Columbia Seminary preaching professor explores both Bible testaments from A through Z

The Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence is the guest on ‘Leading Theologically’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence

LOUISVILLE — In the tradition of beloved writers including Frederick Buechner, the Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence has written “A is for Alabaster: 52 Reflections on the Stories of Scriptures,” published earlier this month by Westminster John Knox Press. Carter Florence, the Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary, appeared last week alongside the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty of the Presbyterian Foundation on his show, “Leading Theologically.”

Their 32-minute conversation is available here or here.

Seminary professors “have our own questions we want to ask,” Carter Florence told Hinson-Hasty, “but it’s the questions your students are asking and the things that are happening in the classroom that you really want to explore … reading biblical texts in ways that will make them come alive.”

“It’s amazing how weary preachers can get,” she added, “so creating this space to have the text be constantly new and fresh — and not just for preachers, but for anyone who picks up the scripture. I feel like this is a pretty urgent need right now.”

Hinson-Hasty then turned to “A is for Alabaster,” in which Carter Florence writes brief and engaging pieces on scriptures about 52 biblical characters — 26 from the Hebrew Bible, and 26 from the New Testament.

Westminster John Knox Press published “A is for Alabaster” earlier this month.

“I read Frederick Buechner’s lexicon books when I was young and I fell in love with this abecedary form,” she said. The Book of Lamentations includes that form, she noted.

“My aim is to speak to anyone who might read [the book] about just how bottomless these stories are, how much they have to say right now, and encourage people to get imaginative themselves,” Carter Florence said.

Selecting the biblical figures to write about “ended up being a really fun challenge, because it turns out everybody’s name begins with ‘J,’” she said with a laugh. “Jacob had to be ‘I is for Israel,’ and Jonah had to take ‘F is for fish.’ Jesus got to go rogue and go in and out of everybody else’s letters. I wanted a mix of texts I had never worked with and some that I really do love to work with.”

The book concludes with a discussion guide. Hinson-Hasty asked Carter Florence one of the questions she asks of readers: Did you detect recurring themes in the book?

“I thought a lot about how the Hebrew Bible stories, the Old Testament stories, were ones Jesus might have been told,” she replied. “I thought about all of the people with complicated lives, particularly women, whom he spent time with … and what it means for us that he entered into their stories so deeply.

“There’s a reason these stories are in scripture,” Carter Florence said. “There is no human experience that is off-limits or that disqualifies anyone from a life of faith. To be human is to live in and among and with everything that’s possible under the sun.”

The Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty

Hinson-Hasty called the vignettes Carter Florence included “stories I want to sit with and think about.”

“It feels like a Christian formation tool, and for preachers, it’s a nice spark,” he said. Then he invited Carter Florence to leave listeners with a benediction, and she offered words from the Iona tradition that she often uses after leading worship:

“May God’s goodness be yours and well, and seven times well may you live your life. May you be an isle in the sea. May you be a hill on the shore. May you be a star in the night. May you be a staff to the weak. May the love Christ Jesus gave fill every heart for you and may the love Christ Jesus gave fill you for everyone. Amen.”

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