Cleaning My Bible
I have suffered from a Bible-phobia since leaving the Worldwide Church of God, a crippling affliction that reminds me of their influence in my life to this day. I know I am not alone in this.
I have prayed many times for God to heal me of this, and He has done so, slowly, over several years. A few years ago, I began to be able to read the Bible again, and over the last year or so, I have finally begun deeper Biblical studies, though I still have a ways to go.
I was reading my Bible recently, when it suddenly occurred to me to look at my marginal notes. I tend to ignore them, because they are mostly written in pencil, and many have faded over the years, through wear. But I turned seriously to them, and found that what they were saying, in many places, twisted the plain meaning of the scriptures they were about, and it suddenly became clear to me that I wrote them while in Worldwide.
Of course, I knew I wrote my marginalia while in Worldwide: when I say this occurred to me, I mean, the significance of this fact began to slowly dawn on me. It wasnít just that I knew I wrote them while in Worldwide, since I was aware I hadnít been able to study the Bible seriously for most of the years after that point, and when I did, I did not write in my Bible.
No, it was the fact that I just realized that they werenít my notes: I didnít write them at all Ė Worldwide did! They told me what a passage meant, and I made note of it, thinking I was learning scripture in greater depth. Scrutinizing these notes with that in mind, it became clear that they intended, by their use of these marginal notes, to insinuate themselves into my Bible, so that, whatever scripture I looked at, I approached through the distorted lens of their teachings.
Suddenly, it became clear why I avoided my Bible. I was not just afraid of reading the Bible, which God had healed me of, but I was afraid of reading my Bible, because the marginal notes had the fingerprints of Worldwide all over it. No matter how much I thought I was ignoring those notes, I had no doubt they were having some subliminal effect on me.
I felt a sudden rush of hope. The phobia I had long been ashamed of protected me from steeping myself, unthinkingly, again, into their toxic mindset, until I was able to understand what they had done. My bound copy of the Bible was no longer just the Word of God, it was the Word of God with manís twists added to it.
And then, I pondered my notes further. The pen notes are in tiny printing, done with a very fine line technical pen, in brown ink, so as not to compete with the larger, black print of the Bible itself. But, most of my marginalia are not in ink: most are in pencil. Why?
I recall suddenly stopping the use of ink in my Bible. At the time, as I clearly remember thinking, "I need to judge which notes are passing observations, and which have stood the test of time, and should be preserved. By the time the pencil is nearly worn out, Iíll decide if the note has value. If it does, I will write it in ink; if not, I will erase it." But, to my recollection, I seldom or never converted a pencil note to an ink note after that time.1
Then, when I was reading my Bible this Sabbath, I happened to look up a few notes from the inside margin, referring to various tribes named in Job, and came across a genealogy of tribes, with extensive historical (or pseudo-historical) notes in the margin about who these tribes were, and who they became. My first thought was, "This is what Paul meant, about not arguing about endless genealogies," which never made sense to me before.2 I was enjoying meditating on this thought, when another one popped into my head.
These notes are from a Worldwide Bible Study! I still have my notebooks from Worldwide, so I was quickly able to date the study these notes were from: August 10, 1982.3 I had a feeling this might have been around the last time I wrote notes in my Bible in pen. I havenít been able to verify it, but it just feels like about the right time.
But I see, now, how my mind was working, trying to disentangle myself from Worldwide, without admitting (even to myself) that I was doing so. About halfway through my time in Worldwide, I made the ministryís comments into pencil marginalia in my Bible that I could choose to erase.
And now, of course, itís time to erase them.
Time to clean up my Bible!
Still, those notes are a record of what I was taught, and will be valuable to myself, and perhaps to others, in finding specifics to question or revisit, and if rejected, to purge myself of. For this reason, I intend to record the notes, and erase them from my Bible as I go.
At some time in the future, I hope to be able to organize the notes, and put them with this article. Of course, if I find any notes to be of real value, I will keep them, but a quick survey did not find a single note worth keeping.4
I will record how many I keep, as well.
