It's a Gift from God, Y'all

God is Disappointed in YouWant to know what the Bible says but don't want to read the damn thing? Yeah, you're not alone. But Good News!

In his newly published book, God is Disappointed in You, author Mark Russell has managed to rewrite the Bible—in all its crazy glory—the way you and I and, frankly, anyone under age 80 would rather read it. While completely accurate, Russell uses layman's terms, contemporary metaphors, well-appointed slang and plenty of profanity to liven things up. And the best part? It's short. Like short-short. Like, the entire 2,000-page Bible is condensed into 192 pages. And that includes a whole bunch of illustrations by New Yorker cartoonist Shannon Wheeler.

My husband, WHO IS AWESOME (and reads BoingBoing religiously), had God is Disappointed in You delivered to my iPad yesterday. It was like a gift from God. Here's the beginning of Genesis:

In the beginning, God was lonely. He made the same mistake as a lot of men who live alone, he decided to go out and meet people. Only there weren’t any people, so he had to make his own. God created Adam and Eve to be his friends.

God built a beautiful garden in Iraq for Adam and Eve to live in. Adam and Eve spent their days running around naked and playing frisbee. They ate a lot of fruit. It was a lot like living at a Grateful Dead concert. God’s one rule was that they couldn’t eat the fruit from this magical tree he’d planted in the center of the garden. I don’t know why he put it there. It just tied the whole garden together.

"God built a beautiful garden in Iraq for Adam and Eve to live in." I mean, come on, people. That's a fine piece of comedy.

Anyhow, you can wait unit Christmas to get this sucker for yourselves. But I can't think of one single reason why you would. 

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Can the Bible Help Kids Think Critically?

max-bibleOnce upon a time, I would have choked on my own vomit at the idea of buying a children's Bible for my daughter. The way I saw it, the Bible was an indoctrination tool. I no more wanted to crack that book open than I wanted to get her baptized or plan her Bat Mitzvah or teach her to pray toward Mecca five times a day. It was all the same to me. In my mind, only religious people read the Bible. But, times have changed.

Today, I don't equate the Bible to religion; I equate it with religious literacy. It is the quickest and most effective way to expose kids to Western belief systems. When it comes to knowledge of Judaism and Christianity and — to a slightly lesser extent — Islam, you can't do better than to read some key Bible passages. Judaism relies heavily on Moses and the book of Exodus. Christianity revolves around the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And Islam loves it some Genesis-bred Abraham.

Of course, kids are too young to understand the language in the Bible, so it's definitely best to go with a children's version. Yes, they over-simplify things. Yes, they white wash. Yes, they take out all the language that makes the Bible at all enjoyable to read, frankly. But the greater good is that the kids will understand the stories and be drawn into them enough to actually remember them. And memory is sort of key in the education business.

My daughter has had her children's Bible for almost three years now. She's been known to take it out and look at the pictures, but lately — within the last year — she has taken to reading it in the car. She skips around a bit, but is always fascinated most by the moral aspects of each tale. I think this is the age where kids really start to think more about "right" and "wrong" and Biblical stories are larger-than-life tales with big-name characters, and so the degrees of rightness and wrongness are heightened.

The shocking thing about it all is that — contrary to the common assumption — reading the Bible seems to be helping to hone her ability to think for herself. She reads the stories with genuine interest and serious consideration — but without the reverence, deference and praise associated with faith-based Bible classes. It's remarkable, really, especially when I think back on the pure lack of critical thinking I employed when I heard the same stories as a kid.

The other day, for example, while reading in the car, she got to the 10th of the 10 Commandments and read (aloud): "Never want what belongs to others." Then she stopped and corrected Moses. "Well, you can WANT what belongs to others," she said. "You just can't HAVE it. You can buy one for yourself."

In the story about Joseph's dream coat, the passage read: "Joseph was one of Jacob's twelve sons. Jacob loved him more than all of his other sons..."

Maxine looked up at me: "THAT'S SO MEAN!" she said.

When Jacob is thrown in jail, and one of the other prisoners asks Jacob — quite out of the blue — to decipher the guy's dream, Maxine was all: "Well how would HE know what that means?!" And when a father (I can't recall who) tells his son that he must marry who the father chooses, Maxine declared that to be "dumb" and explained to me that, of course, the son can marry whoever he wants.

But my favorite bit was when her Bible told her that "goodly people" would go to live in heaven.

"I am a goodly person," Maxine said, "but I don't want to live in heaven."

And then she added: "Where do all the BADLY people live, that's what I want to know..."

Quick! What the Hell is Purim?

I always think of the Bible as sort of dry reading — difficult to understand, weighted down by archaic language and vague descriptions, full of stories that just kind of go on and on. But, of course, that’s not always true. And it’s especially not true in the Book of Esther.

Reading more like a Shakespearean play, the 10-chapter Book of Esther tells one hell of an intriguing story. It's a story of honor, greed, deception, justice, irony, death and triumph. There is a clear beginning, a clear ending and even a climax and denouement. And, on top of it all, it's a relatively quick read.

