If you are a classic car enthusiast, you will probably be familiar with the Haynes manual which would explain how the mechanics of the car worked, and how to repair it yourself. Car DIY was a possibility in those days, because computerised engine management systems were in their infancy, so there was a lot you could do to keep your car on the road armed only with a spanner. I can remember one of my teenage boyfriends emptying the sump pan underneath his VW Beetle of the lumpy black oil which had accumulated in the engine: a wise policy at regular intervals, but possibly wiser not to use your mum’s best oven tray as a receptacle. She was quite cross with him!
Since cars have developed and become more complex, it is unrealistic to take that sort of approach. These days you would take your car to a specialist who would have the right sort of diagnostic tools and specialist equipment to keep it working well.
How infinitely more complex than a car is a human being. We are made of moving, living parts which work together, but we are so much more than a machine. We are full of life and growthful possibility, but are also fragile – we can be easily hurt or internalise the wrong messages, and never reach our potential. And a community is more infinitely complex still! We need really expert guidance.
Some ways in which Christians read Scripture attempts to deal with the problem of human complexity by reducing us back to the level of a machine, which would operate well according to a rule book. As though the Bible were a Haynes manual - if only we followed the rules which God has set, we would be united and happy and things would go like clockwork! I can see that this is quite an attractive idea, which has been around for millennia, but it sadly doesn’t work. It tends to become a matter of our rules applied to others, which can crush or destroy them rather than giving them life.
So, how do we read the Bible in such a way that it will give us life, both individually and as a community? One way might be to think of it as a musical score, brought to life by the inspiration of the players. The text may be the bass line, the middle parts the interpretations by translators and scholars; but the top parts are all improvisation – the lives lived in response to the notes and harmonies underneath. The most beautiful music is made when we listen to the other parts! The Bible is best read in community. In our Wednesday evening study group we have started simply reading it together. We each bring what we have to the conversation, whether that be academic study or lived experience, alert also for the music of those we may be failing to hear. Please do join us at the Rectory or on Zoom if you would like to – and because the primary aim is to listen, there is no need to say anything at all if you prefer.