Sunday, June 05, 2005

Faith Works 6-11-05
Jeff Gill

My grandmother had some very clear rules for living. Among them was “always use a coaster.”
A higher priority rule was “The Bible isn’t a coaster.”
In my upbringing, you didn’t set anything on the Bible. Not a cup (or a saucer), not even another book. Since there was usually a Bible sitting out somewhere, these issues had immediate relevance. If there were a number of items on a coffee table, the Good Book would get picked up, the new arrival on the tabletop would be placed, and then the Bible placed back on top.
In college, a campus pastor I worked with was intrigued, and maybe a bit amused by the way I would surreptitiously walk around behind a group discussion and quietly move foam cups of coffee or coke off of paperback copies of “The Word.” He’d say to me “Jeff, you don’t even like the Living Bible paraphrase; I appreciate that you don’t give people grief over it, but why do you keep moving stuff off of Bibles?”
The best answer I had was “Because it just bugs me.”
Respect for the Bible and the place it has in Christianity certainly has something to do with it, too. But family and culture and reinforcement over many years is a powerful force.
Some folks are no doubt confused by the flap over handling of the Koran in prisoner camps run by the US military. A kind of reflexive respect for any holy book is not as culturally common here, just as people need some friendly cueing to know when to stand and such when the American flag goes by in a parade (quick summary: you should stand when it comes past you within clear view, and courtesy suggests that you take off your hat and place it over your heart, as you would when singing the national anthem or saying the pledge).
Flag etiquette is still fairly consistent, if not well known. What is “book etiquette” when it comes to sacred scriptures, of one’s own or any other?
For observant Muslims, the rules they ask the guards to follow would sound familiar to my grandmother: keep it off the ground, nothing on top of it, and handle it respectfully, not letting it get splashed or soiled in any way. Many Buddhist holy texts should be kept not only where they would not be stepped on, but where the soles of one’s feet would not end up pointed at them. And Torah scrolls in Orthodox Judaism have a whole set of rules for their care and maintenance, kept primarily in an “ark” or enclosure central to their worship space.
Christians today no longer work with one version (KJV) in one format (black leather with gold tooled lettering) with one to a household. Our NIVs, NRSVs, NLBTs, and Skateboarder Life Application Bibles are often in paperback bindings, available in mass quantities, and made to travel with you to work, lunch, and activities, guaranteeing that they will not only pick up coffee rings on the cover but have repair manuals and the like placed on top of them.
Books that are part of one’s faith practice should probably be kept at the top of most piles. Not just out of some sense of respect, but so we actually remember to read them and reflect on why we have them in the first place. Any other reading matter can come in second place, wherever it is in the pile.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; don’t even get him started about dusty Bibles! Send your own stories of “habits of the heart” to

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