"I wanted to know Jesus, but you gave me a library"

These are the words of an illiterate boy, quoted by Jackie Pullinger, then by holy heteroclite and by Henry Neufeld. Holy heteroclite also quotes Bono (complete with YouTube clip of him singing this): “I wanted to meet God; but you sold me religion”.

I post these quotes here in the hope that they will be picked up by blogging friends like John Hobbins, Iyov and Doug Chaplin, who seem to believe in giving to people wanting to find Jesus or meet God a work of literature rather than the Word of God in a form they can understand.

0 thoughts on “"I wanted to know Jesus, but you gave me a library"

  1. Peter, are you feeling well? This burst of sardonic dyspepsia is hardly gentle wisdom. Anyway, wait for my next post (hopefully tomorrow) to find out what I mean by literary – it may surprise you.
    Also, don’t confuse illiteracy with an inability to appreciate the power and beauty of well-chosen words. This quote (if accurate and not rephrased in the telling) suggest this illiterate boy has a fine grasp of language.
    Anyway – I’d invite him to share in worship, prayer and Mass before I’d get him reading the Bible 🙂

  2. You might be surprised to know how much your point resonates within me.

    At several junctures in my life, I turned down a teaching position at a seminary to remain in the trenches of parish ministry.

    I also enjoy street witnessing, and if you ever come across the pond and we find ourselves in the same place, I would be honored to do it with you. You will get all the attention, since, I assume, you have an English accent, which goes over big here.

  3. Doug, I agree that I am not being as gentle as I might be here. I did wonder whether it was fair to associate you with John and Iyov on this, but you did seem to be leaning in that direction. I look forward to your clarification.

    Of course the point for Jackie Pullinger was not about the style of a translation but about giving a book at all. What the boy needed was not a book, nor I would say an invitation to an entirely strange service where he is expected to worship a God who he knows nothing about, but, surely, practical love.

    John, although I don’t enjoy street witnessing myself, I would be interested take up your invitation if I had the chance – although I would not suggest handing out copies of Alter’s translation on the street.

  4. the lad doesn’t mean ‘ineed the word of god’ any more than he means ‘i need a library.’ what he means is, ‘i need a relationship with you that involves meeting and sharing god.’ if doug invites him to mass, he needs to sit with him. it’s the relationship, not the ‘truth in literature’ that matters here.

  5. John’s humble response seems to highlight the part of this post that is, indeed, gentle wisdom. Gentle wisdom doesn’t mean not saying the hard stuff. I read the post as an honest invitation to continue dialogue on this heavy topic, with sincere questioning about what the dialoge means for someone like the boy quoted. I am easily intimidated by angry, brash arguments and challenges. I don’t even like to read them. But part of what I appreciate about following you conversations, Peter and John, is that underneath the firm conviction and scholarship, there is a humility and tender kindness that helps me stick with the discussion (though I don’t understand it all) instead of running from the intense emotions. I have gleaned some valuable thoughts from each commenter. Thank you.

  6. Pingback: Communication minus intimidation « Eclexia:

  7. It seems I miss your point — we were talking about reading the Bible, and you are talking about direct inspiration.

    Of course, direct inspiration is a valid form of religion. And being illiterate, your boy is hardly going to reading the Bible anyway.

    My problem is not with the varieties of religious experience, but with those who make Scripture insipid.

  8. Scott, I agree with you.

    Eclexia, I agree with you too. I realise that my discussion with John and others has sometimes seemed a bit brash, more like my old Speaker of Truth days, rather than the deliberate change I was trying to make with Gentle Wisdom. Indeed that is partly why I put my main post on this matter of BBB. But I hope you understand why I think this such an important matter. And I am glad I am not losing you.

    Iyov, I agree that the illustration of the boy is not directly and literally applicable to the argument about literary translation. Think of this more as a poetic and literary image, the trappings of academia (a library as an image for your literary translation) being offered to the unlearned (an illiterate boy as an image for the mass of ordinary people without higher education or the ability to understand a literary translation).

  9. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Trying to be gentle

  10. I’m being redundant, but I want to clarify here as well. What I was trying to say is that, in this dialogue, I see you and John communicating in a spirit of gentle wisdom. As a background to why that matters to me I said that yes, I am intimidated by brashness and intensity.

    But, my main point is: being able to follow this dialogue and learn from the differing viewpoints is only possible for me, because you pull it off in a way that I do not experience as angry or attacking. I don’t run from your conversations, because “there is a humility and tender kindness that helps me stick with the discussion.”

    That awareness last night kind of overwhelmed me in a good way (I was feeling deeply grateful). Unfortunately, when I try to express feelings like that I tend to overwhelm others by using so many words trying to communicate what is hard for me to explain with words. And in the process, what I say is lost or missed.

  11. eclexia–

    well said. quite clear.


    you remind us that not everyone meets or experiences god in the same way. in fact i might add that not many (in a demographic, add-up-the-numbers kind of way), discover god in study (although i certainly do, and i think doug, iyov, john, and you do, too). we want to share this way of meeting and sharing god, this study, with others in such a way that they feel the same spirit-filled sense of knowing god, that we feel.

    the discussions and arguments we share here are, i hope, the polishing and flexing of only one of the many tools we collectively have in our ‘share-god-with-others’ tool boxes.



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