Posted by: trevormeers | February 22, 2012

Truth Is Always In Fashion

The classic design--sober as a circuit-riding preacher's black coat.

The office assistant swooped through my door with her routine, sing-song announcement of “Stuff for you!” and dropped a box on my desk. She shows up often, since editing a magazine makes a person the target of steady mailings of promotional items, known industry-wide as “swag.” Public-relations people hope that if they ply enough editors with their goods, at least a few will try them out, find them delightful and put them before a few million readers. This “spray and pray” approach means most swag deliveries miss the target, like parachute supply drops falling one valley over. I’m currently staring at an office table loaded with a desktop scanner/digital filing system, a piece of plastic decking with my name branded into it, CDs of a college choir singing Christmas music and a cap for a pet shop. About half of that might have a shot at publication with us, and I’m working hard to figure out a story angle on the rental yacht recently offered to me for a few days of complementary cruising.

This week’s box represented a new item to wash in on the tide of swag. I pulled out a cover sheet titled “See What’s Blooming This Spring!” and started reading. “Are you looking for a new and fun accessory for spring?” (My goodness yes!, I almost whispered aloud.) “Try a Bible for a change. Acme Publishing unveils its new line of fashion Bibles for 2012. Unexpected and beautiful, these Bibles come in a variety of styles and colors sure to transform your wardrobe—from everyday casual to your Sunday best.”

Before going further, full disclosure requires me to state that my church background lands somewhere between a rowdy Puritan and the most bashful member of a mega-church. We don’t clap in church, no matter how good the music. We don’t let people use handheld microphones, which might give off the vibe of a pop star. We leave onions and mushrooms out of casseroles at potlucks because a lot of the congregation finds them too exotic. We still have a Sunday evening service, and make a big deal of being in it on Super Bowl Sunday. And my career as a deacon nearly ended before it started when I forgot to wear a sport coat on the first communion Sunday of my term.

As you can tell, the new spring line isn't actually offensive in and of itself. The marketing, however.....

But I don’t think you have to wear a suit and say “thou” when you pray to feel there’s something a little hinky about marketing Bibles as fashion accessories. The box that came to me included several sample copies, which featured leather covers died in pastel colors and festooned with adorable dots and flowers. One Bible came in its own zippered case called “The Bible Clutch.” According to the press release, “it’s a necessity for the girl on the go.”

Throughout my youth, the only Bibles I knew were like Henry Ford’s Model Ts. You could have it in any color you wanted, as long as you wanted black. (And any version you wanted, as long it was King James, which is definitely not the New King James.) Every Bible that people actually carried to church was more or less alike. Somber black leather cover, maybe with your name etched in gold in the bottom-right corner (a great tool for discovering people’s middle and maiden names, I learned early on). A couple of thin ribbons used for marking your place. That sheer, gilded-edge paper you’d never seen in another book. And an appendix full of maps shot through with arrows representing Paul’s missionary journeys. A few older folks had Bibles with a bonus stuffing of old church bulletins that could provide an important archive if anyone ever decided to write a church history. Kids prone to cheating at “sword drills” (racing to find a passage the teacher shouts out) had pages with little plastic tabs that told them where the books were.

Overall, this serious, standard-issue look sent an important message about the contents inside. This book was packaged like no other because its content was like none other. Pastors don’t wear shorts into the pulpit (at least none I know), and Bibles don’t run around in bright colors.

Even when I was kid, though, this was loosening up. Zippered Bible cases appeared, providing a better way to carry the old bulletins, sermon notes and church budget sheets people handed you in the hallway. Camouflage Bibles popped up, playing off the “I’m in the Lord’s Army” theme that made perfect sense to me in Sunday School songs, but started sounding a little militaristic when I grew up and heard non-believers talking about it. New looks often corresponded with new translations. In the ‘70s, people started showing up with “The Word,” which was some kind of modern translation that, to my 8-year-old mind, surely advocated smoking pot, based on all the cover photos of men with long hair and bell bottoms.

For the mega-church goer who spends every Sunday leaning on the church coffee bar, thinking, "If only my Bible were cased so that it could withstand being runover by a Humvee."

Gradually, Bible makers glommed onto popular mainstream brands, with Bible covers like those that look like a football and are labeled “NFL: New Found Life.” Sometimes, these products prove that the free market does its job by wrist-slapping companies that go too far. When I recently looked in the “Discount” section of a Christian bookstore’s web store, it featured deep price cuts on Bibles plastered with “BAD: Born Again Disciple.”

Despite the fact that a lot of these Biblical reimaginings run counter to my personal taste, I try to stay open-minded. There were plenty of old coots getting their wigs in a knot when the Bible went from a work hand-copied by monks to something cranked out on printing presses. And you can search all of Scripture in vain for a verse dictating that a 10-year-old girl must carry a Bible that looks just like her grandpa’s. All I’m hoping is that every one of us takes what’s between the covers seriously and treats the physical volume with the respect due its Author. The Bible compares itself to many things, including fire, light, water, food and sword. But I’m pretty sure God doesn’t position his written Word as a trinket that “perfectly accessorizes any outfit for any occasion, playing off all the colors in your closet.”



  1. Good stuff, thank you! Love the full disclosure and appreciate your open mind.

  2. Too funny-true. thank you for writing in clarity. Have a great day. Kathy on Cape cod formerly of Dayton IA…love the Iowa in all of us.

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