Monday, June 16, 2008

The Gospel According To Fred

OK. This morning I’m reading my devotional and, because lack of focus has been a lifelong infirmity, my mind drifted back to a moment more than a year ago when I was at Florence West prison.
There was this inmate by the name of Wells Vaughn who one day made the statement that Luke was the most prolific writer in the Bible.
Now, I was pretty sure this was wrong, but I raised my objection very delicately - and for a very good reason. Wells was prone to outbursts of anger. He was a bare-knuckled believer, a distinct sect you find only in prison. If you’ve ever been to prison, you know what I’m talking about. It’s all, “Come to Jesus or I’ll pound ya!’’
So when Wells makes his statement about Luke‘s writing, I chose my words carefully.
“Gee, I didn’t know that,’’ I said softly, careful not to make direct eye contact. “All along, I thought Paul wrote the most in the Bible.’’
Now, Paul is generally credited as the author of at least 13 of the books in the New Testament. A 14th, the Epistle to the Hebrews, was initially attributed to him. Nobody is saying flat-out that Paul didn’t write Hebrews, but those who are inclined to dismiss Paul as the author point out that the style of writing found in Hebrews differs greatly from his universally accepted works.
So Paul wrote 13 or 14 of the books of the New Testament.
That made Wells’ pronouncement that Luke was the most prolific writer in the Bible suspect in my view. The only books that are attributed to Luke are The Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles. By my scorecard, that’s Paul 13, Luke 2. And that’s not even giving credit to Paul for Hebrews. Heck, let’s give Hebrews to Luke. He’s still way behind, right?
When I meekly raised this objection, Wells said that while he conceded that Paul wrote more books, when you counted the words in the books written by the two men, you would realize that Luke wrote more of the words in the Bible than Paul.
And since Wells seemed to me precisely the sort of guy who would bother to count the exact number of words, I let it pass. Nothing to get a broken nose over, I figured.
Of course, some time later, as I considered Wells’ reasoning it struck me that, if you went by word count, Moses - credited as the author of the first five books of the Bible - wrote more words that Paul and Luke put together. Moses was like the Tolstoy of the ancient writers. Moses wrote some seriously long books.
But just this morning , it occurred to me that if you ask, “Who wrote the most in the Bible?’’ you first must clarify which Bible you are talking about.
Because as I skimmed through the pages of the Bible I was holding this morning, a new candidate emerged:
Fred Smith.
Now, before you dismiss this as some sort of heresy, perhaps an effort to invent some new pseudo-Christian belief system (Fred Smith is not Joseph Smith’s lesser-known brother, for example), I ask for your patience.
Fred Smith is my dad.
The Bible I read from is one of his things that came into my possession after he died three years ago. It is a faded brown leather King James version, roughly 5x7 inches and about a inch thick with pages so thin you can almost see through them when you hold them up to the light.
Near the front, there is a page that carries a message. Written there in my mother’s elegant hand in faded blue ink, is this: “Presented to Fred Smith by Mattie Jewel (my mom’s name) on Feb. 13th, 1971.''
That means the Bible was a present from mom to commemorate Dad’s 53rd birthday.
You can tell it was a pretty expensive Bible. I’m not sure how much it set mom back, but I can’t see how that really matters. The worth of a thing is seldom measured by its cost.
But it is obvious that the gift was of great value to Dad, for it bears the evidence of more than 30 years of diligent use.
That is why, if you ask me who wrote the most in the Bible - at least MY Bible - I have to include Fred Smith as a contender.
It’s a pretty beat-up old book, which rather than being a sign of neglect is a testament to its use. There are notations writing in my dad’s often indecipherable hand from cover to cover. OK, there are long stretches in the Old Testament that don’t carry any extra ink. But when you get to the New Testament, I find my dad’s scribbling on just about every page.
There are passages underlined and circled. There are passages where he has written in the tiny margin with words that I cannot make out in whole or part. Then there are some notations that seem sure to remain a mystery. For example, the number “6628’’ is written on one of the blank pages at the front. Who know what that means? It could be a house number or the last four digits of a phone number, which would be all you needed in our small town since everybody had the same “842‘’ prefix.
But, really, who knows? Jack Van Impe might argue that it was divine revelation of the second coming - June 6, 2028 - if you‘re into that sort of thing . I am not
Of the margin notes that I can make out, one is particularly interesting to me. Dad had bracketed Acts 20, verses 17-38. This is the account where Paul is saying his final goodbye to his congregation in Ephesus. In the margin, Dad wrote, “Bro. Steve‘s last sermon.’’
I don’t know “Bro. Steve.’’ He must have arrived as pastor at my parents' church some time after I began by prodigal journey. I don’t know when Brother Steve arrived, when he left or why.
But thanks to Dad’s note in th margin, I do know what Brother Steve talked about on his last Sunday morning at East Heights Baptist Church in Tupelo, Miss. It was important enough for Dad to note, which means that Brother Steve must have been someone very dear to Dad, who never was the sort to show emotion.
So, if you know Brother Steve, you might pass that along, which is a long shot, I realize
Now, I have quite a few Bibles. In some respects, the others are superior to Dad’s beat-up old KJV. The new translations are easier to understand, have more study aids and commentary and are not dog-eared, torn and generally worn out.
But I find that Dad’s Bible is the one I use the most and not merely for sentimental reasons.
I’ve always loved to borrow books from people who make notes on the margins and underline captivating passages. Often, the original owner will highlight something or make a comment in the margin that helps me see the narrative in a new or more insightful way or call my attention to something I might otherwise have neglected.
And so it is with Dad’s Bible. When I come across an underlined passage, I pause to reflect on what it must have meant to him. Often, I find that he has helped inspire me to consider a passage more carefully.
You know, my dad worked two or three jobs all through my childhood. We were never wealthy, but we had what we needed, mainly because dad was determined to be a good provider.
When he passed, he left each of his six kids about $18,000 which is truly remarkable when you consider that he never made more than $8 per hour and had six kids to raise.
That money is long gone. But I have some other little things that serve as a reminder. I have a pair of his blue coveralls. Much to Mom’s dismay, Dad basically lived in coveralls. Except on Sunday mornings, of course, when - like most folks of his time and place - he “dressed’’ for church. I have reminders of that, too, in the form of a handful of his “clip-on’’ ties, fabulously loud ties at that. I smile every time I see them.
Besides that stuff, I am beginning to realize that Dad left me something of much greater value. He left me his Godly example. I can't imagine a better, more enduring gift from a father to a son, really.
His example is never farther away than his memory, and I find further evidence of it all through the pages of that worn-out King James Bible.
Yes, Moses, Paul, Luke. They wrote plenty in the Bible. I leave it to Wells to hash out who wrote the most.
But on the pages of the Bible I read each day, I say with all reverence that I have been left with another account of the Gospel, written by a simple, hard-working man who happened to be my dad:
The Gospel According To Fred.
Amen, Dad.

1 comment:

Keith said...

I'll have to say that I like the Gospel According to Fred. What an awesome memory of your father. Peace and blessings to you my friend.