Magazine article The Christian Century

One Good Book Deserves Another: The Bible and Books That Illuminate It

Magazine article The Christian Century

One Good Book Deserves Another: The Bible and Books That Illuminate It

Article excerpt

The Century invited people to comment on their favorite book of the Bible and a book that has helped them appreciate or understand the biblical text.

I love Genesis for some of the same reasons the church fathers were wary of it. It's full of embodied human beings who mate, reproduce, and behave erratically. In Genesis the rules have not yet been laid down. Religion has not been settled. It's a bit rough around the edges--just uncertain people lurching toward God. I can relate to this back and forth better than I can relate to the disciples in Acts who are so confident in "The Way." I like the layers in these old stories and how the different strands are often at odds with each other.

There is movement and there are setbacks, and most of the time no one really seems to understand comprehensively.

Perhaps it's the unsettled nature of these narratives that allows the three Abrahamic faiths to interpret them so richly and variously. In Shared Stories, Rival Tellings: Early Encounters of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Robert Gregg offers detailed analysis of the art and commentary surrounding the Genesis stories of Cain and Abel, Hagar and Sarah, and Joseph with Potiphar's wife. It's fascinating. Did you know that according to some Islamic commentary, the ram offered to God by Abel (Habil in the Qur'an) is kept in God's custody until God lets it go to be sacrificed by Abraham in Isaac's place? I'm not sure what, if anything, I'll do with that, but it's a fruitful imagining.

--Debbie Blue, pastor at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, and author of Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to the Birds of the Bible

The biblical story is not told from my point of view. Reading the book of Exodus together with Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns illuminates this truth for me. The Word of God is the eyewitness account of escaped slaves. The Word of God is a tale of defiant resistance to Jim Crow's noose. The Word of God is an unanswered cry of yearning for a home that fully welcomes the migrant's humanity.

Wilkerson tells the story of the Great Migration by tracing the lives of three people, one of whom is Dr. Robert Foster. Traversing the desert between Louisiana and California, exhausted, afraid, and alone, Foster could find no hotel to offer him a bed. He quickly realized that the Promised Land was not as promised.

In my northern city, we still are very effectively segregated. We have a clear distinction between those who are protected, served, and educated and those who are terrorized and exploited. The Israelites lamented, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?" Again and again, hunger and thirst, death and despair, lie waiting beneath the veneer of life and freedom.

The biblical story is not told from my point of view. How do I, a white, privileged Christian--that is, an Egyptian--hear the Word of God, the narrative of liberation?

--Jane McBride, pastor of First Congregational Church of Minnesota (UCC) in Minneapolis

To read any biblical book is to read through the eyes of one's culture, imposing upon the text the social location of the bibliophile. All too often, readers, confusing their subjectivity with objectivity, make their interpretation normative for everyone else. To read the Bible from the margins means to read the text through the eyes of the Other, specifically the disenfranchised who reside on the underside of the dominant culture.

For example, when I read the book of Joshua, legitimized as a book of liberation where God enters history and leads the oppressed slaves to the promised land, it is easy for me to miss God's call for genocide (6:21). This is why it is important to read Joshua through the lenses of cultures different from my own, like George Tinker's classic Missionary Conquest. Tinker provides us with the voice of the Canaanites, raising concerns about a God who justifies land theft and genocide. …

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