The Stillborn Voice of John the Baptist

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Masonic Lodge, Grantville

Spring, 1636

 

"So, you are thinking about endowing a chair at the college?" Henne Weber asked John Paul Kindred. Henne Weber, one of the recent inductees into Grantville's expanding Masonic Lodge, spoke good English, despite a strong accent. The lodge operated in English; the possibility of changing hadn't seriously crossed the members' minds. Some quiet discussion cropped up now and then about starting a second lodge or just a new chapter in the current lodge to do business in German. But no one was pushing for it; the old members spoke English and were content. The up-time members assumed that in time it would happen, but that would take someone interested in pushing it forward, which they weren't. So that change would wait until enough Germans who didn't want to learn the rituals in English came along.

Aside from their age, until they started talking, there wasn't a lot to tell the two men apart. They were both about five foot six, skinny as beanpoles, with dark hair and eyes.

"Yes." John Paul Kindred replied. John had been an active member of the Methodist congregation before the Ring of Fire and still was. Taking an active part in the volunteer group handling refugees that first year, he'd held his own despite his age. "When you turn eighty, you start thinking about what you did with your life. Lyle, my son, turned out all right: he runs a newspaper in town that's doing well. He won't need what I've got left when I'm gone. So, yes, I'm thinking about what I can do that will make a difference."

"Were you involved in education?" Weber asked.

"No."

"Well, it seems to me that you would want to do something that reflected on your life. What did someone do that made a difference to you, and can you do the same thing for someone else?"

"I see what you mean. A direct payback acknowledging what someone did that helped." Kindred paused, adding, "That's a good idea. I'll have to think about it."

****

"Reverend Green." John Paul Kindred entered the room with bookshelf-lined walls Albert Green used as an office. This had once been the Jenkins family homestead before becoming the Mountain Top Baptist Bible Institute.

The man's handshake was firm, Albert Green noted, especially for a man of such an obvious age. "What can I do for you, Mr. Kindred?"

Albert almost called him Brother Kindred, but that was almost a pun, and Kindred had, in speaking first, addressed him as "reverend" instead of "brother." Doing so placed himself outside of the circle of the priesthood of all believers, where all are equal. So, calling him mister in return seemed right.

Kindred said, "I'm planning to have a large run of Bibles printed up and then give them away on a radio show. I know you are in charge of the Bible translators' club. And I am told you are the most knowledgeable person in town on the topic. So I've come to you for advice."

Albert Green looked thoughtful. "I'm involved along with Dr. Gerhard and Master Kircher, but I wouldn't say we're exactly in charge. And I wouldn't call them a Bible translating club. It's much less formal than that, and they don't do any translating as a group to speak of. They're more of a voluntary class of mostly high school kids who share an interest in cataloging and studying the early manuscripts than anything else. The three of us teach them, so they do look to us for guidance. But, I'll be glad to give out advice. Still, did you go to your pastor first? The last thing I want to do is step on the toes of a colleague!"

"Yes, I did; she sent me to you." Reverend Mary Ellen was the co-pastor of the Methodist Church in Grantville along with her husband. But he had somehow gotten caught up in diplomatic work, so the day to day running of the church often fell to her, along with Reverend Otto Steiner, the recent graduate from the University of Leiden the church had hired to help with the growing German-speaking portion of the congregation.

"That's fine, then." Green nodded. "What can I do for you?"

"I need to know which version of the Bible most people will be able to understand if they're listening to a radio broadcast from here in Grantville."

"You are going to give them away on a radio show?" Green asked.

"Yes." John Paul Kindred smiled broadly, being one of those rare men, even in his eighties, who kept a full head of hair;, still the shiny blue-black of a crow. His hair contrasted and amplified the flashing white of his smile, which showed teeth not perfect enough to be dentures but still pretty close. Most notably, there was an intelligent twinkle in the man's eyes. "When I was a lad of a boy on the backside of this mountain we got our first radio when the only lights in the house were candles and coal oil lamps. That second-hand radio sat on top of a battery that had to have acid added from time to time. Back then one of our favorite shows was a radio program with a gospel singing group that promised a Bible for free to anyone who wrote in. It was a King James, of course, and I still have mine after all these years, even if it is falling apart. I want to do what Joe Jenkins did when he gave you the farm to start the college. I want to leave something behind that will make a difference. That radio show made a difference in my life."

Albert Green thought of his own graying, thinning hair. Now he had a bare tonsure, the fringe graying on its way to being all-white like his beard when he didn't keep it shaved. "Why give away Bibles?"

"That's obvious, isn't it?" John Paul asked, betwixt shocked and annoyed that Green would ask such a question. "Reading the Bible changed my life. John chapter three says a man must be born again to see heaven. Well, you don't know that, unless someone tells you or you read it for yourself. And you're more likely to listen if you're reading it."

