Tonight at the church we held our fourth session of a 13 part exploration of United Church of Canada theology. Our text is John Young and Catherine MacLean’s book, The Big Questions: Doctrine Isn’t Dusty. The topic tonight was the authority of scripture. Some 25 people examined not only what the UCC believes about the Bible but what they individually believe is necessary to be found in our canon. Of course we talked about those parts of the Bible that we have a hard time accepting as truth. Interestingly that focus was less about miracles and stories that appear to defy technological explanation and more texts like Psalm 137 that reference little ones having their heads smashed against the rocks.
We talked about the canon of scripture, how we came to have these books in our Bible and not others. Participants were surprised to learn they could go to their local bookstore and buy a copy of Gospels that were rejected by the early church. I am sure more than a few will give the Gospels of Thomas and Peter and Mary Magdalene a fresh look. The key to our understanding the role scripture plays in our lives is the narrative quality to our faith. How do these testimonies we find in the Bible speak to our testimony, what resonates with our journey?
There were several insightful comments. One in particular came from a woman who commented on the stories she finds more meaningful, namely stories about God’s presence. This woman had seen a lot of suffering in her life and she reminded us all that having a sense of God’s presence in the suffering meant more to her at this stage in her life than all the prescribed lessons and teachings of the Gospels.
I was reminded of something I have witnessed recently in the formation of Ministry candidates in our denomination. One of the first questions a discernment committee asks an inquirer now is, “please share a Bible story that you can relate to in your own faith journey?” I find this question fascinating and the answers even more so. No two inquirers have accessed the same Biblical stories in their answers.
For me the Biblical story I now resonate with is John 14, “in my Father’s House there are many rooms.” Leaving aside the male language the most striking piece of this text is the reference to rooms. In the early church worship happened in a household, nothing grand or “other” for these Christians. This is not a reference to Heaven as a mansion with many elegant and grand rooms but rather an early church that met in person’s homes, Jews and gentiles, rich and poor, male and female, young and old, the educated and the illiterate. There was room for all of these persons.
I see myself now as a facilitator and navigator of story-telling, helping people find their voice in a faith community, matching up persons of similar interests and introducing some to people with very different backgrounds so as to stretch the participants. Likewise I deliberately seek out people whom I disagree with theologically not so as to convince them or be convinced by them but rather to see how we can form a diverse band of story-telling bent on liberating as many people as possible.
Bible stories can do this, they can be good news, great news even. The key is to match persons with the right Bible story and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.