A Story You Need to Hear

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Have you heard of The Voice Bible? Arguably the most contemporary rendition of the Bible into English in the last hundred years, I think it is safe to say that not since the KJV was first published, and NRSV and NASB translations were put together, has a translation of the Bible made such efforts to be both colloquially understandable while remaining theologically consistent.

That being said, The Story of the Voice is a detailed account of the efforts that went into this amazing Bible translation. It sets out to offer accountability for those who have dared to translate the word of God, and attempts to allay concerns over “liberal” versus “conservative” translations. The book is both a defense and a diary, which is undoubtedly part of its beauty. The authors, all three people who were involved in the translation process, weave the origins of the project, the process and the personality of the individuals involved into a narrative account of a group of people who wanted to take God’s Word and offer it to the world in a beautiful and refreshing way. One of Seay’s earliest comments in this process captures the idea well:

Stories that were told to emerging generations of God’s goodness by their grandparents and tribal leaders were later recorded and assembled to form the Christian scriptures. Too often the passion, grit, humor, and beauty has been lost in the translation process. [The Voice] seeks to recapture what was lost… (p. 9).

One of the things that has drawn me to this project, and is seen clearly in The Story of the Voice is that no one is putting a translation down. The authors don’t belittle the KJV in order to make their point about a particular passage. Instead, they treat these forerunners with respect and then offer solid reasoning as to why they thought it was time for a change. A good picture of this is seen in the section about picking a title. They do a direct comparison of various renditions of John 1:1, and then offer a small NASB concordance to demonstrate the variety of the Greek word logos (which is ultimately where they derived their title from).

The chapter that I appreciated the most was “The Translation Philosophy,” which deals with the claim that the translators had taken “Christ” out of the Bible. This is one of the most common complaints I’ve seen, but I think Capes and Seay offer a solid rationale behind their decision to translate “Christ” into English, rather than treat it as a last name. The book rightly asserts that “no single English word or phrase captures the richness of the term Messiah or Christos,” (p. 58).While it did take me some initial getting used to, reading that Jesus is “the Anointed One” or “the Liberating King” has become second nature. Throughout the book, the authors gladly take criticism, and answer it as best they can.

A humble book, is size and tone, The Story of the Voice is easily one of the most enjoyable reads I have had in a long time. It challenged my preconceptions and slayed the idols of tradition I have inadvertently clung to. Not only do I regularly recommend that people give The Voice Bible a try, but now I will be suggesting this one as well. In fact, if you’re a skeptic, start here. The Story of the Voice will sharpen your mind and melt your heart.

Come. Journey with us.

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Papa Hemingway and Valentine’s Day

This is a slightly modified version of an article I was asked to submit to a local magazine, Vero’s Voice. The article was not picked up because it “wasn’t American enough,” (and to be fair, that is what they had requested) so I figured I would push it off on my unsuspecting readers.

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February will see a spike is candy sales and flower deliveries as people celebrate Valentine’s Day, the American holiday devoted to love. While the holiness of such a day is certainly up for debate, the value placed on Valentine’s Day by the average American is evidenced in stores and malls everywhere. Apparently, we are a nation who loves to be in love. Ernest Hemingway, the quintessential American author, was known more for his personal exploits at times than for his literary prowess. In Hemingway’s breakout novel, The Sun Also Rises, the central character Jake Barnes discovers a profound concept for life through his new acquaintance the Count. “I am always in love,” Mippipopolous explains. It is a short scene, and if you are not paying attention you can easily miss it. Yet, these five simple words set Jake off on a pilgrimage, where he begins to grasp what it means to love truly.

The kind of love the Count is advocating is not restricted to the arena of romance, but rather reflects a holistic approach to living, which advocates for the proper flourishing of humanity. This idea, found in a “profane” piece of American literature, finds a corollary in the Christian Scriptures: “…I came to give life with joy and abundance,” (John 10:10, The Voice). Despite the surface differences between the two works, the idea is a sound one. A life lived without love can hardly be called a “life” at all. However, it must be about more than a fleeting emotion, or devotion to some particular hobby. To be fully human is to find the ultimate love, to rest fully in what our hearts long for. To put it another way, our hearts make us a restless people until they are filled as they were always intended to be. There is an aim that each of us is built to seek, and it is only there that we can fully be “in love.”

