I find it difficult to appreciate standard Bible study sessions. And I mean, really difficult. Largely because they are kind of boring. :/
I know how hard it can be to lead Bible study discussions and such – I’ve had to do it before and it can be tiring, scary and exasperating. You need people to participate and they rarely ever want to talk, which means you often have to force people to talk and that isn’t really a great way to go around doing things. So I appreciate the effort the Bible study leaders put into it – obtaining and preparing the materials, and so on.
But I can’t work up interest to be an active participant in discussions where the questions are basically Sunday School level. What does the lost sheep represent? Should we be like Mary or Martha? Questions that are totally straightforward, with very obvious or expected answers. How else can such questions be answered? The lost sheep refers to us, and obviously we should be like Mary rather than Martha. Any other reply would be silly or pointless. It irks me even more when the study leaders feel like they must get everyone to give an answer to the same question. Uhm, how many versions of “yes, we should be like Mary” do they want to hear? Sometimes I feel like giving stupid answers just to point out the utter banality of the questions.
So offer your own questions, give your opinions – is what you might say to me. Well, I have tried it. Didn’t work. All that happened when I attempted to put out a slightly more interesting spin on the existing question was that I was humoured for a few minutes before the Bible study leaders turned it back to the original topic. Another time, I put out a slightly harsher and apparently unexpected opinion on the topic at hand. It made everyone uncomfortable. No one knew how to respond. Eventually someone tried to smooth over the wrinkle I’d created in the discussion, but after that I figured that I should just keep my more complicated thoughts to myself since it makes the situation uncomfortable for everyone.
I understand those reactions. If you’re leading a discussion, it can get very awkward if someone throws out an unexpected question or idea and you don’t know what to do with it. The easiest route is to just kindly steer the discussion back to the original point. It would take a really skilled or experienced person to know when and how to let a different topic continue (or when to stop it). I don’t think that I would be particularly good at that myself. So I get it, I really do. I can’t entirely blame them for doing what they did. But I would very much like a more intellectual, thoughtful approach sometimes.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s my interests and my experiences and personality. I don’t mind a discussion that leaves me thinking. I do hate being cornered and forced into a debate and purposefully argued down – no one likes that. But I don’t mind a calm, reasoned discussion that has no “perfect” conclusion. I would also not mind discussions that involve films and books but that’s a bit too much to ask from most people. hahah. (I mean, few Christians I know would want to watch Amadeus and seriously, honestly, discuss the seeming unfairness of God’s distribution of gifts and talents, or the tragedy that is jealousy born of frustration. Or discuss justice and destiny in Death Note: could Yagami Light have avoided becoming a cruel dispenser of “justice”, or was he – as a mere human being, open to temptation and folly – doomed to fail from the minute he understood the Death Note’s purpose? Or talk about the interesting portrayals of Christian concepts in C.S. Lewis’ Space trilogy?)
I simply wish more Christians would come to understand that hey, sometimes an open-ended discussion is okay. And that you don’t need to give the “correct” answers all the time. You don’t have to have the perfect answer, the perfect closing statement – especially when everyone in the group already shares the same basic philosophies and you aren’t going to be debating those basic truths. (Of course, the problem with formal discussions in a group is that you kind of feel obliged to have that structure… which is why I prefer personal discussions born out of casual conversation rather than “okay, on this date we will discuss X topic.”) I often wish I could say outright in Bible study sessions that “Look, we all believe in the same thing and understand many of the same concepts. No one here is going to argue over the existence of God. No one is going to question whether the lost sheep is a metaphor for humans or not. No one is going to say that we should be like the lost sheep. So instead of talking about what the sheep represents or how we should not be like the lost sheep, can we instead talk about why we think the sheep wandered off in the first place? And since we’re on the topic, what were the other sheep doing when that one decided to jump over the fence?”