How the Physical Form of a Bible Shapes Us
Family Bibles also acquired value as a status marker for the middle class. Displayed on a stand in the family parlor, they were the sacred equivalent of the parlor piano or the installment-plan encyclopedia set. But placing the family Bible at the physical center of the idealized American home also helped entrench the Puritan ideal of the family as the main training ground in Christian living.
My parents inherited a large family Bible from my grandparents. It was leather bound and weighed a ton. In addition to pages for our family history, it had illustrations and special sections on Bible animals and plants and a paraphrase of Bible history.
Our family Bible was not just holy; it was also holey. As a boy, one of my uncles needed pictures for a school project and took a scissors to the family Bible. In slicing up the family Bible, my uncle had attacked the family rectitude, respectability, and religion. My mother, who was supposed to supervise her younger brothers, got what for from her mother.
Today, many of us use Bibles with no physical properties of their own. They borrow their frame from computers, iPads, and smartphones—also markers of middle class existence—but created for individual use. Will this digital revolution cement the decline of family spirituality that was once fostered by the family Bible? God knows.
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Previous "Past Imperfect" columns by David Neff include:
Our Secret African Heritage | How we can remember our big family history. (November 23, 2011)
Criminalizing Circumcision| We have secularized the ancient Jewish rite—but it is still inescapably religious. (August 29, 2011)
A Second-Coming Christian | The 'blessed hope' was the linchpin of my father's faith. (July 18, 2011)
Remember the Red Sea | Why not capitalize on the richness and mystery of our ancient symbols? (May 19, 2011)
Dwelling in Heaven's Suburbs | Creating a culture of resurrection is key to full-orbed ministry. (September 28, 2010)
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