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…the Bible between us

Just recently I came across an ingenious scheme by a group of A level French students faced with the daunting task of reading a French novel. Rather than struggling through the whole thing alone, they have turned it into a shared experience through social media. This is how it works. They have divided the book up into groups of eight pages. Each day each student reads their allocated eight pages, writes a plot summary of them, and then posts a Facebook message with the summary and thereby passes on the virtual baton to the next reader. Nobody gets too overwhelmed, the book gets read, and social media time serves an academic as well as a social purpose. Brilliant!

Now – how many times have you heard Christians say that reading the whole Bible is too much of a daunting task? Even when many sign up to a scheme such as “Bible in a year” where we draw mutual encouragement from knowing others are doing it – the journey can still be tough. Sometimes even reading a longer Bible book can seem like a big ask. What if we were to take a leaf out of these French students’ book, though? What might it look like with a worked example?

  • Homegroup agrees to read the book of Job between them.
  • Each day each member reads one chapter of the book.
  • On completing their reading they summarise the thrust of their chapter in no more than 100 words
  • They post their summary on Facebook, thereby passing the reading baton on to the next person
  • By the time the task is complete, the homegroup have read Job between them, and have a ‘personalised’ summary of the book.
  • Each reader will know ‘their’ particular chapters than ever before, through having had to summarise them
Of course the scheme is not without drawbacks. If the person in the queue ahead of you is late back from work,or otherwise delayed – it may be late in the day before the baton comes to you.However, in the intimate context of a homegroup where people know each other well, such things can surely be tolerated?
Biblefresh is all about opening up the Bible with as much creativity, imagination and commitment as we can. Anyone for a faithbook Bible adventure?

The father of dynamic equivalence

Back in 2002, I was researching a Masters dissertation on: ‘the preacher as translator: a model for preaching in the 21st Century. At the time, Eugene Nida was my constant companion. Last week, in a hospital in Brussels, he died. If you read the Bible in your own language, in a modern and accessible translation, he has probably been your companion too, even without you knowing it.  Nida’s concern in Bible translation began from a mission perspective, wanting to put into the hands of cross-cultural missionaries a Bible which would ‘do the job’. In order to do this he honed the translation technique known as ‘dynamic’ or ‘functional’ equivalence.

Dynamic equivalence seeks to assess what the source text did in its source culture, and then to reproduce that same effect by the target text on the target culture. In other words, it is less concerned about reproducing a word for word equivalence, and more concerned about reproducing a blow for blow impact. Nida himself said that the aim in all this was that the reader of the eventual translation would be ‘transformed by its [the Bible’s] message.’ This technique led to some spectacular translations, for example:

  • ‘No-one puts old opossum fur onto new opossum fur’ (Mark 2 v. 21, Aboriginal Bible)
  • ‘Place your light on a grain bin’ (Mark 4 v. 21 Korku New Testament)
  • ‘Your sins shall be made as white as the snow of a seal pup'(Isaiah 1 v.18 Inukitut Bible)
The latter comes from a translation for the Inuits which took 24 years to complete. Using the principles of dynamic equivalence, the word ‘snow’ could not be used – since snow is like the dirt under your feet for those who walk on it all day long. Hence the use of ‘seal pup’ to demonstrate purity instead.
Closer to home, the work of Eugene Nida had a huge impact on the Good News Bible, which has now sold over 218 million copies worldwide.
When I teach students about these principles of translation, I tend to talk about the ‘tale of two Eugenes’, using the image below.The man on the left is the one people are far more likely to recognise: Eugene Peterson, translator of ‘The Message’. When Peterson first wrote down his translation of Galatians, and then was persuaded to write down the rest of the New Testament as well, he expressed his surprise about the request. So far as he was concerned he was just writing down what he had been doing in the pulpit for years- expressing the truths of Scripture in the ‘language of the parking lot’.  In so doing, whether consciously or not, he was embracing the principles which another Eugene had laid down before him.
Today I thank God for the life and work of Eugene Nida.

Church & commerce can work

There was a time when church and commerce were unhealthy partners. People point, for instance, to the way in which Western trade rode into the heart of Africa on the back of mission.  Maybe this is why local churches are nervous of partnering with local businesses. We are also wary in case their agenda and ours are different. But why can’t we write two agendas on the same page?

Last year we led a harvest initiative to donate ‘scholar packs‘ to schools in Uganda. We unashamedly directed people to a local stationer, and they gladly offered a discount for those filling their scholar packs in the shop.  We have just launched a Biblefresh photo competition sponsored by local businesses who are keen to be promoted to the many people who come through the church during a week. We wanted prizes for the competition and they wanted advertising – so we have helped each other out.

As you will see from the video below, in Gothenburg this Winter this kind of partnership has been conducted on a grand scale.  Simply brilliant and brilliantly simple.

With thanks to @Kore

Can a conversation be too big?

So let me get this right. This Lent there will be people in their homegroups not only doing “homegroupy” type things, but also venturing out into the virtual world like astronauts leaving the mother ship?  In addition to the usual printed materials which we have come to expect from homegroup studies, there will be online videos and podcasts and discussion forums and internet chats and..?

The answer to all the above is “yes”.  This year the Big Read offers people the chance not just to interact within their homegroup, but to contribute to a wider conversation which can be accessed anywhere in the world by anyone with a computer. Instead of talking about encouraging an overseas missionary, for example, you could send them an email direct from your group. Maybe the following week they could skype you back by way of a thank you. The possibilities are enormous.

