Saturday, December 10, 2005

Holy and Unholy Scripture

Some days ago The Boy In the Bands posted an interesting, provocative piece on Unitarian Universalist use of non-Biblical sources as readings in worship, thus elevating those sources to a kind of "Scripture:"

Having been raised in Unitarian Universalism, and never having belonged to a Scripturally-based tradition, I found myself thinking a lot about this. I know why the Bible (both Old and New Testament readings, and psalms) are included in Christian worship services. I certainly know why the Bible readings are the focus of Jewish worship. I am greatly disappointed by UUism's throwing out of the Bible in worship somewhere along the post-Transcendentalist era, and I do wish I could bring more Bible to my own congregation's worship today.

However, it has never occurred to me that by choosing, say, a poem by Wendell Berry or part of an article by Jim Wallis as readings that I am putting them in the place of Scripture, or elevating them to the status of the Bible. To me, the readings illuminate the theme of the service, and more particularly, help the congregation enter into the longer reflection and teaching moment of the sermon with a bit of context.

I am aware that in choosing those readings I am influencing the way the congregation thinks about the sermon topic, and that's perfectly acceptable to me. I have often felt grateful that I didn't have to contort my sermon around the lectionary readings for that week, although I respect the discipline the lectionary creates.

But Scott makes a great point, which is that preachers are not there to create, ex nihilo, the teachings of the religious tradition (which the choice of non-Scriptural sources might imply to some), but are there to have the religious tradition (represented in this conversation by Holy Scripture) create us.

I think of the readings in the worship service as an opportunity to illustrate for the worshipers that we can read anything in a religously meaningful way. I choose readings not only that provide a color to the sermon I may not be able to provide, but as a way of showing the congregation that we can approach all texts from a spiritual place. It is a way of modeling a religious reading of the world.


Blogger Wally Nut said...

Peace Bang, you might find Rev. Ron Knapp's sermon interesting about this topic: "Holy Eclecticism: The People of the Many Books" on the website of the First Unitarian Church of Sioux City Iowa.

Blogger Lynn said...

I had read Scott's discussion of this, and for me (another raised UU mostly) the Bible really isn't much more significant than any other book. I might, with some thought, be able to set up some classes of written things and how they should be used in worship that would attach some sort of normative value and some weight to them, but I'm not sure that I privilege the Bible over Shakespeare or Plato.

Blogger Kim said...

I, personally, prefer to consider wisdom more important than tradition. The bible has a lot of wisdom in it, but it also has a lot of non-wisdom in it. Other works, fiction and non-fiction, include offerings of wisdom that are not necessarily available from the bible. If someone said what you wanted to say in the perfect words, why reinvent the wheel? Just quote them. (and give them credit).


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