Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bible Stories

Recently I’ve been thinking about ways in which to help people grow in understanding of the stories collected in the Bible, and the Story that unfolds for us there. I can’t imagine a story-by-story telling from beginning to end, but I thought I’d start out in the earliest chapters (1-11) of Genesis, because they are foundational, and see where that takes us. I will file these posts under the heading ‘Bible’ on the side-bar of my blog.

But first, two things to bear in mind:

The Bible is a collection of stories, which together build up a bigger story, or tradition of story-telling. By story, I don’t mean the Modern category of fiction. But I do mean that the Bible is primarily a narrative – and not an instruction manual, for example. I do mean that the words the story-tellers use are carefully chosen, beautifully crafted, that certain details are set aside [there is one point, in the Gospel According to John, where this is made explicit, the story-teller telling us that if he included everything he might have included, the world itself would not be big enough to contain all the words] while others are chosen – or set apart from all the possible words – in order to convey something in particular.

And by story I also mean that words have multiple layers of meaning: that the occurrence of ‘river’ might signify a physical water-feature, but that river – or tree, or land, or sea, or pretty much everything for that matter – also has a symbolic meaning. Story does not simply record events, but attributes meaning to events. Story asks, what is actually going on, when something is going on? And story answers the question by drawing the listener deeper into story, not by resolving itself.

The other thing to bear in mind is that the stories collected in the Bible are stories told by people, located in particular circumstances in particular moments in history. They are human stories, not stories dictated by God, or an angel. And as such, they are concerned with the particular things that the people who told the stories were concerned about. That is to say, there are a great many things that the Bible is not concerned with. It makes a fairly useless medical text book, for example. The Bible is not the be-all-and-end-all of faith-full story-telling. But it does give us a tradition to speak faithful words from. And words – as every story-teller knows – create worlds.

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