Thoughts on “What is the Bible?”

I know there’s a big debate out there about Rob Bell. Some believe he’s not actually a Christian and that his writing is heretical, bordering blasphemy. Others adore him and claim that his writings have helped save their faith. Others roll their eyes thinking he’s wordy, or his scholarship is lacking, or they think he is going for the “shock factor.” Some simply don’t like his style.

Then there’s people like me who relate to him, his story and upbringing, and really just appreciate his insight. He has a specific style to his writing that I enjoy. He’s cheeky and funny. He’s open, honest, and dorky. He doesn’t gloss over hard topics, but does speak in a way that still conveys love, reverence, inclusivity, and understanding. If Rob Bell isn’t for you, then you can just skip this blog. If you’re interested, here are my thoughts on “What is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything.”

In this book, Bell wrestles with questions revolving around the Bible: inerrancy, contradictions, sin, wrath, ancient imagery and metaphor, violence and rape, and all other horrible, confusing, challenging, scary, oppressive, beautiful, funny topics the Bible contains. Bell encourages asking questions by using question and answers throughout his chapters, anticipating the questions the reader may have (and that he himself has had) and responding honestly toward them. “What kind of God would ask a man to sacrifice his son? Not this one.” p. 111

Bell doesn’t pull any punches when talking about rape, murder, genocide, sexism, racism, slavery, and all other upsetting events that occur in the time the scriptures were written. He discusses these issues openly and honestly, while referencing the Hebrew and Greek languages, the historical context, and the culture influencing the writers of scripture. It doesn’t smooth over the horrible things people do in the Bible, instead it embraces the brokenness of the people and seeks to find truth and grace in the midst of chaos.

Bell reminds us of the brokenness of the human condition, which shapes the Bible while also honoring the living God, who has spoken and is still speaking. “Remember, the Bible was written over a thousand years before the printing press. People didn’t have their own copy of the Bible. At best your village may have had a scroll in the synagogue… These stories circulated as oral history, passed down from one generation to the next.” p 266 Bell acknowledges the Bible as the word of God, but reminds the reader that God is still speaking around us all the time. Our eyes and ears should be open all the time.

For anyone who hasn’t spent much time doing academic study into scripture, this book is a good taste of taking the entire Bible and studying it in depth. All those burning questions you have, the confusion, the frustration you may have been feeling are safely and openly addressed here. This book is a wonderful opportunity to wrestle and perhaps open your mind to scripture in a new way.

If you have studied theology like I have, this book will not contain new information or scholarship. Instead, it’s an easy read that digs in deep into the Bible, reminding you of so much you have learned throughout seminary in a concise manner, with very specific Rob Bell insight. You will laugh, smile, and be encouraged.

 

 

St. Augustine

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Growing up, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN were the “go-to” places for a family getaway or a day trip. It was only 2 hours away and it’s full of fun family activities and over-the-top hillbilly hokey-ness. Pancakes, black bears, Dolly Parton, apple butter, old timey photo booths, arcades, and ridiculous attractions make for a cheesy, yet memorable good time.

Living in Decatur and Clarkston while spending time in Georgia meant just a 20 minute drive into Atlanta and accessing the theatres, concerts, food, and attractions that were all downtown. If you needed out of the city, there were mountains to the north, Stone Mountain for a close by adventure, and a monastery in Conyers.

Now, living in Daytona Andy and I needed a getaway place. Enter St. Augustine. Just a short 1 hour drive makes this the perfect place to escape without having to travel very far away. (Orlando is an hour away and will probably be an escape for us too, but only when we can afford it!)

Andy and I LOVE coastal, historic towns: Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans… learning about pirates, settlers, the Civil War, all the crazy ghost stories, southern aristocracy, the Civil Rights movement are extremely interesting to us. Non-coastal towns with great history such as Memphis and Birmingham are fun for us too, but we have a soft spot for the coastal cities. St. Augustine satisfied all of our desires!

We learned about the history of the Spanish settlers, fighting the pirates on the Gulf Stream, and about Flagler’s riches and humanitarian acts. We heard about all the ghosts in the old jail, the graveyards, and the old pharmacy. We had great seafood, incredible authentic Spanish food, and lots of ice cream to keep us cool.

