Why the Bible Should be Translated by Texans

The writers of the Bible used a word that's common in Texas vocabulary, but which I've unfortunately never seen in any of our current English translations of the Bible. This is a costly mistake, because failing to use this word completely changes how we see the respective passages of scripture. Therefore, I'm proposing that a group of native Texan-speaking Bible scholars get together and produce a new translation to correct this mistake and finally–because of our love of God and humanity–make appropriate use the all-important word: y'all. (Yes, I'm well aware that Texans aren't the only ones to use y'all. I lived in Georgia for six years, and it was every bit as central in the vocabulary there as it is here. But, like nearly everything good in the world, Texans probably invented it. And I've also previously speculated about the goodness of a Texas Translation of the Bible.)

Like many of us, for the majority of my life, I have tended to read the Bible as if every time that it uses the word "you," it means that the passage in question was intended to be a message from God directly to me. Our preference for individualizing the message of the scriptures is evidence of how we tend to individualize everything in our way of thinking and how difficult it is for us to read the Bible through the lenses of its original audience, who lived with a much more community-centered orientation than we do. (Texans may also be responsible for the invention of individualism, which doesn't play into our favor in the context of this post, but we would be able to correct that by producing this Bible translation.)

This issue first came to my attention several years ago. While living in Guatemala, as part of the process of learning Spanish, I had a Bible which had the Spanish and English translations next to each other on each page. I remember reading through the Sermon on the Mount and noticing that the Spanish used its equivalent of "y'all" throughout the sermon, but the English (apparently translated by a non-Texan) used the less accurate "you." In some passages, perhaps it doesn't make much practical difference, but in general it's a big shift in our thinking to look at a passage as being addressed to a community of people rather than to an individual.

I had been thinking about this for a while, and then it was confirmed in a fantastic book I read last year by Jack Levison called Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life. Jack is far from being a Texan (he was raised in New York of all places!), but he still understands the need for "y'all" thoroughly, and he describes it masterfully in one of the chapters in that book. In reference to the passage from 1 Corinthians 3 which says, "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's spirit dwells in you?", Levison comments:

The “you” in this question is plural and could better be translated by the southern expression “y’all.” The metaphor of the spirit-filled temple occurs in a question posed, not to individuals, but to an entire community: y’all. Growing up, I heard time and again that my body was a temple of the holy spirit. That’s why, I was told, I shouldn’t smoke cigarettes. This was good advice; I am better off for never having smoked cigarettes. Still, this advice shows how easily people can apply a biblical text about communities to individuals. Renowned Pentecostal author Kenneth Hagin does this in The Holy Spirit and His Gifts. “Relatively few Christians,” he writes, “are really conscious of God in them— dwelling in their hearts and bodies as His temple” (26). Oddly, Hagin writes this despite quoting from the Amplified Version of 1 Corinthians 3: 16, which explicitly identifies the temple as the whole community: “Do you not discern and understand that you [the whole church at Corinth] are God’s temple (His sanctuary), and that God’s Spirit has His permanent dwelling in you— to be at home in you [collectively as a church and also individually]?”

He goes on in the rest of that chapter to set the passage from 1 Corinthians in its context, showing how opposed Paul was to those who would cause schisms within God's people. So, consider the difference between interpreting these emphases of 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 as being written to individuals (you) or to a community (y'all):

  • Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's spirit dwells in you?
  • If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person.
  • For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.


  • Do y'all not know that y'all are God's temple and that God's spirit dwells in y'all?
  • If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person.
  • For God's temple is holy, and y'all are that temple.

With my experiment this year, I've also been thinking of the difference this makes in the ways the Bible talks about prayer. Consider, for example, the difference between Jesus saying,

  • "When you pray...[you] pray like this: Our Father in heaven..."


  • "When y'all pray...[y'all] pray like this: Our Father in heaven..."

A really interesting case is with Paul's instruction in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to "Pray without ceasing." Although "you" isn't in the verse in English or any other language, other languages specify whether commands are to an individual or to a group. So, again, there's quite a difference here, and what the scripture actually says is the second of these:

  • "[You] pray without ceasing."


  • "[Y'all] pray without ceasing."

