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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Why I Love Reading Spiritual Journey Books

I’m a bibliophile, in case you haven’t figured that out yet.  My first and truest friends were books, and I was always tucked away somewhere reading when I was growing up.  I still own hundreds of books—many of which I’ve not yet read—and am always reading ten or fifteen at a time.  It is a lifelong love.

It’s only been in the last decade or so that I’ve discovered the spiritual journey books (some of which I’ve shared with you, Reader).  They’re quite a genre, as varied as their authors and the Divine that inspires them.  But part of the reason I like them so is that, similar to but more than most other genres, you can’t really just read them.  These books require a certain heart to read them properly, or they don’t make sense.

Say you get, by whatever way, a spiritual journey book.  You can read it straight out and, if you’re not ready for it, you will say, “Fine book; good points,” and throw it back to the heap of all the world’s books, thinking on it sometimes years later and remembering it disjointedly if at all.

Or you may get that book and begin it, the words sliding off of your unready heart to pool restlessly in your lungs, discomforting you with their inapplicability.  You put a bookmark in and promise yourself to come back to it later, and days or weeks or months or even years pass as you move the book around and around, meaning to read it but living beyond and beside it.  Dust gathers on this chronicle of someone else’s ideas, someone else’s Divine, while you are busy fleshing out your own.

And that’s okay.  Good, in fact, because you are not in a place where those ideas and that Divine make any sense to you; they are shadows yet, not more advanced than you but of an utterly different shape made in familiar candlelight by hands with too many fingers—or none at all.  And they may always be that; I daresay there are a great many journey books that will never make sense to me, whose pages will always turn listlessly in my fingers because I am not meant to see that face of the Divine—or because we are not looking for the same divine at all.

But some—ah, some will wait for you, patiently bearing the weight of everything else on top as you become who you are, and then one day that cover will catch your eye again and you’ll say, “I have a spare moment.”  You’ll take the bookmark out from halfway through the first chapter and start over to remind yourself of this book already forgotten—and this time you are Ready.  This time the words do not slide but dance on your heart, filling your lungs with an air you didn’t know you wanted, this language you didn’t know anyone else spoke like you, and even the parts you disagree with still make a certain kind of sense to you like words used in new and jarring ways.

You and that author have touched, ever so briefly, the same shade of Holy.  You get to see that it can be done, that we are not chasing this ineffable God in isolation, that it must be real because someone else knows it to be so.  It is an incredible experience of affirmation and encouragement.

I think it’s a God-thing, that finding of those books when you’re ready for them—and, maybe, writing one for others to discover when they’re ready.  In any case, it’s why I have books like these; all books need their own time for you to spark yourself into the author, which is why I love reading, but these journeys especially need you to be ready to be grabbed by the soul, left panting in the breathlessness of Presence where two have gathered.

 

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
 A time to be born,

    And a time to die;
A time to plant,

    And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,

   And a time to heal;
A time to break down,

    And a time to build up;
A time to weep,

    And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,

    And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,

    And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,

    And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,

    And a time to lose;
A time to keep,

    And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,

    And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,

    And a time to speak;
A time to love,

    And a time to hate;
A time of war,

    And a time of peace.  (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NKJV)