All My Bibles

By Geila Rajaee

This past week I had a conversation with some of my co-workers about how many copies of the Bible each of us own.

Not surprising, the count was definitely high.

There was the issue of differing translations, various types of study Bibles, text print size as our eyes aged, and the necessity of simply getting something that isn’t threatening to fall apart at the seams after years of use! I have multiple (read: three) copies of just the New Revised Standard Version alone and I’m pretty sure that might be overkill.

But what does my (our?) glut of sacred texts really say about what I know or how invested I am in the scriptures?

The Hebrew Scriptures, Gospels and Epistles are considered the sacred text of Christians everywhere and American Christians have the ability to get our hands on copies of it everywhere. But does that really make a difference? Does the person who owns more Bibles than his or her neighbor really have any more understanding of scripture?

History has shown us biblical texts that have been used to affirm and encourage slavery, to suggest that wealth is a sign of God’s favor, to create indicators for inclusion or exclusions of the “other,” and that poverty is a simply a “Biblical” fact of life. And this, sadly, is just a short list.

In my role as a Chaplain, it is no longer surprising to me when people assign words to scripture that aren’t even there. (My favorite pseudo-scripture – “God never gives you more than you can handle.”) Or, who take words that were written for a particular context and internalize them – sometimes positively, more often negatively – for themselves. On one hand, this gives scripture the ability to be “new” and gives new breath into a person’s life. But on the other, it becomes a constant bludgeoning tool of scripture taken way out of context.

In both of these previous examples, my sense is that people are not actually familiar with scripture but merely with the use of it. It becomes an instrument to support a person’s (or community’s) values or biases. But what would happen if we really took the time to investigate scripture (and I’m not just talking about proof-texting here) and to see where it connects with the themes and threads of God’s greater story of love for humanity and all of creation?

For me, this beautiful, sacred text is a shared history, a rooting in my relationship with God, and an opportunity to grow more connected with the larger Church community (yes, I mean the big “C” church).

What it comes down to for me is this: does it really matter how many Bibles are out there if we don’t read them or, if we do, that we don’t listen to God’s voice as a challenge to our beliefs and values? Can we read scripture and allow for it to shape us today?

At the end of the day I still own many, many copies of the Bible and I really hope they keep working on me.


12 thoughts on “All My Bibles

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  1. Thank you, Geila, for this reflection. I keep thinking about two words that you included at the end of your post – sacred and shared. Sacred reminds me of the mysterious, divine nature of Scripture and shared helps me recall that Scripture began as a shared story, like the Gospels. I love thinking about how the stories of Jesus were shared over and over again until they came to be collected and considered part of the canon of Scripture. It also reminds me that we are inheritors of all of these shared stories. And we continue to share this text (at least a good chunk of the Scriptures) with our Catholic, Mennonite, non-denominational, etc sisters and brothers. And in that sharing, we continue to find the sacred – the alive and acting Spirit of God breathing through those stories again and again. And, as you put it, those stories – the sacred and shared text of Scripture – work on us. Thanks again, Geila.

    1. Hey Jen, I agree that the beauty of scripture has really been rooted in the shared experience of the community. As I sit here and reflect on the various communties I have been a part of throughout my life, I know that each have helped me read and understand scripture in a new way. I appreciate the challenge of it although there are moments that it can be so difficult to maintain those pathways of communication. At least that has been my experience at times.

      I like your words, “we are inheritors of all these shared stories” and wonder what, in later years, will be considered texts that are meaningful and sacred to the generations to come. Although they won’t neccesarily be considered “scripture” they may still find their way to be guiding texts of the larger community… I just wonder what those will look like.

  2. Geila I appreciate your reflection this week! In your bio you talk about the importance of your middle eastern culture and I’m wondering in what ways this has informed your reading of Scripture. I’m especially interested in light of this wonderful paragraph (one with which I wholeheartedly agree):

    “For me, this beautiful, sacred text is a shared history, a rooting in my relationship with God, and an opportunity to grow more connected with the larger Church community (yes, I mean the big “C” church).”

    You zero in on the importance of shared history – how does your unique, shared cultural world show up in your relationship to God through this sacred text?

    1. Thanks, Michelle – that *is* a great question!

      Since my recent travels to the Middle East to visit my family I have been attempting to find ways to make my thoughts morph into graceful, coherent words. What, I think, it boils down to for me in terms of my relationship with God and the text is this: I need community. I need community to read scripture with me and to challenge my thoughts with perspectives different than my own. I need community to help me understand what and who God is. I need the community to pray with me when my own prayers run dry. I need the community to partner with in ministering and caring for the world/earth. I need community teach me more about myself as a child of God.

      Being an Iranian-American (who is still more “American” than either of her ethnic heritages) has taught me the significance of family and the community of faith. Most/all of my father’s family are Muslim and I love and honor the ways the seek God… Truthfully, I felt moved by their prayers and acts of devotion and the way they support their community.

      If there is anything that I could definitively say about relationship with God and the scripture is this: my understanding of who God is and my role as one of God’s many human partners is heavily influenced by the communities from which I have come.

      1. Thanks for your response Geila! Have you read Miroslav Volf’s “Allah: A Christian Response”? If not I think it would greatly interest you given your father’s background. It’s well written, compelling, and quite challenging for Christians!

  3. Educational theorists often discuss whether the student (often likened to soft clay) will be formed by what is impressed/pressed into them or whether a student will be naturally, organically formed from internal action/pressure. This discussion brings the same questions to mind. Does the word form us from within or can the external pressures and exposures can make the same kind of transformation in the reader. Our hope is indeed that it will “keep working on us” but how does that really happen in my life?

    1. I think external exposures are incredibly significant and necessary. I don’t think scripture should be read in a vacuum or totally divorced from its history but that being said, I believe the world around us can, does and should affect the way we read scripture. I think it should inspire empathy and action when we read about the poor or social injustice. It should make us think about what it means to be a person in a position of power and influence and decisions that we make. That said, I also wouldn’t want to separate the word from the spirit of God that moves inside of us as well.

      What do you think?

  4. Geila, Thank you for your post. You write, “And this, sadly, is just a short list, which emphasizing the negative. Couldn’t it just as easily be said that fortunately every day people inspired by the word of God overcome – or at least greatly diminish – the evil that is inflicted that results from the way others interpret or use scripture?

    I also wonder how serious are we when we say we want to read in community? What does the community we read with actually look like?

    On an admittedly very weird spectrum, would our community look more like “The View” or “Fox and Friends,” (It’s midnight. This is what happens to my brain). Speaking of lack of diversity, I just looked at the Fox and Friends website, and the only living creatures not white on that page are Hispanics being watched over by the border patrol and a cat.

  5. Possibly one more bible to put on the shelf.

    From the Verge piece:

    “It wasn’t until Greene was introduced to writings like N.T. Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God and Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative that he began to see the Bible as a library of liturgical texts “compiled of masterfully crafted literary art, infused by its authors with needle-sharp significance, rich symbolism, and enthralling beauty.”

  6. This question of how we read Scripture in and as community seems especially critical as Christians discuss difficult issues like immigration and LGBTQ questions in the public sphere. I just saw a comment section on an Atlantic article where posters were name-calling, even as they hurled Scripture verses at each other to prove their points. I know that’s not unusual, but it made me really sad.

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