The Evangelist

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Summer 2018

I cannot recall the exact interview, but I remember watching a segment where Ruth Graham, wife of Billy Graham, explained a moment of awakening from her childhood.  As a girl she was visiting with a family member, a cousin our an aunt, explaining what difficulty she was having reading and understanding the Bible.  This family member said, “Well Ruth, why don’t you try this, it works for me . . . every place see someone’s name in the Gospel – like Peter, Mary, Matthew, Nicodemus – someone with whom Jesus is talking – just replace it with your own name – Ruth.”

“As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a person called Ruth sitting at the tax office; and he said to her, Follow me.  And she rose and followed Jesus.”  Matthew 9.9

“And Jesus said to Ruth, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.  And when they had brought their boats to land, Ruth left everything and followed him.”

Ruth Graham recalled the difference this made in her life.  She pointed to this suggestion as a doorway toward understanding that the Bible contained a message for her own life.  I found this insight helpful and sometimes illuminating in my own journey of faith.

Sometimes regular Bible study reminds me of the lonely broccoli and salad on the buffet at some “All You Can Eat” palace of junk food delights.  More and more I find my “screen-life” is like a carnival midway, a circus, of social media and cyber distractions and entertainment; minds being constantly harassed by the “next shiny thing.”  The presence of the Bible, the language of the Bible, the study of the Bible simply cannot compete with the light and noise and rhetoric generated in the cyber echo chambers of thought and opinion that many of us find ourselves drawn toward.  Reading and studying the Bible requires a willingness for us to suspend stimulation and enter a deeper level of concentration.  Bible study is sometimes assumed to be for the simple minded, or those without the advantage of cultivated diversions.  When the fact of the matter is that the greatest of minds in our history have spent countless hours in the pages of this message St. Augustine calls “our letter from home.”

Our Wednesday Men’s study group has taken up a good book, Biblical Literacy: The Essential Bible Stories Everyone Needs To Know, Timothy Beal.  My older brother suggested it to me.  He is part of a study group of urban professionals in the DC suburbs who are seeking to understand the Bible in the midst of busy lives.  It is a user-friendly introduction for those curious about the Bible; it is nice summary of significant passages for students of the Bible.

Bible study and The Daily Office is a wonderful antidote and counter-balance to the never-ending stream of advice and contemporary wisdom that we find on the internet and social media; it seems that there are many who would offer right pathways and right thinking for those who might have questions about life’s deeper purpose.  Many who would prescribe the highest and best use of our attention spans is to read their blog, or follow their postings, contribute our attention span to the greater good of their agendas. 

Reading the Bible, for me, is about finding voices who speak with the power of God, and voices that point toward an eternal reality; voices whose ultimate goal was not audience approval, or the congratulations garnered from creating a personal “brand.”  Finding our life’s story within the Bible is an invitation to discover purpose, clarity, as well as wrestle with deeper questions regarding the trajectory of our temporal, as well as our eternal life.  The promise from God is that when we turn our attention in his direction, that the Spirit will be there to meet us.

Father Thomas and I were visiting about Bible reading, and he offered this poignant insight taken from Timothy Beal’s essay, The Rise and Fall of the Bible, “The iconic idea of the Bible as a book of black-and-white answers encourages us to remain in a state of spiritual immaturity.  It discourages curiosity in the terra incognita of biblical literature, handing us a Magic 8 Ball Bible to play with instead.”  Reading the Bible with the knowledge that our names are included in the trajectory of the message communicated in scripture is to accept an invitation to struggle with the reality that our lives are actually unfolding within the context of God’s greater story.  We may not find pat and easy answers, as much as we might find an invitation to wrestle in our way with what it means to know that Jesus is calling us.

I turn to the Bible and find that it is “more protein than carbs,” because it addresses both my life on this day and my life for all the days to come.  Or as Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes, “I know the Bible is inspired because it finds me at a greater depth of my being than any other book.”  It is our letter from home; it is the story in which our names are already written.


Godspeed in your journey.
Alston Johnson
Dean, St Marks

Posted by Alston Johnson