SCRIPTURE STUDY: The intersection of our story, our culture’s story and The Story
Last night, we had our first scripture study, focusing on the Acts of the Apostles, for the Fall semester. It is now a tradition that at our first session together, we don’t even crack open our bibles. Instead, we take the time to learn a little bit about each other, about the folks who will accompany us as we study together. This is no rote task, along the line of “introductions” which typically happen at the beginning of many gatherings. Rather, it is part and parcel of our reading of scripture.
At the GCW, the study of scripture is really the study of the intersection between three primary stories: the story we’re looking at in scripture, but also the story of our own personal history, and the story of the wider society, the culture of which we are a part. We start with the premise that the story we study in scripture will challenge and critique aspects of both our own story and the story/stories of our culture. So we begin by sharing a little bit of where we are coming from–who we are, what is going on with us now, what our background is.
The process of doing this revealed several things, but the most important thing it revealed was the great diversity of people in our room. For me, this is the great strength of scripture study at the GCW. As one of last night’s participants said (to paraphrase), “What I appreciate about studying scripture at the GCW is that we are all so different, coming from different places, different perspectives. Whenever I have studied scripture elsewhere, it was always with a group that had so much in common–same age, race, religion, class, experiences, etc.” In our living room last night, we had people who were homeless and people who had homes; we were black, brown and white and various shades in between; some came from middle-class and upper-class families, and others from working class or poor families; students and parents and workers and immigrants and … You get the picture I think.
Such diversity does not lend itself to easy agreement and quick consensus about what is going on in any particular passage, or what it might mean for us today. We get to wrestle with it some, creatively and vigorously. And for those in the group who share a common background of privilege like myself (white, middle-class upbringing, male and straight, citizen of the world’s greatest current empire), by sitting in a circle with people who have been marginalized or relegated by others with power and influence to a “lower” status in our society, I get reminded about what these stories originally meant to those early generations of Jews and Christians who wrote them and experienced them, and whose experience by and large was more in synch with people on the underside of empire today. Over the years, I have been guided by these folks with whom I am in relationship to understand these stories in ways that have been uncomfortably challenging but deeply transforming for me and my discipleship to Jesus.
It is a favorite dictum of mine that “scripture was written by, for and about people on the underside of history.” The bible is the great exception to the rule that “history is written by the winners.” The fact of the matter is that these stories came from a people (Israel, and later, the early church) which continually found themselves on the margins of power, or more likely, oppressed and persecuted by the great powers of the age (Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Rome, et al)–losers in history’s great game. Our biblical ancestors, as a nation, had more in common with Iraq or Afghanistan, than with the United States. I think this why for those of us in middle-class churches in the United States, the stories of scripture seem to lack the power for revolution that the early church felt, and that millions of impoverished people in Latin America, Asia, Africa and elsewhere experience when they read these stories today. Maybe our own self-sufficiency and comfort, and the stories of Madison Avenue, Wall Street and the Pentagon clog up our ears, muting Jesus’ revolutionary proclamation of the kingdom of God. But like the book says, ‘”those with eyes to see, and ears to hear…”
So this is a standing invitation to anyone who wants to join us. You can come regularly, or just drop in whenever your schedule allows you. We meet on Tuesday evenings, starting at 6pm (usually with a quick simple dinner for the hungry), then go to about 7:30pm. We’ll be studying the rather exciting and action-packed story of the Acts of the Apostles. And we’ll be posting here a few insights each week for anyone who cannot get to the GCW’s Jubilee House but wants to play along at home. Hope to see you next week!