In honor of Lara's birthday, here's the first update I've done in quite some time (shut up). It's yet another email that I've cut-and-pasted because...well...this one was just good.
I can have a deep thought every once in a while.
Now that I can chime in (note to all -- do NOT eat at the Wendy's on Alps Road, unless you enjoy food poisoning...and trust me, I know this from first-hand experience)...
Like Bryan initially said, a number of us refugees from growing up in a youth group...we come from a background of nigh-fear over not reading the Bible/having a "quiet time" every morning/night. For me, at least, it was hammered to me that it was a DUTY, much like if I was in the military. Or if I was working an assembly line: read+pray=God gives you His blessing for the day; no read+no pray = God punishes you/you have a crappy day.
We constantly refer to the Bible as a love letter from God, yet -- again, looking at the legalistic standpoint a good many of our family choose -- how many of us TREAT it as a love letter? I'm just a big enough of a dork to have saved all the notes that mean something to me that have been written me (shut up, the lot of you; I'm a romantic at heart), and I treasure those things. I enjoy re-reading them again and again -- not because I gain a lot of deep insight about my relationships from them, but they make my heart smile.
Dude, I not only write in my Bible, I treat it a little bit like a field guide. -- I have since given up on the "Instruction Manual for Life" analogy a lot of people use, because (to paraphrase Rob Bell), how many of us ever actually READ an instruction manual, or if we do, don't we pull it out only once we break or can't get something to work properly?
God is not a genie, and the Bible is not a bottle. -- true, there's that whole "craving as a newborn craves milk" analogy, but that's a different type of bottle. :)
Now -- the challenge (I have found for me) is getting that balance between what I need to to, why I need to do it, and how do I do it:
WHAT: I need to read the Bible. Plain and simple. If I wasn't supposed to read it, then God would not have made sure to preserve these writings for so long. They're here for a reason (just like I am, whatever the dickens that might be).
WHY: (a) I'm commanded to; (b) I do crave it; and (c) there are some pretty cool -- and some pretty confusing/frustrating parts (and the inner geek in me salivates over the challenge to find out what they mean).
HOW: ...and here's where your mileage may vary: I come at it from a two-pronged approach. I read on my own, and I discuss it. I've found that the Bible was not meant to be experienced as a solitary book. It's interactive -- it's a narrative that cries out for discussion. Not just from the perspective of one voice (hi, Jim), but from many. Christ even had a gaggle of a dozen (plus) people he hung out with. Paul kept referring to others in his letters. I don't know from first-hand knowledge, but I'll bet that in Judea, etc., these Jewish (and subsequent Gentile) boys and girls discussed the Torah as much -- if not more -- than anything else. I mean, they didn't have the upcoming American Idol try-outs to talk about, so...
Translations, paraphrases, study guides -- there are as many out there that make less sense than reading the 1611 printing of the King James Version as there are ones that you just read and think "wow." Me? I tend to skew towards the NIV (old habits die hard), with a smattering of THE MESSAGE thrown in for good measure (and to make me look at those words from a different perspective). I also journal like a man possessed, so one day when I kick off, someone will probably find my writings, publish them, and I'll be seen as some reclusive genius.
The Bible, like life -- like our spiritual walk -- is not meant to be experienced alone all the time. ...and that's part of the "failing"/missed opportunity that I (and probably Bryan and the rest of us church-grown-ones) grew up with: we had a study time, and we talked about what the Bible SAID, but not about what it said about us at that time, in that place, in our lives.
A lot of what you've asked, like you stated, will come in the form of an answer in due time. Have FUN on the journey, and please...open up more email discussion like this so we can jam up people's Inboxes and have them growl about the length of these messages until they start reading them and see how much fun it is to discuss these things. :)
(just don't ask for the ratio of how many times I've read the Bible through to the number of times I've read Tolkien's works cover to cover...it will only embarrass us both)