The People We Are

There’s a worship song that’s stuck in my head at the moment but in that frustrating way where it’s only one phrase, one part of the song running over and over again without letting me get to the rest of the song so I even know what it is.  The phrase is “this is the people we are,” and it’s a sucker punch to me today because I am having a really, really hard time with the people we are.

umc502I just finished my United Methodist Church Annual Conference, which is four days of 1,800 people bickering and worshiping and chatting and judging and connecting with each other.  It’s a very weird space, to be honest, that is both outrageously holy and maddeningly horrible.  It was less painful than last year and we passed a lot of pretty toothless legislation of how the conference would encourage churches to think about taking stands on some things.  I don’t mind so much that that we aren’t forcing churches into action because I love that the UMC is trying to hold a lot of different opinions together; what I mind is this appearance of engaging things without being anything other than lukewarm.

Is this the people we are?  Are we folks who value unity more than decisiveness?  Because #TrueConfession:  I am that person.  If I decide that I like someone or some organization, I will fight like hell to keep it together even if I know that that isn’t the best course of action.  (It takes an awful lot for me to like someone or something, so part of it is the invested time.  I’m also hella allergic to change, which is hilarious considering my life pattern and my profession.)  So will I avoid the conflict of saying we need to take a stand on this?  Yep.  For as long as I can.

To some degree, I think that’s a good trait.  My being less inclined to force a decision means I get invited to a lot of different kinds of spaces that I might not otherwise be.  It means people feel that I don’t judge when I listen (which is sort of true; some of that is that I have a better poker face than people think).  It means that I will stay in a conversation or relationship for a while because it matters to me to preserve that even when I’m mad about it.

But for sure there’s a downside.  My being less inclined to force a decision means I stay silent when I absolutely should not.  It means I allow myself to be a bit of a doormat sometimes.  It means I don’t call people on bullshit that is harmful and cruel.

One of the things that is hard to talk about in a post-modernist world (which is a fancy term that just means we are beyond the mindset that somebody termed “modernist” that characterized the last half of the 20th century) is the idea of Truth.  One of the tenets of the post-modernist school of thought is that situation determines concept; if I’m from, say, Texas, I’m going to think about things like spacial relation and a relationship with Mexico differently than if I’m from Vermont.  Or if I’m a white woman (which I am), I’m going to approach a text or event differently than if I’m a black man.  And I can’t ever not be affected by that; if I’m a white woman from Texas, I can’t ever sidestep the way that shapes my thinking.

Unfortunately, this really easily becomes a conversation about whether or not there can be any idea or concept that is true across contexts.  If my viewpoint can be changed by my outlook/situation/background, it will always be different than anyone else’s since no one else has the same combination of events and personality and such that I do.  So can anything be capital T True?  Some post-modernists would say no, all is relative.

I think that’s crap, and I think that’s how we get into spaces like this Annual Conference’s wishy-washy legislation and my general distaste for asking people (myself included) to declare where we stand on Hard Issues.  It is not relative that children should not be starved or separated from their loved ones and traumatized.  That’s bad.  It just is.  Why it’s bad can be relative; how it happens can be relative.  But the idea of whether or not you should be able to harm children carries across every aspect of healthy humanity.  Likewise, we shouldn’t be afraid of people simply because they look different than us.  How that fear manifests is relative.  Who that fear is about is relative.  But simply looking at a person and fearing him/her without any other information at all is not a mark of healthy humanity.

So when we have legislation in the Church that talks about how the Church deals with sexuality, I get that it’s a firestorm because the how is murky depending on ideology and position.  When we have legislation that deals with U.S. wars and the Church’s position in supporting or speaking against them, I get that people get heated.  But when we have stuff that’s about whether we should speak against kids being put in cages and left alone, or whether it’s a bad idea to treat women as subhuman, and there’s debate on that?  That’s crap.  Those are absolutes.  The value of a human being a human and not being harmed for simply being a human is a Truth.

Unless that is not the people we are.  In which case, we need to really look at what kind of people we have actually become.

