Forward Movement recently released a new set of discipleship resources for families and congregations. The goal is to help people of all ages make their way through the whole Bible for the first time by distilling the story to its core.
The Path is the linchpin book in the series for adults. It’s the story of the Bible, excerpted from the New Revised Standard Version so that it is clear and easy to read. There’s also a family storybook and an all-ages coloring book.
Today we’re interviewing the editor of The Path, the Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe. She’s an Episcopal priest who has served churches in Rhode Island and Texas. A graduate of Tufts University and Virginia Theological Seminary, Melody is currently working on curriculum development for Forward Movement. Melody, her husband, and their two daughters live in Dallas, Texas, where she spends her spare time reading stories, building forts, conquering playgrounds, baking cookies, and exploring nature. – ed.
1. As a summary and set of excerpts from the Bible, The Path is very comprehensive and very accessible. It seems to be aimed for the person who always wanted to read the Bible all the way through, but got stuck and wished there were a slightly easier version. Did you have a particular audience in mind when you were creating it? Who would benefit from it most?
My hope when working on The Path was that it would be an easy, non-intimidating way for people to read the Bible.
Again and again in my ministry, I encountered people who wanted to read the Bible, who knew they should read the Bible, but who were scared to read the Bible. Some of them had never read the Bible at all and didn’t know where or how to start. Many of them had tried to read the Bible at some point, but found it overwhelming or confusing. As I was working on The Path, I held these people in my mind and in my heart. As a result, the book is designed so that it doesn’t assume any knowledge: someone who has never read a Bible before should be able to pick up The Path and read it with ease.
What has been surprising to me is that, over the past few months I have heard from lots of people reading The Path who had already read some or all of the Bible, yet they, too, are finding it helpful and inspiring.
The Path is designed to be read like a novel. It doesn’t have verse numbers, it’s not divided into the Biblical books, and the excerpts are put together so that it reads as a continuous narrative. Reading the Bible this way helps you to hear it as a single, cohesive story of God’s great love for humanity. Even people who have read the Bible before, or who have done Bible studies, might find that The Path helps them to understand and appreciate the Bible in a new way.
2. The places where the text is italicized are summaries of Scripture. How hard was it to write those? Was it intimidating to condense the Bible, or pretty simple?
It was really, really hard to edit and condense the Bible in this way. It was hard, partly, because I love the Bible passionately, and I hated to leave any of it out! Some of my favorite stories or passages didn’t make it in to The Path, and it was difficult to let them go.
But it was also hard to do the summaries because I was struggling to be faithful to the complexity of what the Bible says, while helping to make the story compressible to the reader. I tried to make it simple without over-simplifying, and that’s a really delicate balance. As I was working I kept asking myself a series of questions: What does the reader absolutely need to know to understand the arc of salvation? How can this summary help connect the parts of the Bible into a coherent whole?
3. The Path is part of a set of resources that Forward Movement is providing. Some are free, some are for families, some can be used by whole churches. Can you explain how this body of work fits together?
Living Discipleship is a three year program. Each year has a different focus: 1) Exploring the Bible; 2) Celebrating the Saints; 3) Practicing our Faith.
The Path is part of the “Exploring the Bible” year of Living Discipleship. It takes you on a journey through Scripture that invites people to learn the Biblical story and connect it with the stories of our lives. There’s a family-friendly version called The Path: Family Storybook, and an all-ages coloring book called Pathways of Faith for those who enjoy meditating and reflecting in quiet, creative ways.
Living Discipleship: Celebrating the Saints is an exploration of the lives of the saints who have gone before us. The saints witness to us what the life of faith looks like, lived out in real time, and they challenge us to live out our own discipleship more fully and fearlessly. In our journey with the saints, we also learn something of our history as we look at monks, missionaries, prophets, doctors, evangelists, and more, and learn how dozens of different people in different places and times, with different gifts and backgrounds, have taken their place in proclaiming the kingdom of God.
Living Discipleship: Practicing our Faith (coming later in 2017) offers a survey of the basic beliefs and practices of The Episcopal Church, focused especially on The Book of Common Prayer and our liturgical and sacramental traditions. These beliefs and practices remind us that we are the inheritors of the immeasurable greatness of God’s power that transforms each of us and strengthens us to serve the world in Christ’s name. In practicing our faith, we learn how to live as disciples, not merely one day a week but every day of the week.
Each of the three “years” of Living Discipleship includes twenty-six sessions, and the curriculum is completely free. The idea is that churches could use Living Discipleship as their formation or Sunday school curriculum for three years, for all ages: children, youth, and adults. But the program was also designed with flexibility in mind: you can use the resources at home, in small groups, or as a church community. You could do just one year of the study, or choose just a few sessions. Our hope was that the program would be adaptable to many contexts.
4. How did working on The Path change you and shape your life as a disciple?
Every time I read the Bible, I find my faith deepened and feel both comforted and challenged in my life as a disciple. Working on The Path drew me deeply into the story of the Bible: the story of God’s unrelenting love for us, the story of people who are flawed and broken yet choose to follow God.
So often when I read the Bible, I’m down in the details: looking at the meaning of a particular word or wrestling with the imagery of a certain parable. But in The Path, I got to take a step back to see the big picture, the sweeping panorama of the Bible, and it took my breath away with its beauty and power.
I am both humbled and honored by the idea that this love story that God has been writing since the beginning of time is also a story that is about and for ME– I have a place in this narrative. Being reminded of that gives me energy and excitement about living out my faith in the world, about trying, every day, to follow the path of a disciple.
[All the resources for the Exploring the Bible year are here, including downloadable free samples. – ed.]
How do you think the Bible as a novel-like narrative will help people engage Scripture?