Stumbling over Bibles (Religious Talk Tuesday)

A number of years ago, a friend saw a waterproof Bible, requested it for the next holiday, and received it.  Everyone applauded this friend, saying how godly and good it is to want a Bible for a gift, to hunger for the Word so deeply that one wishes to read it even in the shower, in the rain, or underwater.

I remembered this the other day while sitting in the shower – one of my favorite things to do when I’m at all sick or recovering from being sick.  I often forget to take life moment by moment, to focus on the now, and to be mindful of the current because I get so wrapped up in my head.  But that day?  I just basked in the wonder of a hot shower.

And, looking at my bookshelf today, I realized I don’t have many religious texts.  Sometimes, I fear that I have stumbled off the face of my faith so much because I have few outward signs.  I gave up wearing Nana’s cross every day the day I started wearing her rings as my engagement ring.  The home I grew up in had a cross or picture of prayer in every room.  Now my own has none, save for poems by Rumi in our bedroom and bathroom, a couple religious wedding cards on display, a battered note card with a Bible verse on our fridge, and the books on my bookcase – one shelf of which is dedicated to religious books, books that are like religious books to me, and Appalachian literature.

And, looking at these books, I can’t imagine ever wanting another Bible – even a colorful waterproof one I could read in the shower.

Now, I’m not saying that the mere idea of collecting Bibles or faith-based books or artifacts is bad in and of itself, but if our conceit is that our faith book is the true word, that we ought to read it each day, and one of the teachings in that book is to be selfless, where do we draw the line?

My faith books (which are next to Norton's Anthology of poetry and the Harry Potter series).

My faith books (which are next to Norton’s Anthology of poetry and the Harry Potter series).

Personally, when I look at my religious display, I can tell you the story behind each – and I’m going to because it proves a point.

  1. Soul Cravings – I bought this from a discount bin at Borders years ago and didn’t like it nearly as much as I thought I might, but keep thinking I’ll finish it “someday.”  Admittedly, I could let this one go and feel hardly a twinge.
  2. The Lost Message of Jesus – Like the previously mentioned book, I got this one on sale and never finished it.  I do, however, know that it challenged my faith and its where I first encountered the idea of a more radical love of Christ than any I’d been formally taught.
  3. studybibleinscriptionThe Concordia Self-Study Bible, NIV – This Bible was given to me by my grandparents for my Confirmation.  It’s leather-bound, has my name engraved in gold lettering on the front, and each interior page is half text, half explanatory text and references.   Upon giving it to me, Nana said, “Don’t ever write in this,” and I never have.  A few months before she passed away, though, I talked her into finally inscribing the first page, a small task she’d put off for over two years.  I’ve never regretted that decision.
  4. I really liked the book of James.

    I really liked the book of James.

    The Bible, NIV – I call this “my purple Bible,” but before May 4, 2003, it was just, “my Bible.”  When my Girl Pioneer leader learned I didn’t have a Bible of my own (I was about 10 and there were a million of them floating around the pastor’s house, mind you), she was appalled and had a stock of paperback Bibles for such a time as that and gave one to me.  I read it occasionally and, when I went to Lutheran school in 7th grade, thought it’d do nicely.  It, however, fell from my first locker that first day of 7th grade and the cover tore clean off, taking a few introductory pages with it.  My great aunt, who volunteered in the library, taped it up.  It’s been taped a few times since then, but it got me through high school and it tells stories about teenage me.

  5. hymnalinscriptionChristian Worship – This hymnal was released when I was little and served as a topic of hot debate in WELS circles.  It’s still often called, “the new hymnal,” and people complain about the terrible harmonies, missing stanzas, and changed lyrics.  Still, it’s what’s current-ish and I was required to have one when I started Lutheran school, so Nana gave me hers.  Its cover shows how many times it has been shoved into backpacks, shuffled around countries (no, seriously; I took this to Turkey with me), and pulled out in times of need.  I find songs so comforting.
  6. biblestorybookEgermeir’s Bible Story Book – I’ve never actually opened this one past the first cover for any reason other than to glance at the pictures.  My mom found it and gave it to me when her mother died.  I took it, though I’ve always felt that it probably could have served others in our family more.  However, it’s beautiful and it’s really the only thing I have of Grammie’s so I cherish it as a memento of good memories with her and a testament to back stories.  We’re not all who we appear to be.
  7. The Holy Bible with Apocryphal Books, NRSV – This, along with a diploma holder and Berea College: A History were handed to me the day I walked across the stage in Berea College’s Phelps-Stokes Chapel.  I haven’t done much with it, but I love its meaning – inclusive Christianity, preaching to the choir and the people outside, and a goodbye.
  8. heiercatechismcollageLuther’s Catechism – One day about six years ago, I was in a thrift shop and spied a duct-taped spine.  I picked it up out of curiousity and discovered it was my great-grandfather’s Catechism.  I don’t know how it got there; I’m sure we had it when I was younger.  I bought it.  Nana’s father was also a WELS pastor and this Catechism, I think, was the last he used for teaching.  Everything I’ve heard about Pastor Heier leads me to believe he was quite old-school in his beliefs, but personally more open to ideas than his profession might allow.  This Catechism testifies to his beliefs – from capitalizing words that were going out of fashion to be capitalized to writing in the margins and reminding himself of tasks and questioning wordings, it’s most certainly a pastor’s book.
  9. The Problem of Pain and Mere Christianity – I stole these from Papa when I was moving my own books, but have yet to read more than a few excerpts.

