Playing Joseph

Published 12:17 pm Saturday, July 2, 2016

by Andrew Book

This past week has been full and beautiful as we celebrated our summer Vacation Bible School at Courtland United Methodist Church. Our theme this year was “EGYPT” with a focus on the story of Joseph during his years in Egypt (The story is in Genesis 37-50). Our vacation Bible School included times of singing and celebration, times of reflection and conversation, and times of playing, eating and crafts. I had the exciting task of taking the story of Joseph and trying to bring him to life. I played Joseph and told his story in my own words. For some of those children, I still am Joseph!

I was jailed as Joseph and told part of his story from a cave-like prison by candlelight. I was promoted as Joseph to Pharaoh’s right-hand (complete with shaved head and makeup). I told about his betrayal by his brothers, his hopes and dreams, his successes and his failures, and even his marriage and children. Through all of it, I hope and pray that I was helping the children to see how God was working in both Joseph’s life and in their own lives, but I also found that I grew to understand Joseph better and better as each day passed. I loved being Joseph for them, but I got something out of it too.

Joseph’s story includes being sold as a slave by his brothers. Many years later, as his brothers approached Joseph (when he was second-in-command in Egypt) to buy grain, I felt the struggle between revenge and forgiveness within myself. While I knew that the “right” thing to do was offer forgiveness, being Joseph helped me see how hard that decision truly is. In a similar way, when I was in a barely-lit prison talking with the kids about finding hope in hard times, I had a taste of the weight that imprisonment lays upon a person — and the way it can smother hope.

Playing Joseph gave me a little better understanding of the pain of betrayal by those close to you, which makes the words, “forgive them” harder to say — but also more meaningful than they were before. In the same way, I understand better how “hope in the Lord” can be difficult words that battle against the crushing despair of imprisonment.

This week has left me praying for people in those two situations: those betrayed by family and those in prison. I pray that hope and forgiveness can truly give them the power of God to face the tough realities of their lives. This week has also reminded me of how powerfully God can use our imaginations to help us understand and truly enter into the stories of Scripture.

There is a technique called “imaginative reading,” which allows anyone to enter into the stories of Scripture. It lets you grasp the feelings and emotions of the story which can help you take the words of God and embody them in your life. Here’s how it works:

First, select a story in Scripture and read through the passage. After reading the passage once, imagine yourself in this story. Where are you? What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? Are you standing or sitting? What are your surroundings like?

Read the story again, imagining the details of how the characters in the story act, what you see and how you feel throughout the story. Let your imagination provide the details that are not recorded in Scripture. Move slowly, line by line as you see and feel the story unfold around you. Go over the story a few times, just like you might remember something that happened in your past. You may even want to act out the story in simple ways (if the story is about people walking, reflect on it as you walk. If it is outside, sit outside, etc). After you have envisioned the story several times, stop and reflect. What stood out to you as you entered this story? How did your experience of imaginative reading help you hear God’s word to you?

Imaginative reading is a very helpful tool for some people to help them get into Scripture (and get Scripture into them). It might even allow you to understand Joseph a little better without the shaved head, mascara and glitter that I have been putting on this week!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or