At the beginning of the year, I made a list of goals. Top on the list was to read the Bible in 90 days. This was a challenge that I heard about from a friend and I followed her link to Amy’s blog which in turn led me to Bible in 90 Days website. I debated with myself for a bit and then decided to go “all in” and see if I could do it. I have tried at least ten times in the last decade to read the whole Bible, but I never made it. This time, I did.
What made the difference?
In my opinion, it was the community of readers. There was/is a vibrant community of men and women who were reading along with me. When they stumbled, I tried to encourage them to pick up and keep going. When I stumbled, they did the same for me. We had great discussions on Monday nights. Over the course of three months, I missed one discussion because of illness. Those discussions were part encouragement, part Bible study, and part check in, and I found them invaluable to my reading and my feelings about what I was doing.
What Have I Learned?
I’m struggling with what I learned from the experience and how I feel now. I know that some folks consider me fairly religious and others consider me one step away from totally lapsed, so it’s probably not surprising that I’m conflicted still. I know that I’m not going to be spouting Bible verses at dinner or offering a Biblical response to any and all questions asked of me (I’ll say you’re welcome in advance to those who are going to see me in late April and in June).
I still believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, not the inerrant word of God. That hasn’t changed. I believe that people wrote what they believed to be true based on their experiences, but my reason tells me that humans are fallible reporters and that events may not have occurred precisely as they’re described in the Bible. And I’m okay with that even though I know a lot of people aren’t. I’m not saying it’s fiction, more like memoir. When you’re relying on the memory of people, you’re dealing with faulty devices that work to about 70% capacity at the best of times.
I keep asking myself if my faith has changed. Is it deeper? Do I feel like God spoke to me during this or compelled me to keep reading or, alternatively, did I feel a Satanic influence to stop at any point? On the first point, I don’t think so. If faith is a swimming pool, then I’m probably the one you see dipping her big toe in a thousand times to check the temperature before deciding to get in. And now I’ll go for 1001. I wondered if immersing myself in Bible reading for three months would have a significant impact, and I’m not sure that it did. I forced myself to read and not analyze. I didn’t let myself take notes or do any of the 101 other ways I know to create stronger connections with something that I’m reading (based on the whole, I’m an English professor in “real” life thing). I don’t know if that would have made a difference or not. It’s something for me to think about as I continue my journey.
I don’t know if I felt God pushing me to read, but I definitely felt negative influences trying to get me to stop reading. Illness got in the way a couple of times. There was a person who came in about halfway through to comment that she felt reading fast didn’t allow for serious study and if you weren’t doing serious study then why would you bother at all. There were people who came in each week to the Twitter chats to complain about the speed and how it wasn’t allowing for connection and true immersion, and those attempts struck me as attempts to stop others from pursuing this specific goal in this specific way. Honestly, yes, close textual reading provides a much richer experience, but it also takes an extremely long time and I would not have stuck it out if I had to commit to a year or more to do it “right.”
I think, ultimately, what I’ve learned is that I still have a great deal to learn. What I’ve learned so far is that God is far more patient with us than I had ever been led to believe by the comments and statements of others. I’ve learned that judgment doesn’t belong in our hands, and that we should not be casting judgment on others unless we’re sure that we are blameless ourselves.
I’ve also learned that there are parts of faith that need to be in community that need a public “face” and there are parts of faith that need to be private and belong between God and me. I think where that point is may be different for each person, but that every person likely has private and public aspects of their faith.
Where do I go from here?
This is where I think we can see the biggest change in me. If asked at the beginning, I would have said that once I finished this I’d move on to my regular reading and put this behind me. Now? I’m going to read through Proverbs in the month of April with Amy and work through my rector’s Bible reading challenge. Fr. Doug’s challenge is far less intense than the one that I just completed, but I’m going to use his M.A.P journal technique and see if that adds to my experience since the reading schedule is less intense.
I also know that I want to keep working with the Bible in 90 Days challenge group in some way. One way is that I hope to serve as a mentor in the July group. I plan to try to read and post during that. We’ll see what happens.
It’s been a good experience and one a strongly encourage others to try. There is a group starting July 5th. I’d love to see you there.