Shrimp and grits at the Florida Cracker Cafe were simple, yet yummy. The chicken and shrimp with sherry sauce and yellow rice at “Columbia” were incredible, but their slow roasted sliced pork with black beans, yellow rice, yuca, plantains, and chorizo were out of this world. Who knew Andy and I loved Spanish cuisine so much?

We took the history bus tour and their nighttime ghosts and gravestone tour. We visited the Castilla de San Marco Fort and spent hours in the colonial quarter. We visited the small history museum and the old jail. We also visited a number of religious sites, such as the Basilica, Memorial Presbyterian Church, and the Greek Orthodox Shrine.

That’s not even half of what is around St. Augustine! Since this is our new getaway, we plan to go again and again. Next time we hope to see the lighthouse, go on a ghost walking tour, and learn more about pirates! This will be our new home away from home when we need a day to escape from work and stress.

Bones

“Bones” is a TV show that I highly enjoy, and I was frustrated when I couldn’t find a way to watch the final season when it was on television. I had watched it for years and I needed to see the conclusion! Now, a year later, I found the series on Amazon Prime. I love when a good TV show has a satisfying ending, and this one did not disappoint. While watching the series finale today, I had a startling realization that put my life in perspective.

This time 5 years ago, I was preparing for my final Sunday at my first church job. I was leaving the church with immense pain and bitterness. I was planning to give up my aspirations to go to seminary. I was about to start a miserable four months working in a call center.

Working at the call center, I went to a dark place. I felt like I had wasted my college degree. I thought my dream to go into ministry was over. I was still freshly grieving the loss of my grandfather. There were other pains and disappointments that piled up on top of each other as friends decided not to be there for me when I needed them. I was depressed for the first time in my life.

To numb the pain, I would come home and watch hours of Netflix. I desperately needed an escape from my everyday life. (I am not endorsing television as a replacement for therapy. At the time I couldn’t afford it, and that’s a real thing. Everyone deserves a right to healthcare, mental healthcare included!) While there were other shows I watched, I distinctly remember watching hours and hours of Bones. The stories were entertaining, the characters endearing, the relationships heart warming, and most importantly of all, these people made enormous sacrifices in their personal lives to work the careers they were passionate about. This show distracted me from my grief, my defeat, my failure, my miserable job. It gave me hope that I would one day have a career I cared deeply about like they did.

As we know, I got a new job a local nonprofit, came out of depression, applied to seminary, and I’m now on the other side of all of that.

I didn’t go through a “honeymoon” phase with my new church. I have had my rose colored glasses shattered a long time ago. I know the church can be both a beautiful, yet broken place. I had rough week last week, and instead of it being a sobering “reality check”  I began questioning things as I have on this entire journey. I have had to fight harder than many of my other colleagues to get where I am today (and I know that due to my status as a white, straight, cis-gendered woman, there are others who’ve had to work harder than me.) I have been through the ringer to get to this place, and my instinct is to question and doubt because this is what these forces have wanted me to do.

But things were settled and I had a couple successes to re-energize me in my ministry. I also had strong words of encouragement from friends. I am called, I am here.

So as I watched the finale of Bones, I have realized that I am where I desperately wanted to be. I watched this show end as someone who accomplished what she set out to do. I watched the show with completely different eyes, as a source of entertainment, not as an escape. With my rose colored glasses being destroyed long before seminary, I know I haven’t “arrived.” My career is not perfect and will never be. But I am where I am supposed to be. Life’s not perfect, but it is so much better now than when I was at my lowest point. I am grateful to have been given this new perspective to reaffirm my place and my calling.

Graces

I had my first rough week as a pastor.

I know there are many more to come.

I won’t divulge too many details, but rubber has met the road this week in many ways. One of these ways was by conducting my first solo funeral. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to speak the Gospel to those in need of comfort and hope. God was present, there was love in the room.

Now, I am tired.

 

This is when self-care has come into play. I have been spending the last few weeks reaching out to friends who I haven’t spoken to in some time (for some, it has been years.) I may not always be in touch with the people who are important to me, but reaching out and checking in is just my way of saying hello and reminding them that I care for them. It was good to receive kind words from friends. Some of which heard my venting and offered prayer, encouragement, and advice. I am so grateful for people who speak life in difficult seasons.

