Steve Watson is a close friend of the River and pastors our sister church in Cambridge, Mass. (Reservoir) . He has written this excellent piece as featured in FaithAndLeadership.com. Steve will be speaking at the River on Sunday, July 14. He writes:
Roger stood before our quarterly gathering of church leaders wearing faded jeans and a button-down shirt suitable for the gardening and other activities that occupied his retirement years. He sported a short gray ponytail, reminding us of both his age and his perennial countercultural vibe.
He began telling us that the Bible frustrated and irritated him and he didn’t read it much at all anymore.
Roger is a trusted and respected elder, befitting his decades of church leadership and service.
I had asked him to tell us about his Bible reading, the spiritual practice we were highlighting that evening.
Our church had emerged from an evangelical tradition that emphasized the Bible and the holiness it was thought to inspire. To encourage spiritual formation in our community, we’d taught seven core faith practices over the years. One was regular, systematic Bible reading. But like Roger, most of our members weren’t reading the Bible anything close to daily, and when they were, it was with growing confusion and frustration.
Privately, if I had been honest with myself, I would have admitted that this was true for me as well.
In my training in evangelical institutions, I’d been taught that with sufficient time and tools, the Bible was reliably clear and helpful. Usually, I was told, a plain reading of the text would lead to greater insight about God and direction for faithful living.
But now I found that even I, a trained pastor, couldn’t always fathom or stomach what I read.
Parts of the Bible are violent, and I could no longer make peace with a fundamentally violent God. Other sections require considerable interpretive gymnastics to not undermine the lives and faith of women, sexual minorities and many other people who have experienced marginalization, not to mention how particular readings have been used as active weapons in that harm.
Given the Bible’s age and complexity, its mix of freedom and patriarchy, love and war, beauty and terror, it’s no wonder that many in our church weren’t reading it anymore.
I understood Roger’s frustration. It was also my own.
So what would we as a church do?
(Please read the rest of Steve Watson's blog here at FaithAndLeadership.com)
On Monday, June 3 the New York Times Daily podcast featured a look at the life of Rachel Held Evans. Rachel was a best-selling author whose unique writing challenged conservative evangelical beliefs and helped chart new directions for people of faith. She died at age 37. Religion reporter for the New York Times, Elizabeth Dias, says this about Rachel Held Evans, “She almost single-handedly brought together an entirely new kind of community that is defining Christianity for the next generation.”
Rachel's story is powerful! We at the River identify so strongly with her work and her transition away from biblical literalism toward an inclusive welcome of L.G.B.T.Q. people in the company of Jesus.
The River Pastor John Furste says:
"I so loved her open-hearted and open-minded approach to faith.
She had a way of removing pretense and just being down-to-earth honest about things. And she was truly courageous. It really takes some guts to ask big questions like she did and to endure the negative reaction from other Christians who often go on the attack.
I think what I appreciated most was her ability to break down barriers. In her writing and her speaking she tore down walls that keep people from engaging with each other and, I think, with God. She helped people to connect.
I find her example really inspiring for what we're endeavoring to do at the River NYC. Here in our faith community, we're trying to live out the values she so articulated so compellingly.
I love that quote where Rachel said, 'allowing yourself to have doubts about Christianity or about your present version of Christianity puts your sense of safety, security, certainty at risk. And yet. It is absolutely 100 percent worth it.'
We couldn't agree more!"
We mourn her loss and affirm her vision of a more expansive view of Christian faith. If you haven’t yet tuned into the work and writing of Rachel Held Evans, here are a couple of great resources:
During the season of Lent this year (we call it "40 Days of Faith") we read through the Gospel of Mark together as a church. The "word cloud" above represents the frequency of words used by river-ties in the more than 650 comments that were posted in the online conversation.
We're collecting "God stories" and we want to hear from YOU! What has Jesus been doing in your life over this past season? Has He surprised you in any way? What have you been learning?
Please share your "God story" with others by posting here in the comments. (You may post anonymously if you wish) Thanks!
The Gospel of Mark Chapter 16
Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. 3 On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”
The Gospel of Mark - Chapter 15, v.21
A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.) 22 And they brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”).
The Gospel of Mark - Chapter 15:
Jesus’ Trial before Pilate
Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law—the entire high council—met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor. 2 Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
The Gospel of Mark - Chapter 14, v.53:
Jesus before the Council
They took Jesus to the high priest’s home where the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law had gathered. 54 Meanwhile, Peter followed him at a distance and went right into the high priest’s courtyard. There he sat with the guards, warming himself by the fire. 55 Inside, the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find evidence against Jesus, so they could put him to death. . .
The Gospel of Mark Chapter 14, v.27:
Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial
On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say,
‘God will strike the Shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’
28 But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.” 30 Jesus replied . . .
The Gospel of Mark - Chapter 14: (we're nearing the end of the story now -- the last week of Jesus' life)
Jesus Anointed at Bethany
It was now two days before Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The leading priests and the teachers of religious law were still looking for an opportunity to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.” 3 Meanwhile . . .
Bible Reading Tips . . .
Start by asking God to interact with you
Ask for a fresh perspective
Expect to be challenged in your assumptions
Try imagining yourself in the story
Slow down and pay attention to your feelings, thoughts and reactions
When something bothers you, talk to God about it
Want to dig deeper? We recommend "The Bible for Normal People" podcast.