Monday, December 01, 2014

The Contemplative Preacher: The Word in Different Flesh

In my previous posts, I've talked about looking at Scripture in small chunks. Here I want to talk about looking at Scripture in ways that bring out the larger picture. 

It can be refreshing to experience Scripture in physical forms that are different than the traditional black, small-font, leather-bound book. There's nothing wrong with this format, but as its intention is to fit a lot into a small package, there are limitations to it. It doesn't lend itself well to note-making. Also, if you spent a lot on a Bible, you don't want to mess it up with ink that bleeds through those thin pages too much in certain places, or comments too full to allow space for future comments. 

Here are three ways I've been trying to bring Scripture out of the traditional bound book so that I can have different kinds of interactions with the text.

Method 1: Out Loud
As simple as it sounds, there is real benefit to reading Scripture aloud. I now do this with every book in preparation to preach from it. Until you give it a voice, you might not pause to consider many of the sounds and emotions involved. "When Jesus made this statement, did he speak quickly or slowly? Was he happy, angry, or disinterested?" When you try to give a voice to the words, it forces you to put yourself more into the passage. 

As you are reading out loud, it helps you to notice refrains. You'll more likely remember a similar phrase from an earlier passage when you are reading large chunks aloud in a single setting. 

One of the best aspects of reading aloud is that you cannot skip over anything. If you commit to verbalizing every word, you cannot stick only to the familiar or favorite parts. All receive at least some of your attention.

Of course, audio Bibles can be useful for this also, if you can avoid letting yourself tune them out with other thoughts. I've found audio Bibles to be especially useful in studying Proverbs. Where I rapidly jump from verse to verse, it is refreshing to have to listen and wait for a narrator to let you progress to the next bit of wisdom. One great way to get the Bible out of its binding is to return it into a spoken word format, as much of it was originally given.

Method 2: Mega-Scroll

In the last couple of years, my good friend Les Chapman showed me a method he uses for in depth Bible study that has been really helpful to me. He prints out the entire text of a biblical book, then tapes all the page edges together with clear packaging tape. Do all your taping on the back side. Also, it is good to apply a line of tape all along the outer most edge of the entire scroll, as it helps it to hold together and resist tearing.
What this gives you is a printed version of the Biblical text on paper thick enough for really making notes. In preparation to preach, I like to read through a book multiple times. I will experiment with reading through for different purposes, each time using a different color to make highlights of a certain emphasis. 

For example, I'll use one color for words of admonition, another for words of warning, another for Old Testament references, and another for descriptions of actions or deeds.
The benefit of the large scroll is that you can really see connections between passages that would not otherwise be visible to you. 

Sometimes I print the text plain, and do all the highlighting by hand. Other times, I do a lot of it in the document I'm preparing of the text, then supplement it by hand. The Revelation text in the image I prepared on my computer, then added to by hand. I had it on display in the teen classroom as we studied Revelation, and it was really helpful for them in understanding the flow of the book, and things like the patterns of seven. You can download the full Revelation text as I prepared it for printing here. Look at the last page of the document for a key to how I used different colors in preparing the text.

At Kings Crossing, I have been preaching through James. Here is the full text of James I printed, then read through multiple times, looking for themes and points to highlight. On this particular text, I opted to include no verse number or divisions, forcing myself to decide what I believed the logical breaks and transitions were. It's a healthy way to immerse yourself in the text.

The most ambitious scroll I ever created contained all of the minor prophets. This was a whopper that took up an entire bulletin board on a classroom wall. Originally, these books occurred together on one scroll called The Book of the Twelve. I wanted to read the minor prophets together in light of each other, and this method really brought out some fascinating connections. For example, themes emerged from the endings of some books next to the beginnings of others, making the thematic, rather than chronological arrangement of the Minor Prophets seem very intentional. Also, Hosea and Malachi create bookends through their emphases on marital fidelity and divorce. These are things you notice when you can look at all of the books at once, rather than flipping through small pages as you go.

Method 3: Printed Pages

For a less ambitious version of Method 2, there is still great benefit in printing out the biblical book on nice paper, and putting it in a binder. A recent Kickstarter project called Bibliotheca has attempted something similar to this. Though I intend to buy a copy, there's no real reason to have to spend so much when you can do your own without much trouble. 

I like using for this, because if you click on the little gear next to the Scripture, you can choose options such as whether or not you want the text to have headings, verse numbers, or footnotes. I copy and paste all the text from the website, having selected my text version and options.

When you paste it into a document, you have great options, such as creating huge margins for notes. You can pick a font and font size that is especially pleasing to your eye. Removing verse numbers and headings will help you read passages in context, rather than letting scholars guide you into what should be considered a section of thought. Play around with it!

These are some ways I have found helpful in seeing Scripture more in context, keeping the larger picture in mind. What methods have been helpful to you?

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