Anna Carter Florence
Westminster John Knox Press, 242 pages | Published October 3, 2023
If you want to inspire people in your community to read the Bible, gather around the stories in Anna Carter Florence’s newest treasure: A is for Alabaster: 52 Reflections on the Stories of Scripture. If you need another shot of creativity for your own Scripture study, pick up A is for Alabaster.
Florence teaches preaching at Columbia Seminary and guides us to read scripture through her vivid imagination. Her newest collection of essays puts to work the same principles she shares in her prior work, Preaching as Testimony and Rehearsing Scripture: Discovering God’s Word in Community. She lets the verbs animate these stories right off the page and grow flesh and blood into the characters of our faith. Prophets become petulant and loving. Certain women, perhaps considered sassy or labeled as illicit, become exemplars of faith as the people who changed history. Once readers sink into these human-divine dramas, they might feel more at home with our ancient ancestors and go pick up their Bibles to let the spirit illuminate the past and guide them toward the future.
Florence confides the idea behind this book has traveled with her since the first time she read Frederick Buechner’s Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who. The freedom he took to shape biblical characters from dusty legends into real people inspired her and offered a framework to write this abecedary. (An abecedary is a teaching tool: the alphabet written out as a primer, with each letter marking the beginning of a word or phrase.)
For both Old and New Testaments, Florence chooses one story or character for each letter of the alphabet, offering 26 stories for each for a total of 52. “A is for Abigail” takes us to 1 Samuel 25 and offers the brief verses of this woman’s feat to deliver two hundred loaves along with other provisions via donkey, feeding an army and saving her entire household. Florence describes a woman who could match any war hero with her tactical brilliance. “B is for Balaam” expands upon Numbers 22 to provoke us to think about all the animals in scripture who, “talking or not, could be our summons to another world, and listening to their side of a story is a spiritual discipline many of us could benefit from.” After reading this donkey story, a reader will likely turn to “F is for Fish,” though they should keep going until “Z is for Zacchaeus!”
She confides these are not finished pieces but might be “starting points or trailheads or doorways to a place you’ve been wanting to explore.” As such, this text would be an excellent guide to spark group study conversations. To that end, she provides a step-by-step discussion guide for the entire book and questions appropriate for individual chapters. This might just be the water to prime the pump for preachers thirsty for new ideas. Footnotes and references will supplement exegesis and study. Don’t think of this as work. Enjoy.
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