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DANA D. KELLEY: A new sight to see

by Dana D. Kelley | March 30, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

There are museums for just about everything. By the government's most recent estimate, there are more than 35,000 different museums spread out over our 50 states.

Arkansas is home to some 135 museums, located in 50 of our 75 counties, which means there's likely one pretty close if you're a Natural State resident.

Most museums are small enterprises, dedicated to decidedly narrow subject matter in scope and locality. Nine out of 10 report revenue of less than $10,000 annually.

The large, major museums are nothing less than spectacular. True to the defining mission of such institutions, they have been established and philanthropically funded to excite our senses, stimulate our intellect and leave us awestruck and amazed. They not only conserve, collect and display objects and artifacts of historical, cultural, artistic and scientific significance and importance, but they do so with creativity and flair.

The top seven museums as measured in annual attendance are all in either Washington, D.C. or New York City--the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian, the National Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art each attract more than six million visitors every year.

But for all those tens of thousands of museums formed across the 24 decades since America's founding, what is often fondly referred to as the Good Book has been the core focus of only a handful of minor museums. That is, until last November, when the 430,000-square-foot, half-a-billion-dollar Museum of the Bible opened in Washington, just three blocks from the Capitol.

This weekend will mark the first Easter season for the only such museum solely devoted to inviting all people "to engage with the Bible."

In a city full of inspiring sights and museums, by all accounts the Museum of the Bible warrants a spot on the "must-see" list of anyone with an interest in Christian theology.

Hundreds of thousands of people have already visited the six-floor sensation, which in addition to amassing and exhibiting 40,000 items related to biblical history is a daunting preservation and renovation project on its own. The museum is housed in the 1923 Terminal Refrigerating and Warehousing Co. building, which has been restored and modernized to better-than-new condition.

To begin their tour, visitors first encounter a set of entrance doors commensurate with the gargantuan nature of both the building and the Bible's story: 40-foot high, 5,000-pound bronze doors engraved with the famous opening words of Genesis 1 from the Gutenberg Bible.

Once inside, each city-block-sized floor is themed. The second floor, for example, explores "The Impact of the Bible," and promises visitors a discovery experience of the many surprising places the Bible has had influence, often by being "hidden in plain sight."

The third floor addresses "Stories of the Bible," another immeasurable font of source material, and features a walk-through replica of Nazareth Village.

The Bible has figured prominently in human civilization for millennia, and the Museum of the Bible has not only thought through displaying almost everything imaginable about the book itself, but also developed and attracted exhibits of archaeology, antiquities and arts that relate to its history.

Admission is free (though, as with many nonprofit museums, donations are encouraged).

Naturally, in our uber-polarized society, naysaying about the Museum of the Bible was voiced early on from predictable quarters. It is a phenomenon of museum-caliber that the most shrill anti-Christian critics can err totally in their predictions and yet persist in framing discussions around things that didn't happen.

Grave and dire warnings were issued before its opening about the museum being nothing but a mammoth proselytizing propaganda effort by its founders, the Green family of Hobby Lobby fame. Their Christian faith is undeniably devout: They forgo billions in earnings by closing their family retail chain's 800 stores every Sunday. They also stoked the ire of the abortion lobby and liberal health-care faction by investing the necessary legal expense to give Obamacare a black eye in the Supreme Court in 2014.

But four months and 340,000 visitors after opening, the ubiquitous and resounding refrain from objective reviewers from various faiths is that the Museum of the Bible is exactly what it claims to be: a nonsectarian way for the average visitor to engage with the best-selling book of all time.

Rather than retreating, the anti-everything-Christian critics remain aggressive, now claiming: "Well, that's not what it started out to be!"

Alas, that's the recurring governance challenge of balancing obsessive special-interest input with prudent policymaking. Even when emphatically proven wrong, single-agenda fanatics still seek to claim they're right.

"Why be always dividing?" scolds an old Irish song. We need more things to unite us, perhaps now more than at other times.

The Bible is a broad topic, a foundational link that includes many denominations and also connects several different religions. Surely, if we only try, such a place of knowledge and exploration and discovery can remove barriers and tear down walls.

You don't have to be a Christian to appreciate the Bible's role in humanity, and there's no good excuse to be hateful about a book whose overriding theme is God's love.


Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.

Editorial on 03/30/2018

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