Bible Plus Coffee Equals Disaster?

Jonathan Summers poses a question for those of us who enjoy reading the Bible over morning coffee (and worry about getting coffee all over the Bible):

Q. "For those of us who enjoy a good cup of java while reading Bibles, is there anything you can do about coffee stains in pages? My dad once spilled coffee all over Romans 9 in a brand new deluxe ESV."

A. When I was a kid, I used to soak regular paper in coffee to give it the faux parchment look. I discovered the trick in one of those activities for children books -- Step 1 in the "create your own buried treasure map" chapter, I think. The only thing you can do for coffee stains in a Bible is dip the rest of it, too, so you get an even, antiqued look. On hot days, or when your hands warm the pages, your Bible will give off a great aroma, too.

I have a history with coffee catastrophes. At the Genius Desk inside the Apple Store in the Houston Galleria, they used to call me "the guy who poured the latte into his 17 inch Powerbook." I earned this reputation by setting a full 20-ounce cup of Starbucks behind my laptop screen (right by the air vent), then forgetting about it until I knocked it over. The liquid emptied straight into the vent, and I was none the wiser until the screen flickered and went dark. When I picked the computer up off the desk, coffee literally poured from the case. I figured it was done for, but once it had time to dry, everything worked fine. And whenever the cooling fan came on, the air filled with a pleasant coffee aroma.

Not that I learned my lesson or anything.

I had a Compact ESV in tan bonded leather, my favorite "take anywhere" edition at the time, that received a similar christening. The back cover and ever page from the last to somewhere around Ephesians ended up soaked. It was ruined, but I couldn't bring myself to throw it out. So I let it dry and it became quick stiff, like a chunk of plywood had been glued onto the back of the Bible. I even used it in church, always self-consciously, worrying that everyone was looking at my sad little Bible and concluding I had no respect for the Word. These days, I'm not sure you could even tell where the spill was. The stiffness has worked itself out and even the smell is gone.

My advice in the event of coffee stains -- or inadvertent ink stains, or damage of any kind -- is to shrug them off. It's character. A Bible that gets used isn't going to stay pristine for long. If you spill some coffee on it, so what? That just means you were reading it, not keeping it in a protective case. Consider the damage part of the Bible's individual charm. Consider it a patina.

When I received my first Cambridge goatskin-bound KJV, my wife and I were sitting in church and I must have been gazing too fondly at it or something. She decided it would be funny to pretend to write on it. (She likes to tweak my sensibilities in this way.) Only she misjudged the distance and ended up leaving an inky slash across the page. I remember it vividly: a bold, deep gash, as if she'd been crossing out the very words of Scripture. I reacted in horror, naturally, and considered that Bible "ruined." It went back in the box and on the shelf, where it remained a good long while. When I finally took it down to examine the damage -- I had enough emotional distance -- I looked in vain for the nasty mark. Eventually, I found a tiny dash of ink (in the concordance, no less) which bore no resemblance whatsoever to the terrible mauling of my memory. The moral? Whatever the damage, it's not so bad. As a matter of fact, it can be liberating. Until the first mishap, you baby your prized edition. But once it's taken its first battle scar, you don't worry so much. The coffee stain, the ink, the tear . . . they give you permission to use the Bible without any anxiety about how all that touching and turning and flexing will prompt its deterioration!