparalleled potential to transformatively convey—by the Spirit—God’s story of right-relationship-making as culminated in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God I am travelling home again to the Bible, to God’s story!