Blue highway reading


Join me in discovering the often unexplored parts of Scripture

by David Faber

Since discovering the Touch of Swiss bakery in Stevensville, Mich., our family regularly stops to buy pastries, and then we drive to a secluded park overlooking Lake Michigan and enjoy our sweets while looking out over the lake. If we had stayed on the interstate and never explored this town, we would not have found Touch of Swiss. Our annual road trip to visit my parents would be faster but less rich.

Travelers taking road trips have two choices. We can identify our destination, plot the fastest route, usually involving primarily interstate highways, and reach our goal in the most efficient way possible. Or we can take state highways and county roads—what author William Least Heat-Moon calls the “blue” highways—and see parts of the country (and visit bakeries) that efficient travelers all too often miss.

I see myself as a blue highway traveler, but in reality I am, more often than not, an efficient, interstate traveler. Short vacations and long distances overcome my hope of wandering leisurely.

Sometimes in our study of the Bible we are confronted with a similar pair of choices. We can read the parts of Scripture with which we are familiar and which we know have a powerful spiritual impact. Or we can wander through some of the less familiar parts of the Bible and see what we discover. “Blue highway” Bible study may provide a slower path to growth, but it can be deeply satisfying.

My first experience with blue highway reading came in college. The professor asked our class to read the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew and to make whatever observations we thought relevant. One student noticed that five women are mentioned: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the woman who “had been the wife of Uriah” and, of course, Mary (Matt. 1:6, TNIV).

Why does Matthew include these women? They aren’t necessary for the genealogy; Jesus’ ancestry is through the men. Why call attention to Tamar? You should read her story in Genesis 38. Among other things, she pretends to be a prostitute, sleeps with her father-in-law and bears his child.

And what about Bathsheba? By referring to her as the woman “who had been the wife of Uriah,” Matthew calls attention to the scandal of King David’s affair and his murder of Uriah.

As I thought about these questions I was reminded that God works through people on the margins, not only through people of power. I realized that people whom the dominant religious tradition would reject or even cover up are part of God’s way of working in the world. I hope that this has opened me to see God working in people whom I would have otherwise rejected. And my life has been enriched by this awareness.

If I had not been invited to do some blue highway reading, I would have skipped the genealogies to get to the stories surrounding Jesus’ conception and birth. And I would have been poorer for it.

I invite you to join me in blue highway reading. Here are a couple of suggestions for your trip.

Explore. Our family has driven from Kansas to Michigan many times over the past couple of decades. We know which restaurants and motel are at which exits. But once in awhile we take a completely new route to see what we can find. Our Bible reading can be the same; instead of always sticking with familiar, favorite passages, we can find a part of the Bible we can't remember having read or have only read infrequently.

Slow down. You can’t go as fast on a county road as you can on the interstate. When you slow down you start to see more. Slowing down can help us take in new places and can help us see familiar places more clearly. When you see more, you ask more questions, and questions can lead to insight. Slowing down can stir your imagination. As I drive through a small town, I wonder what it’s like to live there. As we read slowly we can put ourselves into the story and wonder about the event of which we are a part.

Take along a guide. A guide, especially someone who knows well the area you are visiting, can help answer some of your questions and can point out places you may want to explore further. Ask your pastor or e-mail a professor at MB Biblical Seminary or one of the Mennonite Brethren colleges about a reliable guide to the part of the Bible you are exploring.

Take along a visitor. Perhaps this visitor is someone who has a very different background from your own. Often such a person will see things that you have overlooked or see the same things from a different perspective. Conversations with disciples from other religious or ethnic traditions can open up the Bible in profound ways.

Blue highway reading does not fit our busy lifestyles. But it provides an opportunity to explore some hidden wonders in the Bible. And you may find yourself returning to some of those spots over and over again to enjoy the view they provide of God and God’s work.

David Faber is professor of philosophy and religious studies at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan. He is a member of Ebenfeld MB Church of rural Hillsboro. 

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