In August of 1976, I left Atlanta to go to Louisville, Kentucky.
I was following the advice of developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson, to take a “pause”.
I had graduated from college in the Spring, facing the reality that I did not know what I wanted to do with my one, wild and precious life, thanks Mary Oliver, who had not written that line at that point.
Emory College had done a hell of a job giving me a liberal arts education. I had been able to experience the breadth of human knowledge, cavorting with Shakespeare, physics, history of art, religion, political science, history, and economics. I had started school with the inclination toward medicine, psychiatry in particular. I had worked for a former Congressman, who turned my attention to law or politics. And a summer working with youth brought the suggestion from some that I consider the ministry.
Doctor, lawyer, tribal chief?
The Congressman, Jim Mackay, suggested that I spend this “gap” year working in the Carter campaign. He had introduced me to Governor Carter while sailing up on Lanier. Mackay said it would be great experience, but I, in my 20 year old wisdom, said that Carter was going nowhere fast. Why waste the year? The first of many bad decisions.
Having finished classes at the end of Fall, I worked as a bouncer at a club in Sandy Springs, my first of two times trying to keep order in that neck of the woods. The other would be when I was the Rector of Holy Innocents……pretty much the same job.
In Spring, I begged my way into the Clinical Pastoral Education program at Georgia Baptist Hospital. Here I would be serving as a chaplain on a neurological/orthopedic floor to folks who were in a life and death struggle, just the ticket for a 20 year old, baby-faced kid. I’m sure they were thrilled to see me walk in the room to comfort them in their hour of need.
My supervisor was rightly concerned at my presence. But his main concern was my interaction with the student nurses. As I interviewed for this position, he queried, pointing out his window toward the hospital, “Galloway, what is that?” Having just finished college, I was on my game and quickly responded, “That’s a hospital, sir.”
“Hell no. I’m talking about the building next to it. It’s a nursing school!” I was quiet, having learned an important lesson.
“Do you know what is in a nursing school?” he asked, and I retorted, “Student nurses?”
“Right. And do you know what I am going to do if I catch you messing around with those student nurses?” Again, a quick learner, I was silent.
“I am going to kick your ass!” I nodded.
“I am going to kick your ass hard!” He had given me the ground rules, something that I should have learned is critical, particularly in the life of institutions.
And so I was accepted into the program, I am sure, in an effort to up the revenue in the chaplaincy department. I was excited because it would give me a chance to see the inside operations of the hospital and interact with a few psychiatrists that provided training.
By the way, on my first day on the floor on 5 East, I saw a nurse that looked just like my favorite Charlie’s Angel, Kate Jackson, and I fell hard. I asked her out, and we began to date intensively…..I’m cleaning it up for the youngsters and my wife. The nurse and I became the talk of the hospital, which landed me in the dreaded supervisor’s office.
“Galloway, what did I tell you?” I quietly responded, “You told me not to mess with those student nurses.”
“And I hear you are dating one of them, causing quite a stir.”
“Sir, she is a floor nurse, and registered nurse, an RN. Not a student nurse!”
“Galloway, you damn literalist!” I later found out that he was involved in the psychological enterprise known as projection.
I finished up my clinical quarter before leaving for my time in Louisville. I planned to work in the psychiatric unit at Norton Children’s Hospital, while taking a few classes at the Southern Baptist seminary for grins. It would be a great year of assessing what I wanted to do with my life.
When I got to the seminary, I found that I needed a proper Bible, one that was one of the accepted translations. I had been reading out of an old Bible in King James, and a paraphrase version, the Living Bible which made it easy to read and understand in modern English. It had a green cover, tellingly soft. The New Testament scholars there referred to it lovingly as the Green Abortion, because of its loose translation of the original Hebrew and Greek.
The “proper” Bible was the Oxford Annotated Bible, although the more literalist version preferred was the New American Standard. You could tell a lot about the person by the Bible they were packing.
I made my way to the bookstore to purchase my “sword”, a Baptist term for God’s Word, aka Bible. This year, the color of the cover was black, which was appropriate to my mood. It was not just any ole black. It was shiny black, glowing like neon. As I would walk across campus, my Bible would glow, announcing to everyone: This Bible is brand spanking new. The Holder of this Bible has not studied it, has not marked, learned, or inwardly digested the Word of God. He clearly does not care. He probably dated student nurses, or nurses, at Georgia Baptist. Warning! A heathen is among you. Warning!
Now, everyone else had well worn Bibles, tattered, marked with highlighters, notes scribbled in holy tones. You could tell the players by the look of the Book!
I am embarrassed to admit that I succumbed to the peer pressure and began to rub, vigorously rub the cover of my new Oxford Bible on the side of my desk late at night. Other students probably have other sins to confess to about their nightly activity, but my secret sin was Bible-rubbing.
It took me nearly two weeks to knock the sheen off that bad boy, but I finally had me a Bible I could be proud of, that made people take notice at my obvious holiness.
I tell you this with a comic slant as I am reflecting on my profound attachment to the Bible here in these latter days. It is not about showing speed in looking up particular verses. It is not about quoting passages that confirm my bias. It is not even succumbing to the temptation of showing off my expertise in the original biblical language of Hebrew and Greek, though I will tell you of the three Greek words for love a the drop of a miter.
It is now more about the overall narrative of the Bible, about our common life that is on full display within the pages. It is about the drama of human existence that oozes from these pages, dusty or not, telling an old, old story of life. Within these pages, I find guidance as to what this life is all about. I witness the struggles of people in the past and gain insights into how to negotiate my own walk. And for me, I am afforded that stories and parables of Jesus, who tip the hand of God in terms of what was intended in Creation.
The good news for me is my Bible is now well-worn, not by artificial rubbing on the formica top of my desk, but by the consistent tending to its deep message of hope. The pattern I identified in last week’s article, the Paschal paradigm, of endings, transition, and new beginnings, is found throughout the text as a way of redemption, a way of moving through the changes in life.
I was fortunate to get the advice of a saint, Howard Thurman, who counseled me to breathe the Bible, not just read it. Drawing on the ancient tradition of lectio divina, he suggested that I “abide” in the words of Scripture, starting me off with Psalm 139, giving me a somatic connection to the Spirit of God in my very being. Over the course of a year, that Psalm spoke into my brokenness and gave me a word of hope that is carried deep in my heart to this day. I chose it to be read at my ordination as it re-minded me of my origin. And, if I have anything to do with it, it will be read as I return to the Earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
The Bible has become worn for me through prayer, not beating people over the head with it, nor trying to use it as a sales gimmick. I am surprised, happily so, that it is even more prominent in my daily life than in the years I was so busy being holy, smart, and productive. It is a light unto my path, especially in darkness.
How is the Bible for you? Do you fear it? Do you ignore it? Do you use it for your own devices to prove that you are right or more holy? Or is it your companion? Or is it, like Dr. Thurman advised me, a part of your being, the way you move and breathe?