I attended the daily prayer service at the Church of the Transfiguration at Community of Jesus in Cape Cod this summer. The members of the Benedictine community sang the order of the day using Gregorian Chant amidst the worship space that had been designed to tell “the story.” Outside the Church, the gathering space before the large wooden doors represents the time before “the fall;” it is creation in all of its fullness. Inside we walk through a nave that is surrounded by mosaic murals and paintings representing the stories of scripture. The focal point above the chancel is the triumphant kingdom, the realm of the glorified Christ. We heard from our docent, the next day, that each piece of glass in the mosaic, each bird represented in the tree of life, each stone and each brush stroke also has a story. And on top of that, each person sitting there, or whoever sat there, or will ever sit here has a story … we are all interconnected.
The book, The Story, is meant to highlight the “upper story” of God in Christ, the meta-narrative, the over-arching story of salvation in the Judeo-Christian heritage. The parts of the Bible that were chosen to be a part of this particular narrative were chosen so that the larger story could be told in an accessible format, similar to a novel. Even the novel, you know, has stories within stories … each one adding something important to the overall theme, story-arch, purpose, of the book.
While most of the words are taken directly from the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, you will notice there are spaces between some paragraphs. The spaces are there to let us know that some of the original text (often quite a bit of the original text) has been removed in order to keep the story moving. At other times, you’ll notice some text in italics; these are sentences added by the editors to help the reader fill in the major storyline as the chapters move forward.
Every time scripture is redacted or a particular “lectionary” (readings) are chosen, there is bias. In fact, one can argue, the very fact that these particular ancient texts have been included in the sacred writings we know as the Bible and others have been excluded from the canon, is an interpretation. The canonization process is considered by the Christian Church to have been inspired by the Holy Spirit even as the writing of the texts themselves were. The redaction of the texts in this publication of The Story, while no doubt influenced by the Spirit, is still the work of human beings and influenced by their own theological priorities and perspectives.
So don’t make the mistake of thinking The Story IS the Bible. It is not. It is, however, a trailer, a “Reader’s Digest” version, a teaser, a beginning … As we read the The Story, together, we can grab the bigness of the story in way we miss by reading one verse at a time. We will have opportunity, here and in other groups, to question, reflect, and delve deeper both in the upper stories, the lower stories and in our stories.
Just as the Church of the Transfiguration is literally an artistic story within story, so it is with the Christian story. Beneath the over-arching story of the deliverance of the people of Israel, for instance, is the story of Joseph, the story of Moses, the story of the exodus, etc. Beneath the meta-narrative of the history of salvation is the story of creation, the story of exile, the story of Jesus’ birth, life and resurrection, the story of the early church. And beneath and within and around all of those stories is the story of you and me.
Our story is both formed and informed by the larger stories of our family, our friends, our heritage, our nation, our people … but as Christians, our story is ultimately formed, informed, and transformed by work of God … in the lives of God’s people, in the life and resurrection of Jesus, and in our own lives.
I’m looking forward to reading The Story with you. This week we’ll begin with “Chapter 1: The Beginning of Life as We Know It.” Look for our initial reflection on Chapter 1, which will be published on this blog Monday morning, September 16. In the meantime, here are some questions to consider:
- What do you think of this concept of upper story and lower story?
- What questions or comments do you have about our journey together?
- What questions do you start out with as you anticipate reading the Bible in this way over the next few months?
I also believe that the Bible as we know it was also carefully culled from existing texts and many parts were redacted according to what the church at the time wanted presented to us. When I listened to the Coptic Bible on tape several years ago, that really came home to me. So many times we do forget that our stories do come from family and experience but ultimately, as you say, God. So really, simplifying and making the Bible more understandable has a long history. We just have to be careful that our understanding comes not from man but from God. Discernment is so hard.
Also, there was a magnificent rainbow across the sky as I drove to Houston early one morning last week. Always good to be reminded of God’s promise and a real message to me as I read the story of Noah today.
Discernment is why we (Presbyterians, reformed) believe that Bible reading and study is best done in community … With a diverse group, so that we are not as easily swayed by our our own version of truth.
I miss the open sky of Texas, rainbows are awesome when you can see them from one end to the other.