Honestly, if "pray without ceasing" is a command to me as an individual, I don't know how to do that. I know the ways we usually talk about doing that as individuals, like being mindful of God all throughout the day or praying about whatever has our attention throughout the day. Like Levison's example of not smoking cigarettes, these are good advice, but I'm convinced they weren't what Paul had in mind.

Paul was thoroughly an ancient Jew, and therefore his habits of praying would have mostly been shaped by the community's practice of praying the psalms and other prayers at set times of the day (which I describe in Live Prayerfully as "praying with other people's words"). It was natural for the early Christians to continue the practice since it had been part of their Jewish heritage and therefore, shaped the prayer practices of Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, and all the rest.

So when Paul said, "[Y'all] pray without ceasing," I think he was saying, "[Y'all] make sure you don't give up this practice of continually praying as a community."

Then, as Christianity spread around the globe, it appears that a "y'all" interpretation of this verse became even more significant. In Live Prayerfully, I wrote:

An interesting thing about how people have viewed this throughout history is that it is a very practical way for the entire church to literally fulfill Paul’s command to “pray without ceasing.” Tomorrow morning after I wake up, the first thing I will do is to pray morning prayer. But I will do so only after Christians in Johannesburg said their morning prayers while I was fast asleep, and in the next hour another group in the next time zone will pray, and on and on through the night other Christians will wake up in their time zones, say their morning prayers, and then it will finally be our turn here in the USA’s Central time zone. Then it repeats at mid-day, evening, and night, so that constantly, all throughout the world, Christ’s people are praying, and in a very real sense, doing so together and without ceasing.


Something I've prayed this week (and y'all might have too):

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations. (Psalm 67:1-2)

[This is the 29th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully]

Mocked for My Lack of Rhythm

When I played basketball at a very small college, once per year we would go and play a big, NCAA Division I school. The scores in those games usually weren't very pretty, as we were one of the small schools that those big schools would schedule as a "cupcake" game. Aside from the beatings we took, another memory stands out about when we played our DI game my first year: it was my introduction to hecklers. We were playing against Tennessee St., which isn't exactly the cream of the crop of college basketball, but whose team was still several levels above us. They had a pretty big arena, but hardly anyone was there for the game–except for a few guys who probably sat on the front row at every home game and made it their sport to heckle the visiting team. They were good, too. As our team was getting throttled (as I recall, they had nine straight trips down the floor when they hit a three-pointer on us), at least we had something to enjoy from the evening by appreciating the way their hecklers were making fun of us. They made fun of everything about us. They mocked our uniforms, called our coach "Physics Professor" the entire game, and would come up with different things to say to each of us. I wasn't an important enough player on our team to warrant many comments from them, but I still–16 years later–remember laughing at their only comment to me: "Hey #42...I can just look at you and tell you ain't got no rhythm."

I haven't thought about that night in quite a while, but it came to mind today as I thinking about something that happened a few days ago in my year-long experiment: I got a warning sign that I'm losing my rhythm. By this point in the experiment (now five months in), I've experienced how good the rhythms of praying that I've undertaken can be. They provide a method for constantly returning to God, and I'm realizing more and more how desperately I need that.

But there have also been bumps in the road of the experiment. I've had a good number of times when I've completely forgotten to pray. It's most often happened during the evening, and I usually don't realize it until I'm reading night prayers with my wife before going to bed. I avoided forgetting any times for a while in the beginning, but ever since the first time happened and my original streak ended, it's become more frequent.

So, forgetting one of the times for prayer certainly wasn't a first for me. But, for the first time, a few days ago I went to pray night prayers and realized I hadn't prayed at midday or evening that day, nor had I even thought anything about it. I've missed times here and there, but this was the first time that I'd missed two in a row. That caused me to think a bit about how I've gone, from planning my day around praying in these ways in the beginning of this experiment, to now being about halfway through the year and going from morning until night without praying and not even noticing that I hadn't done so. I think the answer has to do with what those hecklers told me: my lack of rhythm.When I began the experiment, I had a rhythm in the evenings of reading my prayers after I put my daughter to bed. But then, somewhere a few months into the experiment my wife and I made a good change and began alternating which one of us would be with our daughter at bedtime and which would be with our son. The rhythm changed, and so did my practices. I still remember to pray on the nights when I'm with my daughter, but–though I certainly enjoy the evenings when I'm with my son, I haven't adjusted my habits accordingly.

