Freak in Training Part 1: Cracking the User Manual


In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.
—Isaiah 29:18

“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.”
—Mark Twain


Recently I posted the story of my sudden phase shift from proto-glam angelheaded hipster into an in-your-face Christian embarrassment. If incriminating religious autobiography appeals to you, I suggest that you read How I Ended Up in the Freak Show for the backstory. But if you’re short on time, too lazy, or you just need yourself a brief refresher, here’s my nutcase case in a nutshell:

So there I am, minding my own debauched business, when I get jacked by Jesus, slammed into salvation, hacked by the Holy Ghost, then lobbed, radioactive, back onto an unsuspecting public who generally gape dumbstruck at the God-zombie who used to be me.

But as radically strange as my Jesus jumpstart was, it was only the beginning of strangeness. The initial soul-quake of salvation tends to get most of the press, but it’s the aftershocks that show just how screwed up you really are.

Though I was a novice at this born-again thing, I knew that, in order to make sense of my new link to the Starry Dynamo, I had to crack open the old Bible that had been lying undisturbed for years at the back of my closet. It was a small King James version with a black leather cover and thin, nearly transparent pages inside. I had received it many years before as a fresh-faced graduate of Vacation Bible School. It still had the VBS sticker with my name inside the front cover.

deskI dug out the neglected book, blew off the dust, and carefully carried it down to the basement where I had set up a small table and chair. I’m not sure why I preferred the spare subterranean setup rather than the much more comfortable kitchen table, but even then I suspected that there was something subversive about this venerable book, something mysterious, otherworldly, even a bit dangerous. It seemed best to crack it in a bunker where I might at least limit any collateral damage.

Now, even back then I wasn’t exactly a Biblical illiterate. I knew a lot of the stories and a good number of loosely rendered Jesus quips. As an English major at college, I had often exploited the Bible to shore up weak arguments, pad anemic critical essays, and fend off annoying Christian evangelists on campus. Until then I had pretty much consulted the Bible like I would Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, as a source of short proof texts to serve my rather shallow purposes. Beyond that I found the Holy Scriptures wholly uninteresting. It had never dawned on me, even for a moment, that the Good Book might actually be—well, good.

But my cursory, self-serving knowledge of the Bible had taught me one very important thing: to study the Bible all you need is the Bible itself and a simple concordance, that alphabetical list of the words in the Bible with citations of the verses where they appear. The concordance would help me chase down interesting threads if there were any to be had (the jury was as still out on that) and I wouldn’t have to deal with some seminary egghead’s theological skew. No pre-mixed academic soufflé for me, buddy. I wanted to chew my Bible raw, even at the risk of religious food poisoning.

electricbookI sat down and gently laid my old King James on the table. Next to it I placed the hefty Strong’s Concordance I had just bought. I looked at the unopened Bible. This was the founding document of Western civilization. Here before me was the book that had upended the Roman Empire, conquered the barbarian tribes, the book that compelled courageous men and women to the uttermost parts of the earth. Here was the book that had converted to faith many of the most brilliant minds in history. It was also, I reminded myself, the book that had fueled the crazy Crusades, fired up the Inquisition welcome wagon, and given the world Jim Jones, Jimmy Swaggart, and Jim and Tammy Bakker.

I swallowed hard, then nervously opened it where a narrow black ribbon marked a place from long ago. A sweet, leathery smell that I dimly remembered drifted from the pages. I moved the ribbon aside to discover that it marked the first chapter of the Gospel of John. This seemed as good a place as any to start. Very slowly, very quietly I whispered the first verse:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

And that’s as far as I got. Something happened, something wondrous—and terrifying. My tentative little Bible study was summarily crushed. As it is written: it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

*   *   *

PART TWO: The Big Bang


One Response

  1. The first time I read the One Year Bible in it’s entirety, it took me 18 months. I immediately began reading it again, this time however I’m more on the 3 year plan. I’ve found it’s not how quickly you read it – it’s just important to read it. I’m soon to be finished with the Bible the second time through, and will begin it again. It really is the most important book anyone could ever read.

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