Thursday, April 25, 2013

On Not Loving the Narrative Lectionary

Careful readers of this blog may have realized that last week, I didn't write a post for the Narrative Lectionary reading.  I think I'm done with that.  The main reason:  the cycle ends in a few weeks anyway, and my pastor has chosen different readings for the coming weeks.  I had mainly been writing the posts to have a post for our church's blog.  If we're not using those readings anymore, well, a major motivation is gone.

Of course, if I was finding it rewarding, I'd still be doing it.  But I haven't found it as rewarding as I thought.

I expected to find more of a narrative as I worked my way through the readings since September.  I know that the creators of the Narrative Lectionary had a vision of a selection of readings that gave a sense of the overall plot of God's ways of working in the world.  As a person with a Ph.D. in English, I expected the narrative readings to be bound together more thoroughly, to echo each other.  So far, I haven't found as much of that as I thought I would.

To be frank, the readings in the Narrative Lectionary feel as random as the ones in the Revised Common Lectionary.  As a reader, I'm still the one struggling to make the connections.  I'm trained in literary theory, so it's easier for me.  But the readings from the Old Testament prophets don't seem to have connections to the earlier stories chosen from the Old Testament, and the links to the New Testament stories of Jesus don't seem to be there either.

My inner good student doesn't want me to admit these things.  She worries that I'm overlooking something big and obvious.  She has anxiety that my Ph.D. will be revoked.  She imagines that I will never be accepted to a seminary, if I keep admitting these things in public spaces like a blog.  She says, "Trained theologians created this Lectionary.  Who the heck are you to question it?"

I am old-fashioned.  I want to have all the readings (Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament epistle, and Gospel) in one day that connect and link in interesting ways.  If I miss a Sunday, I have a chance to pick up the threads the following Sunday with another set of connected readings.  Maybe my brain or the pastor's brain connects all the readings for the day and keeps up with the threads across time.  Maybe I end up with a sense of the narrative.  Or maybe I just get set after set of matched readings.  Either way, it works.

With the Narrative Lectionary, I just didn't feel that sense of satisfaction each week.  Some readings left me shaking my head and saying, "What am I supposed to do with this?"  And there weren't additional readings leaping into the fray each week.

I remember my childhood and adolescent years in church, and how at least one reading always seemed to speak to me.  Even when the dense prose of Paul made me shake my head or the Old Testament story pointed to an unnecessarily harsh God, there was the Gospel.  If the Gospel was strange, there was usually solace in a Psalm or a letter written by those early Church evangelists.

Even as I celebrate new ways of doing church, the abundance of Bible readings is an old way that I miss.


Wendy said...

Thanks for this. I have been toying with bringing up the Narrative Lectionary because I think the idea of the Narrative of Scripture is fascinating, and I wondered if it would allow our congregation to get more of a sense of the Story as a whole. Sounds like we might be doing okay with the RCL and a pastor with a keen sense of narrative.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your comment. I am a chaplain at a retirement community, and we've been using the NL this past year. I've been pretty happy with it, up until the Easter season - the it seems the narrative fades a bit, and the creators are doing doctrine rather than narrative here at the end of the year.
Still, for the population I serve, having one passage with a story and following a larger story has worked well, so I'll stick with it another year. I'm tempted, though, to put my own plan together for the Easter and Pentecost season, to walk through Acts as we did in the OT, and pair Paul's writings with his travels.