Bible, quilting, united methodist church

Quilting a Story

A few weeks ago during a small group Bible study gathering, it was suggested that the Bible can be compared to a quilt. Of course, this got my mind going.

Right now I’ve got 6 t-shirt quilts all in various stages of creation in my sewing room. If each shirt could tell a story, I don’t think the stories could fit in my house. There are a lot of shirts in there!

Two of the quilts are graduation gifts. As I was sewing together blocks last night, I began to think about the purpose of these gifts. Maybe the quilts are to remind them of who they are and where they come from. Each block holds a story…or twenty. A musical t-shirt must hold so many inside jokes and late night rehearsals and “break-a-legs” and first night jitters and memorizing lines. Just a glance at that block and she’ll be transported back stage with her friends waiting to go on for the first scene. That’s just one block. Her quilt has 48 blocks.

stack of quilt blocks

When she’s had a rough night and she’s wondering why she thought this college was the right place for her, she might take a peek at those old camp shirts and remember the first time she slept somewhere other than her own bed without her parents in the next room. She’ll be reminded that sometimes there are scary moments, but those nights under the stars surrounded by trees and a campfire make it all worth it.

Even though her quilt will hold 48 blocks full of hundreds of stories, this quilt still won’t capture the complexity of this young woman. She didn’t save every shirt she ever had. There are some from her early years, but not a lot. I think there’s only one school — maybe two — represented in all those 48 blocks. There aren’t shirts representing her parents or siblings or pets. There aren’t any shirts about where she’s lived or where she likes to walk around her neighborhood.

Together with her mom, she chose the shirts that best represent her life so far. Those shirts don’t include fights with her parents or the time she met her best friend or the next best friend or the next. Those shirts don’t show the moments of tears on her bed alone at night or the texts she received that lit up her face. Those 48 blocks will somehow represent 18 years of her life… there’s no way that quilt will show the full picture. It’ll hold the highlights, for sure. But, there’s still so much more missing.

These are some of the things I thought about when the Bible was compared to a quilt. I’m sure the original thought was in reference to a more traditional quilt — one with repeating themes and a palette of similar fabrics. However, I think a t-shirt quilt is a more complex and accurate representation of what the Bible is like.

First, someone had to remember the stories — just like parents have to remember to save the t-shirts! I’m working on another quilt in which the t-shirts weren’t saved. So, this mother — God bless her — has gone to every Goodwill, Salvation Army and Once Upon a Child to find shirts that represent different aspects of her child’s first 22 years of life! That is quite an undertaking. She had to remember back to what he liked, what experiences were important to him. Then she had to find shirts that match those likes and experiences.

stack of tshirts for quilt

Some of the authors in the Bible were remembering back much more than 22 years…

Second, someone had to decide the most important stories to include. There is no way they could include all of the stories wrapped into the Hebrew people making their way to the Promised Land. Can you imagine all the stories held in that one story?? Someone had to cut it down — do a little editing — to make it more manageable. I do have some customers that save all the shirts (or most of them) and come back every few years to have another quilt made. Most don’t do that — most save the most important shirts, the ones that represent the biggest moments. Those are the shirts I’m given to create a quilt.

So, it took someone remembering the story and it took someone else to edit the story. Then eventually someone else wrote it down. Then another someone translated it to the best of their knowledge. Then, finally, we read it from the perspective of our understanding and experience in today’s culture.

It would be like me pulling t-shirts out of a bag, cutting out the parts I think are most important, arranging them in a way that I think looks best and then telling a person’s life story based on what I created.

When I put it that way, I wonder a bit about the Bible… don’t you?

I’m not trying to be irreverent. I do value the role of the Bible in my life. I’ve learned a lot about God and the way God relates to humanity thanks to the Bible. However, I do not worship the Bible. The Bible as we see it printed today, ended at a certain time and place. God, however, did not stop working in the world once the Bible was completed.

If I based my ideas about someone on their t-shirt quilt from high school, my view of them would be quite limited. Their story didn’t end there… it’s still going. And so is ours. And so is God’s.

I love quilting stories together. I love sitting at my machine wondering why this shirt is important, what that experience was like. I wonder how this quilt will be a gift to their life at some point, maybe when they least expect it. I wonder what shirts they might include in the next one.

Their stories go on… the Bible’s should too.

a basket of cut tshirts


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