In addition to all this interactivity, there will be an ongoing Twitter chat about the issues raised by the Big Read on @chatbible . Each day throughout Lent there will be a pithy discussion based around the relevant sections of Matthew’s Gospel. The 140 characters should keep the comments short and sweet, but they can still pack a punch. Neil Armstrong’s famous lunar quote (13.mp3) was only 50 characters long , but no-one seems to feel it was lacking in value!

Some may feel this is one more step on the slippery slope to a kind of hyperinteractivity. However, the sobering fact is this. Although people are talking at length about the linguistic heritage of the Bible in the English language, there is a danger that it becomes little more than a piece of heritage – like a stately home or a love letter preserved behind glass. We cannot afford to do this – which is why we must embrace these Twenty-First Century media to encourage a wholehearted debate about a book whose pages we regard as sacred.

Join in the debate somewhere, somehow – on Twitter, on a forum, in a homegroup. Be part of a big Bible conversation – it will be poorer without you.

World Book Day 2011

Up and down the country right now, children will be settling down in their classrooms dressed as characters from their favourite books for World Book Day. The more game amongst their teachers will be doing the same thing. If you happened to pass an Alice in Wonderland, a Captain Hook or a Professor Dumbledore on your way to work this morning – don’t be alarmed. You weren’t imagining it nor do you need to visit your optician.

As Christians we have something of a reputation for being “bookish” people. Indeed the Qur’an refers to Christians and Jews as ‘people of the book’. This should be especially true in this Biblefresh year.  I wonder whether it is, though?  Do the values of the Bible percolate through our very beings?  Do we dance to its rhythm and march in step with its beat?  That is where projects like the Big Read, mentioned earlier, are so important.

When I was first a Christian it seemed that people were forever telling me that ‘you are the only Bible some people will ever read’. If that is indeed the case, then I had better hope it is a good translation.  It needs to authentically represent the source text in the culture where I live. In that sense, every day is ‘book day’ for a Christian.

So, will you be donning a Biblical costume for work today?  Or will you opt for a more subtle reference to the world’s most influential book?

Bible surgery

As part of our Biblefresh initiative here at Teddington Baptist Church, we centred the evening worship around a ‘Bible surgery’ yesterday evening. People arrived at church clutching their favourite, familiar, Bibles to find the chairs gathered around the communion table so that we could actually chat to each other.  After some introductory worship, people were encouraged to talk about the Bible they had brought with them – why they liked it, what made them choose it, and maybe even point out some of the things they keep in it.  After that we shared some of our difficulties with reading God’s remarkable book. A selection is listed below:

  • I can’t find the time
  • Its too familiar
  • Very uncomfortable with the description of battles in the Old Testament
  • How do the historical books apply today?
  • Why doesn’t the Bible fill in the gaps and tell us the rest of the details about the lives of some of its main characters? For instance, we know nothing about Paul’s family life
  • The Old Testament is very repetitive
  • I want to be like some of the characters in the Bible but I can’t
  • The dangers of applying the Bible ‘professionally’ and not personally

After this we reviewed some of the resources available for this Biblefresh year, including lyfe studies, 12 words, BigBible and others, right down to the low-tech end of a diary and pencil! We then proceeded to a brief study of Isaiah 55 v. 6 – 11 and spent time praying for each other before sharing communion.  At the close of the service, people assembled their bibles for a ‘group photo’:


Bibles at the Bible Surgery

The approach was a valuable one, and would bear repetition in other churches, I’m sure. One or two things to bear in mind though:

  • Make sure people are invited in advance to bring their Bible with them.
  • The Bible should be the old familiar one they habitually use – not necessarily the one which would usually be seen in public
  • Keep the initial discussion light as you ‘compare’ bibles
  • As the discussion about problems and challenges unfolds – don’t rush to ‘solve’ them in the first instance – just let people talk
  • As far as possible keep the discussion ‘horizontal’, so that any advice is shared ‘through’ you, rather than’from you’.

Many Christians suffer from a chronic ‘hardening of the ‘oughteries’, where their life is a collection of spiritual ‘oughts’ rather than joyful possibilities. Sadly, for many reading the Bible is on that particular list. Anything we can do to lift the guilt and suggest practical advice on a way forward is to the good.

Preparing for Biblefresh

Just been reading the Bible Psalm (119) as I look ahead on this New Year’s morning to Biblefresh year.  Like many others, I will be hoping to understand, communicate and embody the Word as vigorously as possible. Reading the Psalm just now, one particular verse caught my attention:

The unfolding of your words gives light. (v.130)

There’s a world of skill, prayer and hope caught up in that little word “unfolding”, surely?  It may mean mornings in the study, afternoons by the hospital bed, or hours on the knees if we are to fulfill our calling. If the application of God’s word were obvious he would not call preachers to their  work. Since he does – they must engage in the task of unfolding, both in the private space of the study and public space of the pulpit.

Below is a picture of an incredible artwork by Tomohiro Tachi.  The artist has folded a single piece of paper into this three dimensional person. If you wonder how he made it, you have only to click here, and you will see the fold-pattern, revealing the depth of skill involved. Every tiniest crease contributes to the intricate whole.

Unlike Tachi, we are involved in unfolding, rather than folding. However, if the result of our labours is half as arresting then we have cause to rejoice.

Richard Littledale

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