In an abandoned warehouse in Chicago hang decaying three thousand marionettes. Sound like a scene from a chilling horror movie? It might do, but this was the discovery of Joseph R. Lewis, a producer and director. Together they make the lost family of Ralph Kipniss America’s last great puppet maker and puppeteer, from the line of puppeteers reaching back to Czarist Russia. A terrible sequence of events led to his being unable to pay for the warehouse in which they were stored, illness, fire, depression and debt, and with no home to house them in he was forced to abandon them, and so there they sit to this day. Recently this treasure trove was rediscovered by Lewis when a neighbour suggested he might be interested in some dolls he knew of. Realising their value, not so much financial as cultural, has started a campaign to raise the funds required to pay off the debt and to form a museum in which to display them so that they are not lost and forgotten. You can find out more here.
In the Guardian on Wednesday Polly Toynbee wrote about changes in the way English was taught in schools in the UK. Her concern was that recent changes to the syllabus emphasis grammar at the expense of an appreciation of literature and reading. She foresees a time when an understanding of many classics of writing were lost and forgotten such as Austin, Orwell and The Bible, and an understanding of the rich heritage they have provided us, and is campaigning to prevent this.
These two news stories got me wondering about how the Bible is seen in our culture today. For many it is a historical treasure, lost and abandoned in the warehouse of the past like those three thousand marionettes. For others it is a cultural artefact that needs to be rescued and restored so that it can be displayed in some museum so people can appreciate its beauty and its part in our history. This maybe is a step in the right direction, but it misses the point. Puppets are not made to be displayed! They are made to be used, to put on plays, to tell stories, to live and dance. So it is with the Bible. It is not meant to be confined to the past and admired from a safe distance through a glass screen. No, it is meant to be read, to live, to dance, to tells stories and be used. It may be ancient, but it belongs in the here and now, as active and dynamic as ever.