 

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  (1 Peter 2:9-10, NIV)
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Dress for the Job You Want

At least, that’s what folks tell you when they’re giving you job advice.  A variation given me by one of my div school profs was “dress for the game you’re playing.”  I get these, in the sense that you shouldn’t show up to a job interview in cut-off shorts and an old band shirt, but as a woman this becomes quite a tightrope of expectations—and all the more so as a woman pastor, because of course pastors have this whole other set of rules by which we need to live (please read the sarcasm there).

I’ve been thinking about this because Friday night I was invited to the birthday celebration of one of my parishioners.  It was at a rooftop bar in downtown Wicket Gate and the parishioner (who is really close to my age, which is to say a millennial) told me to “look spiffy” since it was, after all, a Friday night in the city.  In case you haven’t gathered, I’m not much of one for late nights on the town and I’m definitely more comfortable spending Friday night watching “Star Trek” episodes (“The Next Generation” forever, fight me on it) than bar-hopping with friends.  It’s just not my scene, so I don’t really have clothes for the occasion, but hey, I welcome the challenge.  I ended up wearing dark jeans, boots, and a shirt that has only one strap over the shoulder like a sari.  What this translates to is that I was basically in a tube top with my shoulder tattoo on display and my newly-buzz-cut hair making me fierce as all get-out.  I felt pretty awesome, I won’t lie—but I very nearly talked myself into changing about four different times because how dare I show so much skin.

womenpreach2That, Reader, is bullshit.  And I wanted to call myself on it, and my culture, and all of the expectations that go along with it.  I, as a female, can bare my shoulders and arms all I want, because if you can’t handle my collarbone being on display I am not the problem.  And I, as a pastor, should not have to worry about losing the respect of my parishioners for looking like a millennial out on the town on a Friday night because that’s what I am.  Hiding that does no one any favors, and in fact continues the weird mess the Church has gotten itself into of seeming to be this off-limits Sunday space where you put on skirts and haloes for an hour and then go live your actual life the other six days.  Over and over again I read articles about how we millennials want authenticity above all else, and I am so glad that I went to that party and drank drinks (which definitely surprised one other parishioner who was there, in a good way, because he didn’t think pastors can drink—and how, darlin’) and wore this shirt that proclaims I have skin, and a body, and a hand-sized tattoo, and I am not going to be ashamed of any of that.

I still think that you should dress for the job you want, but I don’t want a job where I have to wear a completely buttoned-up blouse all the time.  I don’t want a job where I have to hide that I have a female body, not to the extreme of wearing short shorts in the pulpit but to the extent of recognizing that when I’m not on the chancel I am more than the office.  And that seems to work well; I ended up spending most of the party talking with this couple who had never been able to find a church home in the five years they’ve been together because both of them have a lot of pain from being turned out of their previous churches for being gay.  They told me basically their life stories and one showed me pictures of his kids from a previous marriage and perhaps they’ll come to my church at some point, I don’t know.  What I do know is that I was absolutely acting as pastor for them that night, even and especially in a one-strap shirt with an amaretto sour in one hand.

I was dressed for the job I want.  And I got to do that job, because I’m pretty sure God doesn’t care about what I’m wearing.  After all, God is the One Who made me female.  God is the One Who called me to the pastorate.  I have the utmost respect for that office, but I refuse to stop being a person in my daily life because I could not be a good pastor if I did.  That parishioner didn’t invite A Religious Leader to his party.  He invited his pastor, his friend.

And told her to look spiffy.   Reader, she did.

 

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
(Psalm 139:13-14, ESV)

Paul: Apostle of Christ

Greetings of the Easter season to you, Reader!  Today is a fairly overcast and chilly day here at the Wicket Gate, but it is Friday and the Spirit of the resurrection remains while I settle in to make something coherent of my sermon for Sunday.

