Guns, Beer, and Biblical Translation

By Paul Koch –­­

Every Tuesday morning, I meet up with three other pastors from my circuit to translate the lessons for the upcoming Sunday. Now, this may seem like a simple task, but I assure you it is not. This habit has had a profound impact on my vocation; it has challenged me, caused me to focus, and even helped me to stay out of trouble a few times. Ideas are batted back and forth between texts as we revel in that great mixture of insults and encouragement that men of almost any age seem to naturally excel at.

But these weekly gatherings are not simple, practical meetings to achieve a set goal. They have a certain unpredictability about them that manages to keep us always desiring to begin our work week in the company of each other.

As an example, consider this week’s gathering:

Jon and I arrived early because I had asked Tim if he would hear my confession before we began our meeting. Tim shut and locked the doors to his study and we followed the order from the Pastoral Care Companion for the rite of individual confession and absolution. I took a deep breath and said, “Pastor, please hear my confession and pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God’s will.” Within moments, I found myself feeling awkward and foolish as I said things out loud that made me ashamed and ugly. In the end, Tim placed his hands upon my head and forgave me in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and set me free in Christ.

After this, I slid a small gun case across the table to Tim. Now, I don’t know much at all about guns. Tim, however, does, and has the training and knowledge to back it up as a former San Diego police officer. He had been trying to get me to go to the range with him. I’m really looking forward to it, but until then, I wanted him to take a look at something. Years ago, I was given one of my wife’s grandfather’s guns, a small Beretta that he brought home from WWII. Long story short, by the time Jon came back into the room, Tim was enthusiastically examining a firearm leaving Jon to think that either the confession went really well or was about to go very wrong.

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No sooner had Tim packed away the gun when Matt showed up dragging a small keg behind him. Remember, this was supposed to be a time for translation work. It turned out that his church had just finished an Octoberfest celebration. There was part of a small keg from Island Brewing Co left over, so he brought it to share.

So there we were, gathered around a small table while sipping on beer, as we worked our way through 2 Timothy, laughing at each other’s mistakes and coming up with great ideas that we will probably never even try to bring to fruition. From Tim’s study, we headed down to our usual lunch spot for the wonder that is Taco Tuesday. More laughs and fun ensued by certain decisions that were not well thought out. In the end, while heading back to Ventura with Jon, we had a conversation about manhood and his fears and excitement in anticipating his first child.

That, in a nutshell, was how my day began on Tuesday. And as I think about it, I realize that it isn’t all that shocking or unusual. Our translation time doesn’t always comes with guns and beer kegs, but it’s as if it was never out of the question that it could happen. And it is this that I find fascinating.

I remember a former professor of mine saying that a fellowship is only worth what it fellowships around. It is what stands at the center of a fellowship that gives that fellowship its meaning and strength. For my little group of brothers on Tuesday mornings, the one thing that is never in question is what we gather around.

We gather around the Word.

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Everything else from laughs over tacos to confession and absolution flow from the Word at the center. What I find that I am always learning to receive is the organic consequence of a living Word of God. That Word that we approach in Greek and Hebrew with second guesses and trembling hands is not relegated to a compartment in our lives. Rather it infiltrates us, it tears down walls of separation, and allows for trust and hope to bloom. The Word gives me the confidence to speak my sins aloud, expect absolution, and share a cold beer and make plans for a subtle takeover of the synod.

It is this same Word that gathers us together in worship and establishes and breathes life into the Church. It’s not just a compartment within your life, not just something you do on Sunday morning and then set aside. When you gather around the Word, you gather around something that is dynamic and powerful. This Word can give you a sure footing and solid foundation on the one hand and free you to do joyful and amazing things on the other. It binds you to brothers and sisters from whom you can expect confession and absolution.

And perhaps, if you’re lucky, you can even expect some tacos.

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