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Learning under lockdown: Just listening  

As we listen to a whole Biblical narrative, we discover how those first disciples took in their teaching. Terry Young highlights the benefits of simply listening to God's word 


I grew up without a TV and had been married for several years before people started giving us their old ones. After 20 years of married life, we finally bought our first (and only) new TV.  This may explain why I watch too much TV but love reading and sharing books.

My Mom read at bedtime – Alcott, Dickens, Lewis, Nesbit – and I’ve done bedtime reading, too, long after the boys could read long words in their own books. It got me into their authors – Horowitz, Nix, Rowling – and new classics: Alistair’s Elephant. Dani and I have recently read a couple of stories for the next generation and have a fetching photo of a little man watching Nana on the wall.

Reading together

Our early Saturday evenings were spent sitting on a floor strewn with reference books learning to do cryptic crosswords. We also read to each other. Dani introduced me to Jane Austen and we enjoyed Jeffrey Archer together, which makes it sound like we just started at A, but it wasn’t like that.

The thing is, there is deep joy in someone reading to you and it is also fun reading to others. I doubt if, when someone stood up to read those letters from an Apostle, the early converts were lounging on carpets, enjoying central heating, or keeping warm under a duvet: but they were listening!

As we listen – not to three and a half verses that represents this week’s salami slice of an epistle – but a whole narrative, we discover how those first disciples took in their teaching. Maybe they listened faster than any reader could come out with the words. Maybe there would have been interruptions to help someone who had gotten lost – it happened when Mom was reading – or perhaps they would stop to nod to someone in the room who was mentioned in the letter.

These days, of course, you don’t need an accomplice to listen to Scripture, for there is plenty on-line. I put, ‘dramatised Bible readings for you’ into my search engine and was soon sampling what was out there, including arrangements for you and your friends to read aloud. 

Remember those headphones and ear buds to which we are all addicted? They work with the Bible too! Not for me, but our boys are rarely seen without them – in situ, casually hung around their necks or stylishly perched on top – and take in a fair amount of what I would have read. Because we can listen faster than we can talk, they often speed a book up to x1.5 or x2, and just live with the higher pitch. If it works for you, go for it!

Public reading

As I mentioned in the last blog, David Suchet has recorded the whole Bible. I understand that he is also passionate about how the Bible is read, so let’s turn to the human connection. There are wonderfully articulated and dramatised words from the web, nothing beats the person-to-person connection of a shared story.

Matthew Brook, an opera singer whose musical family worshipped with us when they lived in Slough, gave a seminar on praying, speaking and reading in public. It was mainly about breathing and standing and working out which words to emphasise, but it also brought home to me how important public reading is. As I mentioned in the last blog and plan to pick up in the next, I’ve been memorising Peter’s first letter, and he says (1 Peter 4:11, NIV): ‘If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.’ Most of the time we do not even manage to read God’s Word as though we believed we were articulating ‘the very words of God.’

Why? First a sad reason: we have so much to squeeze into our services that something gets squeezed out. I can think of few sermons or worship sessions that would not have benefitted by trimming off a couple of minutes to give the reading an extra five. As our media discovers the benefits of slow TV, pausing to hear would do our preaching and worship great good.

Now a fine reason: we want wider participation. Great! But democracy takes practice. More faces, accents, and timbres are a blessing but still need rehearsing. Perhaps practice is the reason why recent Bible readings at Church on-line have been so good. People are alone in a room and have clearly attempted the passage several times before posting their contribution for the service.

Finally, good reading is hard, so we keep it short. We are frightened we might encounter passages such as Genesis 15:19-21, which lists the, ‘Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.’ Bad news for readers!

The first piece of good news is that there are over a thousand chapters in the Bible without a Rephaite or Girgashite in sight (my guess, I haven’t counted).

The other piece of good news is that we are much better with new names than we used to be. Years ago, I worshipped at a community centre in a huge block of flats. One day, along one of the corridors, someone come to the door but, to begin with, I didn’t understand a single agitated word he said, his accent was that heavy. Eventually we discovered he came from the Netherlands and that – let’s call him Brian – on his first day at the factory, his boss had decided he couldn’t pronounce Brian’s real name and chosen one he could. The name stuck (it wouldn’t happen today). For reasons I never understood Brian started coming to Church and would ask a question whenever he got stuck. As a big guy, he was very effective in getting the speaker’s attention, and somewhere along the line Brian come to faith.

Of course, God had always known Brian’s real name, even though I never did. If we are going to read God’s Word in public, we can, at least, try harder with the names.


Image | Alphacolor | Unsplash

This is part of a series where Terry explores four ways of engaging with the Bible now:

Terry Young was born to missionary parents working in the Middle East. He has always tried to unify his life of worship and secular missions, and has been part of church leadership teams in Essex, and at Slough Baptist Church. He has written a few books that link worlds, including After the Fishermen, and Jake, Just Learn to Worship.

After a mobile early childhood his family settled in the UK to the northwest of Birmingham, and eventually he studied at the local university. After his doctoral studies he worked for 16 years in Chelmsford undertaking research and business development in the aerospace sector, where his interest was in fibre optics and photonics. In the end he gravitated to healthcare systems and moved to Datchet with a position as a university professor. He is a member of a Baptist church  


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Baptist Times, 29/05/2020
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