Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Visual History of the English Bible

The Tumultuous Tale of the World's Best Selling Book

Donald L. Brake

Finished Reading: 06.2009

Not only is this Visual History of the English Bible a fascinating tale recounting the slow transformation of God's word from rolled parchment to illuminated manuscript to printed book; it is the relating of History itself - told from a unique perspective not centered on war or politics as is often the case, but rather, on the world as seen through the lens of God's sovereign will to reveal his truth through man's devotion, faith and love.

Prior to reading, I thought I knew a little about church history, but it turns out I only knew a little. This book is rich in providing the back story of how the great leaders of the faith, such as Luther and Calvin, were able to rise to their tasks with the printed Bible in hand. It wasn't always available for the hand that would seek it, though we take it for granted in our modern age of online book ordering and bookstores on every corner (OK, I wish there was a bookstore on every corner).

Interwoven with bloody stories of sacrifice and martyrdom are the personal tales of Donald Brake and his search for rare Bibles to add to his impressive collection, often purchased in England. Little did the translators know that their dangerous work would one day be sought after by this collector. There is no lack of promoting the overextending of ones purchasing power to indulge in an expensive collection. Not being a collector of anything rare or noteworthy, it is hard for me to appreciate this enterprise. However, I am a lover of a great many books and my library shelves grow slowly with the cheapest "quality copies" that I can find, preferring older hardcovers to paperbacks.

I realized I have inadvertently begun a Bible collection of my own. My oldest Bible belonged to my grandfather Walter, a King James Version presented to him by his Aunt Edith in 1935 at his confirmation. Also passed down to me are two Service Testaments from WWII, and a Service Prayer Book, which he carried in that war. I also have a Revised Standard Version that belonged to my father Craig, dated 1970; given to him by his parents. I have added my own Bible to that shelf; A New American Standard was presented to me by my Junior High School for achievement in verse memorization, in 1995.

In addition to providing a stepping stone for me to consider my own Bible collection, Brake's book interested me in the history of the English Monarchy as well as the status of various current Bible translations, both of which I subsequently researched for more information. It seems this book is a gateway to a great many thoughts, surely a distinction of a successful publication. I was unaware of the involvement various Monarchs played in approving or disapproving translations at a whim, sometimes resulting in the death of those who chose to favor the Bishop's Bible over the King James Bible, for example. I was also under-informed of the full force with which the Catholic Church used the ignorance of the "man behind the plow" to hold him in its power. It was the very printing of the Bible in a language that the common man could understand that fueled the Reformation and gave birth to the Protestant faith.

The various translations of the Bible have become like "teams," with one person favoring the NIV and another preferring the NASB. I was a little disappointed that Brake doesn't devote many lines to my personal favorite, the English Standard Version (ESV). Of course it hasn't even been in print for a decade yet, and no blood was spilt over it's introduction, so it's history has yet to be written.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Finished Reading: 06.2009

Such a happy time, the decade between the two World Wars. The time is ripe for a love triangle.

Jay Gatsby is in love with a married woman named Daisy. Her husband Tom has a mistress named Myrtle. She, in turn has a fool of a husband named George. But Gatsby is no fool, only a man in love, and that circle comes back to him in a bad way.

Until recently Jay Gatsby was quite poor. But over the last few years he has accumulated vast amounts of money, perhaps in a shady way, and is now considered among New York's elite. He has created a life for himself to reflect this accumulation, with a big house, nice cars, and a crazy pink suit. Most summer nights he hosts a big party at his grand home on the bay. Lights sparkle brightly and hundreds of strangers pass through his doors and drink his liqueur, listen to his music, and swim in his pool. They are thoroughly impressed with this man whom they do not know, but take what they can get from him, and say impressive things about him. The name of Gatsby becomes great very quickly, but Jay Gatsby quietly hopes only to attract sweet Daisy, whom he has lost after many years of secret love and rejected attraction.

So as to not ruin the plot, I'll skip to the end and make my point. Gatsby is gone and no one cares about him in the least. Dust to dust, and all. His memory is forgotten by all those who thought him so great due to his great accumulation of wealth. His possessions now sit quietly in an empty mansion and are now meaningless to those who would use him only as a means for access to his things.

