This is the 110th anniversary of the Gideons, “an interdenominational association of Christian business and professional men who are members of Protestant/evangelical churches. Our members are dedicated to saving the lost through personal witnessing and the distribution of God's Word in more than 180 countries around the world.” These are the people who put Bibles in millions of hotel rooms around the world. I am a huge fan.
First I love the Bible, or at least those few lines that I consider compelling. Second, I can’t recount the number of times when I needed to look up a biblical passage during one of my weekend Bible seminars only to find I had forgotten to pack my own Bible. No worries, mate. Just open a drawer in a hotel room and voila! A Gideon Bible! True it is a Protestant Bible and therefore lacks some of the cooler books found only in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, but it is better than nothing.
The idea for donating Bibles to hotels came to John H. Nicholson and Samuel E. Hill (who, I think, was already famous for coining the phrase “What in Sam Hill is going on around here?”) in the last years of the 19th century. The two men met in the autumn of 1898 at the Central Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin where they were forced to share a room due to overcrowding. I have no idea why there was not enough room at the inn, but it could have been because the town was about to launch its two most success franchises: Bosco chocolate syrup and Boscobel Mexican restaurants. The latter eventually changed its name to Tacobel and its slogan from “North of the Border” to “South of the Border.”
Exactly how it happened I don’t know, but I suspect the two men sharing a hotel room feared what most men forced to share a hotel room with other men fear: uncontrollable homoerotic urges, and needed to find a Bible to save them from their fantasies. Not finding one and wishing to save other men who might someday find themselves in this situation, the two men decided that no hotel room should ever be without a Bible. I agree. I would just put a pack of condoms alongside the Holy Book as well. I’m pro-life.
In any case, they created the Gideon organization in 1899, and it wasn’t long before hotels around the world started stocking their rooms with Gideon Bibles. The rest, as they say, is pre-apocalyptic history. But the world has changed since 1899. Two men sharing a hotel room is no longer a frightening ordeal, and the Bible is no longer the only world scripture worthy of hotel rooms.
Two years ago I was hired by Scarritt-Bennett, a fabulous 130 bed Nashville retreat center, to write a world scripture with commentary that would be published in small quarterly pamphlets and placed in their rooms alongside the Bible. With the collapse of the economy, the project came to an end, but the need for a World Bible is more pressing then ever. What we need is an Ethical Scripture drawn from the World’s Religions, an anthology of 365 daily readings that could be produced cheaply and donated to hotels around the world. At first the Book would be written in English, but I envision translating the book into Gaelic as well. Unfortunately I can’t afford to hire myself for this project. If you know people who can, please put them in touch with me. If you don’t, start sending pairs of men to stay in hotel rooms together and see what comes up.