"I see." Albert paused, choosing what to say next. "Brother Kindred," Brother, this time, for Green now realized John Paul Kindred stood clearly inside the circle of brotherhood. He was family. "I've been told there are six or seven distinct dialects within the Grantville broadcasting area, not counting all the emigrants whose first language is something hardly anyone else around here can understand. A dozen different regular social clubs that I know of center around a language, some of them pretty esoteric. I think every bar in town has one or three corners where a language group gathers on a given night of the week—if not night in and night out. If you want the broadcast understood across the board at a spoken German level, then you aren't going to get what you want. But for the most part, you don't have the problem with written German you have with spoken German."

"So, any common German printing will do?" Kindred asked.

"I wish it were that simple." Green sighed. "If all you are worried about is if it can be understood, then yes, it is that simple. But you are not going to get everyone to be willing to read one of the existing translations. Remember, Luther has a translation, and there is a Catholic-approved translation if you can find it. Then Krell's Bible uses Luther's translation with Calvinist margin notes. So, if you want one Bible that everyone will read, the answer is, no, not really. Whichever one you choose, you will offend someone."

Kindred looked downcast. Albert Green took a breath. "Your best bet," Green said, "is to avoid them all. We've got a man in town named Beck who might have your answer. He is finishing up a four-quartered New Testament without any marginal comments. It's designed t—"

"Four-quartered?" John Paul interrupted.

"English and German, side by side, at the top of each page and then a literal word by word translation from English to German and German to English underneath. What he wants is a tool for teaching proper German to us hillbillies. But it works as well for teaching English."

"So you think this four-quarter New Testament will be acceptable to anyone who speaks any form of German?"

"That's pretty broad. But with the high German it is going to come closer than anything else. Without notes, there will be less for people to complain about, and I know for a fact that Beck has done the best he can to keep the controversy down while staying true to the original texts. So . . . if what you are looking for is the hope of people reading it, understanding it and finding atonement then, yes, Beck's four-quartered version will probably be your best choice. And with English in the mix, you can count on some financial assistance you wouldn't have otherwise."

"That will help. I have been wondering just how many New Testaments I could afford to print. I'm sure I can't afford it if each book is four in one." After a short silence, John Paul said, "Reverend Green, my father once told me that if a man hires an expert and then ignores the expert's advice, the man is an idiot. Either for doing so or for hiring the expert in the first place when he knew more than the man he hired. I don't think I'm an idiot. But I still have trouble accepting what you are telling me. If you get me a copy of John's Gospel, I'll have a short run printed up to use in a field test. If this Beck has photo plate-ready texts, my son Lyle just took out a big loan and bought the new printing system for his newspaper. I can get him to print me up a short run."

"I can do that," Green said with a nod. Then he turned to the telephone and made it so.

****

Sunday dinner after church John Paul told his son, "I'd like a hundred copies of the Gospel of John printed up. I can get photo-ready originals for you."

Lyle paused with a bite of ham on his fork. "I'll do four pages, dad. One sheet folded once."

"Lyle, why so chintzy? We're talking about the Bible."

"Which you are going to give away. Right? Dad, do you have any idea how much I'm paying for paper? I'll do the photo plates myself for free, and I'll pay the printer to stay over and help me run a hundred copies. But four pages is all you're getting. That's one piece of paper printed on both sides and folded once. My news delivery boys have a buyback system for the used papers that they sell to the papermakers to be re-pulped. And they make more off of selling scrap paper than I pay them for deliveries. That's just the way it is. If I'm doing this for free, then you're getting one sheet."

"Well, if that is all you will do, I can live with that, I guess."

****

John Paul Kindred took a handful of the one-page newspapers with him the first Sunday after he got a hundred copies from his son. Before Sunday School began, he caught up with Bernard Buhl. He knew the man translated the German sermon to a different German dialect for his group, sitting together in one of the back corners of the sanctuary during the German-language service every week. The adults of that same group gathered in the same corner for Sunday School before the worship service.


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About Terry Howard

I have in my life been paid for working as, in or at: lawn care, onion topping, haying, fruit picking, general farm labor, fast food, retail, truck driver, construction, gear stacker, stock puller, truck loader, ice house production, auto body/paint shop, janitorial, tutoring, printer’s assistant, stage actor, plastic extrusion, sculptor, teacher, bus driver, direct sales, title examiner, interior decorating, route delivery, waiter, deck hand, marine engineer, reftan/dairy hand, aluminum extrusion and stamping, kosher chef, ren-fair manager, general contractor, landlord, several other things that I do not care to mention and, now, for writing.

I was born in Michigan City Indiana, where my father worked as a machinist while pastoring a General Baptist Church, which makes me a Hoosier, but in my family a Hoosier is an Ozarky who didn’t make it to Detroit. It has been said, and I attest to the truth, that the Celts are alive and living in the Ozarks under assumed names.

I have lived in nine states and abroad. After dropping out of high school to go to college I have studied formally in two colleges, one university, and one graduate school. I have learned much more from studying informally in other settings. My wife, Lauri, and I currently live in California.