I hope that these first few months of 2018 have gone well for you.  Thank you for your holding this space (to whatever degree you did; forgetting it existed is totally valid) while I took some time to figure out where my soul went.  It came across the river to the church where I work, it turns out, and we meet from time to time when I remember to tune into the presence of the God Who called me in the first place.  School is still awful, and in point of fact is more awful with each week because I wanted it so badly to be what it is not.  But there are only a few weeks left in the semester, I’m going home to the Land of Pilgrims for the summer, and then I only have one more year.  This, too, shall pass.

In the meantime, I wanted to do a short film review.  On Holy Saturday I went to see Paul, Apostle of Christ because I never stop being fascinated by the marriage of Scripture and Hollywood and y’know, I kinda liked it.

image3One of the first things I had to recognize was that I have learned (whether I have been deliberately taught this doesn’t matter) to be overly critical of anything having to do with Scripture and theology, so the first 15 or so minutes of the film were me trying to remember how to be charitable in watching.  The film is set in Nero’s Rome, where we learn Paul is imprisoned and facing execution.  Luke (who is here a real person who really wrote the Gospel) travels to Rome to get the last of Paul’s stories—what becomes the Acts of the Apostles.  The story swings between the conversations of Luke and Paul, the frustrations of the Roman prison guard, and the small and fearful community of Christians trying to deal with Nero’s war on them and their faith.

I know that a lot of people are not fans of Paul at all, but I have a soft spot for him.  I’m definitely not a fan of some of the things his letters have been used to do—I am a female cleric, after all.  But in this film I give all the snaps for the guy who played Paul; he did it with gravitas and dignity and curmudgeonliness and a bit of humor, which is how I imagine the actual Paul to have been toward the end of his ministry.  And the way they work the language of Paul’s letters into his lines is fantastic; exploring what it must have been like to look back over his life and hold fast to the belief that grace is sufficient, that nothing separates us from the love of Christ, that even Nero can’t stop the Kingdom gave new weight to the words.

The way in which the film complicated the Romans was marvelous (although I hate hate hated the flatness of the prison guard’s wife).  Not all Romans were on board with Nero’s crazy and many understood he was nuts but didn’t know what to do about it.  And not all Romans were cynical about their worship—many were truly devout to their gods.  And definitely not all Jewish leaders were terrible people, so props to this film underscoring and bolding the fact that it was Rome that killed Jesus, it was Rome that persecuted the early Christians, and it was Rome that outlawed the faith.  Not Jews.

Also, holla holla for no conversion moment.  The Roman guard is primed for it, but one of the things that drives me batty about Christian films is that there’s always this weirdly coerced conversion moment to somehow prove the efficacy of the message and y’all, it’s not necessary.  God’s word won’t return void, so you don’t need to include an uncomfortable template for your film audience to understand that we should give this Jesus Guy a go.

There were definitely some things I think weren’t grand about the film:  they really overdid the slo-mo emotional moments and the heavy-handed music, which I get but always irks me.  The story has pathos abounding, you don’t need to help it in post-production.  Women are still only mothers and wives rather than leaders in their own right, but at least they have decent speaking roles now.  The fact that the Jews weren’t being blamed for the plight of Christians was great, but there seemed to be no Jews around to do much of anything.  Where did they go?  We know they were part of the early communities.  And lastly the whole film was dedicated to “those persecuted for their faith,” but I doubt that that extends to all people persecuted for all faiths and I always get a bit squelchy when Christians, mostly American Christians, talk about persecution.  There has never been a time when American Christians were persecuted.  Never.  Not in the whole history of this country.  But sure, the early Christians were, and we need to remember that.  It is good to question how one holds both of those truths.

All in all it was a good movie that made me want to go back to Acts and the letters and read them, which is exactly what one would hope for out of a movie like this.  There was even a great one-liner about the repetitiveness of Acts, which I appreciate.  And Paul has a line to the Roman guard that “you will be fully known and fully loved—I pray for that for you.”

I pray that for both of us, Reader.  And I delight in the example of Paul to do so.  Go see the film if you’ve a free evening—or just read Acts with some inspiring classical music on in the background, if you’re all booked up.  I’ll be back in two weeks with something new, or something old, depending on how you view the ever-appearing examples of this faith thing.

