Not that anyone cares, but...

When I was in bible school, I wanted to know the answer. I mean, The Answer to Everything. (Douglas Adams fans already know that it is the number "42") I just thought that the smart bible people would know the answer to everything "bible-related." They probably did, but neglected to tell me. After all, spoon-feeding is only good at the beginning and end of your life, or when you are incapacitated from jumping off a building because you thought it would be fun. But anyway, one of my burning questions was "What's the best translation of the Bible?" For those of you who have this question, let me give you an answer: "It depends..."

 

"What?"

 

"What kind of answer is that?"

 

It's the only answer. The person who tells you confidently that the King James is "THE BEST," is talking rubbish. Ditto for the  NIV (Nearly Inspired Version) or the English Standard Version proponents. The best version is really the one that meets your needs. And all modern bibles are pitched to meet different needs. Some accurately portray the sense of obscure words. Others are more "literal" and "wooden," (i.e., great studying + horrible reading). Still others have a lower reading level for people who hate reading. So, you see, "it depends..." It depends on what you are looking for.

 

Enter, The Passion translation...

 

Recently, a friend asked me what I thought about The Passion translation of the Bible. I have only read its website and actually have no experience with the thing. But I do know what The Passion website says about it. And there are some things I like. For one thing, they want it to really speak in today's language and communicate God's passion. Also they have dropped the practice of capitalizing pronouns that refer to God (e.g.,  "He...," "Him...") because the original languages don't capitalize divine pronouns. Further, The Passion people are totally correct in asserting that there is never really an exact translation of a word from one language to another. And I am intrigued by the idea of capturing the "emotion" of a translation as well as the intellectual meaning. 

But I do have some reservations...

  • There is only a single translator. Sure, there are experts who evaluate what he's saying, but the grunt work is done by one dude. And that is NEVER a good idea these days. Though it might have worked in the Middle Ages, today all major versions of the Bible are worked on by committees of people who are EXPERTS in the language and text of the biblical book they are working on. 
  • The translators credentials are suspect. To his credit, the translator has been to translation school, done mission work, and produced the Paya-Kuna New Testament for the people of Panama. Kudos! However, any person involved in translation from original languages into a modern English version should have a PhD in linguistics or something involving the Biblical text. A "doctorate" on "prayer" doesn't really count. 
  • There is an overstress on "Aramaic" and its new fabulous insights into proper translation. It is true that Jesus and his disciples likely spoke Aramaic and that parts of Daniel and Ezra are in the same language. And there are some insights that can be gleaned from knowledge of Aramaic. However, the New Testament was written in Greek and any Aramaic translation is just that: a translation of a Greek copy. God didn't choose to write the New Testament in Aramaic. Further, there is no manuscript evidence that Daniel and Ezra were totally written in Aramaic. 

So this boils down to an immediate three-fold reservation: single translator, whose credentials are weak, and who stresses the Aramaic beyond reason. Does this make The Passion Version a bad translation? I don't know. 

It depends...

 

Confessions of an (Almost) Winner

I don’t know how to feel.

Well, I know now how to feel. But at the moment, I didn’t. My heart was a closed room, a box of flesh with only whispers of breeze leaking in. Each whisper tugging faintly on my heart, trying to tell me how I should feel: 

    Sadness. Despondence. Anger. Disappointment.

But each was just a label, a scratch-n-sniff whiff of emotion, ... there and gone.

Mostly now, I just feel …

...

But let me back up.

Awhile ago, I submitted Oriented to the Write Canada Awards. After a few months, I was thrilled to find it shortlisted in the Christian Living category. So on the night of the ceremony I went for dinner with Cathy Harris and Jaimie Oliver. Having left Jaimie at the restaurant, we then arrive at the gala. The CTF Publishing stars squish us into place at their table and the awards ceremony begins. And it's a bit … agonizing. I spend much of the next several hours trying not think about the award. I don’t want to get nervous, so I make small talk with Pudd and listen to the first recipients. In my mind I rehearse again the 30 second speech – just like the instructions stipulate:

  • Thank … the award’s sponsor.
  • Make a comment about how writing a book takes many people.
  • Thank… Jonathan, Ben and the Creative Sprite.
  • Thank … my family and Jesus.
  • Pose for a picture.

The awards keep being announced. But I realize the program has them out of order. That means I have to wait longer. Sigh. Pudd tells a funny story. Tammy asks if I am nervous. The band gets up for the third time to perform, but the volume on the lead singer is so low none of us can hear her. I look at the grates in the ceiling. The hotel’s lobby music leaks through into the room. Silently, I rehearse my speech again, wondering why none of the other winners stick to the 30 second rule. Did they not get the memo? Mentally, I try to plot a path through the tables to the stage. The stout women have trouble with the passage next to the wall, so I cross that route off my plan. Lorna Dueck comes by and introduces herself to the group. Pudd wanders out to talk with a budding children’s author. I check to see that I can slide my chair out easily when I need to go to the front. And the time ticks down. Suddenly, the announcer comes to my category, dictating the titles and authors with me sandwiched in the middle. An unseen actor reads a piece from the winning book. I strain to listen, trying to place where in my book the words come from. Then comes that moment, the tick of time frozen in the liquid nitrogen of rejection. 

It’s not my book. 

I didn’t win. 