I look forward to removing Worldwide from my Bible forever!
[Shout "Amen," brothers and sisters!]
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Originally, at this point, I said the following:
Now that I think about it, my notekeeping degenerated: for many years, I kept notes in bound books, written in my brown-ink techical pen tiny writing, with table of contents, and pagination (thus, the ease of finding this reference), though at some point, I remember not buying another bound book, though meaning to, and just writing on loose paper. I continued this note-taking on loose sheets of paper, which I did not have any binder for, or keep in any special place, so I quickly lost them, from week to week, which I remember being an embarrassment at the time.
Thinking about it from my current perspective, I nearly wondered why I didn't just stop taking notes altogether, when I realized this would have been impossible, in the Worldwide culture. Everyone took notes. Just as, in most churches I have attended since, people seldom take notes, and tend to find it odd when you do, so Worldwiders would have stared at someone not taking notes.
But there is a huge difference: now, I am free to take notes in church, if I choose. No one will comment on it, or ever has (I've just seen the looks), whereas, in Worldwide, I now suspect, someone would have mentioned to a minister about my negligence in not taking notes, and I would have been talked to. As I say this, I remember several people even commenting on my using loose paper, and me having to explain, over and over, that I needed to get a new notebook. Since I did not sit in the same place, this worked for me, though I fancy I recall the minister once telling me it was time I replaced my loose notes with a proper notebook, though I can't be sure now whether this happened, or whether I can just imagine the minister in question saying something like this to me. But I do know for a fact that several people bugged me about the loose paper. No, not keeping notes would have been unthinkable!
A minute or two after I wrote this, I checked my facts, and realized that this was not true: the two notebooks I have are from 1982-83, marked "Book 1" and 1983-84, marked "Book 2"; if there were others, I don't have them, but their titles seem to indicate my memory is backwards: I started out with loose notes, and finally got organized, around the time I started thinking about leaving my husband, which would have meant leaving the church - whether I did this to try to strengthen my resolve to stay, to "get back on track" and be more disciplined, or because I sensed I would want some organized record of this time that I could refer to, I have no idea.
Obviously, my inaccurate reconstruction of my memories were based on logical assumptions: they were just wrong. I can see why it would have been the way it really was, though. I was in University for the first half of my time in Worldwide, and had no money for such fripperies as bound books and technical pens, and I was much more casual and disorganized. Once I was working, I not only had money, but I was more organized. Oh, yes: the year I began the first notebook was my "year of having it all together." I was working; I had gotten into a fitness program; I was learning to type; I had friends; and I completely cleaned out my files from top to bottom and reorganized everything.
This is just a note to tell you that, even when dealing with things I have experienced myself - especially then - I look for whatever evidence is available to verify or question what I am writing.
1 Timothy 1:4 and Titus 3:9. The fact that Paul makes it a point to mention this to both his ministerial proteges indicates it was enough of a concern to the church at large that a pastor needed to know not to let Biblical discussions degenerate into arguments about such points.
My notebooks are very well organized: they are bound blank books, which I have paginated, leaving space at the front for a table of contents, which I recorded as I went, so sermon, sermonette, and bible study titles, speakers, and dates are listed with the page number each is to be found on. My sermon notes also include church announcements given at the time.
So far, I've found two broad categories of notes in the margins of my Bible (seldom my own notes: I kept my researches in notebooks, not in my Bible): 1) those that add meaning to the scripture that is not there, and 2) those that mindlessly and obviously restate the meaning of the passage, and are distractingly redundant (because you read them, thinking you will find some insight, where there is none). If I find other categories, I will record this. I look at all of this as a kind of objective record of what we were taught, which can be analyzed for itself, apart from memories. I hope to learn some things from this, but even if I don't, I hope to find things that I still need to get rid of, so I can erase their doctrines from myself as I erase them from my Bible.