Today was the final day of our conference. There are many elements to it, but the central one is surround manuscript study.
Basically, manuscript study takes a book of the Bible, printing it out with no chapters, verses, or paragraphs, adding line numbers and page numbers. I was in a group studying the second half of the book of Mark.
Each day we would meet together, about five smaller groups of 4-5 people each, around tables. The day would begin with individual study of a particular section (page 15, line 5 to page 16, line 24, for instance) asking two questions: what do you see and where do you see it. We used colored pencils to circle, underline, scribble, write or draw whatever seemed significant. Then, after a time, we would discuss in the smaller groups, again asking, what did you see and where did you see it. Finally, the larger group as a whole then discusses, what did you see, where did you see it.
The attempt, in limiting discussion to those two questions, is to keep it from turning into either sweeping generalizations (God says we must say the sinner’s prayer to go to heaven when we die—where do you find that, actually?) as well as preventing us from saying, ‘Well, the book of John says…’ We are in Mark. What does Mark say? How do we understand that, taken for what it is, not what we have turned it into?
When I came to the conference four years ago one of the highlights, other than meeting people from all over the world, was this method of study. I had never before so loved studying the Bible as I did for that week. All day, everyday, for five days straight, and it never got old. I wrote an article about it, Wonder Bread, if you are interested.
Part of what was so interesting about it in this context is that we had people from very different backgrounds—culturally, religiously, nationally—all reflecting together. The diversity of the group made it much, much richer than it would have been otherwise. Part of it was that we were all involved, looking at the text and contemplating it, rather than having it ‘told to us.’
I’m not sure how to replicate this kind of study in a regular, ongoing basis, but I’d love to try and figure it out.