One Thousand Sets of Ears

In September of 2005, I started a little side project called The Bible Podcast. The idea is pretty simple. I flip on a microphone, and record myself reading a chapter a day from the bible. Then, I upload it to a website where people can download it and listen. Then, sometimes, other people record themselves reading chapters, and I upload them. The website is www.thebiblepodcast.org, if you want to check it out.

Today, this little side project passed a major milestone. It passed 1,000 daily subscribers – people who set iTunes to go fetch the podcasts every single day. In fact, it pretty much blew right through that number, from 800 or so on Monday, to 900 on Tuesday, and today, I logged on to see this:

1216

I’m a numbers guy. I love seeing the numbers creep higher and higher, and to break them down in as many ways as possible. Things like:

25hits9minutes

get me all fancy up with my bad self. I go to the site and refresh the statistics every few hours to see how much bandwidth people are burning through. In December, the server spit out 300 gigs of data. In January, it’s been burning at a rate of about 30 gigs per day. Matthew 11, which was just posted yesterday, has been downloaded 1500 times.

I know that these kinds of numbers are hardly a blip on the radar for the big dogs in the new media, but in the little world of podcasts about the bible, it’s a pretty big deal.

If you search for the words “Bible” and “Podcast”, the site comes up as #1 on Yahoo, and #3 on Google. It you search the iTunes podcast directory for the word “bible”, it’s the first podcast listed.

Gretchen has a theory about the rapid acceleration of subscribers. She thinks everybody got an iPod for Christmas, and then they made a New Year’s resolution to read the bible more. So, they go poking around in iTunes for a way to get their daily bread in tastee little no-hassle packages, like a Twinkee. I think Gretchen is pretty smart.

So, I’m a numbers guy, but I love reading emails from people who listen. There’s a Catholic priest who lives in the northern most tip of Japan, who sat around listening to the Gospel of John with a family who had just lost their young wife and mother. They just put it on repeat and listened over and over again.

There are students in South America who get together to listen to the podcast, and read along with the text, in order to improve their English. Thing about how scary that is, for just a second. You might be walking through Brazil someday and bump into some kid who speaks English with a Mike Lee accent.

There’s a guy who is fairly agnostic about God, but was curious about the bible, so he subscribed to see what all the fuss was about. His email was hilarious. He just wanted to let me know that he enjoyed it, and concluded by saying, “Please don’t send me any tracts or religious crap.” I was tempted to forward him every Chick tract in one ginormous email, but I restrained myself.

tbp_logoThere are the people who want to argue about the translation that I’m using (New English Translation, pretty good, in my humble opinion), or they take issue with the fact that I let Catholics into the club (sheesh), or they are upset that I’m reading the Bible “Out of Order” (I’m guessing they think the thing was handed down out of Heaven in a neatly stacked set of galleys, ready for publishing). I get an equal number of emails from people who love the bumper music, and can’t stand the bumper music. I smile a little bit, because I think there are people who just love to pick a fight, and they like it even more if they can call it “contending for the faith once delivered”. Mostly, I just hit “delete” on those. Life’s too short.

A few have just floored me. There are people in countries that block access to sites having anything to do with the bible, but they are able to subscribe to a podcast feed. They listen. Two people have approached me about expanding the podcast into other languages that will reach areas where it is dangerous to distribute bibles. One wants to do a version in Farsi, the language spoken in parts of Iran and Afghanistan. Another wants to do a version in Mandarin Chinese. We’re still working through the logistics, but I’m hopeful that this will come together.

So, the Story of God advances. 500 years ago, they burned the bones of those who suggested that the Bible could be read and understood by the common people in their own language. Today, a 12-year-old kid in Taiwan can log on to iTunes, and download it.

20 thoughts on “One Thousand Sets of Ears

  1. aly hawkins

    This is amazing.

    This is maybe slightly off-topic, but I had a pretty intense conversation with one of the lovely ladies in our housechurch last night. She grew up in a fairly fundamentalist home and has spent the last several years trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus without the baggage that was left for her to drag around. She’s on a good road, but something that’s been nagging at her is that she can’t yet read the Bible in a fresh way — when she cracks it open, all it says is the same stuff that was crammed down her throat for 20 years.

    I gave her advice that will probably get me burned at the stake: Don’t read it. At least, not for awhile. Read other people’s thoughts about, and get in good, long conversations about it over a bottle (or five) of Grenache. For awhile, at least. At some point, I said, maybe in a few months or a year, you’ll get this overwhelming craving to open it up again, probably to the Old Testament prophets. You’ll wolf down some Isaiah appetizers and follow it up with some hearty Amos soup, and you won’t be able to stop until you’ve feasted on Romans, and even then you’ll still be hungry enough to have a smoky, spicy Hebrews cognac. You may even consider the cheese plate of 1, 2 and 3 John because even after all that gorging, you’ll still be hungry — which will be great, because the table’s always full. People who’ve been force fed need time to get hungry again.

    What I didn’t say was that I think when she finally feels those pangs of hunger, she’ll need to eat in a different way than the way she ate growing up…maybe by switching up translations (The Message or the TNIV would be a good start) or by listening instead of reading. I read somewhere that sometimes recovering anorexics learn to eat again by trying different foods than they ate (or avoided eating) when they were in the throes of their illness. I think the same might be true of recovering fundamentalists. I’m glad the podcast option is on the menu for her. It may be the thing that hits the spot.

  2. Dave

    mike,
    as we all know there are millions out there starving. not only are they starving for food but they are starving for the love, protection, grace, and relevance of God’s word.
    Jesus feed a crowd of 5000 with fish and bread, you are feeding your own crowd (with twinkies) of over 1000. you bring them food that will nourish their souls.
    Thank you

    as for the young Brazilian lad speaking with a Mike Lee accent, if he has half the talent and love for our Lord that you do, it will do the world great good.

    (Did I just say “great Good?)

  3. Paul

    What a fantastic, inspired project. You are an excellent reader, and I haven’t spent much time with the New English Version. I’m in.

    May God bring forth a huge amount of fruit from this wonderfully simple idea.

  4. grammy

    Is this a completely exciting and possible subversive project, Michael? I LOVE it! Plus, you kind of turn me on with your reading voice. Do you do other bedtime stories? (I’m just asking…sheesh, Gretchen!)

  5. june

    This is, by far, my favorite thing I’ve learned about/read on Addison Road. And, Gretchen is right on the mark…I received an ipod for Christmas…make that 1,217.

  6. Sharolyn

    Mike, this is amazing! Wow.
    Do you have a super-human power that allows you more hours in the day than the rest of us?

    Aly, I can’t wait to read the book. As much as I’d love to give you the gift of a respectable review, it’d probably come out as: “It was real good.”

  7. michael lee Post author

    Sharolyn, I think I’ve given away my secret here before, but just in case you missed it …

    The secret to doing many things is to do them all in a very half-assed manner.

    You can put that on a t-shirt, if you’d like. It would make a great tagline, if I had the energy to reinstate the taglines.

  8. grammy

    Oh, Aly, this book doesn’t need a review. Every person who has ever had, continues to have, and hopes to have a sensual neuron fire in any part of his or her body during any part of his or her lifetime should just sit down and drink this thing in…S L O W L Y. I haven’t shown it to Paul yet. I intend to piece it out bit by bit. I intend to have him screaming for the next installment. But then that’s my idea of a lovely date…

    Teri

  9. michael lee Post author

    Once we get to 2,000 listeners, I plan to switch to the Book of Mormon, just to watch the heads asploding.

    I was the kind of kid who stomped on anthills.

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