Now, looking at these books – which, to anyone else, are just books – I have this to say.  I care more about their history and marginalia than I do about what’s inside – no matter how important it is.  And so, no matter the circumstance, I will always choose a used book over a new, a real book over an e-book, and a story over a boast.  I also have this advice to offer:  Ignore what your childhood librarian told you about writing in your books and heed her rule that you be silent in the library.  I don’t need to read the Bible – or anything, actually – in the shower.  I’d rather take that moment for what it is – wet, steamy, and glorious in its own right.

On a related note, if you’re looking for someone to give a shower radio, I’ve been lusting for one of those for about half my life.

As far as I can tell, I’ll only expand my faith books collection with those of different faiths (I actually have a checked-out copy of The Koran sitting atop my bookcase currently) and those that mean something to me and mine, like the teal large print NIV Nana took to Bible class throughout my childhood and Papa uses today.

The next time you’re in a Christian bookstore and see “the hot new” Bible and lust after it, ask yourself, “Why?”  If it’s just to show it off and to make others want a shiny new Bible, you’re missing the point entirely.

Then again, maybe this is just another example of how we all have unique faiths and my particular brand keeps me rooted with family history, personal marginalia, and unique memories.


I’m interested to know what faith books, scriptures, and texts you have and why they mean something to you.  Please share!

 

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11 thoughts on “Stumbling over Bibles (Religious Talk Tuesday)

  1. I know I am late to the party, but I just saw the comments on this old post and had to laugh. I am 99% sure Pastor Ken is LCMS based the hymnal conversation. Also, I love your blog, Yvonne. You say a lot of things I think or wish I thought but didn’t know how to put into words. You’re such a great writer!

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    • I just had to check (because it was such a long time back!), but Pastor Ken is ELCA. I think – based on another comment I seem to recall – that he grew up LCMS, though!
      Oh, Sarah! That means so much because I love your writing! I’m glad you enjoy mine!

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  2. I have a collection of Bibles, mostly because people keep giving them to me or making me buy them. I have the NIV Bible I was given for high school Sunday school class, an old KJV that belonged to my great grandmother that my grandmother gave me when my ggm died, an NRSV I was given at Confirmation, a CEV Bible I was given at a youth event, an NRSV I was told I had to buy for a class in college because of the notes and annotations, a different NRSV I was told to buy for a class in seminary because of the notes and annotations, a Greek New Testament, and a Hebrew Old Testament that I got from a colleague who was giving it away. I also have a few large commentaries (including one complete set).

    I second the recommendation to read C.S. Lewis. He was a brilliant writer!

    I have Bible apps on my phone, but I don’t really use them. I like being able to flip pages quickly and get the context of what I’m reading. And I like books. I’m not opposed to the digital copies, I just don’t have a use for them like other people do.

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    • Oh, I forgot–you mentioned hymnals. In 2006, our church released a new hymnal to replace the older ones. People moaned that the one published in 1978 was better, and some even moaned at the the older one from 1958 was even better. Every church has the same problem with hymnals, it seems! 😀

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      • Thank you for sharing your collection! As for the hymnals, WELS has the same story. There’s the “old” hymnal, the “new” hymnal, and this ethereal idea of the “new new” hymnal on which work has begun. I know of churches that still use the “old” one and people who have switched congregations just to stick with it! Now, however, we have a “supplement” for the “new” hymnal.

        I think it’s interesting how intertwined hymnals are with our Lutheran culture! In my mind, it’s a tad like the importance of the Arabic language to Islam. Our music and liturgies are so crucial to our experience!

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        • The “new”, “old” and “new new” sounds just like our colors. There’s the “red” book from ’58, the “green” book from ’78, the “blue” book from the ’90s, and now the new “red” book, but since we already had a red book, this is now the “cranberry” book. Half the time, people don’t know the names of the books, they just refer to them by their color instead!

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  3. I can recommend Mere Christianity (and several more of Lewis’ books, actually). It’s an easy read in some ways, but it might give you some things to think about. There are a couple things in it that are very much a product of his time and culture, but he was only human. 🙂

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  4. I don’t know if I’ve lusted after a new Bible…I rarely use my physical one anymore because its all online for free and more easily accessible. I do have a fairly large collection of commentaries though. And these are important for much of the same reason: they explain the history of Christianity. They are the commentary on Christianity throughout its 2,000 years. The dogmatics books, hymnals, catechisms, and even devotional books I have are the “margins” on my Bible. Of course, I’ve got my own notes too, but St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Paul Gerhard, CFW Walther and others are way smarter than I am…so I’d rather read their “notes” than mine. 🙂 And when I want to go off on a theological tangent, these commentary always somehow find their way back to the main message: the atonement of Christ for the world.
    Blessings on your continued religious study.

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    • I think that’s totally awesome! My grandpa’s office had four bookshelves full of Biblical commentaries, historical translations, and historical books to help set the context – and I think that’s all great and important. Needless to say, it’s especially important for a pastor!

      How do you feel about the digitalization of the Bible? Obviously you support it in use, but I’m sure there are some people who pull back from it. It seems that most of the historical commentaries are probably available online somewhere, too, which seems incredibly useful to a budding scholar.

      Thank you for sharing!

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      • I love physical books. I’d much rather hold a real book. However, there are so many random times that I need my Bible that its just easier to use my phone to look things up. Biblia.com allows me to type notes in and sync them across devices, so that’s what I end up using most now.
        But I’d still rather read real books.

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