a messy Bible

Posted by on Oct 8, 2015

I had an “aha” moment when reading this article, regarding why I seem to relate to the Bible differently than so many people that I know. I can honestly not remember a time when I thought (or “was led to believe,” as the article says) that the Bible is “neat, tidy and consistent.” From my very earliest memories, I remember experiencing that the Bible was (and is) deeply contested – that honest, sincere, passionate Jesus-following people understood (and understand) texts in different ways, and passionately disagree with each other. From getting into trouble with my grade 1 teacher to innumerable and often heated family mealtime discussions; from watching my friends’ parents go into my dad’s office to express concern about the things he was teaching at the seminary, to relating to dear friends who were (and are) conservative evangelicals, liberationist catholics, divergent-and-disagreeing Mennonites… Throughout my growing-up years I experienced the Bible as deeply contested space, and my faith has been (and continues to be) forged in the crucible of vigorous dialogue and debate, especially between committed, caring and passionate Christians who deeply disagree with each other. That’s where I have lived, and continue to live, my life. And that’s how I’ve come to have such a passion and love for Scripture. Not because it is “neat, tidy and consistent” (I have never known it to be that), but because it is messy and complex and rich and challenging and generative and confusing and contested and always-revealing-more. My experience is not one of having to grapple with being in a “wilderness” of doubt because of the loss of an earlier experience/assumption that the Bible is “neat, tidy and consistent.” I guess I’ve never known anything but this “wilderness” (if that’s what it is). I find the “wilderness” of the Bible as contested space to be a rich, fertile and life-giving (as well as dangerous) place. Braun’s article describes “elderly people who have deep-seated questions about Scripture and are glad for a space in which to explore them.” Reading the article makes me realize that what these “elderly people” are discovering is something that I have been blessed to experience my whole life – a space (in fact, many spaces) to explore such “deep-seated questions.” In fact, my experience has been (and continues to be) that Scripture itself provides and is such a “space” for wrestling with challenging questions together. I think of this as normal. But maybe I shouldn’t – maybe my experience is more unique (even weird?) than I realize. Anyway – today’s “aha” moment renews my passion and conviction to do all I can to help generate, curate, and moderate such “spaces” for others. This is a big part of how I have come – and keep coming – to faith. I hope you can find such spaces...

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lots of writing – just not here

Posted by on Sep 3, 2015

For anyone keeping score at home, you may have noticed that it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything in this space. Oddly enough, this year I have probably written as much or more than in any other year of my life – just not here. My studies are moving along well (I wrote about that decision here), and big things are afoot in the development of my ministry… more will be posted here soon. I’d say “watch this space,” but based on past experience  that would seem like an invitation to watch paint dry in slow motion. In any case, be forewarned – there’s a new year comin’ and a series of announcements and updates will be posted here. Not only is the paint drying, but new coats are going on fast – in fact, whole new walls and rooms are being built and readied for action. Looking forward to inviting you into the new “digs” soon! Peace be with you,...

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blowing my cover

Posted by on Sep 26, 2014

Just over a year ago I had a conversation that changed my life. I was going into the 11th year of my music ministry and struggling with some dynamics in my work that I was having a hard time naming. A new friend who had asked and listened carefully – very carefully – made two insightful comments that were so simple. Even obvious. But I’d never had the nerve to quite see it – or say it – that way before. The first comment was this: “Well, Bryan, it seems to me that SmallTall Music is too small. Too small to describe what you’ve actually been doing, and too small for who you are and what you are called to do in the future.”  The second was this: “It seems to me that you’ve been doing biblical scholarship “under cover” for years. That’s where the songwriting comes from. Maybe it’s time to blow your cover.” Wow. Those two comments hit the nail on the head for me. The past year, with the help of a wise coach, has been an invigorating and exciting (and at times scary) time of exploring the implications of those comments – re-envisioning and re-imagining and beginning to re-articulate how I understand myself and my vocation. Here is a new “why” statement that has emerged from this process. In many ways, of course, there’s nothing “new” about it – this has been driving my sense of ministry all along. But it’s a new articulation that I’m finding helpful as I move into the future. “Why” statement – short version: This is the journey I’m on, and the journey to which I passionately seek to invite others: to catch a glimpse of God’s great project in the world       especially as revealed in Scripture             and be inspired to join in And here’s a longer version, with more detail and nuance (and notice the chiastic structure, if you’re into that kind of thing…) Continuously learning      That I am a beloved child of God             Called and equipped to play a role                   As a member of the body of Christ                         In the ongoing scriptural drama                               Of God’s great project in the world                         I seek to engage others in the ongoing scriptural drama                   As members of the body of Christ             Called and equipped to play their own roles       As beloved children of God Continuously learning A few concrete...

