Queer Ephesians: Wrestling with the Bible

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So, I find myself for the next few months with more time than usual on my hands.  Times like this can be great, for having a chill, doing some mental and practical spring cleaning, and also for getting some things done you’ve been meaning to for a long time.

I’ve found that in my journey to faith, some aspects of the established religion I was entering were more problematic for me than others.  And one of those was scripture.  It wasn’t that I objected to the notion of Holy Scripture on principle.  Rather, it was that whilst some parts of scripture were encouraging and others healthily challenging, some parts of scripture were deeply painful, and not in a way that seemed at all constructive.

Scripture, and especially the way that many Christians use it, has always been a source of pain and great wrestling for me.  And this is something with which I imagine many adult converts to Christianity and queer Christians might be able to empathise.  The temptation was not to engage with scripture at all, to leave such a problematic source of theology to one side and just get on with my personal and private relationship with God.

But no, that wasn’t going to cut the mustard.  A few years ago now I set myself the task of reading and annotating the New Testament, just scribbling thoughts in the margins, and that enabled me to feel that I was engaging with scripture responsively, and that scripture was engaging with me.  After a good year or so, I moved on to bits of the Old Testament I thought I knew pretty well, and I kept on scribbling.

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Generally, even when I was on a long train journey, I could sit and scribble a few thoughts around the margins of whatever bit of Isaiah or Jeremiah, or even the historical books, that I was on.  I was beginning to make the study of scripture a regular part of my life.

But it was always a struggle.  As I began to read commentaries and engage more academically with scripture, the knots became bigger, not smaller.  And the more I thought I knew, the more I realised that my study of scripture was driving me more and more to an awareness of the greatness and unknowableness of God.  I had gone from a near rejection of scripture as incompatible with the reality of faith as I knew it as a queer person, towards scripture being a fundamental part of my apprehension of faith.

So, whilst I have spare time, I am going to have a go at the next step in my scriptural journey.  I’m still going to be scribbling around scripture, but just more expansively.  In this project, which I am calling Queer Ephesians, I am going to post a study, at least once a week, working through one of the epistles I found most problematic as a queer person.

It won’t be an academic work, but nor will it be completely divorced from scholarship.  True scriptural devotion takes academia seriously, and assumes that the Spirit speaks at least as much through the learned in the Church as it does through me!  So I will be consulting commentaries, though not quoting them.  And influenced by current academic debates, but not engaging in a thorough lit. review!  That’s not what this is about.

This is about the journey many queer people go on, of slowly and shakily reconciling the scriptures to themselves, after so many external influences have driven a wedge between us, and of incorporating the scriptures into our lives of prayer and our lives of study.

Any prayers you can offer as I go on this next step on my journey would be greatly appreciated.  And I will be praying throughout for those for whom scripture seems a barrier to faith, or who are struggling, as I do, to reconcile the love of God which passes all understanding to the application of those same scriptures in the churches.

I’m going to end this post with the Collect the Church of England uses for Bible Sunday, which I have stuck in the front cover of my bible, and which I probably don’t pray often enough.

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

help us so to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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