People who have practiced these things a lot longer than I have often talk about the importance of having a certain place and time for praying, so that it becomes a habit to be in that place at that time, and when we are–we don't even have to try to remember, but we'll just pray naturally out of custom. When we do something like that every day (or most days) it becomes a rhythm for us.

That's good to pay attention to, and it's also good to pay attention to the flip side of it. When there is some change to our daily routines, we shouldn't be surprised if our spiritual habits also get a bit out of rhythm. When we moved from the U.S. to Guatemala, I was seriously out of rhythm for a while, but after a while I settled into better habits than I had known previously. When we moved back to the U.S. a couple of years later, I was again out of seriously rhythm for a while, but–again–the habits came out stronger after some time. Major changes like that throw wrenches into the works of any good rhythms we may have established. The big changes in our lifestyles usually have big impact, and it may take a while for our habits to resurface in a new way after the changes have settled. I've been aware of that dynamic for a while, but this experiment is helping me to realize that it also comes into play with the smaller changes, like the adjustment in our routine of putting our kids to bed.

Whether the changes are big or small, and our resulting out-of-rhythm-ness is major or minor, I think it's safe to say we can go easy on ourselves. Yes, we want the habits to resurface, but the fact that you may feel like you've lost them in a period of change doesn't mean you no longer love Jesus very much–it probably just means you're out of rhythm for a while. Be merciful to yourself–with intention, they'll come back after some time, hopefully even in better ways than you knew them before.

The good part of this is that every time those changes to our lifestyles come, we have an opportunity to reshape our habits in new ways that are more conducive to the kind of lives we want to live and the kind of people we want to become.


Something I've prayed this week:

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Prayer for the Sixth Sunday of Easter from The Book of Common Prayer)

[This is the 28th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully]

My Preschoolers' Interpretation of a 16th Century Saint

photo-9 Last week, I was driving home from the ranch with my kids in the back seat of my pickup truck. We were about halfway home when I heard my 22-month-old daughter in the back seat begin to say with gusto, "Uhh! Uhh! Uhh!" I looked back to see what she was talking about and saw her pointing out the window at our favorite place to get a burger (Whataburger, of course).

Me: "Do you see Whataburger?" Her: "Yes!" [Pause] Her: "Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat!"

The mention of Whataburger got my 4-year-old son's attention. The boy sincerely loves that place. Earlier this year, while on a trip to visit my wife's family in Missouri (where, regrettably, there are no Whataburgers), we were eating cereal at breakfast, and we had this conversation:

Him: "Hey Dad, how much longer til we get back to Texas?" Me: "It's still going to be a while. Our trip just started. How come?" Him: "It's just–I'm really missing Whataburger." Me [smiling]: "Me too, buddy. But it will still be there when we get back to Texas." Him [frowning]: "I just don't think I can wait that long."

So, back to the conversation after my daughter's, "Eat! Eat! Eat!..." When he heard her saying that, my son looked up from the toys he'd been playing with and realized with a sad resignation that–once again–we were driving so close to his favorite establishment, but instead of stopping we were continuing on right past it on our way home. Then came the memorable question/commentary:

Him: "Dad, why are we spending all of our time not eating at Whataburger?" Me: "Good question, buddy."

He had a good point. He's now been in this world four and a half years, and though (obviously) we're no strangers to Whataburger, he could see that he was letting his life go by, spending virtually all of his time on other things. Why, Daddy, why?

For a long time, I lived my life essentially asking the adult equivalent of my son's question. I had things that were pretty deeply-seated desires in me, but still I spent all of my time not doing them. For example, for years, I thought it would be great to spend a day alone with God–even to make a habit of doing so. I even attended conferences where I chose workshops that talked about doing it, and always left inspired. Yet I still never did it.

It applied to other desires too. I wanted to spend more time with my family. I wanted to spend more time outdoors and less time in an office. I wanted to spend more time in boots and less time in dress shoes. Perhaps most of all, I wanted to live more prayerfully than I was.

