Saturday, May 07, 2016

Motivation for the message

On pp. 131ff of Eugene Peterson's 'Eat This Book: A Conversation In the Art of Spiritual Reading' he outlines what led to his writing of the bible translation "The Message." I don't think I had ever heard this story before, but I can remember when I first read The Message some 25+ years ago. I was hooked. I thought it was fantastic. It resonated in my soul. Anyway, here's the story:
...something happened that without my being aware of its significance at the time put me in the company of translators. It took place in the early 1980s in our small town twenty miles from the city of Baltimore. A financial downturn had raised anxieties among many in my mostly middle-class congregation. Race riots flaring up in many of the cities of America including nearby Baltimore exacerbated the anxiety. The entire community in which I lived and worked was suddenly security conscious. Neighbors were double-locking their doors and installing alarm systems. Men and women who had never held a gun were buying guns. Racial fears developed into racial slurs. Paranoia infected the small talk I would overhear on street corners and in barbershops. To my dismay, all of this seeped into my congregation without encountering any resistance.

My dismay soon turned to anger. How could this congregation of Christians so unthinkingly absorb the world's fearful anxiety and hateful distrust -- and so easily? Overnight, it seemed, they had turned their homes into armed camps. They were living defensively, guardedly, timidly. And they were Christians! I had been their pastor for twenty years, preaching the good news that Jesus had overcome the world, defining their neighbor with Jesus' story of the good Samaritan, defending them against the status quo with Jesus' story of the cautious servant who buried his talent. I had led them in Bible studies that I had supposed were grounding them in the freedom for which Christ had set us free, keeping their feet firmly in, "but not of," the world around us for which Christ died. And here they were, before my eyes, paralyzed by fear and "anxious for the morrow."

...I tried to imagine Paul as pastor to these people who were letting their hard-won freedom in Christ slip through their fingers. How would he write to them in the language they used when they weren't in church?

He decided he was going to do a Bible study in his church on the book of Galatians. For a year. Then he was going to follow it up by preaching on the book of Galatians for a year. I thought it interesting that he chose Galatians because he thought it was Paul's "angriest" letter.

Anyway, long story short, he started putting Galatians into his own words for the dozen or so people in this Bible study, and it was eventually published as the book 'Traveling Light: Modern Meditations on St. Paul's Letter of Freedom' (which is a wonderful book). From there it turned into more paraphrased books of the Bible, and eventually, I think it was ten years later, he had the whole of the Christian Scriptures done.

I thought this was particularly interesting in light of the state of things in America today. I'd say things have grown worse since the 1980s. So, as for me, I think I am going to re-read the book of Galatians from The Message.