The following series of blog posts will be inspired by a class I am taking with Anna Carter Florence and a group of about a dozen classmates at Columbia Theological Seminary this semester (Spring 2013). The class is entitled “Back to the Text” and is a “communal exercise in getting “back to the text” by reading and performing together an entire book of scripture—in this case, the First and Second Letters of Paul to Timothy. Students will read widely in Biblical Studies pertaining to I and II Timothy, experiment with various ways of reading, rehearsing, and improvising a scriptural narrative, and finally create a group performance of I and II Timothy, which we will offer to the community.” (Description in the CTS Academic Catalog).
I will be blogging throughout the semester on our experiences in this class and welcome you along this journey!
I was drum major for much of my high school career in Northwest Georgia. A rite of passage to this office of leadership was that the newly elected leader would receive the “Drum Major Box.” Filled with everything from an ancient whistle to a bottle of Advil, the centerpiece of the collection was a well-worn notebook filled with pieces of advice from previous drum majors. It was the tradition of this community for each drum major to receive the box at the beginning of his or her tenure and then pass it along to his or her predecessor after contributing both an item of significance as well as recording some words of wisdom for the drum major(s) to follow.
In fact, when I received it, it wasn’t even a box; it was a tattered brown paper bag that looked like it had been to hell and back. My contribution was to purchase what is now the box you see below (the remains of the tattered paper bag still reside safely inside!). The box is again residing in my home in Dalton, Georgia because my sister, Sarah Kate, is now drum major. At the end of her tenure, she will do as I did and contribute wisdom of her own to those that will follow both of us.
This ritual is a curious thing. While one might look at this plastic box and its tattered contents and see nothing but meaningless items, those of us who know both the blessings and stresses of being such a leader cherish the history and the wisdom of that box. Its meaning (that is, the story of the community) transcends any one of us and embodies the history of both those that have gone before us that those that will inevitably follow when we faithfully hand off the reigns to another generation.
In yesterday’s class with Anna Carter Florence & Co., we read through the entirety of 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus (as we will every week this semester). For each chapter of the three books, one person played “Paul” and read the chapter directly to “Timothy/Titus” who sat in the chair and listened fervently. “Paul” then recruited other members of the class to improv the other characters in the letter(s). Some of us even were able to play both the parts of Paul (the passing generation) and Timothy/Titus (the new generation).
This process of bringing life to the text (or, perhaps better said, the text “bringing life” to us) surprised me in a significant way. When I first “played” Timothy, I thought that having “Paul” stand over me and rant would be condescending. In fact, it was the exact opposite. As I sat alone in the chair and received the wisdom of Paul, I felt comforted, relieved, cared for, and renewed.
As I was reminded of my days as drum major (and the days my beloved sister in currently living), I thought of the trust that existed between Paul and Timothy/Titus. It occurred to me that Paul was entrusting the gospel to a new generation. As the new generation, and as “Timothy,” I felt honored that Paul would take the time bluntly tell me what I needed to know to “fight the good fight.”
So…whether your a past drum major or a new drum major, an old pastor or a new pastor, an outgoing pope or an incoming pope, remember the larger narrative! Remember those who have gone before you and those who will follow after you. Take heart and do not lose courage for you are in good company. Thanks be to God!