Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Confessional

I'm in Poland, probably the most observant Catholic country in the world, so I should try to fit in. As if I could fit in anywhere. Damn. Forget that plan.

Today I want to look like I'm quite religious (though I'm not entirely sure why), so I'm going to sock you, Readers Reader, with an amazing double-whammy.

First, I'm going to confess my sins, with a nod to Mme Jaywalker. It's Friday, isn't it?

This looks really observant and all conscientious and stuff, yeah?

And second, my sins actually will prove that I am a girl with quite a religious inclination. You will definitely be totally convinced and won't have a clue that I've pulled the wool over your eyes.

We begin our story back before the Dark Ages, when glaciers still covered most of Wisconsin. It was 1973. I was enrolled in an English class entitled "The Bible as Literature" (don't know how they got that past separation-of-church-and-state watchdogs. Guess it was early days).

I was pretty stoked, because I'd been raised a Unitarian in Madison, Wisconsin. You may not realise what that implies with regard to my childhood religious education, but let's just say it was pretty spotty. Unitarianism originated (from Transylvania! in 1565!) as a Christian religion (their main point was asserting the Oneness of God, rather than the Trinity/tripartite nature of God). However, in its 20th century manifestation, Unitarianism can look quite vague. At least it looked that way from my seat in Sunday School.

We learned about Buddhists. We learned about Jains. We learned about polytheists and Hinduism and Sikhism and Confucianism. We learned about Native American religions and we burned smudge sticks in class. No, that might have been the minister's son smoking dope out behind the parsonage. Not sure on that one. We'll move on.

The upshot of this avoidance of Judeo-Christian teachings was that everything in the Bible was news to me. And not just in the Good News sense of the word.

"Good Samaritan"? Never heard of him.

"Prodigal Son"? Uh uh.

"Sodom and Gomorrah"? Who were they?

"Casting pearls before swine"? Odd behaviour, that.

"Nothing new under the sun"? Well, duh, that was Shakespeare, right?

"Vanity, vanity, all is vanity"? Ha! I know! Somebody's been reading too much Glamour magazine!

So as I enrolled in this elective class I was completely beside myself with anticipation. At last, in a short 8 weeks, I would bring my religious education up to snuff and would then look forward to correct answers in Trivial Pursuit: The God Version forevermore. Yea!

On the first day of class, our English teacher discussed the syllabus and then said, "Of course, you'll need to bring your Bible from home."

My Bible? From home? Shoooooooot.

I knew we had German dictionaries and the Complete Poems of Auden and Shakespeare's plays and British War Poetry and Our Bodies, Ourselves. But did we have a Bible?

I asked my mom, and she said, "Sure, I think we still have one. It's got a light blue cover. In the living room." And she went back to updating her Christmas card list. "The Benningtons? Hmmmph. Haven't heard from them for years. Cross them off, those cretins!" Scritch, scritch, scritch went her pen.

I found the Bible. Miraculously, as it were. Blew the dust off the thing. And took it in to school.

English class rolled around, and Mr. Bartelt said, "Okay, y'all, get out your Bibles."

I dug my attractive baby-blue Bible out of my backpack.

My then-crush, Bob, turned around to say something witty and then blenched in horror.

"Is THAT your Bible?" And then he recovered and burst into hysterical giggles.

"So..." he wheezed. "Did your parents steal it?"

"What? What? What are you talking about?" I was already mortified with embarrassment.

"It's a... it's a... a Gideon's Bible!" And he collapsed again with giggles.

I looked at it. I had rather liked the pretty golden seal impressed on the front of the faux-leather book, but now that I looked closer... Hmmm. Gideon's.

Clearly, this was something like having "666" tattooed in your hairline. Crap.

The Mark of Shame.

The Sign of Parents Who Steal Things Out of Hotel Rooms. Not the towels. Not the soap. Oh no.

It had to be the Bible.


Cut to 2005. Christmas in Johannesburg, South Africa. Definitely a place where you'd like to have the power of prayer working for ya. My children and my parents had all made the long trek halfway around the world so that we could celebrate the holidays together.

At our first dinner together, my mother said, "expateek, I've got a present for you". And she slid an Afrikaans Gideon's Bible across the dinner table.

"Sheesh, Mom! Where'd you get this?"

"Oh, I stole it from the hotel room. Nobody reads those things anyway."

Good grief. What happened to "Thou shalt not steal"? Or maybe it doesn't count if you steal a Bible, eh?

Unfortunately, this bizarre bit of gifted thievery set off the almost unbearable urge to continue to steal Bibles whenever I stay at any hotel, anywhere. My heart sinks these days when I yank open the bedside table drawer and... no Bible. Just the bloody Yellow Pages, in Turkish.

Guess this will just be my lifetime cross to bear.

Let's close today's thoughts with a reading from -- why not? -- the Bible.

That Bible. The Afrikaans one.

Or we can read from the Suomi version.

Or we even can read it in French...
(I did pay real money for this particular Bible, I'll have you know!)

Or maybe just plain old English.

Here endeth The Lesson.

Perhaps I shall go forth and sin no more.
At the very least I know my Bible(s) pretty well by now.



Christina said...

I thought you were *supposed* to steal the Gideon's Bibles, so you could spread the word or whatever. What do I know?
The scans of the different language Bibles are GREAT.

expateek said...

That's what I thought too! For real! And to make the Gideons think that their work was worthwhile! And that another soul had been saved. I kind of thought I was doing a bit of a good deed. As you say, "What do I know?"

Of course, now today I've looked in the frontispiece of the Lapland Bible and it says, "Please leave this book win viev [view?] -- somebody may need it."

I feel SO GUILTY! Arg!

Christine said...

The Gideons have probably long ago replaced those bibles. LOL So you can sleep and not worry. This post cracked me up! Especially the part that took place in English class. Bwaa Ha!

Anonymous said...

OMG! I also took "The Bible as Literature" - summer of 1973 at the Oshkosh campus. Our professor was so good - he spoke Hebrew and Greek so would write things on the board - "spirit" in Hebrew, then Greek, then English - and explain how the translations sometimes changed the meaning.

Also how 666 came about.

And the course got past the watchdogs because our prof really did treat it as literature. No converting going on. The theme of the OT? "Crisis and salvation. Crisis and salvation. Crisis and salvation." Those tribes were slow to learn.


Iota said...

Love this story.

I don't think the Gideons would mind at all.