It is sometimes hard to picture such a fulfilling notion of life emerging from “Papa” Hemingway. His penchant for drinking and his reputation as a scoundrel with women certainly throw a damper on any impression that he fully grasped the very knowledge he was touting. But is that not the case with so many of us? Millions of Americans will pour into shops this Thursday to purchase candy, buy roses and pick up singing cards; but it is important to take stock. While Hemingway may not have found a way to apply this kind of love to every aspect of his life, his zeal and passion for things like fishing and bullfighting prove that he did the best he knew how. Can the same be said for you? For me?

21 Days of the Voice

I spent the last 21 days working through a reading plan found here. Similar to other reading plans, such as this one or one found in the Book of Common Prayer, selections of Scripture are presented in a connected fashion helping the reader to engage with the Word of God. This is especially helpful to someone who doesn’t know where to start in this great big book called the Bible, and to people like me as well, who are in need of something outside of the standard mold.voice_full

The Voice is something different. To clarify, it is not, however, something new. Translations have abounded for the last century, and there have been abundant translations prior to the Bible wars of the 20th century. Thomas Nelson’s newest rendering of the Bible is truly something to invest your time and money in (but if money is tight, you can read it for free online). David Capes, one of the main scholars who worked on The Voice, spends a good amount of time blogging about how this Bible came about. In order for me to explain why this 21-day journey was so wonderful, allow me to share a little of Capes’ perspective:

I remember a conversation I had with a friend years ago.  He was lamenting the fact that modern Bible translations like the New King James Version and the New American Standard Version had dropped words like “Thee,” “Thou,” “Thine,” “art” (as in the Lord’s prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven . . . “) and “hast.”  These words were typical of the 16th and 17th centuries but have long since fallen out of use with most English-speaking people…Modern translations, he felt, had left behind the formal language of heaven (God’s language) preferring instead the mundane language of “this world.” The translation he loved sounded more “spiritual” to him than the newer ones, so he was against them, pure and simple.  Like many people, my friend had a deep emotional connection with the King James Version of the Bible based on all the years he spent in church and Sunday School…Translation is not about exchanging this Greek word for that English word or this Hebrew word for that English word.  Translation is not that easy. It involves knowing both the source and target languages well enough to be able to move back-and-forth between them.  It entails an understanding of culture—then and now—and recognizing how language is one of the key vehicles of culture.  Translation, I have come to understand, is not a science; it is an art…I’d be disappointed to learn that my friend had lost his deep, emotional connection with the KJV.  The KJV is a great, historic translation, even if it is no longer in our language.

One of the reasons I think The Voice resonates so clearly with me is the viewpoint that helped shape it. This new translation isn’t trying to be new; it’s trying to be true in a culture that has indoor plumbing and air conditioning units outside. But more than that: it is once again trying to put the Word of God into the language of the common people. This is why William Tyndale was burned at the stake, and why John Wycliffe was removed from his tomb in order to have his body destroyed. So Capes is in good company (not to mention he is occasionally called a heretic, just like Wycliffe and Tyndale before him).

That’s why the reading plans available at The Voice’s website are so wonderful. The 21 Day plan, which I completed today, immerses you in the text and guides you towards connecting the dots of God’s grand story. I’ve read the Bible before, from front to back, multiple times. And I love my New American Standard Bible (even if it is falling apart). But revisiting familiar passages in a refreshing language can breathe new life into what has become routine or mundane.

“What?! Reading Scripture is mundane? You pagan!” If that’s what you think of me, my apologies for falling short of your standard. But I’m being honest. Sometimes, I know the next word before it comes, and truthfully that can make me apathetic when reading. I become overly comfortable, and I parrot Scripture rather than absorbing it and applying it accordingly. The Voice has raised the banner for me again, inviting me to treat Scripture as something fresh.

