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September 18, 2003: A new take

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Considering my feelings on religion and on god and everything to do with either, I would never have expected to be so excited about getting involved in a Bible study. After all, despite my best efforts I have never been able to understand the whole concept of faith, nor have I ever been able to muster up any sort of ability to believe in divine beings. And yet here I am, flush from the lingering enthusiasm of the first group meeting of this study and still just as excited about doing it.

The difference, I suppose, is that this particular study focuses on the bible, and not so much on the need to have some kind of necessary faith. And while I may have my own personal issues with divinity and miracles and inanimate objects suddenly bursting forth in lists of rules to live by, I cannot escape the fact that this book; this motley collection of stories and prose and random facts has had such an impact on so many countries and cultures, for so many hundreds of years. When they announced they were going to be undertaking this Disciple Bible Study training in the church, I realized that here, at least, was my chance to try to get a better handle on the book, and through that, perhaps I'd get a better understanding of faith as a whole.

I tried reading the bible years ago, probably when I was in high school, and mainly because I had this feeling that I really ought to have read it at least once in my life. I think I made it as far as Leviticus, when everything gets bogged down in nitpicky details on how to handle all the various burnt offerings and I finally gave up. The only time I've ever touched a bible since has been when necessary for some type of church function. Other people have favorite versions of the bible. I have never even bothered to figure out what the differences between all the versions are because it has never been all that important to me. And frankly, right now it still isn't all that important. What is important is getting a sense of what the book is about; what kind of information it contains; what type of influence it holds over those who do believe.

Tonight was our first meeting. In preparation we all had a list of various bible verses to read prior to the meeting. Our particular group is for the 'young' adults (or as I put it, for the adults who still have yet to accept their grey hair) - mainly those of us under 40. By golly we'll cling to that 'young' definition until you have to pry it out of our wrinkled, gnarly hands!

But I digress. I knew that with this group the focus would be more on the historical and cultural aspects of the bible, since we are all coming from about the same level of background and understanding. Other groups have different participant types - those who might have already undergone intensive bible study, or those who have a difference in religious faith due to generational familiarity. Plus with what I knew of the participants for our group I knew there'd be lively discussion and insight from everyone, as well as unique perspectives.

But I hadn't realized quite how much those unique perspectives would contribute to the discussion as a whole. Each weekly session is two hours long, but those two hours sped by. We mainly focused on the makeup of the bible - how it contains so many different types of writing: law, prophecy, letters, history, and prose. And it was amazing to me how each type of writing seemed to resonate so differently with each member of our group. For example as we were discussing the sensory images a particular psalm evoked for us, each person in the group had something completely different. I think in a way it surprised everyone how differently each of us interpreted the words we read; what each of us perceived as the meaning or message behind them.

At one point we were all asked what we expected from the bible, and then, what the bible expects from us. One woman's answer seemed so simple but so true. The bible expects us to give it a chance. And that's really all I am doing. I do not expect to be miraculously changed from agnostic to someone who hears the word of god speaking through me. I do not expect to suddenly find that faith that everyone around me seems to have. I just want to get a little more understanding. That's really all I've ever wanted out of this whole concept of faith, after all.

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