What does Bibliolog look like in practice?
The facilitator shortly introduces the approach through the prolog. The introduction sets the scene for the biblical story: relevant information about the text is provided through narration and the identification with the first role is initiated. At the very point where the white fire blazes, the facilitator opens the Bible and reads a sentence or a short passage from the chosen text. Starting from here he or she invites the participants to identify with the role of a biblical character (enroling) and addresses them in that role.
When using the story of the sending out of the Twelve (Mark 6:7-13), verse 7 could be read first, "Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits." To begin with, the participants are given the role of the disciples, "You are one of the disciples. Disciple, you are sent out by Jesus and you receive power over the unclean spirits. What does that feel like to you?"
Whoever wants to, can offer an answer to the given question in the role of the disciple (one after the other), using the "I"-form.
Against the background of his or her personal life story a participant might respond spontaneously, "That is too big a task for me! What is it that Jesus thinks I am able to do?" Another one might say, „Well, I am prepared!" A third one could comment, "It is good to walk in twos!", while a fourth person might worry, "Will the spirits really obey me!"
Through echoing the facilitator takes up the comments being made and reinforces them. Through interviewing he or she can check the response of a participant, for example when his or her comment is merely alluding to certain content.
After having collected some statements the facilitator eventually returns to the text. A next sentence or paragraph is read. Wherever questions about the text remain unanswered, the facilitator pauses anew and assigns another role to the participants, either as a further character or as the same, only at a later stage in the story. Again individuals will offer comments to the given question.
Thus, verses 8 to 11 could be read, in which the disciples are asked to take nothing with them except a staff and sandals, but no money, bag or extra shirt. They are meant to stay in a house, wherever they are welcomed, or where not, to shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against that house. Here the disciples could be addressed once again, "Disciple, it is getting serious now. What runs through your mind when you hear these instructions?"
Subsequently, the participants could be asked in the role of Jesus, "Jesus, you see your disciples leave, two by two, and look after them. What is that like for you?"
Finally, the disciples could be asked once more, that is, after their return, "What was the most important experience for you?"
After having worked through some scenes, the Bibliolog is brought to an end. The facilitator dismisses the participants from the different roles and during the epilog leads them back into the present. The different comments, and with them the various views about the biblical text, are allowed to stand side by side without any attempt being made to vilify these through a final unifying message.
In what contexts can Bibliolog be used?
Bibliolog can be utilized in quite different arenas, be that within the church, in schools but also beyond. Hence, it can serve as a "sermon with the whole congregation" held within a service, as an introduction to a biblical story when working with the youth or with confirmands, parish groups, cell groups or when offering seminars or conferences. Equally, it can be part of a module offered to nursery school children or as part of R.E. lessons, while it is also conducive for people without any religious background. Generally, a Bibliolog can take up to 15 - 30 minutes. A minimum of eight participants should be present while there is no limit regarding the maximum size of a group.
Bibliolog in worship
Using Bibliolog as a sermon provides the opportunity to "preach" with the whole community present and without having to leave the familiar setting. Everyone can remain in their seats, nobody is forced to participate actively, but everyone is guided in encountering the biblical text on a personal level. Thereby people often apply sermon texts quite differently to their lives as they experience them to affect them more directly.
Where did Bibliolog originate?
Against the background of his knowledge in Psychodrama and his literary studies, the North-American Jewish scholar Peter Pitzele developed Bibliolog together with his wife Susan Pitzele who is an Anglican Christian.
Peter & Susan Pitzele / New York
It is not by coincidence that this approach was developed by a Jew who, by the way, is not a theologian, since it corresponds with Midrash, a rabbinic interpretative method that allows for explanations aimed at filling gaps within a given text. Rabbinic hermeneutics distinguishes between the black fire, the "written letter content", and the white fire as the space left between words.
Peter and Susan Pitzele live in New York (you can find their home page -> here.
Bibliolog and Bibliodrama
Bibliolog and Bibliodrama are related. Both of these approaches assume that through "entering" biblical stories in their respective unique fashion these will be opened up and provide room for playful identification with the story. However, the degree in self-experience is less in Bibliolog than in Bibliodrama. Equally, Bibliolog requires less openness to engage with the inner processes of a group. Bibliolog also needs less time than Bibliodrama and is less low-threshold, as participants remain seated and act primarily verbally. For that reason Bibliolog is in itself more flexible and can therefore more readily be used in various fields [of action].
The understanding of the text in Bibliolog
Bibliolog assumes that biblical texts originate in different times and cultures, but that they can be important and significant to people of today. Like modern exegesis, Bibliolog presupposes that texts are ambiguous and that people from unique walks of life and coming from diverse life experiences will hear and understand them differently.
The very fact that different voices can evolve, opens up alternative ways of understanding the text and thus extends and possibly changes an individual\'s perception. The diversity of comments and the different perspectives qualify one\'s own interpretation with the interpretation of others claiming their "equal" right and proving a person\'s unique approach to be shaped by his or her life-story.
Central techniques in Bibliolog
Echoing and interviewing are essential techniques in Bibliolog. In echoing comments made by participants are taken up verbally and are thereby reinforced. Thereby quiet statements are made audible for everybody while implied emotional content can be brought to the fore. Every comment is thus valued as a significant subjective statement, while those who are commenting get the chance to understand themselves a little better and to enter the particular role even more deeply. Apart from the ability to empathize and to be able to establish good contact with participating individuals, echoing requires of the facilitator a high degree of practice, since misunderstandings and wrong interpretations can discourage and thwart what opportunities Bibliolog might have to offer. It is equally important that a facilitator does not fill in the role "better" than the participant. The identification of the individual with the role remains of vital importance.
In interviewing a further clarifying question is asked, for example, when certain content is only implied in a comment. In those cases facilitators always need to follow the line developed by the participant. It is not their task to try and elicit a totally new aspect that is only of interest to them.
Indispensable are also enroling and deroling, just as are the prolog and the epilog. Essential is further the structure and the "choreography" of a Bibliolog; to be precise: what questions are to be addressed to what person at what point?
How does one get to practise Bibliolog?
Even if Bibliolog might appear to be "easy" and may appear familiar to methods already used in practice, Bibliolog has to be learnt. It should not simply be tried out. Its elements are rather complex and its successful application depends indeed on various aspects that are not necessarily visible at first sight. Standardized training courses exist. They teach the basics of how to work with Bibliolog. Such courses run over one week (from Monday to Friday) or over two weekends. They are offered for various target groups nearly all over Germany, as well as in many European and in some African countries. All trainers who run these courses are joined together under the Bibliolog Network and accredited by it.
Text: Prof. Dr. Uta Pohl-Patalong
Training courses can be found here.