The Church with the Boarded-Up Doors

I feel like I apologize to you every time I post now, Reader, for my erratic schedule and the lull between postings; I can tell you that I’ll post this and then be back for my usual Advent Christmas carols shtick.  This semester is taking the mickey out of me in ways I really did not see coming at all; I will be so very glad when it’s over.  To be honest, I’ll be very glad when this degree is over, which is super unfortunate.  But the upshot of being here in the Wicket Gate is that I work at a pretty amazing church.

It’s an old church, as in over a century old (which is old for Americans; I know that’s laughable for Europeans, but cut us some slack, we’re young).  Being old means that there’s a lot of repair that has to happen.  Right now our main front doors are gone because water had warped the bottoms of these thick wooden masterpieces, so there’s a beautiful Good Shepherd stained glass window hanging out over a bunch of plywood.  It looks pretty awful, and it confuses the crickets out of visitors, but I was thinking the other day about what it must look like from the street.

boarded-up-entrance-to-church-after-removal-of-doors-767x600Oh, what a shame, some driver may be thinking, another beautiful old church closed down and falling apart.  Because those boarded-up doors make it seem like we’ve thrown in the towel, for sure.  The thing of it is that they are the exact opposite—those plywood planks are the showcase of our growth, our fiscal health, our connectivity (paid for by a grant from our denomination), our stewardship of the building, our desire to make sure we are able to welcome people to this house of God.  Our boarded-up doors are symbols of our being alive, not dead, and I wonder what that looks like when speaking of the larger Church.

I have very little patience left for folks who bemoan the death of the Christian Church and even less for the people (like a classmate of mine, recently) who say that the Church should die because it’s outdated.  Nope.  The Church is not dying, not by a long shot.  Christianity is a truly global religion represented on every continent, with over two billion believers.  It is the largest organized religion on the planet.

Now I know, Christianity doesn’t necessarily equal the Church.  But the Church is its most cohesive vehicle.  The Christian Church is the community that goes out and fights for justice, that works for peace, that stands with people suffering from natural and human disasters.  The Church is the community that gathers to stay strong in faith, to challenge ourselves to live godly lives, to reach deeper into the mind-bending compassion of God to be able to see each other—and ourselves—in love.

It is also the community that is wrapped up in colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, a million different kinds of discrimination, power grabs, ageism, judgment, and oppression.  We, the Church, do not have clean hands.  But that does not mean God is done with us.  My church, my century+ church, definitely has things it needs to deal with about how we interact with each other and our community, and I pray mightily that we acknowledge those things and open ourselves to God’s ability to change us and speak through us to the hurt and the aching need for hope here in the Wicket Gate.  Yet I also pray mightily that we may continue the growth that we are doing, both the quantifiable and the completely unquantifiable.  We are a constant work in progress, thank God, as is the larger Church.

Certain parts of it must change.  That is undeniable, and unsurprising, because no living thing is ever permanently stagnant.  It would die.  So when folks talk about how the Church is dying because it’s changing, I wonder at their definition of death.  Do we have fewer people in American pews than there used to be?  Sure.  But Christians are gathering in Africa, in southeast Asia, in South America, and they can’t keep up with the amount of churches needed to house the communities.  A shift is not a death.  Do we have a different cultural relationship with Christianity than we used to in the West?  Sure.  But Christianity is becoming something that is owned with purpose and determination rather than to impress your boss or make sure the neighbors don’t think you’re a terrible person.  A shift is not a death.  Do the new generations have a wariness about Christianity that often manifests in us leaving the faith?  Sure.  But many are hungering after authentic grace and we millennials, for one, are becoming some of the strongest change agents in the Church.  A shift is not a death.

So look deeper when you see a church with plywood where the doors ought to be.  It may well be that that church has closed—but perhaps that’s to form a co-op with another church down the street, or to move into the city to be closer to the people who need this news of unconditional love, or to switch to a more accessible and less leaky building to keep on worshipping.  Or maybe it completely folded, and that’s okay too because the face of Christianity is changing and that church may have lived its purpose in that spot.  Or maybe it didn’t, maybe it wasn’t done yet, and that boarded-up church represents a workplace where God is calling someone to bring the message of hope back into that neighborhood.  Is it you?

