my rocky relationship with the bible (part one)

I learned to read at four years old using a set of home made flash cards and a King Jimmy. My younger sisters also learned to read with the King James Bible, but not until they were older than that. My father would proudly tell people that all his kids needed to learn to read was a King James Bible and family devotions, where we were forced to read verses out loud with the family and pretend that we wanted to. During this family time I also learned to recite all the sixty-six books of both the Old and New Testaments in order. I can still see myself as a little girl, “Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth…” the faster the better.

When I was five, I asked for my own Bible, and I got a brand new King James Bible, with the words of Jesus in red. It was a large print Bible that had been bought for me by my parents. I think they might have bought it when they were in the city, because in Australia you can’t just walk into a dollar store and score a KJV for a dollar, you had to get it from a Christian retailer. It had only the “real” sixty six books of the Bible (the Old and New Testaments, no apocrypha), and it had a thick cardboard cover that was covered in an obnoxious brown, fake leather vinyl.

I was proud of my Bible, and I was proud that I could read. Only the King James Version was a legitimate Bible in my family and church at that time, even for five-year-olds. I wasn’t allowed to have storybook Bibles, my father and mother said that the covers of these interesting picture books lied when they described it as a Bible because, you know, it was a picture book with Bible stories, not the King James. We did have one Bible storybook, but it was for older kids and it specifically stated on the cover that it was a book of Biblical stories rather than a “children’s Bible” or “story Bible.”

This was the kind of snobbery I began my Bible reading with, and it didn’t get any better for a long while. When I was ten, there were some things that became popular in my Sunday School class. We were always out to prove who was the most spiritual. You know, “mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the most spiritual of us all” and we all wanted the same answer, but only for ourselves. The two things that were popular in 1995 among the fundamentalist ten-year-olds engaged in spiritual pissing contests, was baptism (only “believer’s baptism,” if we hadn’t said the magic formula and waved our wand, I mean, if we hadn’t recited the sinner’s prayer, we couldn’t be baptized as baptism didn’t make anybody a Christian in that world, you had to be a Christian first), and the other thing was reading the Bible through in a year.

So there was six or seven ten-year-olds competing with each other to read the entire King James Bible through in a year. Most of us got bogged down in Leviticus, but we had to keep going so that we could prove ourselves. Well, I proved myself because guess who won? Yep, little me. I had no clue what the fuck I’d read, but damn it I read it! I believe we all got baptized that year, and we tried to one-up each other with our “testimonies.” I stood up proudly and said that I realized I was a rotten sinner who had gotten saved at the early age of five, and so Nathan got up and said he was a rotten sinner who had gotten saved at the age of four, but Rachel beat us all. She told of getting saved when she was just two, because she had “been able to understand the Gospel.” It’s laughable now, a quarter of a century later, but the truth is that most of us were very earnest even though we were competitive.

I had won the Bible reading contest by getting through an entire King Jimmy in one year. I was going places, I was important. So I set my sights on a more lofty goal at the beginning of 1996, the year I would turn eleven. I figured if I could read the Bible in a year, that surely I could read it all the way through in three months and therefore read it through four times in a year. Think of how holy I would be and how proud Jesus and my parents would be! I decided to go for it. I think I made it through the Bible in the first three months as planned. I had a piece of paper with the books of the Bible and the chapters on it and I diligently circled the numbers as I read each chapter. It fell by the wayside after that, and I’d spend many years after that saying nasty things to myself about how I hated God because I just didn’t make Bible reading a priority and never did get through it again.

By the time I was thirteen, I could recite, perfectly, and from memory, the entire book of James, and a large portion of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Romans. I could turn to my friends and holler “be sure your sin will find you out” when they were trying to hide something they did wrong, but those friends always returned that favor. I was filled with pride, as I knew more of the Bible from memory than anyone I knew. Don’t ask me to recite it today, I am allergic to the King James Version (not really, but I would rather never see one again in my lifetime), and I also purposely began to block it out. It didn’t work well and if I happen to hear parts of what I learned, I would be able to recite it right alongside whoever was reading it, but I would rather not.

If only this were the end of my issues with the Bible, it could be quite easily solved. Things are not usually simple for me, and neither is Bible reading. This was just the beginning of my disenchantment with the Bible. Surprisingly enough, I’ve made a last minute decision to begin another “read the Bible in a year” program, with a plan that is chronological and uses the 73 books of the Catholic Bible (clutch your pearls and gasp in dismay, for I have apostacized. Oh, I did that a long time ago, never mind). The program is by Father Mike Schmitz, and it uses *gasp* the Revised Standard Version. It’s a ministry of Ascension Press. If it doesn’t work out for me, I’ll not push it, but it’s taken me this long to want to attempt it again, and for much different reasons. Whether this ends up being a good thing or not, I’ve finally reached the point where I am willing to read out of any portion of the Bible, and that, friends, is huge.

Published by MaryClare StFrancis

MaryClare StFrancis is a writer who sounds as boring as hell but who is intimately acquainted with the horrific and the sacred. For a long time, darkness has been her friend, but she now walks in the light of Christ. As a committed Episcopalian, her main contribution to the church is her ability to make the priests facepalm or swear, depending on the day and context. MaryClare has a Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing and lives in Mississippi with her four children.

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