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Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water,…

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

by Rachel Held Evans

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=== A Living, Breathing Engagement with the Bible ===

Regardless of our religious beliefs (or lack thereof) we all have a relationship with the Christian Bible. Its content and characters are woven through Western society, affecting our laws, mores, language, and even our understanding of the past and future.

Nowhere is this relationship more complicated than within the Christian community itself. How we view and understand these ancient writings is an ongoing debate, and the subject of Rachel Held Evans' new book "Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again."

Evans had been raised in the tradition that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, and that its literal truths are valid and binding no matter when or where you live. Her faith was shaken as she wrestled with the inconsistencies she found in the readings, as well as how often they were selectively applied. She especially chafed at the suggestion that she, solely because she was female, should not question the scriptural interpretations of her male church leaders.

In her own words: "It was as if the Bible had turned into an unsettling version of one of those children's peekaboo books. Beneath the colorful illustration of Noah's ark was — surprise! — the violent destruction of humanity. Turn the page to Joshua and the battle of Jericho and — peekaboo! — it’s genocide. Open to Queen Esther's castle and — look! — there’s a harem full of concubines. Gone was the comforting storybook of my childhood, the useful handbook of my adolescence, and the definitive answer book of my college years. The Bible of my twenties served only as a stumbling block, a massive obstacle between me and the God I thought I knew."

She persevered, seeking a more definitive understanding. She learned of the societies behind the various books of the Bible, and how they shaped the oral traditions passed from generation to generation. She recognized that Paul's letters, instructions written to specific churches that he nurtured, were often crafted to respond to the particular challenges each was facing, and that women not only preached, but were active leaders in some of those early church communities.

But something was still missing: the love and joy which captivated her as a child. She realized that, above all, the Bible was a collection of stories. From Jacob, to Job, from the Israelites to the early Greek Christians, from Hagar to the unnamed woman who touched Jesus' cloak, these stories detailed God's relationship with people and societies, and just as important, their relationship with him. Those who challenged God, questioning his methods and decisions as well as their role in life, were the focus of many stories, and oftentimes affected change. Their stories were of struggle and recognition, of adversity and triumph.

She also learned that the Jewish tradition, the core of so much within the Biblical tradition, is to question, debate, even argue about what the stories mean to us, the readers. This includes mental and spiritual wrestling with one's self, with others, and ultimately with God.

Evans' writing in "Inspired" highlights those aspects of the Bible which challenge many readers, inviting the reader to see them in the context of the ongoing relationship. Each section examines the stories from a range of viewpoints: religious, historical, social, psychological, and personal. She argues that recognizing these themes, woven into a tapestry of Judeo-Christian experience, offer a window to understanding our own experience.

These themes range from Origin stories, Deliverance, War, Wisdom, Resistance, Gospel ("good news"), Fish stories (metaphor and miracles), and Church. None of these themes are easily summarized or explained, simply because the Bible isn't intended to be an easily explained summary, but rather stories, poems, and letters that provide us with the starting point for an in-depth adult religious life. War stories celebrate against-the-odds underdog victories alongside attacks that we now view as genocide. Gospel stories tell of the life and ministry of Jesus, but also make it clear that he was experienced differently by nearly everyone he encountered. Church stories examine the contradictions and challenges within Paul's letters and throughout the wider church.

Interspersed between thematic chapters are Evans' personal exploration of a few stories. Here we will encounter a first person narrative of the pregnant Hagar as she flees the wrath of Sarah. We also encounter a play set in a cafeteria, cast with the characters of Job and his friends, discussing why bad things happen to people. We get to sit with the congregants in Nympha's house in Laodicea as she reads the latest letter from Paul. We even get a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story about walking on water, and how the different choices we make can still lead to truth — as well as new questions. Deeper understanding is often drawn from previously unnoticed perspectives.

