Last week I wrote about the process I went through to choose a literacy artifact. I was to share this object with my colleagues at the professional development workshop I was attending at Michigan State. It was to represent some story of my literacy and educational journey. In that post I explained the various objects I considered and then ultimately revealed the artifact I chose: a Bible.
In today’s post, I explain why I chose the Bible as the artifact that best represents my story about literacy and education. Some people may not think that the Bible would have much of a role on education, learning, or literacy. It’s a book, and we know books can teach, but the Bible is not connected to schooling (at least not public schooling) and it doesn’t explicitly teach about learning to read or write. However, the Bible did impact my development as a learner, as a student.
What follows is not a straightforward, linear narrative about the Bible’s impact on me as a learner. I provide a mere glimpse into its impact on me, a few stories that contribute to some part of the story. The story is not a complete (or completely accurate) history. I do not want to share every story and experience; some things I still like to keep to myself. And I honestly can’t pinpoint all of the ways the Bible has impacted my education (or my life). Plus, this is my perspective; my parents might have a different story to tell.
The Bible is the first book I remember. I carried one to church with me. My parents read it to us as kids. My siblings and I put on drama skits for my parents and others who would watch in which we acted out stories from the Bible. We used the Bible to plan and study and learn the stories. We used the Bible as part of our weekly family devotionals. When I learned to read, I began reading the book by myself. I continued to read it growing up. It was the center of our church services, at least metaphorically. Preaching, teaching, singing, and fellowshipping were centered on this object and its meaning. The Bible was the lens through which I looked at life. It is a part of my literacy story like no other object is.
When I was around eight years old, my dad decided that it was time for me and my older sister Kim to start reading the Bible every day. He bought both of us a new Bible, one of those “Read through the Bible in a Year” ones. We were excited to get new Bibles. I remember the first one he got us: it was red and each day included a passage from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms. This Bible would allow us to read through the Bible in a year. Each day, we read the passages and then signed our name when we were finished. We couldn’t play outside or watch TV until we had completed our daily Bible reading. On some nights, my parents would quiz me over what I read for that day. Other times my dad would ask me questions about the story to see what I knew or what I had learned. These conversations often developed into longer discussions about what the passage meant or how I could apply it to my life. The Bible became relevant to me.
For at least ten years of my life, I read through the Bible in one year (I did skim some days and did not always read even when I said I did; I was a kid.). I knew the Bible. I could tell you story after story after story and where that story was found and what it might even mean. I could name random people in the Bible. I knew the generations of the Hebrew people. I knew parables and miracles and the men and women God used to tell the story. I could quote long passages from the Bible. I knew a lot of memory verses. I was proud of what I knew about the Bible. I gained confidence in myself because of my knowledge of the Bible.
The Bible became a part of me, my identity. (Of course, I didn’t know what everything meant and didn’t know how to conduct exegesis over a passage. But I don’t think that was the point—to figure it all out. I still haven’t figured it all out!)
This practice of daily Bible reading also coincided with another practice my dad instituted for me and my sister Kim (and eventually my brother, too). My father decided that we needed to take notes during church. As a kid (and maybe as an adult, too), the sermon is the longest part of church. You had to sit there, quietly (this was of utmost importance), “listening” (to words, names, and ideas you didn’t understand), and doing nothing (there was no Children’s Church or iPads or iPhones). It was the longest, most dreadful time of the entire church service. I tried my best not to be loud, not to fidget, and not to get taken out to get a spanking (this did happen more times than I want to admit). I always became excited when I could tell a preacher was wrapping up the sermon. Whew. I made it!
My dad didn’t want it to be like this for us, so he came up with a plan. He had an idea for something we could do during this time, something useful and practical. He bought us spiral notebooks, which we were supposed to bring with us to church each time, and required us to take notes over the preacher’s sermons.
This began in the third grade for me. I had to sit there each Sunday morning and Sunday night with my pen and paper in hand and take notes over what the preacher was saying. I could not sit with my friends in the youth section; instead, I had to sit with my parents and listen and take notes. What’s even crazier is that as soon as we got home from church, my dad checked over the notes (yes, checked them) and either approved them or not. He gave us constructive tips to improve our notetaking skills and helped us to better understand what the preacher was saying that we didn’t quite get. I am going to write another post in which I give more details on this practice of sermon notetaking, but suffice it to say that I believe one of the reasons I was such a good student in high school and college (and graduate school, too) was my ability to take notes.
Although the Bible has been an important object in my life, my relationship to it has changed. The object itself remains the same, but my relationship to it has changed. I look at it differently. I read and understand passages differently. I no longer “read it like a child”; instead, I read it understanding that I am reading it through a certain lens, coming to the text with my own assumptions, biases, and perspectives. Instead of learning the “right answer” (or how to find it), I have learned, instead, the importance of asking questions. Of pondering the text, responding to it, questioning it, just like I do with other texts I read. When I struggled with doubt or faith, I went back to the Bible and interpreted it differently. When I went through graduate school, I began to notice much more about social justice, women’s rights, and compassion. I begin to see how my own perspective and beliefs impacts what I find in the Bible.
The Bible has impacted my educational journeys in profound ways, and it continues to do so today. These are just a few stories how. What I didn’t know back then is that one day I would marry a preacher and become a preacher’s wife. I wonder if my preacher husband is going to make our preacher’s kids take notes over his sermon. If he does, I will be the one to check them.
This is my story. Do with it what you will.
The closing line of this post comes from the beautifully eloquent (and unconventional) CCCC talk given by Malea Powell from MSU. This line was stated at least 10 different times by the various participants who spoke, and it had a profound impact on me in terms of thinking about story, both telling my own story and listening to the stories of others. Isn’t that statement brilliantly provocative?