Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New insight: it's the bibles, not the Bible, that tell my life's story

It’s my oldest Bible, but is it really mine? The Basham family record in it began in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in 1756. The recorded births and deaths indicate they stayed about twenty miles ahead of the elected sheriff – or as I at least I like to joke. It finally came down to “Ma” Basham, an authentic frontier woman. She adopted my grandmother in 1876. The family was Autry, from Cajun Louisiana somewhere, probably a “de Autrey” of those displaced French families the British took from Arcadia in the Seven Years War. The Autry family had twelve children and were moving west, working on the Texas and Pacific Railroad. Now there was one too many and “Ma” adopted her. "Moving west" was hard, a family Bible, cherished.

The last I saw of my introduction to the Bible was when we had to close my mother’s house when she came to live with us; so much had to be thrown away. There was a story book about Jesus as a baby; it went out with a tattered Egglemier’s Bible Story Book.  Looking back now that is how I became an early reader and my life was shaped.

There is, of course, that King James’ Version, black and with a zipper, I got when I graduated from high school. Somewhere in the attic, as well, there is a tiny 3x4 inches New Testament. During World War II some men carried one like that in their front shirt pocket; stories drifted around of how one of these had stopped a bullet before it could enter the heart.

I don’t know what happened to my father’s King James Version . Dad read it every night and loved that translation. He was a lawyer, and I have often thought the man really couldn’t tell apart English Common Law and the King James Version. Both were in his heart. Then, when he finished reading, he got out his English/Spanish Dictionary and proceeded with his evening hobby, learning Spanish. He was later in Who’s Who in American Politics, but he surely wouldn’t fit in certain politics today. 

Then there was the New Testament of The Revised Standard Version of the Bible I used in seminary. It just fell apart when I tried to pack it for our move into this house. I still have a couple of more-than-used  looking copies of the translations by J.B. Phillips, one is the Gospels, the second on Paul’s letters. I actually gave Dad that latter one for Christmas. It still has my Christmas greetings. He managed to give it right back – in a tactful way. It just wasn’t his King James Version.

On a shelf in the office I do have my mother’s last Bible. It is in big print. When she was living those last years with us I think she must have read it in the afternoons, sitting by that west window, where the light would be natural.

Then there by it that copy of the New Testament with parallel columns for the King James and that stiff-as-a-board American translation. I guess I bought it somewhere used. Close by is The New English translation, the cover as undusted as the last time I took it down to check something. I read it through once,  but it never did feel “right” to me. Know what I mean?

My favorite translation is The Good News Bible in Today’s English. I got it on the first doctoral group trip I led in Europe; it was in a book store in Frankfurt a Main. Our German guide was Annelie. She wanted to buy it for a gift to me. I refused, of course, but I did send her a copy of my first book when it came out. You might say everything has turned out well with that particular translation…What I especially like is a certain “harmonic” feel to the translation. The Apostle Paul’s poetry is printed out as poetry; the Old Testament footnoting is outstanding.

So we come to my latest manuscript. I had used The Good News translation. The publisher preferred the New Revised Standard Version. My good luncheon buddy, John, had two and gave me the paperback. I had to go back and change the biblical quotations. I kept the poetic passages as they were, though; had to.

So it is that I, unlike John Wesley, am not a man of one book. I see by the shelf I am a man of several books – representing 10,000+ hours of committee meetings of translators would be one guess. Then there are sulking ghosts of the editors of those many biblical language dictionaries who found they had become out dated, and all those dancing-in-the-streets spirits of archeologists when one of those astoundings was found.

 What it has come to mean to me is that these various pages of wood pulp and printers’ ink are not the Word of God. That “Word” is an interactive thing between those varied and various pages and my openness. The Word of God is inherently experienced in an openness of mind, heart, and spirit for which I stand responsible.

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