Like her previous book, "Searching for Sunday," Evans' prose is personal and friendly, and her enthusiasm contagious. Though the themes and background scholarship she discusses are complex, her explanations present them in a conversational manner that unveil the storytelling that lies at the heart of the Bible. And this, she states, is the key: "We may wish for answers, but God rarely gives us answers. Instead, God gathers us up into soft, familiar arms and says, 'Let me tell you a story.'"
  rcmason | Jun 24, 2018 |
I have found it hard, over the years, to love the Bible. It seems to have become a battering ram, bashing "truth" over the heads of those who don't conform. A surgeon's knife, excising the ones who "don't belong". Or, more recently, a paintbrush, to whitewash the horrors being perpetrated in a coat of "God said it". It has been hard, for me, to reconcile this Bible with the faith I have come to profess.

So thank God for Rachel Held Evans. With a writer's ear for a beautiful phrase, and a theologian's intellect and curiosity, Evans delivers an ode to the believer who just can't quite make it all make sense. This book gave me permission to jump into the struggle, feet first, and the strength to believe I will come out the other side. This is a magnificent work, and one I know I will return to over and over again. ( )
  NeedMoreShelves | Jun 18, 2018 |
I've read several Rachel Held Evans books, and each one feels like she's writing my story but with better and more interesting storytelling. Inspired was no different. Each section had a "creative retelling" section followed by a chapter discussing some of the issues and ways of reading types of Biblical stories, and I enjoyed that flow. Growing up in a community with a very Evangelical/literal interpretation of Scriptures, I have always struggled with even "easy" passages, like the Psalms or the Gospels. Rachel's ability to embrace these struggles and provide literary, cultural, and situational tools for interpretation is so great.

I especially resonated with the idea that Christianity is experienced in the particular, not the general-- Jesus was a specific person, Paul was writing letters to specific churches, the Israelites had specific experiences-- and the way this helps me understand some of the more confusing, upsetting, or contradictory Biblical passages. This felt representative in her very last sentence: "We may wish for answers, but God rarely give us answers. Instead, God gathers us up into soft, familiar arms and says, 'Let me tell you a story.'" Maybe I'll give the Bible and the conversation it inspires another shot.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  staciec | May 28, 2018 |
I received a complimentary review copy of [Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again] from [[Rachel Held Evans]]'s publisher through a Twitter post. I am working on reading the Bible this year, and the book seemed a good fit.

Evans frames the book with her own story of growing up with the Bible as a magic book with wonderful stories. As she got older, the Bible became more of a weapon, not to be questioned. But, eventually, she saw beneath the magic to the gritty realism: Abraham willingly tying his son to the pyre, Joshua's army slaughtering men, women and children when the walls of Jericho fall, and God sending flood waters to destroy humanity. Yet, even as she began to turn away from the Bible, its stories continued to surround her. It is a foundational book for Western culture, influencing Shakespeare and Civil Rights activists alike.

Each chapter of the book opens with a story that reflects the theme in the coming chapter. The chapters focus on various types of stories found in the Bible including origin, deliverance, and resistance stories as well as others. She embraces the complexities and contradictions in the Bible, pointing out that it can be used to support almost any point of view:

This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not, what does this say? but what am I looking for? I suspect Jesus knew this when he said, "Ask and it will be given to you; and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

Evans does not check her criticism of the United States and its treatment of the poor and oppressed. She extends that criticism to the white American church, which she believes has "chosen the promise of power over prophetic voice." She describes modern day prophets who are pushing the church to live a more Christ like existence.

Yet, she also celebrates the God the Bible reveals in the details of the Parables: "I love these details because they reveal to me a God who is immersed in creation, deeply embedded within the lives of God's beloved. Ours is a God who know how to mend clothes and bake bread, a God familiar with the planting and harvesting season, the traditions of bridesmaids, and the tickle of wool on the back of the neck."

I am looking forward to heading back to the Bible with Evans' prose in my mind: looking for my own magic in this book that has been part of my life. ( )
  witchyrichy | Apr 14, 2018 |
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