It is the holiday season of 2018, and after the feasts, gifts and parties, in the quiet time, I often return to my oldest friends. Some of these have been with me since I could first read. They often are said to be obsolete or about to be replaced with electronic versions, and that makes them all the more precious to me. I have read, embraced, questioned, been challenged by and often inspired by these friends. Let me introduce some of them to you. Forty plus years ago a friend drove from Austin to Ft. Worth, to bring this set of the "Great Books" to me and said "Read them all and you will have a deeper education." It was the best investment I have every made. I have found that life and experience is a great professor, but these books may represent an additional "Post Graduate Degree." I have read all of them except two, and some I have read and referred to them many times over the years. They are good friends. The Great Ideas concept reminds us of how few "great ideas" our political leaders seem to have. We as a nation need to pick better people, with a great education and knowledge of the great ideas of history, to represent us. Vision and wisdom, judgement and depth, that is what we as a nation should seek in those we elect.
Then there are these: I have a selection of holy books of most major religions of history. I determined not to judge other religions not having any knowledge of them. Something more people should do. Amazing how similar their views on ethics, integrity and character are, even when they come from different nations, ages and traditions. Some of my friends are ancient Bibles published in the 1800's or before. I cherish them not only because they are old, but because they have an artistic, respectful power. Those books were considered sacred treasures to the families and scholars who bought them. It shows if you look.
Most people don't realize that the original 1611 King James version of the Bible was revised and corrected more than 180 times in the early years after it was published. Then the later great works of the Bible, done with personal paintings, engravings, some made from woodblock, are from another era. They are beautiful and all out of print. One of my favorites is the story of the "Blind Leading the Blind" in one ancient Bible series. I saw one ancient "Family Bible" and asked the dealer/collector what he wanted, and he said $800. I wrote a check and it is worth 100 times that to me. See the blind man leading others and falling into a ditch. Done with art, mingled with the typeset words it made images that people held in their minds for a lifetime, brought life to the old messages. Even as a child I remember these images that my Sunday school teacher showed me, they brought the Bible to life, and it forever impacted my thinking and views of those old biblical stories.
Those old masters edged the paper of the bibles with gold to preserve but also to signify the "value as of gold" of the words within. To them, the old Bibles were of great value, and one would not throw them around but would handle them with great respect. For example, one would never read a Bible in a bathroom. That would be disrespectful. Respect is a trait that my old friends taught and represented, something we might learn from them these days. I spent $450 just having one 'restored' by a craftsman in Dallas. It was so precious, and when we moved to Albuquerque, an old Mexican carpenter was so taken by it, that he took it. I have never seen him or that precious Bible since. He as an old, poor carpenter saw the value and beauty of it, and so, I thought..."If anyone would love a Bible so much as to steal it, perhaps it will bless him." But who knows, this is Albuquerque, NM you know, I think of it, when in the Bible I it says "You have made my house a den of thieves".
Some of the books of ancient and diverse religions of our world history are challenging and require repeated review, because their language and style of communication was and is different. But I find them challenging and encouraging. They inform me of the emergence and family relationship of "humanity." What it means to be an excellent or good person in this life. Note this classic verse from the 1611 King James version, I love this quote: I have often thought that we should make modern day politicians memorize this verse or "song." Among all of the ancient religions, there are verses that say:
"Thou shalt not kill, thou shall not steal, honor thy father and mother, care for the widows and the orphans..." on and on.
They are common commands ethics of human life. The Zoroastrians (in ancient Babylonia) had commandments which were similar, yet predated the Hebrew Ten Commandments. They believed in one God, good and evil. Indeed historians now say that much of Judaism came from Zoroastrian teachings and structure. The Hindus had similar ethical rules, and then later the Buddhists created a long list of ethical standards. Buddha said: "Even if you speak a harsh word to someone you have at some level hit him, even words can kill a person." Joseph Campbell circled the globe, in study and respect for other religions, and I followed his example, visiting some 20+ nations, sitting with their great thinkers, and studying their thoughts. In almost every case, we found that we had more in common than the cosmetic differences of style and culture.
Those old Bible books of the 1700's and 1800's were precious, often filled with art and engravings. Check these out from one of my friends, an old Bible, well over 150 years old that I also had restored:
This is the first page of the book. See how beautiful the art of my old friend is. It says: "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth"......that was later revised to say, "Heavens and the earth" in some versions. "And the earth was without form, and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, and God said: "Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness." Wow, what a way to begin a book!. Those words go deep into our minds, they were 'hard wired' into generations of people, largely because they were so well presented in those old books. Note above the art work, describing a beautiful place of trees, a waterfall, lake and nature.
My collection of friends continues to modern books: Deepak Chopra is friend of ours and we like his thinking. He is respected by religious leaders of all faiths. He was named one of the 10 most influential writers in America by Time Magazine a few years ago. His Future of God is an eye-opening examination of deep spirituality, and how our concepts of God, if we open our eyes, can go deeper and deeper.
I have walked the steps of Pol Pot in Cambodia and seen first hand true evil in the stacks of skulls of people he tortured and killed. The Pol Pot Regime points out that people like Pol Pot, Hitler, and other despots in history have burned books or tried to destroy "freedom of the press." Despots do not seem to like my friends who bring enlightenment.
