Is That Any Way to Treat a Bible?

We are not Catholic, but for a variety of reasons we sent our daughter to Catholic schools.

In a high school religion class, the teacher approached my daughter during class, took her Bible and was horrified to see that virtually every page of her Bible had underlines, highlights and notes in the margins.

The teacher held it up for all the class to see and, with the condescending flair only teachers have, proclaimed to the entire class “Is this any way to treat a Bible?”

To put it mildly, this teacher was of the philosophy that the Bible should be revered, spoken of in hushed tones and, perhaps read quietly and soberly. Or perhaps not handled with earthly hands at all.

My daughter, on the other hand, looked at the Bible as a battleground – or even as a weapon to be used – not against others – but against the sluggish inertia and complacency that challenges us all.

Like Jacob, as he took on the name Israel, my daughter “wrestled” with God (Genesis 32:22-28) and her Bible, unlike the well-preserved relic of ancient times, showed the wear and tear of struggles of questions and unrelenting leaning on the word of God. Virtually every page showed the signs of struggle essential for a growing, stretching faith – the only kind of faith, I would say, that is worth having.

This kind of faith is built, stone by stone, struggle by struggle, not inherited or preserved like a fragile family heirloom.

This is the kind of faith that is never finished, never fossilized and never marketed like some easy religious slogan.

This is a faith more inhabited than memorized, more hand-crafted than mass produced, more gourmet than fast-food; more alive and mobile than stuck like a dead bug on a pin.

This is the faith that changes and challenges each one of us. And, no, it’s not safe, and it is messy.

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Over and over in the Bible, God’s message to his people is to “Go” – to leave the assumptions of our comfortable faith and move into the unknown, to make our faith our own.

I understand all too well why so many would like to keep the Bible closed and safely kept on the shelf. There’s no telling where that pesky book might lead us.

Like the well-known children’s story of the Velveteen Rabbit, my daughter’s Bible showed signs of continuous use – and yes, love.

I know those scars of faith all too well. My faith journey has been anything but safe. I’ve encountered many things that would make my Sunday School teacher cringe, but I, and my faith stand far stronger precisely because of the storms and struggles I’ve been through.

There’s the old saying that a ship is safe in harbor – but that’s not why ships are built.

True faith should equip us to move, however reluctantly perhaps, where we would rather not go.

So, is that any way to treat a Bible?

Yes, absolutely.

Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.

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About the Author

Morf Morford

Morf MorfordMorf Morford is a writer, teacher, word-nerd, 98% vegan, listener, community story-teller, poet, advocate of the oddities of earthly existence. Scavenger of the unlikely.View all posts by Morf Morford →

  • Good points, and I appreciate that you didn’t just abuse the Catholic church. This teacher is definitely not the rule among Catholics.

    • Agreed, Paul! Grateful for the way Morf wrote this. And Morf, your daughter’s teacher would be horrified if she saw one of my Bibles. The pages look a lot like the pages in your daughter’s, and it’s been opened and shut so many times that it’s now in three pieces. And I’m Catholic. :)

  • Pete

    If my daughter marks her Bible up like that I will be a very happy dad! 

  • John Abbott

    Absolutely great article…the daughter has the right view and concept of how the Bible, God’s Holy Word, should and must be active in our lives.

  • Pmpope68

    I hope that you and/or your daughter was able to use this as a teachable moment for the teacher, explaining why the Bible was marked up to at least educate HER on another viewpoint.  

  • ckpassante

    I mark it up like crazy. 

  • Bernhe

    Is that any way to treat a high school student?

  • Revdaviddismas

    While I appreciate that some Christians do write all over their Bibles, those of us from the Catholic tradition are taught not to do that … while I am not comfortable with the teacher’s lack of understanding of a non-Catholic student’s seeing the Bible as a tool, I also see her point in that as a Catholic teacher in a Catholic School she does need to teach the Catholic kids what is appropriate to their tradition.   Frankly, after two Masters Degrees — the second in Biblical Studies — I would NEVER write in a Bible … all my notes are on a separate piece of paper … we all have a responsibility to follow the Lord as best we can, but I think we all need to realize that other Christians do do things differently and if we are in their midst we might best not scandalize each other … a theme Paul repeats in both 1 Corinthians and Romans about the responsibility of the strong to the weak comes to mind … 

  • Abe

    I am Jewish, and the same debate can be heard here about how to treat the sacred books. Personally, I follow the advice of one sage rabbi who told me (paraphrase) that if you were not meant to write in your books, there would be no blank margins. 

  • Renee

    thanks for that wonderful inspiration story. !!

  • Pamela

    A Bible that is falling apart is a sign of a Christian who isn’t

  • Donald’s McDonald’s

    But how do Christians treat the bible ????

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