Or, maybe, it’s just getting its doors replaced so it can come out looking beautiful once more, ready to fling those doors open come Easter and let the hymns roll out over the stone steps into the neighborhood proclaiming that Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed.  Keep looking.  There is life here, and life abundant.

 

We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him.  He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life.  In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 6:9-10, CEB)

 

People of the Books: Parson Place by Joan Walters Mathison

md986014574I think an associate pastor gave this to me when I was in sixth grade or something like that because he knew I wrote poetry:  it’s a collection of poems by a Methodist pastor’s wife published in 1980 with some pencil illustrations by John Crawford (whoever he is).  It got enough press that there’s a one-page forward by UMC Bishop Carl Sanders in the front (yet it doesn’t seem to have an ISBN—fail, Pioneer Press).  And it is cute in a folksy, homesy sort of way; very much about day-to-day life raising a family and keeping house and being a pastor’s wife.

But DAMN is it painful to a 21st century feminist.  Nearly every poem is about the ways Mathison curtails herself to the raising of a family and the caretaking of her husband the absent-minded pastor son of eight billion generations of pastors.  This…this is kind of what’s wrong with the Church,  which I know is super harsh, but man.  There’s a poem called “Somebody’s Knocking” about a late-night call that wakes her and her husband when a woman calls him to a domestic violence dispute:

“She begged my husband to come and help–
(Neighbor’s [sic] think a preacher makes a grand referee!).”

So the wife waits up in worry for her husband, but then MAKES A JOKE ABOUT IT when he asks why she’s still up:

“I said, ‘Just waiting–
I THOUGHT you’d bring me a souvenir!'”

No.  Domestic violence isn’t funny, and it isn’t cute, and I don’t really care what fluffy note she was trying to hit with that or how common it was when that was written; it falls flat.

I do appreciate her understanding of her role:

“Being a preacher’s wife isn’t something you are born as, it’s what you become when you marry that neat guy in a volkswagen [sic] who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  You are like everybody else until you say ‘yes’ at the alter [sic], and then people start looking at you like you’re something different.  You take on a new image, and if you don’t watch out, you just might start thinking that you’re different too.  When you go to a shower with your old running buddies you catch them introducing you as a preacher’s wife.  People immediately think that they had better watch what they say around you, and the next thing you know you’re feeling different.  The way to lick that feeling is to be yourself and let them know that you’re still a fun person despite your label.  To do so, you may catch yourself talking a lot which is really okay, but talking about something you’re not suppose [sic] to talk about is something else.”

That kid-glove treatment of pastors and their spouses is most definitely still a thing and I’m glad to see her taking apart the effect it has on her.  But then she goes off the rails:

“It usually takes the preacher to get his wife’s mouth under control.  If he doesn’t do it in those early years there’s trouble ahead.  He surely doesn’t want his image changed.”  (31)

ARG.

All poems are ABAB CDCD etc stanzas, but the rhythm is all over the place.  Sometimes there are four feet, sometimes six, sometimes it shifts within a single stanza—while I appreciate her ability to find that many rhymes, her poetry is sloppy in scansion.  And, as you can see, the editing is…subpar.

As someone who has literally never wanted to be a housewife, I can see that perhaps I’m not the best one to give a compassionate reading to this.  And as someone a few decades removed from this, I can see that we’re going to differ.  But just everything about this makes me sad for the generations of women we’ve told had to be shadows of their husbands in the Church and how we’re still doing that in so many ways, even within the denominations that speak of full involvement of women.  And the ways that the husband is expected to be so many things here, both super pious and always a leader and definitely connected to God—yeesh, no wonder the guy was absent-minded.  May my eventual spouse never expect such constant strength and direction from me; I’m human as all get-out.

