Monday, 12 May 2014

Reading the words for what they are

When we read we always read into the text, adding something to it from our own experiences. We read it through our own lives. We read it with our own expectations and we read it with our own conclusions.

I grew up in Rockhampton, a cattle town in Queensland. One day I read a story about the Fitzroy River flooding and straightaway I could imagine it. I'd seen it flood before and remembered the way the water flowed and churned. I remembered how high it came up the banks. And when I saw footage of the later flood on TV I was startled. It wasn't the same. Things had changed in Rockhampton. My recollection was old, for sure, but also Rockhampton moved on since I'd lived there. There were new buildings, new parks, new roads. When I'd read about the flood, I read my memories of the place into the story.

We do this sort of thing all the time, and if we don't know that we're doing this we tend to miss the details and we miss the point of the story. In other words we read it already knowing what we want to get from it and end up not getting what the writer wanted us to have.

It's especially true with the way we read the bible. Most of us come to it after someone else has already talked to us about it. We've already heard the stories and parables. We've heard sermons preached about them and have already had them explained and interpreted for us so when we read them we find ourselves learning nothing new, and oftentimes learning something vastly different to what was meant. Ultimately, we can miss the point.

Reading what was written takes patience and attention to detail. The slow reading and awareness of details is what lets you into the world of the author. They wrote those details in so that you would read them. They included all those people by name because they want you to see them and know them, even just a little bit. Those words are written for you.

To really understand what had happened in that flood in Rockhampton, I needed a new set of mental images of the place. After watching the news footage I would be able to go back to the written article and see the story in a new light.

The bible doesn't really have a news video. It has dramatically-interpreted movies. The buildings look the way that the directors wanted. The people spoke English and are all-too-often white-skinned. Those mental images are artistic recreations

To really get the point of the written story, especially the one that has no documentary video, you need to read the bible slowly, taking it all in. Let the details come to life and imagine them. Who was there? Where was it? What time of year or day was it?

Those detailed words will transport you to that world and into those lives. And when you get there you will be able to see what you're meant to see, hear what you're meant to hear, and take away and understanding that will change the way you see the world.

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