Of course one day, I’ll acclimatize to this version too. I’m not advocating a “new = better” sort of equation where I change translations every couple of years so I don’t get “bored.” That misses the point entirely. Reading through this translation of the Bible over the last three weeks has reminded me of something: I love reading God’s Word. There used to be a time when I would just pick it up at any time of day and read. I treated it like a letter from a friend, and read it over any time I wanted to connect with my friend or be comforted by their sage advice. But after years of reading, and educating myself into certain habits of reading, the Bible had become less of a letter and more of a textbook. It’s not that God didn’t still speak to me through His Word, but I had to listen much harder to get past my questions about ancient culture and Greek idioms. But no more.

Whether I will permanently adopt The Voice as my new “letter” remains to be seen. The red, worn leather back NASB sitting upstairs holds a special place in my heart. But The Voice has reminded me why my heart inclines to my old Bible. And for that awakening, I will be grateful in the years to come.

A Dark Knight? Or A Bright Hope?

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In light of recent events, I hesitate to write about Christopher Nolan’s final chapter in the Dark Knight Trilogy. I by no means desire to trivialize the tragic loss of life that took place in Aurora. Nor do I wish to politicize something for my own ends. There is a better way to approach this whole thing, and its not being kept a secret. But I’m not interested in rehashing something someone else said (better than I could have, at that). Rather, I’d like to briefly explain why The Dark Knight Rises is easily my favorite movie now, and why that matters.

I’ll avoid serious spoilers of this latest film, but I have to revisit Nolan’s previous installments to show you the bigger picture. Read with caution though, minor spoilers will be necessary throughout.

Each of Nolan’s films has a theme. In Batman Begins, the theme is fear. In The Dark Knight, the theme is chaos. What both films thematically have in common is their treatment of truth, which is arguably the underlying theme of the entire trilogy.

To summarize, Batman Begins treats truth as malleable, especially in light of the positive and negative effects of fear upon the human condition. Think of Batman’s use of theatricality and deception. He deceives to help, and in the process alienates those closest to him (starting with Rachel Dawes, and slowly doing the same to Lucius Fox and Alfred Pennyworth by the end of everything). His deception is seen as a necessity by all, but understood to be temporary. Of course, this changes dramatically with the entrance of the Joker in The Dark Knight, as chaos turns this deception on its head and exposes the ugliness inside of people. It would seem, at the close of the second film, that for every time trust and hope are rewarded, they are also overwhelmed by the continued need for deception instead of truth. Nolan paints this ominous picture so well that the closing lines of film sound so true that we forget what is happening:

Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough, sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.

Despite knowing that something is wrong with this idea, you buy into it because the fear and the chaos have simply overwhelmed you. What other recourse is there?

But in reality, this is a setup. Every bit of it. Because, the truth is this: fear and chaos cannot rule. Humanity, as Nolan demonstrates, needs to have hope. Which is where the third film turns everything around. Hope is the theme of The Dark Knight Rises, and for the first time in Gotham City, truth is the vehicle of that hope.

For whatever short comings you may find in the film, like Batman not being enough of a “detective,” or whatever, I urge you not to miss the point of this film. What sets this movie apart from every superhero film before it (and probably after it) is its message. Even in the face of tragedy, there must be hope. While Bane would use that to destroy, turning ordinary individuals’ hope into a weapon of violence and selfishness, Batman and his friends will have no part of it.

Why does this matter? What difference does it make? “Its just a movie,” you might say. “It doesn’t change the real life tragedy that is overshadowing this weekend.” I disagree. And so does Paul:

Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith, we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King. Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory. And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love. – Romans 5:1-5

I’m not saying Nolan intentionally represented the Christian concept of hope in his comic book movie (he may have, I ultimately don’t know). But accidentally or not, its there. I cannot think of the movie from last night without hearing Paul’s words echo in my ears, reminding me that all Truth is God’s Truth, and as such it is not malleable nor deceptive. It is pure and righteous, as I believe the actions of the heroes in this film are as well. The Gospel is imbedded in this movie. For what greater hope is there than the resurrection of Christ?