And the fact that a pastor felt like he needed to give this to me as an elementary-schooler as an example of how Christian women write poetry

One and a half stars.  Good for her to write and publish a thing, but ugh.  My United Methodist self, my feminist self, my English major self, and my poet self are all quite sad we carried this around for so long.

 

 

1-5-stars

 

Patriotism, Racism, and Christianity Walk into a Bar

And Christianity goes to meet its friends over in the corner, Mercy, Hope, and Peace, and never talks to the two ideas it happened to walk in with because they are totally antithetical to it.

Is how that should go, right?  So even someone like me who lives under a rock (a.k.a. in a hospital pretty much ALL THE TIME—I had my last 24-hour shift this past weekend and it was brutal) is aware that shit went down this week in Charlottesville, Virginia.  And as a white person, it is incumbent on me to take every platform on which I have a voice to say unequivocally that I denounce that violence, that I denounce that idolism, that I denounce the idea that it is ever okay to talk about “getting our country back” as though it was ever ours and as though there’s some kind of fight over it right now.  It is incumbent on me to call out racism and refuse to accept it in any form because, being white, my voice has the kind of power that carries.  It is incumbent on me to work to dismantle that kind of power because my black and brown brothers and sisters are fierce and wonderful creations of God who deserve every ounce of humanity given them at their very birth.

dheuw7hu0aai9bqBecause here’s the thing—so much of the alt-right/Nazi-istic/KKK shit going down in Virginia claims connection to Christianity and that does not work.  Christianity is a religion built around a brown Jew from a poor provincial town, an insignificant carpenter’s son Who was executed for threatening the secular power system by saying things like hey, maybe we shouldn’t put God and money on the same level and perhaps prostitutes are people, too.  There is literally no place in the Bible where I can see any kind of support for violently marching through a town in defense of an icon of a treasonous general supporting a slave state based on the color of people’s skin, and yes I am including the Old Testament in that statement.  If you feel like I’ve missed something, I very seriously and honestly want you to let me know because there is no Christ in the Christianity I hear from the alt-right.  There is no love, there is no reverence for life, there is no hope, there is nothing but hate and blindness in the dim light of those tiki torches.

It is not only my color that demands I speak against this but my faith.  I am a preacher, I am a chaplain, I am a pastor, I am a faith leader and it pisses me off to see the God Who has loved me to a state of wholeness in which I might actually be okay in this life be dragged through the mud like this.  BUT I do not get to say that the people in the march are thus less human, because that same God laid in His own blood in the dirt while men hurled insults at Him and His death was for them, too.  The men in Virginia are my brothers, my fellow humans, God’s created children, and the reason that God blows my mind and keeps pulling me back in is that I am called to denounce them utterly and love them completely at the same time.

As are you, whether you’re Christian or not, because all faith systems save maybe Satanism have an inherent recognition that the other person is bound to you in some way and that you can’t treat someone else like they are less to make you more.  Even atheism, if done with any morality at all, has a certain appreciation of other people.  If I’m going to say that my black and brown friends are valuable and wonderful and beautiful if only because they are human, then I better be prepared to say that these white supremacists who scare the hell out of me are also valuable (if not wonderful or beautiful) because they are human and I do not get to take that humanity away from them.  Even if I really, really want to.

But I do get to call out hate where I see it and say that isn’t okay.  I do get to refuse to let my silence be my complicity, as President Trump has so cowardly done.  I must do these things, because I call on the name of a God Who will look me in the eye at the end of days and ask whether I gave food to Him when He was hungry, whether I gave Her drink when She was thirsty, whether I clothed Him when He was naked, whether I gave Her housing when She was without shelter, whether I visited Him when He was in prison, whether I looked at Her and saw God in every shade possible.

White supremacy has no place with God.  Racism has no place with God.  The idea of America has no place with God, for “My kingdom is not of this world.”  And I will say that plainly, baldly, forcefully from every platform I can find and call upon everyone who reads this to do the same because I cannot pray with any patient or preach from any pulpit if I do not.  That would be hypocrisy of the highest order, and I have had enough of being a whitewashed tomb.

 

Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.  (Romans 13:10, NET Bible)

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