I can feel the eyes of my family and friends shift to me. I don’t want to look at them. I'm afraid of what alien horror will burst from my insides. But I must. So I turn into their gaze. Their eyes shine with condolences and sincerity that attempts to smooth away the sting. But there is no sting. There is nothing. Just breezes. Whispers of emotion. Half-hearted feelings, unsustained and unintended. Stillborn shades of what might be, briefly evoked as if not really meant, not serious. Just tests.

And the evening drags on to its end. 

Until I am driving home.

It’s all lights in the blackness, the comforting hum of tires in the night. In the silence I find myself thinking of what I can possibly do to win next time. And it comes to me, strangely, stupidly, obviously:

“You don’t write to win. You write to express.” 

And now I know how to feel about it. Just like I do everyday. Happy with what I’ve done. 

First and Last Days

The cars leave the parking lot, find the highway and speed north. The tire hum rises, plateaus. Scenery goes by. Trees and water. Vineyards. It all seems a bit blurry. I am preoccupied with what I am going to say at the gravesite. Being in a largely white-haired congregation, I am getting a lot of practice at this skill. But I don’t want to blow it. Forget words or mispronounce a name or jump lines. Say anything inappropriate to the situation. Sound too flippant. Be too … anything. I remember the first funeral I attended. Being initiated into its mysteries by my uncles. Gripping my grandfather’s casket in silent effort. Lockstep out the doors and down the stairs to the hearse. The easy laughter of the men travelling to the cemetery. But today will be different. It is not someone at the end of a long life. It’s the stillborn grandson of my friend. The child was due to be born on the same day as my son. My son came out alive. His grandson didn’t. First days. Last days.

The cars have left the highway and are turning their way onto ever smaller roads. There is the crunch of tires on gravel as we turn into a lane, up through the trees to the top of a small rise. We stop, everyone getting out. It is a small pioneer cemetery. No fence. A few headstones. The woods encroaching. It is a peaceful, forgotten place in the world. I stand with the psychologist, a family friend who will say some words. We chat a bit. Light talk, innocuous. Filling the vacuum of the moment. It is cold, frosty, approaching the turn of the year; when the sun will get weaker and something deeper will grip the air. For now the sun’s bright where it leaks through the naked trees, stripped of all the glory that once clung to them. Now they are barren sentinels, erect and still. And we wait. Standing. An occasional snapping underfoot. Then the final three cars come.

The family get out and we greet each other with handshakes and hugs. They are grey and worn. The solemnity and fragility of the moment has all my senses tuned high, tuned to the mood. And yet I am unprepared for the moment when it happens. Black-coated and shoed, the funeral men move to get the casket. There is no hearse for this moment. Just a single black car. At first I don’t even recognize what they are doing. They open the side door, reach in and pull out a little wooden box. And it hits me, explodes my insides like I have fallen on a grenade. The wail tries to escape my throat and moan itself into the world, into a grief spoken for every lamenting parent. And I thrust it down. Ruthlessly. Mercilessly. Freezing it. Strangling it in a blanket of concrete. I clutch onto my impassive mask of reserve for the occasion. Barely. The rest is a blur. Blanked from memory by the effort to crush my emotions. To maintain control. Say the right words. Bring comfort to the family. But I remember the box coming out of the backseat. The wrongness of it. The grief.

There is something tragic about a life cut short. A child. A young adult. Even when someone lives to be forty or fifty, it seems more difficult than when they live a life of seventy or eighty years. A long healthy life seems appropriate. Funerals are never easy. But with someone older there is the sense that their lives were fully lived. Destinies tried out. Work accomplished. Love attempted and engaged. And death seems not nearly as piercing then. Or when someone has been sick, or suffered. Or they have lived so long that they have lost the ability to experience the sights and sounds and colours and adventure that is the texture of life. But our feelings are an accommodation, an adjustment to the reality that mows everyone down in the end. We have to cope with it, find a way to come along side. Be ok with it. But really we are not. Because we know it is not supposed to be this way. We lose something on last days. Death is a wrongness. The unintended result of human choice. To grasp. To play God. To be monumentally independent. To eat and consume what is not ours. And now death is let loose in the world. Has its way. Is the ultimate end of the trajectory that arcs on its way from the brightness of first days.

But.

But maybe, death is not the last word. Maybe it is not the end state. And maybe we know that or suspect it. It’s not that we can undo last days. Not that we can erase the crush of rubber and metal on flesh, or the placing of wooden caskets into frozen ground. But perhaps that last day can also be a new first day. A day when something new starts. Something in us must feel this is true for despite being smacked in the soul by every last day, we look for something more. It is an impulse that finds its language in talk about Heaven or Paradise. Nirvana, resurrection and reincarnation. And sometimes it feels a little confused. When I think about it all, about what people say, I feel a bit cheeky as well. I’m not sure I want to spend several thousand years playing my harp on a cloud. And I kind of like my own body. I don’t want to come back as a pudgy little angel thing. I wouldn’t know how to work the wings anyway. Though I guess I’d have time to learn.

And I have lots of thoughts about this, about what happens beyond death. If I go to heaven and do badly, do I fall back to earth and start all over as a baby? And the thing about paradise sounds ok, with the virgins and everything. But maybe that’s not so great for the women. Wouldn’t my wife feel a bit jealous? Plus, I don’t want to come back as a cow or a goat on my way to eternal nothingness. Besides, I get nothingness most nights when I go to sleep. I know that all those common ideas are a bit foolish and short of the mark. But even in popular culture, the thread is there. It’s all a way of saying that there is something more. We are not satisfied with death as the end. In fact, we don’t really believe it.