About The Words
photo: Lee Cantelon in New York City
"We are called to become something other than what we would have been if the call did not exist..are not permitted to remain passive, but are called upon, by these words, to illuminate
a world of spiritual and social darkness."
It all began with a conversation. Scott C., a good friend of mine, was describing his most recent spiritual journey. He had just returned from the Amazon where he had lived in the jungle, explored tribal spirituality, used hallucinogenic drugs, and nearly ruined his health, all in an effort to satisfy his search for spiritual peace. Having returned to London , he was exhausted and despairing, with so many burning questions left unanswered. During this conversation, I suggested that he attempt to study the words of Jesus.
I'll never forget the look of disappointment that crossed his face. "The Bible?" he sighed. He had been raised in the Church of England, and this experience had left him with no interest in returning. I then promised him something that would become an all-consuming commitment. "I'll find you a book, one with just the words of Jesus, so you don't have to read them from a Bible. If I can't find such a book, I'll put one together for you."
The next day, I went to Foyle's, one of London 's largest bookstores, where I searched the shelves without finding the kind of Jesus-word book I had suggested. Later, in the quiet of my lodgings in Chelsea , I began copying the words of Jesus from the Gospels to a spiral bound notebook, arranging them by topic in an effort to make it easier to grasp.
That summer, I moved back to the United Sates, to Boston . There, I became acquainted with several seminarians and members of the American Bible Society. I spoke with anyone who would listen about my project and received a surprising amount of encouragement. By this time, I had begun devouring all the translations of the Gospels I could get my hands on, along with commentaries, especially the writings of William Barclay. Ever present in my research was a sense of how little I really knew about the content of Christ's message. The more I studied, the more at odds so many actions and programs performed in his name seemed to be. (I grew up with this and now wonder how this can be so different from what I've witnessed in the church!)
The words of Jesus resound with a challenge to a world burdened by greed, self-righteous religion, and pride. The Jesus I discovered spoke a message of humility, one that did not emphasize a vengeful God, but one of love. His words were filled with mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. A new kind of kingdom was being introduced in his words, accessible to all; men, women, Jews, Gentiles, slaves, kings, free, lost,
Illuminated, and illiterate. All that was required was that we become “like children” and hold fast to this kind message that offers the stern command, “open your hearts!” How this has become so much dogma, who can understand? And understanding, to recognize his invitation to our right to become “children of God.” Is no great feat.
A great many people came to my assistance throughout the process of its completion. I would like to especially thank Ray Pritz at the Bible Society in Jerusalem for his patience and encouragement. Barclay's expository writings remain a great way to further explore Jesus' words, as do the works of Kenneth Scott Latourette. I am grateful for Oxford University 's God's New Covenant with Man, an inspired translation.
My friend, Rickie Lee Jones, put it this way:
”The words of Jesus remain a ‘soft dream' that falls night by night, until the soul is ignited with courage. Our hearts, that did not sing until now, are filled with hope that did not yet dare to dream of freedom from poverty and oppression. With faith, what one feels is the Truth, and the truth, while difficult to teach, is immense. It is easy to learn. We have Christ among us, speaking through each of us, if we choose to listen. We have Christ and though there are few words, they are enough, they are enough to last two thousand years. In spite of so much distortion of His will and meaning, they reverberate clearly in the good work of so many Christians who may not even know they are ‘followers.'”
For me, as the “accidental translator,” Jesus' words radiate with new definitions of prayer, the role of women, unity with God, the ethical treatment of all members of society, and the sanctity of all life. Twenty centuries later, they retain their power to stir, challenge, and heal.
The result of my journey is this book, called simply, The Words, a work I never planned to create. From day one it was a labor of love, written for an audience of one. What was created for one friend has gone on to touch many new "friends" around the world.
photo: Barry Murry at his home in Olympia, Washington, 2000
I must leave space to thank Dave and Dee Dee Murry for their dedication to publish The Words online (www.thewords.com). They came to the project through their brother Barry Murry, who passed away in 2001, my good friend and partner. How many people have discovered these words via the World Wide Web? That number continues to grow. With Craig, Sandy, Norm, Wendel, and my father Willard, we formed The Words Group, and continue to dream together of new ways to carry this message to the four corners of the world.
I continue to pray that The Words will remain true to its original purpose. Whenever I hear the recording of Issam Khoury reading his Arabic translation or receive unexpected news, such as when the Chinese translation was so favorably reviewed in the Beijing press, I know that this prayer has been answered, even more powerfully than I ever might have dreamed.
I'm ever grateful to David Sanford for working with Tim Beals on the Credo House Publishers Edition, and to Mark Arnold for his brave and uncompromising design. I hope it reaches many first-time readers.
May these words take you on a similar voyage of spiritual joy, to discover a light that shines brightly in a dark world. Sholom Ash, the novelist and essayist, wrote, “Every word of Jesus has something for us all. He has become the light of the world.”
To this I must add, and herein lies the difference, I believe, between religion and a personal commitment that transcends religious thinking, words Jesus spoke to his followers: “You are the light of the world. You are like a city built on a hill that cannot go unnoticed. Let your light shine brightly before all people.”
We are called to become something other than what we would have been if the call did not exist...are not permitted to remain passive, but are called upon, by these words, to illuminate a world of spiritual and social darkness. Shine brightly then, and be noticed! Become a beacon of hope, and share this Good News.
Los Angeles , California
the table of contents