Closing Windows

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Closing Windows
Image: Seth Hahne

“My wife makes the most delicious brownies,” the man in the YouTube video says, “using coconut oil and cacao nibs. When you start paying attention to what goes into the recipe—you know, healthy replacements for the bad ingredients, the processed things, the cane sugar and high fructose whatever—you really start to reap benefits.”

Watching him on one tab, you open another on your office computer’s browser and search for “coconut oil.”

“What she does, see, is she goes online to buy these things directly,” he says. “She gets coconut oil from Trinidad and Tobago, cacao nibs from Cote d’Ivoire, and butter from a family-owned farm out in Bath Township, where one of the farm’s employees will package the butter right there for you when you come to pick it up.”

At room temperature, you read, coconut oil is a liquid. Chocolates made using coconut oil need to be refrigerated or frozen to remain in solid form. It has many health benefits, either ingested or applied topically. It can be used as a hair tonic.

“What I want to suggest is that we should be mindful about Scripture translations in the same way that we are mindful about ingredients—that even though certain translations read smoothly, are familiar, can go down easy, there are healthier ones for us to use, and if we pay attention to those healthier translations, we can start to reap spiritual benefits.”

Hair tonic, you think. Hair. Head.That one Psalm with the oil running down Aaron’s beard. The importance of community. C.T.E., the invisible outworkings of a life of concussions. Your mind wanders.

“If we look at the translators’ introduction to the 1611 edition of the—”

In an attempt to queue a new tab, you accidentally exit the one on which the video is playing. You reopen it from your history and try to skip back to where you left off.

“—makes the most delicious brownies using coconut oil and cacao nibs. When you start—” You hit pause. Is it possible that Christ was acquainted with chocolate? Perhaps the apostle Paul encountered it in the course of his travels. As he encountered—who was it, again? Seneca? The Roman Stoic? Is this true?

You take out your phone and search “Seneca Apostle pAul meeting?”

The first result is locked up behind a paywall (your church does not pay for you to have a JSTOR membership). Wikipedia, though, has a short article entitled “Epistle to Seneca the Younger,” which refers to a collection of correspondence from the apostle Paul to Seneca that is widely believed to be a forgery on account of (the article says) “poverty of thought and style, the errors of chronology and history, and—” You go back to the search results.

Well…jesusneverexisted.com is right out.

***

You glance at your computer and decide that you should get back to this video, which you hope will help you draft your response to the man awaiting a reply to this, his third unanswered email about the importance of “cleaving to the King James Version of the Bible and forsaking all others.” You click back to his email. You think that maybe he said something about dropping by to discuss it…Did he mean today?

“I understand that my position might seem a tad extreme to you,” his email reads, “so I thought that perhaps for the sake of starting a dialogue I might offer this level-headed teaching about the importance of the KJV that, I might say, does not have the tonal issues that one might accuse certain of the other videos of possibly having, as might be the case. Even so, I think you’ll see…” He goes on for hundreds of tortured words, expositing the arguments of the video and anticipating counterarguments and objections. You are not sure why you thought watching the video would help.

What would be a good, winsome metaphor for Scripture translations? You pick up your phone again, type “SCripture translations metahpor.” Your search results are illuminating, but not for the question you are pursuing: “Scripture uses metaphors extensively, as a way of illustrating aspects of its…” “The metaphor/idiom literally means they are patient. I doubt any translation…” “If the principles suggested are followed in the translation of these figures, the meaning of the Bible will be more.”

Will be more, eh? You chuckle as you open a new tab on your browser: “history fo scripture trans.” You read: “The term ‘transmission’ describes the ancient process of copying Hebrew and Greek manuscripts to preserve…” You search “Septuagint.” From the Latin septuaginta, meaning “seventy”: a translation of the Hebrew Bible and some related texts into Koine Greek. You search “Koine Greek,” read about the “Hellenistic supraregional language.” You stifle a burp and give yourself several therapeutic taps on what you believe to be your solar plexus.

You search “solar plexus.” You did not tap yourself on the solar plexus, it turns out.

***

All the while, your email draft has sat, the cursor blinking blankly. What can you say to someone who’s completely sold, as a matter of first importance, on an esoteric idea you can barely muster the enthusiasm to research? Chiding yourself, you open a new tab: “KJV only?” The first result is, again, a Wikipedia entry. You are halfway through it when there is a knock on your door. In a panic, you somehow restart the video you were sent. “—paying attention to what goes in the recipe—”

“Pastor?”

“Hi! Yes, sorry, just a sec.” You pause the video at “high fructose whatever.” You breathe in and turn to your visitor. “I was just watching that video you sent me.”

Isn’t it interesting, you think to yourself during the tense and short conversation that follows, how versatile God made coconuts?

“Bill, I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut this conversation short,” you say, just as he is getting ready to move into the tough stuff. “I’m afraid that, possibly on account of some bad cacao nibs I had earlier that came from Ivory Coast, I am experiencing some issues in my solar plexus.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. It’s not bad, but I’m finding it a bit distracting, pain-wise. Think I might take some coconut oil to soothe it. For now, though, could we reschedule?”

“Well.” Bill looks upward, thinking. “I suppose that would be okay.”

I need time to sort out this metaphor, you think, so I can tone down your anxieties about my occasional use of the NIV.

There’s a lull, and your mind expands, runs the gamut of Christian history. You think of Augustine’s theory of signs in On Christian Teaching. Do the things still exist the way he thought? You surreptitiously search “on christian teaching augustinen” on your phone under your desk.

“Well, Pastor…I just wanted to say, before I go, that I’ve had a change of heart about some things.”
Oh? You look up.

“I don’t mean to keep you when you’ve got a pain in your solar plexus and all, but I’ve been doing some thinking about the emails I sent, and, well, I just think I could have been a bit less aggressive about the whole thing.” He is looking at his knees, one of which is bouncing as though possessed.

“Well, Bill, that’s very—”

“I just think I felt like I was on the defensive, you know? And I wasn’t really open to hearing what you had to say. I felt like you just sort of had it all figured out—and here’s little old me, what do I know?” He looks up at you.

“Bill, I—”

“You don’t have to say anything, Pastor. In fact, I don’t think you should say anything. I hope you accept my apology, and maybe we can talk again another time.” He stands, coat over his arm, preparing to leave.

“Well—”

“See you later, Pastor. Have a good week.” And then, Bill is gone.

You close your browser window, revealing underneath a PowerPoint window containing a slideshow that already has 70 slides. It’s the message you’d been preparing. Seneca is in there somewhere, the Septuagint too—all of it in a great swirl of disconnected factoids cobbled together in an ad hoc fashion.

***

Sunday arrives. You feel like Karl Barth about to renounce that sermon about the Titanic—the one where he used the catastrophe (sank in April 1912, 1,490 lives lost) as an object lesson about the folly of human endeavors or something. An old seminary anecdote, not indexed for online searching.

“Before I begin,” you begin, “I want to say: I have made a mistake.” Everyone looks up, curious. “I have made a mistake in approach. Basically, I became so caught up in my tools—we have access to the sum of human knowledge, you know, with today’s technology—that I became, myself, a tool, if you know what I mean. I took access to technology to imply an obligation to it. Well, folks, I’m here to tell you…I’ve got just one obligation as your pastor. Just one.” Bill leans forward. Noticing him, a few others do the same. Soon, everyone is inclined toward you in rapt attention.

You lean over the pulpit towards your congregation.

“Let me tell you about it.”

December
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Closing Windows