Currently I am reading Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Somehow I never got round to it before. I am enjoying it- Prisig has a lovely way with words and a great love of ideas, images, philosophy.

One word he uses a lot is this one- Chautauqua. 

I would like to use the time to talk in some depth about things that seem important. What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua — that´s the only name that I can think of for it — like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, […] an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer. ( Pirsig, p.17)

The origin of the words seems to be a movement founded in the 19th C that provided education and entertainment to isolated farming communities via a kind of travelling circus- complete with lectures, discussions and workshops. They fed a hunger for knowledge and self improvement.

Pirsig uses the word whenever he introduces as new concept, a new idea.The Chautauqua becomes the vehicle by which the mind can travel. The fact that this story is happening in the context of a motorcycle journey (with his curious son as a pillion passenger) makes the Chautauguas all the more vital.

I mention this as it made me think again about the way we encounter the words of the Bible. Might it be better to see them as a travelling circus tent full of ideas, concepts, poetry, philosophy? A spiritual Chautauqua. Those of us that visit and engage do so as people eager for the fun of the journey, able to debate, question, laugh, cry, heckle or just listen in awe.

So, rather than academic stuffyness, or unassailable unapproachable holiness. Rather than being ‘The Word of God’, might we see the Bible as Chautauqua?

A tent at the side of the road in which to exchange ideas about who God is…



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