You’re welcome to take issue with my interpretation. It doesn’t bother me. I simply ask that you think about it. Consider what I’ve suggested as the foundation of this film and ask yourself, “could this be true?” Then you too might find yourself on the path to rise out of the darkness.

Broken Hearts

Hillsong UNITED sing a song that has been weighing heavily on me of late. Feel free to listen to it now, or skip below. But really, it’s a good song.

The line in particular that has been replaying in my mind this week is this: break my heart for breaks Yours. This fits in nicely with Micah 6:8, which has also been on my mind lately. I like the way The Voice renders it:

He has told you, mortals, what is good in His sight.
What else does the Eternal ask of you,
But to live justly and to love kindness,
and to walk with your True God in all humility?

I don’t think my heart breaks for the same things that break God’s heart. I wish I could say otherwise, but if I have learned anything over the past week, it is that I am still a ways off from holiness. Oh, I’m set apart. In fact, I think God has called me specifically, and by name. But my character is not always Christ’s. Which is a shame, because it’s His life at this point.

So over the next couple of months, I’m going on a journey. Metaphorically speaking, of course. I want to know what breaks God’s heart. I plan on digging through Scripture, and probably consulting some Church Fathers, until I feel like I have some kind of grasp on what really moves God. Because I want my heart to break for the same reason that God’s breaks.

I invite you keep coming back as I will undoubtedly post about all of this. Welcome to the madhouse!

Sunday Morning Again

I’ve been thinking a bit about Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” (I really dig the Shawn Mullins rendition). There is something about the song that resonates within me on one hand, reminding me that I have not always lived out the faith God called me to. However, it is very frustrating on the other hand.

How do we continue to live in sin? How do we say we love Jesus, and then divorce our wife over something petty? How can we tell people they need the Gospel, and then ignore the homeless man at the intersection? There seems to be such a disconnect sometimes. We say it, we pay it lip service, but we don’t live it out. For some of us, we want to but no matter how badly we want that life…if just never seems to work out. For others, living it out doesn’t even matter. “I’ve got my seat on the first plane to heaven, so leave me alone!” Sound silly when you read it out loud, but boy, it doesn’t seem silly to the folks who live it.

When I first drew close to God (or was drawn close for all you Calvinists out there), the Spirit constantly brought me back to the Book of James. I have read that book more than any other, without a doubt. Every time I pick up a new Bible, be it a new translation like the Voice or simply a different study version, I read James first. It’s my standby.

And there’s this one verse I always come back to: “Without actions, faith is useless. By itself, it’s as good as dead. I know what you’re thinking: ‘OK, you have faith. And I have actions. Now let’s see your faith without works, and I’ll show you a faith that works.’” For all of the beauty and mystery found in John’s Gospel, my second favorite book in the Bible, this tiny section constantly calls to me. And just in case I was inclined to treat this as some vague notion, James doesn’t leave me the option: “Real, true religion from God the Father’s perspective is about caring for the orphans and widows who suffer needlessly and resisting the evil influence of the world.” Faith should result in something practical that goes beyond our basic duties.

I don’t know how else to read this. It’s not meant to sound judgmental. Nor is it meant to beat someone down. If anything, this is an encouragement. When I don’t know where to start living my faith out, God gives us direction: start with the poor.

There are so many different aspects to our faith, and each of them helps us to be truly alive in Christ. We aren’t called to be activists. We’re called to be colonists (to borrow a phrase from N.T. Wright). We’re spreading God’s kingdom in this world. Through prayer, reading, relationships, writing, serving, singing, feeding, worshipping…these are how we let other know our King is real.

Its an awesome responsibility. Don’t waste it.