But I also enjoy V.S. Naipaul's "Beyond Belief," his "Islamic excursions among the converted peoples" that help us understand that even Islamic ideas of purity clash with economic and political realities. Indeed, religion, as this book points out, is often co-opted by religious and economic powers. Thus religion becomes distorted, a way of manipulating people who wish to be religious, into doing some very "unspritual" things. Naipaul won the Nobel Prize, yet most Americans have never read him. He is a good friend that I wish to introduce to you.
Water, Helix Water -- water, one of the essential elements of existence -- is ever a growing subject, and soon the world will realize and have to understand that water is soon to be no longer to be free but will have to be purchased, at higher and higher prices. We are also learning that even water can have a memory. Ah, the things we have still to learn of our existence and this world, things that our friends can teach us.
Water, for example, may be more valuable than oil.
Joseph Campbell, one of my favorites, who taught me that "Transformations of Myth Through Time" are essential to understanding love, life and spirituality. Thomas Jefferson's writings, even his translation of the Bible, are full of insights. He said: "The Bible and story of Jesus is so powerful, it does not need stories of miracles to change lives." Everyone should get a copy of the "Jefferson Bible."
"Light from the Ancient Past" by Finegan is an incredibly well documented study of spiritual growth and teachings from history. On and on, I have hundreds of friends I would love to introduce to you.
It has been said, "If you wish to know a person, read his library," and there is truth to that. Because I often go back and meditate on what my "friends" have tried to tell me. Now meet Shabnameh, the ancient poetic history of old Persia, showing the great conflicts of Persia and the Arab world and how much current Iranians still follow ancient Persian and Zoroastrian traditions in spite of Islamic "control" of their nation. And then there is "Thomas Jefferson, the Art of Power," by Meacham, an insightful book that modern politicians should study.
One of the most creative and riveting books just for fun, is the SWORD OF THE VALKYRIE, by Julie Clark, a writer, nurse (devoted to kids and elderly), of farming folk near Lubbock, Texas. The book has a wooden cover, and pages written in script, of "leather like" paper. The originals sold for a high price, and the few still available are bringing $500 each. It is wonderful to hold and to show to your friends. The story about a mythical woman who is fighting for her mountain people, (all women) who live in high castles, to protect them from heathen savages (mostly men) who wish to take the mountain kingdom (and all of the women) as their own. Her magic heirloom is a sword, but her real magic is her beauty and skill at leading and fighting for her people. It is a fun read, one of the best new books we have seen. When I picked it up one night I found myself still reading at sunrise. Could not put it down.
Julie is an excellent "fresh" writer and this book won several national awards. Each copy is hand crafted, and if you can find one, get it. They are a unique collector's item, I cherish mine. We have been hoping the book would come out in paperback, but for now, the beautiful wood cover version will have to do. Watch Julie, every so often she comes out with a gem of creativity.
Now let me share, if you are patient but wish to be moved, some elements of a book (a friend) that Mark Twain would not allow to be published until after his death. He said: "Truth is in this book, and it can be dangerous for the writer." (Credit: "Mark Twain," a biography by Paine, Harper and Brothers, 1912). Twain's "War Prayer" is amazing, and I have only included portions of it. Buy it, read it. It is powerful. You will see why. It is the story of a man who walked into a church during the Civil War, and the congregation was praying for the victory of their "boys" at war.
These are excepts of what he said was what "God is really hearing from your prayer of war." We give credit to the remarkable drawings by John Groth, which he drew in 1968. They are magnificent, and you should, if it is available, buy the book by Perennial Library published 1968. Mine has turned yellow with age and wear, but it is a classic and can be "your friend." It will make you think twice when you watch news reports of another nation being bombed and people's lives blown to pieces.
In light of the conflicts of today, wars in our world taking thousands of lives, some killed by the acquiescence of American forces, some killed by American guns and bombs, and some killed by "friends" of the USA. As we sit comfortably and watch the TV news, no doubt Mark Twain's prayer, should cause us to think of the blood that Americans have on our hands. We are unconsciously allowing our government to do things to children and families that no angel of God would respect in our prayers. Twain, by writing this book, created a new friend, THE WAR PRAYER for us. His vision of the cruelty of war and how that often even religious people get carried away by politics, when they should consider the "voice that God hears" as they practice their prayers.
I hope you enjoy meeting some of my friends. But now let me introduce you to, as my old college professor said, 48 years ago, THE MOST IMPORTANT AND USEFUL BOOK OF ANY LIBRARY. I must say, this must be one of my best friends. Kind of dry and unexpected, but full of life and meaning.
Notice that I have put the "Bull of growth and optimism, and the Bear of hibernation and fear" on either side of it. The Dictionary has them all. Even with the internet there is comfort in picking this book up, and looking at words, their etymology, their shades of meaning. And with every article, every book, we bring in new words and new meanings. It is a means of creation that we can all participate in. Create words, create sentences, create articles and books, and create a new world of friends with every word. Now go forth. Read. Visit a bookstore. Think. Write. Send me your creations and live creatively and thoughtfully.