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“other boats were with him…”

Posted by on Jul 16, 2014

I am now back home after attending two very good, very different events. One was the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina, and the other was the Mennonite Church Canada Assembly in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At the Assembly I was especially moved by Betty Pries’ presentation on Saturday morning, and by the various worship times in which we were immersed, again and again, in the story of Jesus and his disciples in a boat in the middle of a storm (Mark 4:35-41). In each worship time – with word, song, visuals, soundscapes, symbolic action – we experienced the whole story and focused on a particular phrase/element (“Leave… Go…”; “Teacher, don’t you care?!”; “Why are you afraid?”; “Have you still no faith?”; “Peace! Be Still!”). I was (and am) deeply moved and very grateful – those worship times, so ably planned and led, “placed” us right where we needed to be for the discernment that was before us each day. There was one phrase that kept sticking out, for me, from that Scripture reading – a phrase that we didn’t explore in those worship times, but that I have been pondering ever since. “Other boats were with him.” After teaching a large crowd “beside the sea” (Mk 4:1-34), Jesus says to his disciples: “‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.” (Mk 4:35-36). We are told nothing of these “other boats.” How many were there? Who was in them? How did THEY experience and navigate the storm? How did THEY relate to Jesus? We do not know. The narrative is focused entirely on the drama of Jesus and his disciples in one particular boat. And yet there is that tantalizing hint: “Other boats were with him.” In the midst of the details of our own dramas and discernment, and the struggles and dynamics in our particular “boat” (church, denomination), we are subtly but unmistakably reminded: We’re not the only ones. “Other boats were with him.” I think of  Luke 24, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, where two disciples are on the road to Emmaus, and they encounter a stranger who turns out to be Jesus himself. When they hurry back to Jerusalem to tell what had happened to them, they discover that Jesus had not only appeared to them, but to others as well. “Other boats were with him…” I am also reminded of the prophet Amos, who says: “Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the LORD. Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?” (Amos 9:7) “Other boats were with him…” It turns out these hints (and more than hints) are seeded all over the place throughout the Scriptures....

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i wish you could meet…

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014

Maybe it’s the way I’m “wired,” but for me one of the joys of going on tour is being welcomed into people’s homes and having many, many conversations across dinner tables (and living rooms, and gardens, and swing sets, and hiking trails, and cars). In the past decade of regular touring, I have stayed in a hotel for a grand total of one night – and that’s because it was the choice of the hosting congregation. My preference is to be hosted in people’s homes, and it’s one of the great joys and blessings of my life. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about conversations. Partly because I’m participating in a bunch of conversations right now that are challenging in a variety of ways – conversations between people with passionate views and convictions who are not in agreement. How can we have good, healthy, meaningful, honest, fruitful, respectful conversations with each other, even when (especially when) we disagree? On this recent tour I spent a number of days with a wonderful family on a farm – members of an intentional Christian community, passionate about the environment and sustainable agriculture, passionate about peace and justice, passionate about following Jesus. They modelled for me an approach to conversation that I think we desperately need. Here’s what they said: “Bryan – it’s obvious that you travel a lot and interact with lots of different communities. I get the sense from our conversation last night that you’re open to different points of view, and open to some “liberal” points of view on homosexuality. Can you help us understand… those who think the church should bless same-sex marriage – how do they justify their position biblically?” And we had a wonderful conversation, lasting about three hours, that was one of the highlights of my trip. A trip that included communities across the the theological spectrum in Mennonite Church USA – from rural Illinois to the Mountain States Mennonite Conference…  from lay Franciscans in Iowa to a progressive emergent church near Boston and a conservative Congregational church down the coast. Everywhere I went, there were meaningful and honest conversations about things – understandings of sexuality, economics, ecology – that are “hot topics” all over. I was struck by what an enormous difference it makes to be having these conversations in person, across dinner tables (and living rooms, and gardens, and swing sets, and hiking trails, and cars), rather than in the so-often shrill and “gotcha” online world of blogs and status updates. To be talking directly with one another, instead of just talking at or about each other through the various technologies that make it so easy to demonize each other, to assume and believe the worst about each other’s motives and agenda, and so on. Tomorrow morning it’s off to the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina, and the following week to Winnipeg for the Mennonite Church...

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