What I Missed Before

These days, I’m reading a lot. Perhaps more than I have in years. It started with a little New Years’ goal of reading 21 minutes a day in 2021, courtesy of one of my favorite podcasts. Before I knew it, I was opting to read, choosing it over tv or scrolling on my phone – and it has meant that I’m going through more books, and different books, than I have in quite a while.

One of those books, which I picked up on a whim during a trip to the library, is Rachel Held Evans’ last book for adults, Inspired. It’s a book about the Bible, specifically about what the Bible is and isn’t, and how to read it in ways that honor what it IS (not a textbook, not a scientific or historical treatise, not a set of rules or doctrines, but a story of God’s relationship with God’s children).

I’ll be honest: I’ve read a lot of books about the Bible in the last nine years of grad school and ministry, so my hopes weren’t very high – but I was wrong. Very wrong. Wrong enough that I bought a copy of the book before I’d even finished it. It’s that good.

Refreshing and engaging, it made me think twice about how I understand passages of scripture, especially those ones I usually skip right over, or skim through. Right now, I’m working my way through the Bible again on a 1-year reading plan, and I landed right in Exodus. Not the exciting part of Exodus, either, with plagues of locusts and frogs and blood in the Nile, but the dry part where God is giving Moses some very exacting details for how to build a tabernacle and the furnishings for inside. Normally, I find this stuff about as engaging as watching paint dry…but after reading Rachel’s book, I thought about it again.

She writes that most of the Old Testament scriptures we have were compiled during the time of the Babylonian Exile, when the Israelites were far from home and worried a lot about their lost traditions and their future. Writing down these stories of their history as a people of faith was a way to preserve their past and celebrate their identity in a foreign land.

When I think about that, I can read even the descriptions of how to construct an altar with a little more imagination. Just like I hope to one day tell my kids all about the church I grew up in, or my grandmother’s kitchen, or my favorite teacher’s room in high school – the Israelites, maybe, wanted to tell their children about this central place in their community life and worship. They wanted their kids to understand how the bronze gleamed, and how the incense smelled; how the bells on the priest’s garments rang out when he went into the holiest place.

When I think this way, there is life again in this ancient text. There is meaning and wonder, curiosity and possibility.

And I think we could all use a little more of those things, especially these days.

So if you, like me, needed the invitation: read the book (maybe start with Rachel’s, and then go to The Book – the Bible). Read it like a story that your grandparents in the faith are telling you, a story open to interpretation and questions. Read it like a treasured tale, one that invites you to look at your life now with new eyes.

I hope you, too, find things that you missed before. I hope you are surprised and engaged, and you find that after all it really is a Living Word.

-Pastor Jen

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