Wednesday 31 March 2010

Jason Clark on Word Association: Connecting the Bible with Everyday Living

Notes from a seminar at the London launch of Biblefresh (30 March 2010):

Jason addressed his topic under four main headings:

1. Stories and imagination
Jason began by talking about the significance of ‘social stories’ – particularly for children on the autistic spectrum – which provide information about situations that may be difficult or confusing, what things looks like, the things that might occur, etc., so that children can picture where they will be and what it will be like.

Similarly, he noted, social theorists talk about ‘social imaginaries’, a set of understandings, practices, expectations, and the like, which give human beings a sense of how we ‘do life’, how we organise life. Most people don’t organise life around a set of rules. We have stories, and are engaged in ongoing conversations we tell internally and externally.

Most people live their life through ‘story’. Jason here commented on the significance of using story when speaking to others about our faith, that when we tell a story, something often happens as a result.

2. Relationships, homes, and jobs
So, what are the stories of life? Drawing on his pastoral experience, Jason commented that there are a few key stories that regularly go around our head: what relationships we have, where we live, what jobs we have.

Although we are already living somewhere, many people see themselves as passing through to somewhere else, such that we talk about where we’d like to be one day, where we’d like to live one day. The notion of the ‘housing ladder’ is a social imaginary, and we’re increasingly giving all our lives to these sorts of stories.

Likewise with our jobs, where the whole of life gets bent round our jobs, where the only considerations about going for a new job are whether we are going to like it and how much it is going to pay.

If this is our story, it affects how we live our life and the things that concern us.

Jason recalls meeting a careers advisor at sixth form college who was expressing some anxiety about Jason’s hopes to study theology at a vocational college. Jason commented that he had effectively said to the advisor: ‘I’ve met the creator of the universe’, to which the reply had been – ‘Don’t let it affect your life too much!’

But he noted that genuine danger, where what’s seen as really real is my relationships, finance, and job, and Christianity is simply an add-on to those things or a resource that helps me with those things. We’ve met the creator of the universe, but we shouldn’t let it affect our lives too much…

This can become the case even with church. People ask, What should church be about? And the frequent answer is: one that’s relevant to me, helps me with my job and relationships – helps me, in other words, with this permanent conversation I’m having everywhere.

3. The story I find myself in
Theologians and biblical scholars have made a major turn to this idea of narrative theology in the last few decades. One of the key factors in this area is to recognise that the Bible is a big story, and the significance of this.

Jason spoke about three stages we might go through in this respect:

• We’ve got our various ‘stories’ going on and Chrisytianity is a resource ‘over there’ that helps us with our stories. We’ve got Jesus rather than Oprah, but essentially we want the same thing everyone else wants.

• Instead of just a story that helps me, it becomes something I live in.

• The Christian story becomes my story completely in that it takes over my imagination, aspiration, practices, goals, etc. The gospel becomes our social story, so that we act and behave differently as a result.

4. Re-framing life
This might mean that we start to talk and frame life in the language of the Bible. So, in a conversation about work, at what point do we ask, What does Jesus want you to do? Does the gospel have something bigger to say than about living somewhere nice and having fantastic jobs? Jason cited Jeremiah 29 with the advice of Jeremiah to the Judean exiles in Babylon to settle down there – to go out, get jobs, have families – but to seek the welfare of the city in doing so. All our stories should be about the benefit that comes to others.

Jason also spoke about the significance of a cruciform identity. For the conversations that go on inside us – I need this, I deserve this – how often are those earthed in conversations with Jesus through reading the Bible? How often do I take the most difficult things I’m challenged with and take them to the cross in terms of my identity? We need to have different conversations…


Jason concluded by noting that often our pain about loss in life is the pain of losing stories that aren’t supposed to be our stories in the first place. Indeed, does the Bible affect our lives at all? In our relationship with the Bible, it seems, we have barely begun to scratch the surface.

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