People of the Books: Bible Stories for Little Folks by The John C. Winston Company

Right, so the fact that this is by a company rather than a person should tip you off to the fact that it’s a little sketch to me.  This is a book that I think I got out of a retiring pastor’s collection; I’m pretty much always down for kid-friendly Bibles and Bible story collections because I’m still trying to find one that doesn’t suck.  (Actually, Interpreter and a friend of his were putting one together years ago and I’m pretty sure that got abandoned.  Frustrations.)  Because Biblical stuff aimed at kids usually does suck; there’s this idea that the Bible is way too much for kids as its own text, which, you know, is kinda true but that’s why you don’t hand it to them to read by themselves in a corner like it’s Nancy Drew or something.  We shouldn’t even do that to ourselves as adults, really.  The Bible is huge and complex:  it’s ta biblia, literally “the library” as in a collection of books rather than one book alone.  Libraries need guides to help you figure out what’s what and how they’re related.  So I agree that we shouldn’t just hand the Bible to kids and say go.

But I disagree with the way that we pare it down, not least because of what usually gets chosen for “children’s Bibles.”  We try to make the Bible cute and fluffy, which completely misses the point of the power of these Abrahamic traditions but also distorts the hell out of the actual Scripture and leaves kids unprepared for when they grow up and figure out that the Bible is dark.  Woohoo Noah’s Ark, how lovely with the two-by-two animals and the family on the boat and it’s so great, yay!  Except that Noah’s Ark was a thing because the world was awful and God said it was a great idea to kill everyone and everything else and then when Noah got off after a horrific storm that tore the world apart he got super drunk because, well, yeah, and totally embarrassed his family and God.  That’s not cuddly.  That’s not cute.  But it’s important, and profound, and human.

And I don’t go on this rant to say that the Bible is awful and we should stow it away or that we should smack kids with the book of Judges.  I go on this rant to say that we are doing such a terrible disservice to kids when we shield them so much that they don’t know how to take on the harder questions of faith—and we continue that disservice when they get to that age and then we hand them the full Bible and basically say welp, get to it.  No wonder so much of my generation is wary of the Church; we were taught that white Jesus would hug us like sheep and then we find out He flipped tables and was brown and was never actually a shepherd.

Deep breath.

511wlvy-ahl-_sx363_bo1204203200_As you can see, I have some opinions on this.  (I have a blog.  I have opinions on everything.)  And I realize Scripture is way, way more complicated than that analysis.  And I realize the Church doesn’t monolithically operate like that—I’m still here, aren’t I?  I must believe in the Church at least a little to want to be employed by it forever.  But this book is just so flat, partly because of its time:  it was printed in 1918 by a company with sketched illustrations likely yanked from some Bible encyclopedia or other (actually, the illustrations inside are one of the few redeeming factors; I really appreciated things like a drawing of Dagon and what ancient weapons looked like.  I’m not down with the white Egyptian princess and the brown Gollum handmaid on the cover, though).

The whole of this structure just rubs me raw.  First, it’s set up as “stories,” which, fine, but that breaks apart the fact that the Bible influences itself.  Yes, it’s a library, but the books are connected.  Disparate stories prevent kids from seeing the connections.  And the “stories” are weird hodgepodge things cobbled together by some mad scientist; Story Eighteen, “The Stranger at the Well,” is Matthew 14:3-5, Mark 7:17-20, Luke 3:19-20, and John 3:22-4:42.  What?  How?  What do those have to do with each other?

And “stories” allows the author(s) to insert these weird little moralistic additions without having to announce that the author is doing so, so the kids might not know that what they’re reading really isn’t the Scriptural content—or intent, for that matter.  Like this in the story of the woman at the well in John 4:  “Jesus meant that as this woman, bad though she may have been before, was now ready to hear his words” (97).

I’m sorry, what?  No.  The actual Biblical text has no aside on the woman’s morality like that.  But now the kid reading it automatically assumes Samaritan woman at well = bad.  Great.  Because the actual Bible isn’t misogynistic enough, we’re adding value judgments on female characters.

To top it all off, the Crucifixion is the last “story” and the Resurrection gets a paragraph.  Seriously.  A single paragraph about Jesus being risen—not any of the appearances, mind you, just the fact that the Marys found an empty tomb.  WHAT THE SAM HILL KIND OF CHRISTIANITY ARE YOU SELLING IF THE RESURRECTION ONLY GETS A PARAGRAPH?  It’s sort of the point of the thing, yo.  Jesus not being dead when everybody said He was dead makes the faith go ’round.

