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

Christ Is Risen, Indeed

Happy Easter, Reader!  Christ is risen!

It’s an old tradition (no, I don’t know how old, but I do know that “the lorde is risen in dede” shows up in Tyndale’s Bible in Luke 24, and that dates to 1526) for Christians to say this during Eastertide (Easter season, Easter, however you want to say it; it’s not just one day, in case you didn’t know, it’s 50.  Seriously.  We party ’till Pentecost) and expect the response, “Christ is risen indeed!”

“Indeed” isn’t a word that gets a whole lot of play these days; it’s often thought of as stuffy or proper, easily replaced by “seriously” or “really” or, if you’re a youngerkind, “for realz.”  (Why yes, I do sometimes say that.  Try it.  It’s actually pretty fun.)  “Indeed” itself doesn’t even have a meaning other than amplification, usually—or does it?  I went searching in the Oxford English Dictionary (it’s a favorite hobby of mine) and found some interesting things:

indeed, adv.
1a.  In actual fact, in reality, in truth; really, truly, assuredly, positively.
1b.  Freq. placed after a word in order to emphasize it; hence, with n.=actual, real, true, genuine; with adj. or adv.=really and truly.
2a.  In reality, in real nature or essence, opposed to what is merely external or apparent.
3.  Used in a clause which confirms and amplifies a previous statement.
5a.  In dialogue, used to emphasize the reply (affirmative or negative) to a question or remark.
7.  As an interjection, expressing (according to the intonation) irony, contempt, amazement, incredulity, or the like.

Reader, how apt!  The call-and-response ritual becomes affirmation, becomes expression of amazement, becomes the spoken recognition of the impossible.  Christ is risen—indeed?  How on earth (or off it) can that happen?  This central miracle of the Christian faith is utterly outrageous; Death wins, no one comes back from that (unless they’re super creepy and otherworldly).  I mean, check out this graphic I found about how resurrected folks fare in the popular mindset:

Obviously on a historical and faith-based level I take tons of issue with this, but in terms of recognizing how crazy the thought of following a risen human is I find it pretty accurate.  There is no way this should work.  Christ is risen—say what?  How does that work?  Is He a zombie now?  And surely He isn’t actually alive; somebody just took the body.  April Fools’.

Which, of course, is what the original folks tried to say.  Check this out—Matthew 28:11-15:

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

Later addition?  Likely; it’s not like Matthew sat down and wrote the gospel the day after Easter, anyway.  But immediately people said no way, this can’t be real.  Christ isn’t risen; dead people stay dead unless something nefarious is at work.  So when Christians get together and say, “Christ is risen!”  “Christ is risen indeed!” they are making a hell of a statement.  The impossible has happened, we say to each other.  Yes, the impossible has happened!  How crazy cool is that?!  So what?

Ah, “so what.”  Why does it matter, other than being a slightly creepy but really neat magic trick?  After all, Lazarus came back from the dead.  So did Jairus’ daughter, and that widow’s son.  And even outside of the Gospels, Elijah resurrected a guy, Elisha resurrected a guy, Paul resurrected a guy, Peter brought Tabitha back; in point of fact, it seems like people couldn’t really manage to stay dead in the ancient world, so why does it matter that Jesus did?

Because He predicted this; nobody else said yeah, I’m going to snuff it but it’s temporary, brb.  Nobody else had any idea that Death could be anything but final—check out how made Lazarus’s sisters were that Jesus hadn’t come sooner.  They were totally sure that dead meant dead, even though their own history had stories where that wasn’t the case.  But also because Jesus didn’t have any help.  In all the other stories, somebody had to go get the dead person and bring him/her back, but Jesus was alone from start to re-start.  This is both incredibly awful and marvelously fantastic because it means that Jesus is stronger than Death.  He doesn’t need anybody else’s help because He is the help; all by Himself, he took the one thing none of us can defeat and walked away (with scratches).

And lives!  Not only is Jesus alive, but He’s alive in a real way—not as a zombie or Dracula or anything, but a breathing, eating, functioning person every bit as human as He was before.  That…that’s mind-boggling, is what that is.  And it’s the core of Christianity; that we celebrate with each other the reality that the Guy we venerate went through the ugliest and most painful death and then came back and had breakfast.

That’s style, when you think about it.  I mean, God most certainly has a wry sense of humor, but really.

So in this Easter season, if you find yourself or someone else doing the Easter response, listen to it.  Hear what an incredible thing it is that we say Christ is risen—and then respond in incredulity and hope and wonder that yes, He is risen.

Indeed.

 

Now it was Miriam from Magdala, Joanna, the Miriam of Jacob and others together with them who were telling these things to the emissaries.  But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.  But Peter got up and ran to the tomb. Leaning in, he sees only the linen cloths. And he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.  (Luke 24:10-12, TLV)