The “Challenge” Part of the Bible Challenge – Rev. John Magisano, Pastoral Counselor, Chelsea Community Church
“The truth is that the surface of the Bible is not always even interesting. And yet when one does finally get into it, in one way or another, when one at last catches on to the Bible’s peculiar way of saying things, and even more to the things that are being said, one finds that he is no longer questioning the book but being questioned by it.” – Thomas Merton, Opening the Bible.
Our Bible Challenge group is proving to be an experience like no other. Our reading program is based loosely on the curricula developed at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX and is currently in use in hundreds of churches throughout the country. We are endeavoring to read the Book from cover to cover. While none of us are total Bible neophytes, we are discovering a great many things we never knew before.
Much of the reading is shocking, like the genocide of the people inhabiting the land of Israel by the Hebrews is brutal and violent, apparently on God’s direct instructions. We also find the seemingly endless commandments governing every aspect of the young nation’s behavior, from sexuality to food to illness, each with a harsh punishment if not followed to the letter.
I don’t know about you, but I never learned this stuff in Sunday school. The story of Noah and the Ark was great fun when we were kids, but I don’t think we learned that he developed a drinking problem after getting off the boat.
I specifically went to seminary so that I would be able to read the Bible and learn it. But it’s been years since I graduated and I had lost much of the narrative thread. The lectionary tends to treat the weekly readings in isolation from each other and the larger textual landscape. Reading the whole Bible with a group where we help each other by talking, asking questions, and bringing our own lenses helps me reconnect.
These difficult passages, including the Levitical Holiness Code, the story of the Hebrews wiping out natives in their own land, the treatment of women as chattel, force us to look deeply for the “Good News” in the text. As Thomas Merton says in the quote above, we find that not only are we “questioning the book, but are being questioned by it.” We ask, “where is God in this?” In turn we are asked, “Who is asking this question?”
The invitation to join us remains open to all. You need not have followed us all the way through or catch up with all the reading. Come for the discussion, the questions, insights, and more questions. Come all of you “people of all faiths, of no faith and of uncertain faith.” The syllabus of weekly readings is available from me, and if you have questions feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.