You probably have desires like those too, and my son's question about Whataburger applies just as well. Why are we spending all of our time not doing them?

St. Teresa of Ávila wrote about this in the 1500s:

If we have the hope of enjoying this blessing [communion with God] while we are still in this life, what are we doing about it and why are we waiting? What sufficient reason is there for delaying even a short time instead of seeking the Lord...? (From Interior Castle)

It was both a great relief and a scary challenge to me when I realized that the huge majority of the obstacles that were keeping me from living according to those desires were not nearly as external as I'd thought. When it came down to it, my lack of those things was not due to anyone else's fault, but simply to the fact that I had never really intended to arrange all of the parts of my life around them (and, perhaps that desperation hadn't yet driven me to make any drastic changes). It didn't take any nerve to keep living like I always had and continue wishing that things were different.

A huge step for me was my participation in a Transforming Community. I felt like it gave me permission to live the way I'd always wanted, but in the process I discovered that I had never actually needed anyone's permission in the first place. All I needed was God's invitation and some reliable guidance along the way. The invitation had already been given to me, just as it has to you, and good guidance is readily available to us.

(This is where the analogy breaks down, because in this stage of their lives, my kids certainly do need my permission to go to Whataburger.)


Something I've prayed this week:

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Prayer for the Fifth Sunday of Easter from The Book of Common Prayer)

[This is the 27th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully]

I am a Spiritual Weakling, Which is Why I Pray Four Times a Day

I'm figuring out that my experiment for this year is perfect for people, like me, who are utter spiritual weaklings. I'm convinced that way that we often talk about the things we can do to arrange our lives as disciples of Jesus is completely upside-down. We say things like, "This is for those of you who really want to go deeper," giving the impression that a life of discipleship is for people who want to go above and beyond everyone else in churchy things. We frame it as if this kind of life is for spiritual honor students, or for those of us who are really interested in "that kind of thing." Thinking of a lifestyle of discipleship like that is erroneous and harmful, like flying upside-down in an airplane: It may seem fine for a moment, but if we are unaware of it, it won't work for long and some serious damage is coming our way. I'm finding this year's experiment in living prayerfully to be helpful, not because I'm advanced, but because of the opposite: I'm such a spiritual weakling that I can't make it through a single day of living in connection with God without building these re-connections with God into the routine of my regular days. Instead of thinking of this way of praying as being for the equivalent of the olympic long-distance runner, it's more accurate to think of it as being perfectly suited for the equivalent of the preschooler who can't keep their mind on one thing long enough to be able to put on their own pants. I want to live my life as God's friend, and I simply can't get anywhere in my attempts to do so without putting this kind of method into the way I live and having others join in to help me lurch along in these bumbling, blundering, lumbering attempts to follow Jesus.

James Bryan Smith writes about this in The Good and Beautiful Life:

I don't do these things because I want God to love me and bless me, nor to avoid punishment or impress people with my piety. I do all of this to keep the fire burning. I do them because I am spiritually weak. I cannot maintain an effective and joyful Christian life without these activities. I also need weekly times of worship fellowship and host of other disciplines to nourish my soul. When I neglect these things, my soul atrophies. I simply know of no other way to be an apprentice of Jesus.


Something I've prayed this week:

Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper! (Psalm 30:10)

[This is the 25th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully]

Resurrecting My Experiment

When Advent began last year, I committed myself to a year-long experiment and to being public about its progress by writing about it here. The gist of the experiment was that I would push my own advice from Live Prayerfully to its farthest reasonable limit by doing all of the things I talk about in the book every day for a year. (The book doesn't encourage anyone to do all of the stuff all the time–I'm intentionally trying to take things to an extreme.) I was able to stick with it for quite a while, even if it wasn't all very pretty (for a couple of examples, see One Dog, Two Cats, and Four Attempts to Pray and My Bad Christmas Prayer Idea). But then, around the end of February my streak ended of legalistically doing everything I set out to do, when I didn't realize that I had missed morning prayer until I sat down to read midday prayer.

In itself, that wasn't that big of a deal, but–like how in your house when one thing breaks, three or four others are likely to follow–after the streak ended, my experiment began to go downhill. Generally I've kept things up, but it's become more common for me to realize when I go to bed at night that I didn't do something that I'd committed to do as part of this year.

