Rend Collective's Chris Llewellyn: 'The Bible isn't an instruction manual'
In his latest column, Rend Collective's Chris Llewellyn explains what answering phones taught him about God's word
The call centre had a dreary aesthetic that made me feel as worn out as the threadbare carpet.
“Hi! You’re speaking to Chris from bank account servicing. How can I help you today?” This was my battle cry from nine to five, Monday to Friday, in my late teens.
My job was mind-numbing in its simplicity: answer the phone politely, listen to whatever banal question the customer posed and then flip through the grubby, laminated handbook and read out the appropriate response. Repeat until your soul melts into a puddle of boredom.
This tedious season of my work life happened to coincide with me becoming a Christian. I was overly enthusiastic in those early days, often arriving at work in T-shirts emblazoned with eye-roll-inducing faith-based puns. Between calls I would ostentatiously read my giant leather-bound Bible. (If you’re wondering, no – I was not popular.)
Looking back, I now see that confusion was inevitable. With two sacred texts sitting side by side on my desk – the Holy Bible and the revered Halifax Bank of Scotland handbook– I began to believe that they basically performed the same function in my life. When I got stuck on a question about someone’s interest on their overdraft I would crack open the company handbook and it would provide me with a crystal-clear, instant response. I came to expect the same thing of the Bible. Should I attend my gay friend’s wedding? Should I ask the cute girl at the desk opposite for her number? Who should I vote for? No problem, please hold...
Approaching the Bible this way was frustrating. Instead of tidily arranged and relevant answers, I found weird poems, stories of ancient civilisations at war and obscure prophetic dreams and visions. There was even some sacred erotica thrown in there for good measure.
Even the portions that were specifically in the category of ‘law’ or ‘teaching’ seemed too far removed from my beige-carpeted context to be easily applied. The commandment not to “boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19, NRSV) was one I could easily keep, but made some wild assumptions about my access to goats.
This was my early introduction to the difficult truth that, while the Bible does give us some direct answers, it often seems to throw twice as many questions right back at us. The Bible doesn’t perform well as an instruction manual because it isn’t one. It’s a diverse library of beautiful, ancient works written across several languages, cultures and genres, that introduces us to Jesus – the word himself.
While it was initially disappointing and difficult for me to accept, this beguiling complexity is precisely what now stokes my love affair with the Bible. I came to scripture looking for clarity, and God gave me something better: wonder. Instead of a faceless interaction with a black and white text, he gave me an eternity’s worth of questions to passionately discuss with him.
In all my time answering calls at Halifax, I don’t recall the handbook ever challenging me. It never required me to intensely reflect on its contents or provoke me to angrily disagree with something it said. It just spoon-fed me easy answers.
And I’m pretty sure that’s why, on my last day of work, I dumped its bloated plastic pages unceremoniously into the shredder, but the Bible remains on my shelf to this day.
Illustration: Flix Gillett