Sitting around a dinner table with good cheese and wine in France, clambering out of a dusty jeep in rural Africa or paddling in a glacial river in New Zealand. No matter the setting or the latitude, some of the best – and undoubtedly weirdest – conversations I’ve had in my life have been on the topic of the Bible.
I’m a bit of a traveller. I love the adventure, the unexpected, the meeting and coming to understand new people, the sense that anything could happen. I think that one of the reasons I love reading my Bible is it’s both familiar, in a cup of tea kind of way, and thoroughly exciting, utterly challenging, regularly a bit uncomfortable and somehow always opens up something new.
I’ve loved reading the Bible in different contexts, talking to people and seeing how their culture brings it further to life. It’s amazing how sitting and talking to a vine-dresser in the south of France has opened up John 15, which talks about Jesus being the Vine and us being the branches. Or how being greeted by a group of rural Tanzanian village elders who have literally just killed a lamb, cooked it on a fire and fed us the fatty bits – the bits I usually don’t eat at home – has helped me to get to grips with that idea of the ‘fatted calf’ who is the highlight of biblical feasts. Talking about family with my Jewish grandfather, whose grandfather built Liverpool’s synagogue, shows me how much they valued worship and community.
Probably the most uncomfortable insights I have into the Bible came from meeting an 82-year-old lady in rural China, who had been waiting for a Bible for decades. Putting one into her hands was incredible. Her hunger for the Bible and joy at receiving one has inspired me to read more and explore deeper.
What does this ancient woman find that I, sitting at home in my study with three bookcases of theology, and a dozen Bibles, so often miss? For much of her life the Bible has been illegal, inaccessible. She has been cut off from that which I take for granted. It unsettles me. Complacency about this amazing book is my default, not excitement. I often wonder why.
In part I think churches so often complicate what is so simple. I used to think that you needed to be super intelligent or crazy religious to really grasp the Bible. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met a good number of people in those camps who inspire me to read the Bible. Yet somehow the simplicity of God meeting people as they read the Bible over and over again is the bit that most excites me.
I want to learn to read this Book through the eyes of other people. To be unsettled. To let God’s world show me how this is a book for all people in all places. Join me if you like. Read. Explore. Disturb.