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Dance with the Bible and let the Holy Spirit out


July 17, 2012
-Deborah Froese

Vancouver, B.C. — Dance with the Bible? Rub the dust off its cover to let the Holy Spirit out?

At first glance, these ideas may seem audacious or even blasphemous, but scholar, educator and author Tom Yoder Neufeld provoked thought by integrating them into his plenary sessions on July 14 and 15 at Mennonite Church Canada’s Assembly 2012, Dusting off the Bible for the 21st Century.

 “I don’t know of another topic that is as important as the one we are talking about here,” he said, describing this age as a time of crisis for the church. It’s an age in which we must renew our commitment to studying scripture to re-establish ourselves as people of God.

But the Bible is not easily read or interpreted. It’s “one huge, messy archive of God’s ongoing relationship with people…the Bible stirs things up. It breaks up the hard-packed ground of entrenched power and control,” said Yoder Neufeld, the Professor of Religious Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College.

“We have a tendency to shape the Bible to fit our cherished perceptions.” Doing so places us in danger of settling for less than the full depth, width, length and fullness of God. “We need the Bible to constantly call into question the way we’ve tailored things.”

Yoder Neufeld entreated delegates to wrestle together over the Bible.  “The Bible is not a manual to solve some sort of problem—even though that’s the way we want to look at it.” He pointed out that if the Bible had been treated like a manual in the days of the early church, gentiles would not have been welcomed into her folds and no one would have recognized the messiah.

The scribes who first wrote down stories of the Old and then the New Testaments did not know they were creating the Bible, Yoder Neufeld said, but that didn’t devalue it. Instead, their commitment demonstrated the ongoing nature of God’s story with God’s people. The Bible is witness to the entrusting of God’s Word to humankind with all of their foibles and weaknesses. “We might wish for something less human and more manual-like,” he said, but that is not the way the Bible works. The truth lies with no one person. It takes a community to discern.

As his first session drew to a close, Yoder Neufeld recalled a visit with Mennonite World Conference visit to Schleitheim, Switzerland, and a notice posted for a Pentecost event in local parish church entitled Dancing to the Bible.  “With simple dances and texts,” the poster read, “we will let the Spirit of Pentecost bring us wings. Bring comfortable shoes…”

“We should dance with the Bible,” Yoder Neufeld said.

You are Christ’s letter of recommendation

During his next address, Yoder Neufeld examined Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, which he described as one of the lowest moments of Paul’s ministry. The Corinthians accused Paul of tooting his own horn and felt that his work wasn’t up to snuff. They demanded from him a letter of recommendation. But Paul, who planted and taught this very congregation, assertively reminded them that they are Christ’s letter of recommendation, a reflection of God to others.

“I’ve often thought of the Bible as a kind of sign, a pointer,” Yoder Neufeld said, noting we sometimes become lost in analysis. “The Bible is a pointer…to remind us who we are.”

But the Bible also reminds us to be on the lookout for surprises. “Let’s ground our hopes, let’s ground our convictions in scripture,” he admonished, “but be nimble enough to receive the word Christ is writing in our lives.”

He closed with reference to the Disney animated movie, Aladdin’s Lamp, and the effervescent, wildly spontaneous actor Robin Williams, who provided the voice for the genie.

“Rub Aladdin’s lamp and out comes Robin Williams,” Yoder Neufeld said. Because the producers could not control Williams’ behaviour, they “rubbed the lamp”, allowed Williams to do his thing and created the animation after-the-fact.

“The Bible is like that,” Yoder Neufeld said. “Dust off the Bible and out comes the Holy Spirit whom we can’t control. Words matter, word texts matter, but they are the lamp that we should not forget to rub to give life to our work….Take your Bibles, dust them off, rub them and watch out for what comes out!”

See more about Assembly 2012