13 January 2012

In the Beginning

I know I said I'd reread the whole Bible this year, but I hadn't realized that reading it in three languages was going to slow things down quite a bit.

The first time I did it, I got through on four chapters a day—and I wasn't taking notes. To do it in three languages this year will require 12 chapters a day, which I don't have time for, considering the other things I want/need to accomplish each day.

Three to six chapters a day (one or two for each language) plus note-taking seems more reasonable and, if I'm diligent, will at least get me to the end of the Old Testament by December 31.

Why am I doing this?
I could explain it myself, but I like G.K. Chesterton's way (emphases mine):

"There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote. ... I conceived it as a romance of those vast valleys with sloping sides, like those along which the ancient White Horses of Wessex are scrawled along the flanks of the hills. It concerned some boy whose farm or cottage stood on such a slope, and who went on his travels to find something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant; and when he was far enough from home he looked back and saw that his own farm and kitchen-garden, shining flat on the hill-side like the colours and quarterings of a shield, were but parts of some such gigantic figure, on which he had always lived, but which was too large and too close to be seen.


"It is well with the boy when he lives on his father's land; and well with him again when he is far enough from it to look back on it and see it as a whole. But [passionate critics of religion] have got into an intermediate state, have fallen into an intervening valley from which they can see neither the heights beyond them nor the heights behind.


"[T]he best relation to our spiritual home is to be near enough to love it. But the next best is to be far enough away not to hate it." — Introduction, "The Everlasting Man"

I feel that I left the valley of exasperation with my religion a long time ago and have climbed to that opposite side. So now, it's well past time that I took a good look and decided whether I could still have a home back there.

Why start with the Bible, then? Why not ask a priest or pastor to lead me?
I grew up Protestant, so I subscribed to the sola that told me all I needed to understand was in the book, and the book was open to me, and I didn't need (but could be helped by) someone in church authority to explain it to me. It was to the Bible I turned when I got fed up with what I was hearing from the pulpit, because I wanted to be sure of what's what. And today, the Bible still feels like the best starting point, because it's the book upon which all Christianity stakes most if not all of its claims.

It's also a point of unfinished business; I never finished my second re-reading because by the time I'd reached the middle of Isaiah, I was in the thickest part of my angst about the church and couldn't take anything more to do with it.

Sola aside, I don't claim to know everything about Christianity. Nor do I claim complete self-sufficiency. That's why I still go to church on Sundays; sitting in the pews and listening to an appointed leader is part of observing from the other side of the valley.

Why read in three languages?
It's a matter of pride.

Language has always been among both my greatest strengths and my greatest weaknesses. English was my first language, and I've made a living out of sentence-wrangling with it. I seem to be getting along fine in Mandarin so far. My tongue still stumbles, though, over the simplest Tagalog and Bisaya. When I speak in these languages, I can hear my own accent, and it trips me up.

I've always felt like an outsider in this country—I find it hard, sometimes, to call it "my" country—because of how I sound and the way I'm treated because of how I sound. There was a vicious circle for a while there; I had an aversion to learning the local languages because I wasn't good at using the local languages.

I think I've also crossed the valley when it comes to my ethnic identity, and I'm far enough away to make it out now. But to do that, I believe I need to tighten my grasp of the local languages—the one used here in Manila and the one used back in Socsksargen.

So, I'm going to read and listen and mutter to myself a lot more, and I'm going to start somewhere that's familiar: the Bible. Then, maybe when I'm done, I'll know which side of the valley is home.