I grew up Lutheran, and traditionally the Aid Association for Lutherans provided Christmas gifts for the children of our impoverished congregation. One year they gave us peanuts in the shell. (It was a lean year for them, too, I guess.) The next year a small plastic nativity scene appeared, which I still display every Christmas. But the best present of all came during my third grade year — an American Bible Society King James Version hardcover Bible.
I felt so grown up. My very own Bible! I read it all the way up to the genealogies in 1 Chronicles, before sliding down the hill of despair back to Genesis. My methodical mind could not conceive of skipping over those “begats” and moving on. So, to this day, I have a better working knowledge of Genesis through 2 Kings than most of the rest of you — simply because I backslid through them so many times. I finally arrived at the epistles of the apostles about ten years into the adventure.
By the time I made it to the New Testament, that Bible was getting mighty precious. It went to school with me. (Those were the days before life imprisonment was imposed for bringing the forbidden book there.) For a brief time I hugged it to sleep every night — a little weird, I know, but Oral Roberts said he did it, and I figured if it worked for him, why not me?
That Bible lasted forty years. It had a few surgeries along the way. My husband Paul is a Shoe Goo specialist. Other men do duct tape, but he has mastered Shoe Goo for whatever ails whatever. Our marriage has probably been held together with the Goo all these years, and I am just not aware of it — because he is such a master at applying it for that good-as-new look. But there are things even Shoe Goo cannot fix, and when pages began to wear through, and I was writing in words where the ink had departed from the paper, it was time to find a new Bible.
When you’ve had the same Bible for forty years, its quirks sort of work their way into your system. I wasn’t handy at knowing which book or chapter “Judge not that ye be not judged” was in, but I sure knew which column and how many lines down from the subheading it was. And I didn’t want any talk about being “an hungred” or “shewing” anything. The American Bible Society had fixed those spelling thingies by the time my Bible was born, and I wasn’t about to go back to the original 1611 version. I prayed diligently for a Bible with the exact same inside text to still be available somewhere in the world, and then called the ABS with hope in my heart. They had no idea how to help me, since my Bible was pre-ISBN days. What they sent didn’t even come close.
Paul felt he needed to prepare me for the big let-down. “Why don’t you just use that nice leather KJV I bought you?”
“It says ‘shew.’ I can’t abide ‘shew.’ It has doctrinal commentary and footnotes, which ABS Bibles avoid. I hate notes. They distract me. And it’s a red-letter edition. I don’t like that either. Jesus talked like everyone else. He didn’t float around spewing red letters.”
He rolled his eyes and assured me there wasn’t a chance in the world that I would get a Bible even close to what I had, much less the spitting image. Oh, he of little faith!
Starting to feel slightly daunted, I took my decrepit Bible and daughter Beebee in hand and headed down to the local Christian bookstore.
“Excuse me, Miss, but can you help me find a Bible? I want something similar to this.”
The store clerk obliged me by showing me numerous KJVs — all with “shews” and red letters attached, not to mention the inevitable footnotes. After a good ten minutes of trying to please, she slipped off to do more important things with saner customers. But Beebee had been busy during the discussion, and this time the busyness paid off.
“Mom, look at this one. Doesn’t it look just like yours — maybe?”
She handed me the Bible Amy Grant sang about in her classic, Fat Little Baby — the biggest King James you’ve ever seen. Its page 493 matched my page 493, subheadings and all. No red letters. No “shews.” Bonded leather. And 300 superfluous pages at the beginning, explaining African American historical relationships to the Word of God, complete with full color paintings and poetry from their artists. It was The African American Jubilee Edition, and it was God’s answer to my prayer. I don’t know why the clerk had missed it. Perhaps my rather light complexion just didn’t click with her.
Heart pounding with joy, I skipped to the checkout with my treasure, and proceeded to squeal, “Look what Jesus did for me! I can’t believe it! I needed a Bible exactly like my old one, and everybody said it couldn’t be found, and look! Here it is!”
The clerk had neither eyes to see nor ears to hear. She missed the miracle entirely. No doubt miracles are commonplace in Christian bookstores, and she’d already seen her share of them that day. “Fifty dollars, please,” was all I got in response.
I chortled all the way home. “Beebee, do you know how all this happened? The American Bible Society didn’t know what they were doing when they put The African American Jubilee Edition together. They did it just for me. God knew I was going to pray for a Bible just like my old one, so He inspired the ABS mucky-mucks to think up a new edition. And then the janitor found the old print plates from forty years ago kicking around in the warehouse, and brought them to the CEO (kind of like in the days of Josiah, when they found the Scriptures that had been forgotten in the cluttered-up temple), and –“
Beebee couldn’t take it anymore. “I know, Mum, I know. We’re all happy Jesus heard your prayers. But the little song and dance you did back there in the bookstore was embarrassing!”
That was all about ten years ago. Last night the pages and cover of my beloved Jubilee Edition decided to part company. It must have had a heretofore undiscovered birth defect, no doubt due to being manufactured in China, unlike Bible #1. Dr. Paul pulled out his popsicle stick and Shoe Goo and did emergency surgery, and it is currently in ICU.
Dr. Paul thinks we can expect a full recovery. But just in case, I did some online exploring and managed to find a revised, now-only-in-hardcover African American Jubilee Edition — still with page 493 identical to my page 493. Its glorious 1440 pages will be in my mailbox in another week.