If one of your New Year’s Resolutions is to read through the Bible, I’m suggesting the biblein90days.org, a program published by Zondervan. It can be as simple as printing out the bookmark and reading the assigned texts. Or, go to the website to find a variety of resources. I’ve read through much of the program a few times (ok I admit, never completed the middle of the Old Testament on schedule) but with gratitude to a very patience class of students last term, I’m two months in as the New Year begins. Since accountability and community seem to offer a functional motivational boost, here is my nudge.
In our box-office-hit-single-media-downloadable world, even the people of the book have forgotten how to read. Our primary style of reading the bible is as if it were an encyclopedia of basic instructions before leaving earth. Reducing our sacred story to a google search for deistic therapeutic moralisms, it becomes a utility for an individualistic society of capitalism. By rereading favorite portions, we tend to forget the stories are not isolated episodes. Reading the stories in relation to one another allows the characters to develop, events to unfold, and the resulting revelation to provide a particular view of reality that is only available from this ordered telling.
Reading through the bible from beginning to end is not a chronological recounting of events. Like any good story, the narrative of Christian Scripture begins at a particular moment and moves out from there. Much of the background for how the story was told isn’t always in the narrative itself. That provides the technical notes and deleted scenes that many enjoy once they’ve decided the story was well told. We like to learn more about the author, and how the characters were develop. We notice some characters receive random exposure, allowing chapters to provide points of flashback of the same event. This of course makes the study of religious literature a thought-provoking venture and keeps many seminarians awake at night realizing they don’t know their favorite book nearly as well as they thought.
So 2014 may offer an opportunity to read through the biblical narrative from beginning to end. You may want to read in a group. As Christian Scripture, our understanding is formed by interpretation in a community that has passed down the story for generations. By reading together, we are encouraged to honor a tradition along with others who value the task of living lives that witness to the presence and promise of God with us. Together, we are held accountable to a unique way of telling the world. Read in this way, the bible presents a perspective that challenges, critiques and, occasionally, confirms ideas we too often take for granted as the only norm. It also tells a remarkable story of resistance, love, triumph, and hope.
The stories we tell as the community of faith are about real life, not escapist fantasy. Be ready to read descriptions that many bible-believing folks tend to avoid - violence, abuse, war, adultery, rape, abandonment, conspiracy, and sex. Spoiler alert: the stories really are not about us. They provide an unfolding revelation of a people struggling to know and serve God. They fail, miserably.
So if you don’t keep reading this month, you can start again. But if you do begin today, by Easter you will have read through the story that gives meaning to the hope of the resurrection. It is the story whose telling is reshaped by the birth of a boy child in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. It is a radical story that reads differently when read as it is, a single story told in little stories.