There has been an evolution of thought for me when it comes to understanding how to read, interpret and teach Scripture within community. That evolution has taken place over the course the last 18 years or so (I’ve been leading bible studies since I was in High School myself). It began with the basic thought a biblical teacher’s role was to teach the text. This meant raising key ideas and helping people to get the right answer about how to understand what God is saying in this verse or passage.
But over time, my approach has shifted away from this teacher-based model to one that is more participatory and dialogue oriented. There are a few factors that have helped me make the move.
First, the more I have learned from the Quaker tradition the more I have come to believe that the faith and learning develops best within participatory contexts. As educator Jane Vella puts it, we must act upon the subject of our learning through dialogue, open communication and mutual respect if we are to truly learn.
Second, is the fact that in any given community there is quite a wealth of collective intelligence. Upon my arrival at Camas Friends it became clear to me rather quickly just how deep and wide the Spirit was in this community. How could I honor that Spirit and the gifts present in the community if the main model of education was top-down and authoritative? Instead, with a view towards collective intelligence we need to create spaces where there are no experts, everyone is an apprentice, and we know more together than we do a part. In order to do this we need find ways to allow not only for open dialogue and questioning, but for “sideways talking.” These are conversations not contingent on leaderships authorization.
Third, learning more about the biblical text both in school and on my own made a huge impact on how I teach it. The more I learned about the text and the background of scripture the more I came to realize not only just how complex these things really are but how the Biblical text itself is a dialogue. For instance, there are four Gospels meant to be seen not as all telling the same exact story but four people sitting around a fire conversing about their version of the events. Much of the Hebrew testament is itself a dialogue. I love the fact that Proverbs and Ecclesiastes say pretty much the exact opposite of one another. Proverbs says, “If you do that, this is what will happen.” And Ecclesiastes says, “It makes not what you do, all hell may break loose anyway.” Both are valid. Both reflect human experience. Both together create a dialogue of faith that is able to hold tension and paradox. Even Paul’s letters are quite literally a dialogue, written to be read in front of entire communities of people and then passed around the region to be read, discussed, and debated again and again.
All of these – and probably more – are factors that have led me to approaching the Biblical text in community in a much different way than where I began.
So how do we embrace this level of dialogue and open-questions within a faith community while remaining “centered” and avoid the kind of anything goes anarchy that people often fear?
You can read the second part of this serious here: The Contours of Convers(at)ions.
If you’re interested in reading more about participatory culture and its effects on the church check out my soon-to-be-published book.
Image credit – Froz