Gatsby isn't even his real name, and he didn't get the girl. It all goes to show that in the end it isn't what we have, but who we are, and if someone wants what I have he will take it and then he won't need me any longer. But if he wants to know me for who I am, then I might be greater than Gatsby.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Sins of the Fathers

Raising kids in a same-sex union

(June 22, 2009
Lisa Miller

Finished Reading: 06.2009

As the Religion Editor of Newsweek magazine, Lisa Miller often pokes at Christianity with a long stick, thinking she pats it firmly on the shoulder. Often, metal armor is required. In her recent piece on same sex adopting couples, she brings up a dilemma confronting prospective same sex parents. The issue is that some same sex couples want to raise their children with religion, but how do they reconcile their homosexuality with a religion that doesn't recognize their role as parents?

Miller hints that some might find it puzzling that homosexuals would even want to be a part of the church, and in particular she writes about the Catholic Church. Obviously comfortable with their lifestyle, these homosexuals are trying to find an entitled place in a religion that doesn't take comfort in them, and which they do not understand. She references a gay man who is proud to see his children baptized in the Catholic Church. He is proud to see his daughter take Holy Communion, and the sight is to him a beauty and a joy. He is likewise proud of his homosexuality.

I applaud not he, but the Catholic adoption agency that chose to shut its doors rather than comply with mandatory non-discrimination laws regarding same sex parent adopting rights. This organization could not reconcile the civil law with God's law, and chose wisely the higher authority. Less wise is the choice of ignorant homosexuals who don't recognize that their problem with the church and homosexuality is that they are sinners who embrace their sin. But Christianity is to follow Christ; it is not the all-inclusive feel good club of Me. If they would embrace a new life in Christ, there need be no confliction. Then again, this article reminds us that there is a vast divide between religion and true faith, as the name of Jesus isn't even mentioned once. At least Miller got her title right.

Let us not seek for what we can get the Church to do, but rather let us seek after Jesus.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

from 2 Corinthians chapter 5

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Return Of The King

The Lord Of The Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien

Finished Reading: 06.2009

Sauron, the unpopular and non-elected dictator of Middle Earth is defeated when the hobbits Frodo and Sam sneak past the Orc Party of Mordor and carry the Ring of Power at last to a dark cave deep within Mount Doom. There, Gollum and Frodo struggle on a treacherous cliff to possess the ring for their own before the former falls to his death clutching his precious and one of Frodo's fingers with it, for the finger could not let go. Just as Sauron lost a finger in a similar struggle of old when the ring was first taken from him by Isuldor, Frodo is parted with the Ring of Power only at the struggling desire of another. All attempts to take the ring by force end in doom. Gollum falls into the bowels of Middle Earth where both he and the ring are gloriously un-made.

At this event, Sauron is destroyed in the tower of Barad-Dur, which is where he is hiding. The Eye is extinguished. I have trouble with this ending, as throughout the Lord of the Rings series, Sauron (the name-sake of the books) is not encountered in the first person or bodily except as a footnote of ancient lore. The Dark Lord remains in the Dark Tower gazing about Middle Earth with his Fiery Eye Telescope, trying to see what he can see, as he bides his time and gains strength for his final war to defeat all that oppose him. Somehow he didn't see this coming. Not so scary now, are you? He meets his end remotely, afar off in a tall tower and does not get to fight his foes face to face, rather he relies on armies of Orcs and evil mercenaries to do his fighting for him.

Perhaps Sauron was not fully transfigured to his former glory, and these events of the War of the Ring came to pass too early for his liking. If given more time, would Sauron have descended from his tower to march across Middle Earth among his legions of soldiers? Would he have ten fingers or nine? Is his power not now in physical strength but only in the mental persuasion of the weak towards his will?

According to ancient lore, Sauron was parted from the Ring (along with his favorite finger) on a battlefield, so he once had a physical presence and the ability to battle. What would Frodo have encountered had he made for the Dark Tower instead of Mount Doom? If Frodo used the ring for his own rather than destroying it in the fire as instructed by Gandalf, would he have had to battle with Sauron, head to head (or head to eye)? Ring Bearer vs. Ring Maker?

All I'm saying is that Sauron is a wimp for not coming down from his high tower. He is defeated by a mear Hobbit eyelash.