Well, I’m really trying to get back in the swing of things around here, but I still need a little more time so I can finally finish up that review of Gymkata that I promised a short… oh, three months ago. What can I say, time flies when you’re not having fun. So fast, in fact, that I find myself having just completed The Coming Home Network’s guide to reading the Bible and the Catechism in a year. That went much quicker than I thought it would.
You know, one of the tricky things you can’t help but notice the first time you try to make your way through the entirety of scripture is the non-linear arrangement of the books. Every thing seems fine until around the middle of the Old Testament, and then, bam, the timeline starts to jump all over the place. Now, this is simply a result of having the various books of the Bible arranged by category, and some of the categories arranged by length, but the decision to have it this way can really throw a first timer who picks up the Bible and tries to read it straight through, front to back. And yet, even so, once the last word of the last page has been reached, it all manages to come together and you realize you’ve just experienced an engrossing story covering the entire history of salvation from the first spark of life to the final curtain call of the known universe.
That is, if you actually finish it.
Let’s face it, next to the sheer bulk of the material, it’s probably the arrangement of scripture that prevents most people from reading it all the way through. Just when you get a good head of steam going with Genesis and Exodus, you run smack dab into the stone wall of laws that is Leviticus. And by the time you get near the end of the Old Testament you start to wonder if you can possibly handle one more chapter of some prophet frothing at the mouth about the wrath of God descending upon the Jews.
If you’ve had that problem with reading the Bible from start to finish, or are worried that you might, then… don’t read it from start to finish. As ardent movie freaks can tell you, there are any number of ways to approach a narrative. Even low budget oddball movies like you find around here can give you a few good tips to carry with you when you start reading the Bible. If you don’t believe me, then just take a look at the following short list.
WICKED, WICKED (1973)
Remember those scenes in Brian DePalma films and the Woodstock documentary where the screen splits and you can see two things going on at once? Ever wondered what a whole movie filmed in that manner would be like. Probably not, right? But writer/director Richard L. Bare did, and so gave to the world Wicked, Wicked, the only movie ever filmed in Duo-Vision! This is the touching story of a guy who hangs out inside the walls of a hotel and occasionally dons a monster mask so he can come out and kill some of the blonde female guests. It’s equal parts melodrama and camp, but it’s also an interesting experiment in storytelling as one side of the screen follows the main narrative while the other often shows flashbacks, internal monologues, and just plain weird stuff meant to provide subtext to the story. In a sense, this split-screen technique is the same logic applied to most scripture reading programs, as well as the lectionary used by most high-worship churches. It’s one thing to try and trudge through those rampaging prophets on their own, but place them alongside the goings-on in Kings and Chronicles and they start to seem a bit less maniacal. In fact, by the time God’s children crap all over his generosity for the hundredth time, there’s a good chance you might start to feel the prophets weren’t frothing enough.
THE KILLING (1956)
Before Stanly Kubrick was KUBRICK, he made this little low budget (A $320,000 Kubrick film!) semi-noir flick about a crime caper which goes horribly wrong for the five men involved. Besides simply being a good movie, the film flawlessly uses flashbacks to revisit pivotal scenes, but each time from the POV of a different character, bringing more depth to the story and characters each time it does so. (Sound familiar, Reservoir Dog fans? Hey, Tarantino’s talented, but he didn’t invent the wheel, you know.) This is a good technique to keep in mind when you’re reading the gospels. They give you the same story four times in a role, sometimes with entire scenes being replayed, but each narrator brings a slightly different perspective. Mark serves up the basics, Matthew points out things of interest to the Jews, Luke does the same for Gentiles, and John wraps the whole thing up from the viewpoint of an already established community of Christians. And just like in The Killing, once you’re done, you have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the complexity of the overall story that you couldn’t have gotten from just a single straight-ahead narrative.
Richard Linklater’s $23,000 opus begins with a man stepping off a bus and getting in a taxi. After a brief interchange between the man and the driver, the camera leaves them and follows some other people travelling in the opposite direction. A few minutes later it leaves them and wanders off with someone else. That scenario repeats itself on and on for another 90 minutes. Slacker has no plot, no recurring characters, and no big set pieces. What it does have, however, is an amazing sense of a certain people at a certain time in a certain place. If you weren’t part of Generation-X at the start of the 90s (lucky you), then watch Slacker and you will know, you will “feel” what it was like to be one of the aimless. The Wisdom books of the Bible (Proverbs, Sirach, Wisdom, etc.) are kind of like that. They don’t give you any plot to advance, any characters to follow, or even any heavy theology to digest. The verses of Wisdom literature are concerned rather with the mundane, the simple daily activities of human existence. No plagues or world ending floods, just tips on going about your routine. So when you’re done reading them, you don’t really have a story to remember, but you do have a sense of the mindset and considerations of a child of God interacting with the rest of the world in the public and private places where life is carried out.
THE CIRCLE (2005)
If all that sounds too confusing, and you really just want something a little more linear, then The Circle is an absolute must-see. The movie begins simple enough with a woman arriving at a hotel room to confront the man hired to kill her husband. From there, it follows her efforts to save her spouse as she makes her way to the parking lot, into a car for a drive across town, through myriad passageways into an underground club, on to her apartment, and finally back to the hotel room where it all started. The catch is that the movie unfolds in real time and the camera never shuts off. In a exercise of technical brilliance, the entire film takes place in one single take, sticking with the woman despite the myriad locations AND the inclusion of a flashback. So if you love true independent filmmaking and enjoy the subtle performances one finds in a David Lynch movie (that’s a joke, folks), then give The Circle a look. Even if the story gets too weird for you, watching the criminally under-appreciated Angela Bettis maintain the emotional level her character requires for a straight 100 minutes is by itself worth the price of rental. I bring this last movie up because, although the Bible isn’t arranged chronologically, that doesn’t mean you can’t read it that way. In fact, in a couple of weeks, I plan to start doing just that. After scrounging around the Catholic Answers forums and a few websites, I’ve managed to come up with a list which comes pretty close to arranging scripture in a linear fashion. I say “pretty close” because some things like the Psalms are just to difficult to place time wise with pinpoint accuracy. Still, it’s pretty darn close. If you’re interested, you can take a peek at the reading order HERE.
As you can see, you don’t have to let the non-linear structure of the Bible hamper you from reading it. Just like in the movies, there are plenty of ways to approach it that can be both entertaining and meaningful. So give it a try, the only thing it’ll cost you is time.