Normally my Labor Day column consists of my annual list of book recommendations. But before I share my literary advice, allow me a momentary story detour.
On Valentine’s Day 1992, I began my first job as healthcare chaplain at Houston Northwest Medical Center. During my orientation tour, my supervisor proudly showed me our beautiful, well-appointed chapel. She made careful mention of the altar that held the Qur'an, the Hebrew Bible, and the Holy Bible.
I was impressed with the multi faith display, but on closer look, I noticed something odd. There was a chain that ran through the book bindings and was attached to the altar. The shackle allowed visitors to turn pages but prevented anyone from holding the books.
Noting my surprised look, my boss said, “If we don’t secure them, they walk off.”
These days, hospitals rarely exhibit religious books. They avoid the theft risk by encouraging their patients to obtain their own religious literature, either online or from a chaplain.
Still, I worry that the Bible remains a target for thieves. These robbers aren’t deterred with chains because their thievery isn’t a physical act.
These robbers are out to steal meaning from the Bible. The thefts are perpetrated by Bible illiterates who misquote the Bible for their gain. They fleece the scripture of its context in a far-stretched effort to prove their political or theological ideals.
These are the folks who quote apocalyptic scripture to justify storming the capital. They are the ones who paste scriptures on placards and bumper stickers to support their medical opinion.
The best theft deterrent against these thieves isn’t a chain, it’s education. That’s the reason I’m using this annual book column to recommend the world’s best seller — the Holy Bible.
While many of you read the Bible, some of you find its reading a daunting task.
If the latter describes you, the reading might become enjoyable if you’ll first, exchange your grandmother’s King James Bible for a contemporary version. (Find multiple versions online at https://www.biblegateway.com).
If you want the best accuracy, grab a “New International Version.”
However, if you’re looking for readability and understanding, I suggest the one I often use in this column.
“The Message” Bible was published by Eugene H. Peterson in 2002. Peterson was a scholar, pastor and poet who brought the Bible alive in ways never done before.
Don’t worry, you needn’t read the whole Bible. I suggest you begin with a few of the 66 books contained in the religious library called “The Holy Bible” (add 14 if you’re Catholic).
Start with the table of contents and find the book of John.
You can learn a great deal about the teaching of Jesus in this two-hour read. You’ll also find the most quoted Bible verse in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”
Afterwards, supplement your John reading with the active account of Jesus’ ministry in the book of Luke.
Then turn to the Acts of the Apostles to uncover the story of the early church and help you frame the Jesus story with its impact on the known world.
The book of James is the one I encourage all new Christians to read. It’s a practical and powerful how-to guide for faith.
The book of Job (pronounced Jobe) is the one to read if you ever philosophize about the problem of pain in this world. It’s a literary masterpiece that poet Alfred Tennyson called "the greatest poem of ancient or modern times."
Of course, don’t miss Psalms. Originally written as a songbook for the Hebrew people, the book advises that the safest place to keep your Bible will always be in your heart. Psalm 119:11 NIV says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
Multiple books in one collection — the Bible. You can’t beat a deal like that.
If you like books, consider joining Chispa Project in 2023 to help start libraries in Honduras. February 12–19 or March 12 - 19. Details at https://chispaproject.org/volunteertrip
Finally, see the books I wrote at thechaplain.net. Please share your reading recommendations in email to email@example.com or leave a voicemail at 843-608-9715. Support local journalism and become a subscriber. Visit floridatoday.com/subscribe
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Norris Burkes: The best books I read this year | On Spirituality