Andy and I grabbed lunch at a local seafood restaurant, which is on a pier. I had a drink, dined on grilled fish, and watched the waves crash around me.

This morning was a weird one, but a good one. I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep, due to some mild anxiety. And then I had some lingering emotions from some things I am struggling with. After an hour I decided to get out of bed, realizing the sun would be coming up in a half hour. Andy woke up with me, and we walked down to the beach together. We watched the dolphins and pelicans catch their breakfast, which was enough excitement to get me through the week. For those who don’t know, dolphins have been my favorite animal since I was a kid, and watching them come out of the water and feed in the wild is breath-taking for me. And then the sun rose over all the feeding animals in the sea.

 

We walked from the beach to our local breakfast diner and had an early breakfast. I came back and cat napped. Then it was time for the funeral.

I don’t have any profound thoughts gleaned from this week. I will just stay grateful for the small graces, and the large ones too.

Rev…? Who, me?

On my ordination day, I thought there would some sort of feeling of…triumph? revelation? transformation?

I thought the laying-on-of-hands and the declaration, “You are now a minister of word and sacrament” would be a moment of transcendence. And while I smiled wide at the words and felt deep joy, it still didn’t feel…real? I worked so hard for the title “rev.” and yet it still felt like the title didn’t belong to me.

I’ve been waiting for something to click.

 

What I’m realizing is that it probably won’t happen in some defining, special moment, but over a period of type after a number of circumstances.

Repetition is helping some. I keep referring to myself as “Pastor” Glory in formal settings, or using “Rev.” Glory in formal emails and letters. Rev. Glory is doing the work, getting her business done.

When attending my friend, Betsy’s, ordination service I was able to go and lay hands on her as she was being prayed over. I had a moment of impostor syndrome while standing surrounded by so many other elders and teaching elders (and being the youngest among them.) But I stood, taking my role seriously welcoming my friend into ordained ministry. Rev. Glory had the authority to stand in the company of elders and ministers as one of them.

 

WBTS searched for nearly 2 years for an associate pastor, and it really took a toll on them as they waited and waited. The senior pastor had to take on the work load of two pastors. I am starting feel the weight of my role here at the church. Rev. Glory is needed to share the load and meet the needs of this congregation.

At my installation service, I chose to receive the same scripture charge as my ordination service: 1 Tim. 4:11 These are the things you must insist on and teach. 12 Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.15 Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Upon hearing this read to me a second time, I was drawn back to the moment of my laying-on-of-hands. I had to be reminded of that moment for the event to sink in. Rev. Glory should not neglect the gift that is in her given to her through prophecy and the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

 

I’ve never been the type to want to over-use a title. I like being personable, and I don’t need formalities (I do, however, expect the use of formalities used for me when they are used for the senior pastor.) I have no plans to force people to address me with my title, especially when in a casual setting. Personally, I just need the practice so that I don’t feel like an impostor! Here’s to living into this new role, this new title, this new chapter in my life.

I made it! Finished the Bible

I came in just under the wire and finished the Bible in 90 days.

So here’s what I have learned from doing a challenge like this one:

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  1. You get behind so easily. Life doesn’t stop in these 90 days. I graduated, traveled out of the country, moved states, started a new job, and got ordained in these 90 days (life has been wild, I know.) While about 13 chapters a day sounds manageable, when having entire days committed to other things and being way from home without time to do much else other than wake up, spending the entire day doing what you need to do, then going to bed, it is easy to miss a day…or three…or five. And then 13 chapters a day for the five days you missed really stacks up. So skimming becomes a go-to.
  2. You’re not going to absorb much. If you get behind (and you probably will) and you start desperately skimming to catch up and meet your goal, it’s easy to miss a lot…or everything. Just scanning words on a page doesn’t enhance your biblical knowledge.
  3. It’s more about “bragging rights” than anything. So now I can say that I finished the Bible in 90 days, but that’s about it. I’m not a better Biblical scholar by any means. However, I did get a lot of Biblical words ingrained my mind. I got to soak in the language of the Bible, and I believe that has been imprinted in my brain.

