Reading The Art of Biblical Narrative: how story shapes Scripture

Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative has been sitting on my shelf of to-be-reads most of the year. As people who follow Jesus, we inherited God’s story. It’s not a dissertation, an instruction manual, a bulleted list of doctrine. When we open its pages, we step into a story that came from a culture radically different than our own with different styles of storytelling. Saying that Scripture is story doesn’t mean that it’s not true; it means we need to read it the correct way. Alter is here to help us learn to read the narrative that we find in Scripture.

The Art of Biblical Narrative is a meaty read. I saved it on purpose for a break from seminary classes because I don’t work through this type of material on top of coursework. My brain needs a break. (Here’s what I’m reading for a “break” now so take that for what it’s worth.) But I picked it up between summer and fall classes and quickly realized, however uncomfortable I occasionally felt with some of Alter’s assumptions, this book will change how I read Scripture.

Dismissing My Own Disdain: when words ruin witness

I promise not to become a person who constantly critiques how we use social media simply because I’m pausing my own use of it. However, I think most social media users will admit some parts of it do deserve critique. Screens make it easy to treat people who do not share our positions with disdain. Memes reduce solid positions to straw-man arguments. Biting captions chew up and spit out those who may be wrong, but need our compassion. Disdain, treating people with contempt and as unworthy of respect, never wins people to our side or to the truth. It is more likely to gain applause from people who agree with us than to start conversations with those who don’t.

It is far more helpful to consider our words on social media or the internet in general, (this is my goal here as well) not as shouting from a stage in front of a cheering crowd, but as words across a dinner table with a person we love who holds a different viewpoint. Those are radically different conversations and tones and intentions. The goal of a dinner conversation isn’t to win or to convert, but to fellowship and know each other. You want to leave the table understanding something that you didn’t before even if you still don’t agree. These are the people who come to your house in the middle of the night during a medical emergency to sit with your kids or drop off coffee when you’re sick. Some of those people are hopefully not just like us. Yet we can learn to live well with them.

Seminary Notes 7: fuel for faith

When I registered for fall quarter a few weeks ago, I was able to register on a Wednesday instead of waiting till Thursday. Students at Fuller are able to register for classes in an order based on the hours of work that they have completed. (I assume most programs work that way but realize I could be wrong.) The more classes you have taken, the sooner you get to register. That way, if you are close to the end of your program, you get first access to the classes you need to finish. If you just started, you pick from what’s still available because there will be something you need to take that’s still open.

Registering a day earlier was a small moment, but it reminded me that I am completing the work. Slowly, I’m pacing through the program. I’m practicing celebrating so I probably should have had some cake. What am I saying? Of course I should have had cake.

This summer, I’ve struggled with feeling like seminary is a waste of time. I love it, but I questioned what good it will do to put this much time and effort and money into it. I’m ok. I don’t need an intervention, but I am trying to be honest about attending seminary in these reflections. I keep preaching the same truths to myself. One, I do believe that God has directed me to seminary and there’s a reason for that. Two, I decided when I started that if I never did anything different than the work I was already doing, seminary would be worth it.

What I read this summer: June-August

Moving is exhausting. Everyone who has moved is nodding, but since we had lived in Kentucky for 17 years, including college, I was not prepared for boxing everything up, sleeping on air mattresses, untangling the mess of dates and closing and paperwork, and then moving into a completely new place with our belongings still in boxes. Cognitively I understood what it meant, but emotionally, it took much more than I expected. I promise I have a much greater level of sympathy if anyone says they have to move. Even if the move is anticipated and not dreaded, you are welcome to cry on my shoulder and I’ll make scones for consolation and nourishment.

I might not have updated the blog with summer reading, but I did still write it all down. If you’re questioning whether or not moving is exhausting (did I mention that moving is exhausting?), please note that I only read three books in July and one of them was for my summer seminary class.

Life as usual: pictures and links

I’m still debating what role social media is going to play in my life; I cannot find a good answer yet. I considered just jumping on Instagram and sharing some of this, but ultimately decided not to. I like that this is living here, in my own space, probably seen by fewer people but also not competing with an algorithm or leaving me waiting for likes.

The past two days have been the most gorgeous weather. While the rest of the country has been battling extremes in weather from hurricanes and wildfires, Virginia has felt those first crisp mornings that leave me longing for a lengthy hike. I’ve prayed for people who, on top of dealing with a pandemic, are displaced from their homes, specifically my summer professor who evacuated while waiting to see if a fire would consume her community. Alongside that, I have felt the cooler air rushing over my arms while biking to pick up my kids from school and my heart has exhaled many “thank you’s” as I pedal over the hills. I’m going to have amazing thigh muscles.

How the Lord’s Prayer changed how I pray

Prayer is easier to talk about than to do.

Prayer is said to be important but practiced less often.

Prayer shapes us and we find it difficult.

I’ve been leaning into the discipline of prayer the past few years. Maybe you don’t appreciate it being called a discipline but it has been a discipline for me, not something that comes easily. Jesus’ disciples also recognized their need to learn to pray, especially as they watched Him pray. They came to Him while He was praying and asked Him to teach them to pray and Jesus said “whenever you pray, say,” and then He led them in prayer.

And yet, despite Jesus saying to pray this way, we often don’t. We don’t want to pray rote prayers. And so, instead, we don’t pray. Or we pray rote prayers; they are just the rote prayers we made up. “Lord, bless so and so” over and over because we don’t know what else to say.

Waiting for words, logging off, living well

There is no one in the house but me and the pets. I’m drinking coffee, eating a scone, and rapping along with the Hamilton soundtrack. This morning my husband went to the office (and I don’t mean the one in the basement) and I biked the three older boys to school and then biked the four-year-old to his first day of preschool. This is a new era for me and I’m hoping to settle into a rhythm for these hours while I’m looking for a job. I always want that rhythm to involve writing.

I’ve had no words lately. I’ve wanted to write. My blog dances around the corners of my mind all day, begging for time and attention. For some reason that makes little sense in our social media age, I’ve always loved a blog. I love my own. I love to read others. It seems too much to ask for everyone to stop dumping their thoughts on Instagram and write some old-fashioned blog posts, but I’d still like to make it. Yes, I’m talking to you.

And yet, when my hands hover above my keyboard, I find myself ignorant, empty of words, without anything of use to say. Part of this essay is signing my own permission slip to let this space be what I want: pictures of food and bike rides to school, links to things I love, and free-flowing essays about life alongside theological ideas and book reviews. Part of this is acknowledging that life has shifted substantially this summer.