The Rev. Jesse Truvillion is blessed with a storyteller's voice.
When he speaks, even distracted bystanders find themselves pressed to pay attention to his earnest, righteous tone.
But Truvillion, 65, the pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in West Jacksonville, admits that for all his talents, he's working with great material: a 66-book set of ancient stories that has sustained generations of African- Americans struggling against slavery and its enduring race-tainted aftermath.
"The Bible is a story of overcoming," he said.
Despite the ups-and-downs of everyday life, blacks in America have endured fortified by the central message that "you are not alone in the struggle, God is with you," Truvillion said.
This Sunday, Truvillion and his church will celebrate the Bible and its deep roots in the spiritual and cultural life of the African-American community.
The church will honor the African-American Jubilee Edition of the Bible, released last fall by the New York City-based American Bible Society in high-profile ceremonies around the country.
This Bible, available in the Contemporary English Version or the traditional King James, contains an additional 283-pages comprised of 17 scholarly essays. These pages are dotted with color images that celebrate the black church experience.
Some of the essays examine the intimate relation of the Old and New Testaments to black spirituality and the distinctive preaching, worship and musical forms that define black churches.
Others probe the subjects of blacks and race in the Bible, slavery in the ancient world and the linguistic relationship between Hebrew and African languages.
This interpretive material, according to the authors, is put forward in the spirit of Jubilee, the ancient biblical rite undertaken every 50 years as a celebration of freedom and God's blessings.
The decision to produce this edition of the Bible resulted from a series of disturbing focus groups the Bible Society held in 1994.
"What we discovered was that teenagers and young African-Americans repeatedly indicated to us that they had a sense of being disconnected from the family of God," said the Rev. Fred Allen of the Bible Society.
Creating a Bible capable of drawing in youth seemed a promising way to combat this sense of alienation, especially for the Bible Society, a non-profit group founded in 1816 to translate, produce and distribute the Bible without doctrinal comment.
Among the blessings that Allen wants a new generation of blacks to appreciate is the Good Book itself.
"The Bible was without a doubt the most important book, the most important spiritual influence, that produced the tenacity and strength of mind and spirit that we exhibit as a people," he said. …