By Francisco Herrera
The best part about engaging in random, public Bible reading sessions is that it is impossible to guess how the patrons will react - like the night that I dared to take my butt and my Book into the happy haunts of the Camden Tavern (4601 Lyndale Ave. N, 55412) to savor some of their excellent chicken wings.
Here are some responses:
"You're not going to be preaching the Gospel in here tonight, are you?"
This question was particularly memorable. Admittedly, though, the bouncer who asked it did so not because he didn't want me to talk about Jesus that night, rather out of his fear that I was a preacher coming to his establishment to get drunk.
"Don't you think it's sacrilegious to bring the Holy Book into such a place as this?" - said to me by a particularly insistent bar patron, convinced that I wouldn't make the Rapture, who then went on to show himself to be an utter ass to the staff and a creep to the women as the evening wore on.
Towards the end of that night, I'd gotten a surprise phone call from a deeply missed friend, and it taking it ran into the parking lot outside, leaving everything on the bar counter - including my cash and driver's license. Another patron soon rushed out seeking me, a pastor herself. "You can't be doing things like that around here, brother. Your Book will be fine, folks here don't care about the Bible, but these things?" she playfully rebuked, instantly a new friend, handing me back my Bible with all the sensitive items tucked inside.
We then paused over a cigarette and laughter and shared our love for Jesus and our sometimes frustrations with those among whom Jesus has called us to serve.
I first got into this practice when I lived in Geneva Switzerland, back in the early 2000s. My best friend of those years, Markus, was a hard man to pin down, so I usually visit him at one of his bar gigs around the city. But since he was quite popular with patrons - half-Sierra Leonese half-German and so beautiful it made you cry, an exciting conversationalist, tall, svelte, locked, and with a full-body tattoo - I would bring a large study Bible to occupy myself with God's Word while he occupied himself with pouring libations and spinning the gold of his charisma into rent money.
And some of those first reactions my Bible evoked in the barflies...!
"F-k you and f-k that book and f-k your religion - you're trying to enforce yourself on everyone here!"
The French guy who said this did so in French and it sounded prettier in the original than in my translation. So there was that.
"But no! No, Francisco - not YOU!!" - from my acquaintance Mariama, from Bulgaria, whose feelings towards US Christians were forever marred by post-9/11 US foreign policy and George W. Bush (and to be honest, could you blame her?).
"Yeah. The Holy Book. No thanks (this woman, also an acquaintance, had emigrated to Europe from black America some years before). Too many of my people back home think that prayer and supplication will cure everything. Can't go back to that. Nope. Almost killed me."
Yet, invariably, these critical voices - even angry voices - would come and sit and chat with me - posing questions about whether or not something they'd heard or been taught was really in the Bible, unpacking powerful memories and feelings evoked by the stories of the ten plagues or the birth of Jesus, the bitter draft of their suspicion hinting at earlier days of awe and wonder. These were the first times that I would witness Scripture's eternal, inescapable gravity - reeling in any and all who came near it, be they friend or foe or fickle - and navigating this mix of human and holy outpourings was my first school in evangelism.
Luther believed that this 'pull' exerted by the Bible was a consequence of it being God's "living Word" - not only a description of Jesus Christ himself (as per John 1) but also as a way to describe the ever-surprising way that reading and wrestling with the Bible's many stories directly invokes the Holy Spirit to interrupt our lives. And when she does - illuminating us, guiding us, inspiring our minds and our spirits - our Bible studies not only increase our practical knowledge of what the Bible says but also bring us into more intimate and more powerful relationship with God's self.
And Luther wasn't kidding. It was heartening to see the way these people's eyes would light up - how scowls would gradually become thoughtful frowns, even grins - as the Spirit and the text enwrapped their souls in a delicate dance.
So why am I writing about all of this? Simple.
Because I think you should try it.
Try taking your Bible to work with you one day and crack it open while on your lunch break.
If you're in transit at an airport, bus station, or train station - let alone on a plane, bus, or train - open it to the Book of Acts and see if God might use you in your travels as they used Paul.
Some of the general public’s responses to you and your Book may be a bit rough, as many of those I listed above, but trust me: there will be happy responses, too.
Like the first Bible study I organized with my now-friend Steven, who was at first a bit reluctant to chat that because he hadn't read the text (and was a little afraid of getting it "wrong"), but how his eyes lit up as soon as we started reading Philemon and talking about it.
"He told Philemon to call an escaped slave his brother? Dude! That's heavy!"
You will also find people like my Swiss friend, Claire, who stumbled upon me during one of my normal bar-Bible-study moments, "O mon dieu - I can't tell you how good it makes me feel to see somewhere here reading a Bible. I'm often ashamed of letting people know I'm a Christian because so many think it's stupid."
Sometimes folks will even see the Book and come at you singing - hoping to kindle a memory or a feeling through yet another round of an old hymn, or talking about their days at Bible camp, vacation Bible school, or the like.
But most importantly, the magnetism that the Spirit gives to the Bible itself, just SHOWING others that you have one of the best ice breakers you can ever imagine. It always attracts attention, always poses and inspires questions. When inquiring God about how they might move in a community, this simple act of carrying a Bible with you in public and opening it whenever you sit down will help you figure out those things VERY quickly.
And to tap into this power, this excitement - all you have to do is start carrying the Good Book with you and pull it out from time-to-time. That's it. And then just sit back and let the Spirit do the work.
It really is that easy. Can I get an amen for that?