A project based on the Bible
For over a year now, I’ve been working on a project that has me reading the Bible on a weekly basis. I had to take a break for several months to deal with The United Church of Canada‘s review of my effectiveness simply because I could not write during the first many months of that gruelling process. But I have managed to get the project back on my desk and begin working on it again.
Clergy who continue to use the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) have a lot of material from which to source pre-written prayers, hymn suggestions, and sermon outlines, notes, and complete texts that are based on the biblical readings for the week. I know because I used to use them when putting together Sunday services. Of particular merit were resources coming out of Australia and the books of Maren Tirabassi and Ruth Duck. And there was always theSermon and Lectionary Resources created right here in Canada which pointed to many sites that could offer resources for service prep.
Losing the Lectionary
As West Hill became more and more non-exclusive in relation to theism, the resources found on those sites were less and less helpful. At one point, I stopped using the RCL and lost the whole wealth of resources upon which I had grown to depend. It meant I had to write my own resources or source them from other places. When the Elements Committee at West Hill, the equivalent of the Worship Committee in other churches, decided to invite me not to use the Bible at all, finding appropriate readings for use in the service was not a sudden challenge; we’d been using a second reading for many years at that point. The criterion for selection is simple: the reading needs to be worthy of the people gathering in that space. Beyond that, it can be from anywhere. No text is privileged at West Hill.
I am painfully aware of how difficult the shift from traditional texts, lined up for each Sunday by the RCL team of ecumenical partners, to the work of choosing texts and developing liturgical resources to accompany them can be. But I also know how difficult it is to remain challenged by the RCL when you’re trying to move beyond the exclusive language of theism. So that’s the project: creating post-theistic resources for clergy who continue to use the RCL or don’t, each week’s theme chosen from the readings for that week but developed in post-theistic language. In other words, written in plain English.
Every week, I read the lections for the following year’s texts, develop a theme, choose readings and quotes to go with it, and write liturgical elements such as intros to the readings, requests for the offering, benedictions, etc, new words to old hymn tunes. As I said, the project got hijacked by the review, but I’m back on track though still not producing as much as I had been before that process started. I had been writing new words to an old hymn tune every week until the review hit. I have not yet been able to get back to that practice. (You can find my rewritten hymns here.)
A challenging text
Last week, the lectionary text I read was Deuteronomy 30:15-20. It used to be one of my favourite passages. Reading it last week was disturbing. I don’t think I had realized how brutal it really is. You can read the whole text here, but if you’re clergy, you’ll definitely know it by these words, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…” I used to love that phrase.
Set before you are these simple things: life and prosperity, death and adversity. Each of us chooses the former: life and prosperity. We set our eyes upon it. But truthfully, the way is not what you think. Neither is it what another might tell you. For the road unfolds before you, created every moment by the person you are, the choices you make, and the circumstances within which you make them. No one has ever created the path that will be yours and no one will ever walk that same path again. It is yours to create and yours to follow.
There is no “right” path. There is no “wrong” way. There is only the road you create and the choices out of which it appears. Stay your heart to those things that hold your dignity – compassion, love, courage, and strength. Walk with these surrounding you. They can neither change the course of history nor mask the tragedies that befall you, but they will cleave your heart to your right choosing that by every step, the roadway you create and upon which you travel will be fused of trust and forgiveness; trust in the inherent goodness within every heart you meet and forgiveness extended to all whose hearts are hardened against you, against humanity, against the future. May the vast heavens above us and the unending earth beneath our feet stand witness today to this truth: before us lies both life and death, joy and sorrow. May we ever choose what lies truest to our hearts and in so doing, make manifest a path of beauty upon which we walk our lives.
Do or did you have a favourite scripture passage or text from your tradition that is a challenge to you now? Have you tried rewriting it to appeal to a new audience? I’d love to hear about it.