Part of that is due to the fact that I haven't been writing about it. The "40 Days of Prayer" posts that went up daily during Lent occupied all of the writing opportunities I had during those weeks, so apparently my abilities to stick with commitments is weak enough that if I wasn't writing about them, I also became less likely to do them.

But now–the writing project for Lent is behind me, and we're a week into Easter, so I think it's appropriate to resurrect the commitment to the experiment.


Something I've prayed this week:

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Prayer for the Third Sunday of Easter from The Book of Common Prayer)

[This is the 24th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully]

The Streak Ends

Almost three months ago, I set out on an experiment for this year: that I would follow my own advice which I've made available to the world in Live Prayerfully to its farthest reasonable limit by praying in each of the three ways described there (with other people's words, without words, and with my own words) every day for a year. I had quite a streak going. Until yesterday.

One of the methods of praying with other people's words that I describe in the book is a practice that I've become very attached to over the last few years, fixed-hour prayer, which consists of pausing at set times of the day to pray with words that have been passed down to us, including psalms and the Lord's Prayer. The way I've presented it in the book is pretty common, with four times to pause and pray each day: morning, midday, evening, and night.

There's no question that there was quite a bit of fudging that has factored in to my being able to say that I'd kept this streak up for three months. It wasn't unusual for me to forget to pray my midday prayer, for example, until 4 or 5 p.m. Or, particularly with praying without words: multiple times, when I laid my head on my pillow to go to sleep at night, I realized that I hadn't done it at all during the day . So I tried to be aware of God's presence as I fell asleep and I let that count for the day.

The biggest fudges were two days when I didn't realize my neglect of praying without words as I laid my head on my pillow, and it only occurred to me when I looked at my clock around 6:00 a.m. the next morning. I rationalized, "Well, as long as I lay here for a minute and pray without words before falling back asleep and I haven't yet prayed morning prayer, I can still count this on the books as being for the previous day."

The fudges got me by until yesterday, when I pulled out my midday prayers around 1:00 p.m. and realized that I never said morning prayers, and I knew the streak was over. I had a bit of disappointment initially, but then was glad to think back through things as the day went on and pay attention to what has happened.

In the beginning of the experiment, praying in these three ways every day–including pausing at the four times each day, was such a big change from my normal routine that I spent a good deal of time thinking about how I was going to do the praying even before it was time to pray. There was anticipation involved. I had to find routine places, times, and methods for making it happen. I knew that praying without words would be the most difficult of the practices to find time for each day, so I was in the habit of taking the first opportunity that presented itself during the day to practice it.

I can look back over the past few weeks, though, and notice how those things had changed. The anticipation wasn't really there anymore. Rather than planning and feeling like I had my foot on the gas pedal in this experiment, I was coasting along. Rather than taking the first opportunity to pray without words, I was leaving it for the end of the day more often, which was resulting in the necessity of more fudging for the sake of keeping my streak going. The coasting continued until missing yesterday's morning prayer got my attention enough to help me realize what had been happening.

I realize that, in one sense, the entire streak is a bit silly. When I started the experiment, I admitted that–for this year–I was setting myself up to live as an intentional legalist, and I was okay with that. The purpose of the year-long experiment is to push my own advice to its limits and give me some things to write about; the purpose of the experiment is not that I'm encouraging anyone else to pay this much attention to how long their streaks last.

But on the other hand, for myself, I'm becoming fond of this brand of intentional legalism (or as Robert pointed out, perhaps it's better termed as methodism). I've not crossed the legalist line in the sense of thinking that God is disappointed with me because I forgot morning prayers yesterday. But the positive side is that without having publicly given myself these "rules" for how I would pray during these years, I would probably be doing as I had done in every previous year of my life: not making any plans ahead of time about how I would pray, not looking for the opportunities as they present themselves, and therefore not praying as often, and–much more importantly–not living as prayerfully.

So, on to a new streak.


Something I've prayed this week:

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Prayer for the Second Sunday in Lent from The Book of Common Prayer)

[This is the 23rd post from A Year of Living Prayerfully]