i've been sitting on this post for some time now, hemming and hawing about actually writing it, but, well, holy week seems about as good a time for a confession as any. so here goes.
when i was a young teenager, maybe 13 or 14, my grandparents asked me if i wanted a bible. but not just any bible. it was the bible recorded on audio tapes. i guess they got it somehow and no longer wanted it, and wondered if i would like it. now, let's be clear about one thing: i was a pretty good church kid. i mean, i was a teenager like any other, and i had my junk, but in the grand scheme of things, my main form of rebellion was growing a curly mullet and listening to stryper. when i listened to amy grant singing "baby baby," which was pretty clearly not about Jesus, i felt like a wild child.
so, when my grandparents offered me the bible on cassette (oh, i nearly forgot: kids, a cassette was a small plastic cartridge that contained a metallic tape substance inside it, wrapped around two reels. you put it in a cassette or tape player and it would turn the reels and read what was recorded on the metallic tape, playing it for you to hear. if you were really cool, you had a small cassette player called a "walkman" that you could carry around.) they had good reason to do so. i was already a regular bible reader at that age, usually equipped with a set of colored pencils to underline and highlight any and everything that seemed underlinable.
but when they opened that soft plastic case to show the audio bible to me, i have to admit that i didn't see the inspired or infallible word of God therein. nope, i saw a blank canvas of some 16 cassettes being offered to me. i'm quite sure i almost too enthusiastically received this offering, which probably caused no small delight for my grandparents (and maybe my parents, too?). "What a good boy," they might have thought. "How many teenagers want to listen to the Bible on tape while also reading it - AND underlining it too? we are so proud of him."
and i'm sure i did nothing to redirect any praise that might have come my way.
but now it is time for my confession. those tapes weren't about the bible for me. they were about the tapes. even though they weren't meant to be re-recordable tapes, i knew how to fix that. just a little bit of chewing gum in the little open cubes at the top of the cassette, covered with some scotch tape, and that baby was ready to pop into my boom box. and not only did i have one, but i had 16 of them! at 90 minutes each that was 24 hours of blank tape at my disposal! i was like a kid in a candy store, or a devout Christian in a bible store.
and why did i so enjoy the idea of so much blank tape?
because i loved the radio.
even though my tapes were all of the christian ilk: petra, michal w. smith, stryper, whiteheart, whitecross, and pretty much white-anything, i spent plenty of time secretly listening to pop radio out of lexington, kentucky. and i loved it. there was something so different about the way it sounded from what had been deemed safe by (or for) me. it was probably also the rush of knowing that i was doing something i felt was disapproved. so i listened on. but i didn't want to have to wait to hear "man in the mirror" by michael jackson or "jump jump" by kris kross, so i started recording these songs onto tape. as a song would near its end on the radio, i would take my position next to the boom box, fingers poised and ready to pounce. as soon as the next song began, if it was one i wanted to preserve, i would quickly press the record button, and then i would have "right now" by van halen to listen to anytime i want to.
i still have them.
when i was supposed to be listening to the book of james, and thinking about taming my tongue, i was instead nodding my head to the infectious rhythms of boyz II men, en vogue, and paula abdul. i had the audacity to put labels over top of the factory labels on the cassettes, and call my own tapes "radio stuff." in the picture below, you can see my blasphemy in full bloom. you can see right through my "radio stuff" label to the king james-like script below it, like a finger of shame pointing right at me, proclaiming "The New Testament." that may be all that is written on the cassette, but it is really saying, "this was the holy bible, you heretical little punk."
there, now i feel better. i still have all those tapes, and every once in a while, for kicks and giggles, i pull one out and give it a listen. and i am reminded of grandma, who is no longer with us, and who thought i was listening closely to the book of hebrews as i meditated on how Jesus is our new high priest. i have a feeling she isn't too disappointed to know that it was really one of the ways that i was exploring the world through music. i even think she'd be delighted to know that i became an ordained minister, and a father of 3 amazing boys. i have studied the bible in pursuit of my own faith, and in pursuit of a masters degree. and i have continued to listen to pop music, to world music, to gospel and bluegrass, opera and jazz, hip hop, rap, soul, funk, metal, blues, and anything else i can get my ears around. i have discovered hope and truth and freedom and beauty in all this music, so it has served as part of God's revelation to me: a kind of scripture. and it all started with grandma and papaw's bible on tape.