So.  As you can see, I’m not a fan.  This gets 1.5 stars because some of the illustrations are neat.  The text, however, is crap.  Better to puzzle your way through the actual Bible—but for Pete’s sake, please don’t make your kid suffer through the New King James Version.  That language is beautiful and majestic and wonderful and really, really hard for kids.  There are much easier translations out there.  Please don’t teach them from the get-go that the Bible is boring or unreachable, a text only for fancy days.  It’s a hard and complex and phenomenal collection of texts trying to connect humans and the divine, meant to be read and puzzled over and fought with.  Let’s teach kids that.

 

 

Rating:  1.5/5 stars  Image result for 1.5 5 stars

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VBS Is Not At All A Vacation

I did promise you a breakdown of VBS, Reader, and I keep my promises.  I hedge it, though, because I really  haven’t processed it myself—after having worked about 75 hours last week between my actual job and VBS, I turned around and am working about 60 this week  because I am an idiot.

OConnor Writing ReasonWhat this means, though, is that I haven’t taken myself off to a Thinking Place—and also that I haven’t written anything, notes or otherwise, on the experience.  This feels terribly odd, because so many of my thought processes require writing to become coherent.

VBS stands for Vacation Bible School, and it’s an excuse for churches to indoctrinate kids for one week in the summer via ridiculously catchy kid songs and short Bible verses masked in various activities and repeated ad infinitum.  This may sound horrible, and it is a  jaded description, but that’s totally what it is—and that’s awesome.  In all of that, VBS is a place for kids to go where they are entertained and loved for a solid week, where they get to learn on their level and be the center of attention rather than the service’s afterthought.  VBS, as a kid, is crazy fun.  It’s a vacation to the world of all the adventures in the Bible, the place where you can totally meet Peter and Elijah on the same day, where you get to make stuff that will hide in your attic until your mum makes you clean up all “your things” when you get a house at 30.

VBS as an adult is so very, very not a vacation.

Here’s the thing; I’m not good with kids.  I’m just not.  But, because God, Interpreter, and Mr. Great-Heart have a running plot to make my life much harder than I want it to be, I’m discovering that I can at least function with teenagers.  They make sense to me, perhaps because I’m still close enough to having been a teenager that it’s not fuzzy and golden yet, or perhaps because the desire to be taken seriously at that age was so fierce it is now burned into my understanding of things, never to fade.  Probably both.  But I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with teens in the last year or so—I was a camp counselor last summer, I was a mentor for a middle schooler, I’m going to be on a team of such in the coming year—and people say I’m not bad at it.  More importantly, the teens say I’m not bad at it.

My mother, ever hopeful that I will become Gaia like she is and love the little children, wanted to see this grudging acceptance on my part when I wasn’t dead Monday night as a sign that God is wanting me to be a youth minister, because hey, crazier things have happened.  I don’t think that’s it, though, not least because after Monday came Tuesday.

I broke on Tuesday.

Reader, I can’t really explain to you why I broke on Tuesday.  Part of it is that I don’t want to tell you some of the things I’m fighting with this month, but most of it is that I honestly don’t know.  It was the proverbial straw on my rough desert back, I suppose, but I just broke down.  I went home and freaked out, knowing I couldn’t do this, knowing I was failing my 7-12 graders, knowing I was standing in the way of their knowing God, putting my own millstones on as a necklace of doubt and darkness.  I wept between work and the next round of VBS on Wednesday because I had nothing left to give, nothing left to teach, nothing left with which to show these kids that this was worth it and God is love because I had no love or energy at all.

The journey of faith and of following the Call, I’ve found, is far less like picking up the telephone than like mending an improperly healed bone.  You have to break it and bind it anew, and then re-break it if it goes wrong again, and re-break it until it heals to the shape in which it was meant to work the best.  Each time, the bone gets stronger, the use more certain, because it is becoming its properly functioning self, but it hurts like hell, and it’s difficult, and very, very draining.

Granted, it’s an imperfect illustration, because breaking a bone too many times results in unpleasant things like osteoporosis and arthritis and such, but the point is that the process—for me—is painful.  I broke last Tuesday, and it was not pleasant, and it was not fun.  I came to the end of myself—and, like so many before me, realized Who was waiting there to be more than I can be.  I mended on Wednesday, slowly but surely, teaching in my comfort zone on medieval theatre which I could talk about for days, and the kids who never spoke read lines with their peers, and we forgot the time and were almost late to the closing service, and it was a good day.  At the end of the week, one of the most irascible teens told me I had done well, and I heard from various parents that even their boys gave the half head jerk of approval when asked how the week had gone.

With these strings, I mend, and the bone grows again with cells slowly stretching to new places, with understanding that tomorrow will be different from today, that the strength is there underneath the pain.  God is remaking me, and it is a hard, hard process.  VBS took everything I had and demanded more—and God gave it for me, friends gave it for me, my kids gave it for me when they danced with me on the last day as we abandoned propriety in the sheer foolishness of exhaustion.  In this I am healed, slowly, slowly.

Surely.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Cor. 12:8-10, ESV)