Part of my change in job has required my husband and I to change, not only our place of worship, but also the denomination (movement) in which we participate. This can seem like a small thing to Gen X/Y-ers like us. Also the practical differences between the Churches of Christ in Australia (in which I was previously serving) and the Baptist Assembly Churches in South Australia (in which I now find myself) are reasonably minimal (despite the fact that certain people have chosen to refer to this change as a “conversion”). Still it has given me pause to reflect on some of the traditions I have become accustomed to and how these traditions might affect the way we engage with our communities.
One such tradition I have been reflecting on is the “personal quiet time” approach to the reading of Scripture which is commonly encouraged in both these church movements. There are certainly many merits to this practice. Without a universally followed lectionary, however, we can find ourselves wandering through our Bible reading, engaging individually with God, but without any particular reference to one another.
Today, for example, I read a beautiful passage from the Psalms:
God makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to cultivate –
bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens human hearts,
oil to make their faces shine,
and bread that sustains their hearts
Reading this as an individual can assure me that God intends for me to be inspired by creation and to gain strength from the abundance that God has provided in it.
Reading this only as an individual, however, I can be distracted from the fact that my personal enjoyment of creation is intended to be framed within a community.
By so doing I can lose sight of the opportunity presented to me to partner with God in building a community in which ALL human hearts are gladdened, faces shining and lives sustained. I can become absorbed in a diminished existence in which I only engage individually with this goodness (experiencing as much of life as I can, consuming as I desire and acquiring whatever I can).
Considering this passage as a part of a community, however, I must consider how to reconcile my personal experience of this goodness while my neighbour battles unemployment or domestic violence. Reading this passage in isolation I risk become like the wealthy landholder in Luke (12:13-21) who choses to build bigger barns to store his abundant grain rather than inviting his hungry neighbours to share in the harvest.
So while I will not be giving up the practice of reading scripture personally and meditatively myself; I am curious about how favouring this approach may be affecting our interaction with our wider community?
Feel free to contribute your thoughts, ideas and dreams below.