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  4. Listening to the Bible is not cheating. When people talk about listening to the Bible, it is usually sheepishly, as if they are cutting corners when it comes to devotional time. While this can be true if you’re doing other tasks while listening, it was a saving grace when I got hopelessly behind in my reading. Listening to the Bible was no worse than skimming the pages. In fact, I caught more phrases while listening than I would have by skimming. I found myself looking up words, phrases, and going back to the scripture itself and re-reading it. Listening engaged a different part of my brain and helped me latch onto somethings I might have missed while reading.
  5. It set me up for personal devotion later on. I now have a list of devotional studies I want to go back to and spend more time with. I missed so much here and there, and my interest was peaked in certain passages, so now I will set a new goal to go back and dig in.
  6. If you want to absorb more, use other tools. I am creating a curriculum that goes through the whole Bible for my youth group, and the Bible Project Youtube series has really enhanced my reading of scripture while helping me build my curriculum. These videos broke down the tougher scripture passages that I didn’t have time to struggle with, while sewing together scripture into a bigger picture. The Essential Bible Companion is an easy read that can be completed in a couple hours, and gives a summary of each book of the Bible. I also read “Inspired” by Rachel Held Evans, which you can read more about in a previous blog. It helped me combat some of the fundamentalism that has been ingrained in my scripture reading and re-frame my understanding of the Bible. I am now reading “What is the Bible?” by Rob Bell. When I finish, I will write a blog about that, so keep an eye out.

So there it is! I am glad I went for this challenge and completed the Bible is 90 days. Again, it’s not for scholarship, but it has exposed me to more tools that have enhanced my understanding of scripture and has peaked my interested for further study. If you are interested in taking on such a challenge, be prepared! It is no easy feat, but it may be a gateway into a deeper desire to understand scripture.

Trains and Feeling at Home

As a child, I only moved once. I lived “in” Rogersville, TN until I was 11 (the town was actually 20 minutes away.) We were out in the country, surrounded by mountains, in a small house my dad built. We were far from town, from school, and really far away from family. I remember disliking it and wanting to live in the city near Mamaw and Papaw. I felt so isolated. The neighbors were spread out, none of my friends lived near by. I wanted to live in a neighborhood!

This dream came true when we moved to the city, Kingsport, just before I entered middle school. My school was less than 10 minutes away, I could have sleepovers with friends because we all lived in the city, I could see my grandparents whenever I wanted, and we had real neighbors who we could talk to from our front yard into their front yard. I got a library card and visited at least once a week in the summer time. We ordered pizza and had it delivered right to our front door just like in the movies!! I would wake up early on trash day and watch the city workers come and empty our trash. I was an easily impressed country bumpkin. (Kingsport is a smaller city, by the way. Not a tiny town, but not the dazzling lights of Nashville either.)

Another aspect to living near civilization was that almost directly across the road was a train track. At first, watching the train whiz by right out our front windows was fascinating and exciting. Then it got old and annoying because it was so loud. And then I grew numb to it as it faded into background noise.

When I moved to Johnson City for college, there was a train track right beside campus. When I transferred to King and moved to Bristol, there was a train that cut through town and caused me to learn a number of alternative routes to avoid the track.

While the trains were loud and an inconvenience, I grew to find the sound endearing. I would stay up late studying, and the sound of the train in the distance was a reminder that late in the night, I was not the only one awake and working away. And it reminded me of home.

When I moved to Decatur, GA I was homesick. I had dreamed about leaving the Tri-cities, and to this day I am so glad that I stretched my wings and moved on. But after all the excitement of moving, starting a new life, and discovering a new city died down, I realized how much I missed home. I was trying to find my place and my voice at seminary and I was working so hard at trying to learn Hebrew, that one night I found myself unable to sleep. I got up out of bed, maybe around 1 or 2 in the morning, and wandered out of my apartment and onto campus. I found a bench on the quad, sat down, and cried. About that time, I heard the whistle of a train on tracks about a mile from campus. I sat up and just listened as the horn sounded. I stopped crying and smiled a little. I was awake late at night, but so was the conductor on the train. I wasn’t all alone, and I was reminded of home.

Now, here I am in Florida. As Andy and I were preparing to move, I wondered out loud to him if there would be any train tracks nearby. Sure enough, just a couple miles from our house, a train runs along the tracks several nights a week. It makes me smile each time I hear the horn echoing by. We have been unpacked for a while, and we are loving living here. It’s nice to have the extra touch of a nearby train track to feel at home.

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