All this is good new for any Bible reader, but it's fantastic news for our Jewish friends because, during the Jewish holiday of Purim, celebrants are asked to read the entire story of Esther aloud. Twice.

Purim begins tomorrow and continues through sundown Sunday.

So without further ado, here it is, your friendly neighborhood Cheat Sheet to Purim.

Holiday: Purim

Pronounced: POOR-im

Date: Purim falls on the 14th day of Adar in the Hebrew Calendar. In 2013, the date for Purim is Feb. 23-24, In 2014, it's March 15-16.

Celebrates: The escape of Persian Jews from extermination sometime around the 4th century BCE.

Religion Represented: Judaism

On a Scale of 1 to 10: Purim is maybe a 6 or 7, says my friend Jason Gewirtz, who acknowledges that Purim is pretty much the most kick-ass of all the Jewish holidays even though he, himself, suffered some childhood trauma around Purim. (Something about having to wear a cute little beard in a Purim play when he was 4. Sounds ghastly, doesn’t it?)

Star of the Show: Esther

The Back Story: Purim's back story (which comes to us courtesy of the Book of Esther) is one of my all-time favorites, and reads a lot like a melodrama — which is exactly how Jews treat it. The villain of the story is the Persian king’s advisor, Haman (BOO! HISS!), and the two heros are Esther, the queen, and her cousin, Mordecai — both of whom are Jewish. The story is absolutely wonderful. And if you know it, you’ll pretty much know everything there is to know about Purim. For your reading enjoyment (or not), I’ve included my version of the story HERE.

Associated Literary Passages: The Old Testament’s Book of Esther, and the Babylonia Talmud: Tract Megilla.

Why Feminists Should Love Purim: There are precious few Biblical stories that put a woman front-and-center and show her taking heroic actions. Not only is Esther willing to “out herself” as a Jew to save her people, but the king respects her boldness and advice so much that, by the end of the story, she’s calling virtually all the shots. You go, girl.

The Food: The most Purim-est of the foods is Hamantaschen, a pastry shaped like Haman’s three-corned hat. “Leave it to the Jews to develop a snack based on the hat of the villian Haman,” Jason quips.

The Fun: Celebrants read the story of Esther twice during Purim — once at sundown, and again the next morning. They give away food, donate to the poor and, of course, engage in some serious feasting and drinking. In fact, the Talmud literally demands that Jews get rip-roaring drunk at Purim. No shit. The Babylonian Talmud states, and I quote, “Rava said: A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai.’” How’s that for an excuse to party?

Conveying Meaning to Kids: This is a no-brainer, really. Just tell your kid the story! Either put it in your own (age-appropriate) words and tell it as a bedtime story, or check out a Purim picture book from the library. My favorite is Queen Esther the Morning Star by Mordicai Gerstein, but Queen Esther Saves her People and The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale also are good. You can also look online for videos about the story of Purim; Sesame Street has a good one. And I found this website with some very funny Purim-centered puppet videos and a slide show, among other things, that would be great for kids ages 8 to 12 or thereabouts. That and Hamantaschen, and you’re good to go.

 

A version of this post originally appeared in March 2012

A Shopping Guide for Nonreligious Parents (Part II)

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Are you looking to introduce religion to your child in a neutral and decidedly non-devotional way, but don't know where to start? Do you lack the knowledge you think you should have? Do your eyes sort of glaze over when you hear the words "religious literacy?" Then this shopping guide is for you! In honor of the Judeo-Christian month of giving, I've amassed some of my favorite resources in hopes that you'll encourage your child to learn a bit more about the religious world around them — and have some fun while they're at it. This is the second of two parts; the first is here. 11. DK Children’s Illustrated Bible. You just can't do religious literacy without a Bible in the house, folks, and not all of them are created equal. The DK, with stories retold by Selina Hastings and pictures by Eric Thomas, is the best I've seen on a number of levels. Small, compact, accurate, and readable, it's also packed with excellent illustrations and photographs. In second place: The Kingfisher Children's Illustrated Bible. Available on Amazon for $9.35

12. Plush Krishna: As a kid in the '70s, "Krishna" was a word I heard only when "Hare" was in front of it. I have vivid memories of bald-headed Hare Krishnas dressed in robes and handing out flowers at the airport. (They rarely do that anymore, I'm told.) I didn't know until I was well into adulthood that Krishna was actually a flute-playing, blue-tinged Hindu deity, an avatar of the god Vishnu. Krishna is hugely important in Hinduism, and ubiquitous in artwork all over the world, which makes him a natural choice for a stuffed friend. Plus, he's cute as all get-out. Available from Gopal Soft Toys: $41.95

13. Alphabet Kaba. This is such a cool toy! The Alphabet Kaba is a rendition of the classic alphabet blocks, this time depicting both English and Arabic letters and numbers, and stored inside a wooded Kaaba — which, if you remember from this post, is the name of the black-shrouded building in the center of Mecca. It is toward the Kaaba that all Muslims throughout the world pray five times a day. A great little piece of knowledge for kids to grasp. Available from Islamic Goods Direct for about 8 pounds (or $12.85)

14. Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places. Native American traditions deserve as much attention as any other system of religious belief, especially considering their role in the history of the Americas. Written by Joseph Bruchac and illustrated by Thomas Locker, this book depicts a conversation between Little Turtle and his uncle, Old Bear. It also includes a neat map of North America back when it was just tribal territories, as well as a pronunciation guide. There are a lot of beautiful books about the tales and legends of native American religion, but this one will get you started. (Amazon, $7)

15. Yoga mat: In the course of only a couple of decades, yoga has gone from a relatively unknown activity to completely mainstream. Some yoga studios regularly schedule kids' classes, and even schools have begun offering yoga as physical education (with mixed results, unfortunately). There is absolutely no "religion" in any of the yoga classes I've attended over the years — it's all about deep breathing, deep stretching, and clearing the mind — but yoga did start out as a religious practice and still is used that way by millions of people. Let's not forget to make that connection for our children! Available on Amazon: $15 and up.

16. Bang! How We Came to Be. Religious beliefs are fascinating, and understanding them bring us closer as human beings. But science is equally fascinating and equally likely to bring us closer together as human beings. The science of evolution is incredibly important for kids to understand, and the sooner the better. This one breaks down evolution in language even little ones can enjoy. I haven't read the whole thing yet, but can't wait. Available on Amazon: $11.56

17. Muhammad by Demi. The famed illustrator created this breathtaking book a couple of years ago — managing to do what few others have done: Illustrate Muhammad without suffering a major backlash from the Muslim community, which strictly forbids depictions of the prophet. Demi treads the line beautifully and respectfully by putting Muhammad in a golden shadow throughout the book. Very imaginative. The story, also, is accurate and well-told. Great for kids 9-ish and up. Available on Amazon: $14.96

18. Jewish Holiday Calendar Magnets. One of the best ways to teach kids about Judaism is to honor some of the many Jewish holidays.  There are plenty to choose from — and this 14-piece magnet set can attest to that. Most Jewish holidays center on significant events and legends from Hebrew history. I adore these magnets, which can be used as space holders on magnetic calendars or as conversation starters for little ones. Available on Etsy: $16 for the set.

19. The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper. This is a must read, in my opinion. Gorgeously illustrated by Gabi Swiatowska, The Golden Rule tells the story of a little boy who sees a billboard while walking with his grandfather. The billboard says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." What follows is a sweet, poignant discussion about "the Golden Rule," where it comes from (it predates Jesus by a lot) and why it's so important. It also goes through each religion's iteration of the Golden Rule. I love this book. For children ages 4 to 10. Available on Amazon for $11.53.

20. Pocket Buddhas.Because they're small, cute, and — well, do you really need a third reason? Available from Amazon: $8.95 apiece.

 

75 Reasons to Share the Bible with Kids (Even if You Don't Believe Any of It)

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If we want our children to be religiously literate — and who among us doesn't, honestly? — then it behooves us to talk about the Bible in respectful terms, even if we don't think much of it is true. When parents call the Bible "a book of fairy tales" (direct quote from my survey for nonreligious parents), it makes the whole thing seem silly and unimportant. And not just unimportant in a religious way, but unimportant in a universal way. I grew up with parents who talked about William Shakespeare like he was THE MAN (with Mark Twain and Louis Armstrong placed only slightly lower on the totem pole of MAN-NESS.) From a pretty early age, I just knew that culturally well-rounded human beings had devoted some serious time to William Shakespeare. As a result, it never crossed my mind not to read him or be interested in him. How different it would have been, though, had all I heard about Shakespeare was that he was really hard to read, really hard to understand, very outdated, not at all realistic and completely irrelevant to modern times.

Religious literacy comes down to 60 percent Bible literacy and 40 percent* other stuff. So talking about it like it's an annoying book that makes people do irrational things REALLY, REALLY, REALLY defeats the purpose here. Plain and simple: If you don't find the Bible interesting, your kid won't either. You are their model in this.

And it's not just the stories — The Garden of Eden, Noah's Ark, David and Goliath — that are worth knowing. It's the context to all the idioms and expressions we hear and use on a daily basis. (You'd be surprised how many there are — and how many people use wrong!) In fact, each one of these expressions is a very good reason to encourage your child to get to know the Bible** in some form or another.

Here are a mere 75 of them!

1. Forbidden fruit

2. Good Samaritan

3. No room at the inn

4. Raising Cain

5. Old as the hills

6. Throw the first stone

7. Salt of the earth

8. Eye for an eye

9. Rise and shine!

10. Am I my brother's keeper?

11. Out of the mouths of babes

12. At my wit's end

13. Babble (as in baby babble)

14. Be that as it may

15. Bear with me

16. Beside myself

17. Blind leading the blind

18. Crystal clear

19. Nothing new under the sun

20. Eat drink and be merry

21. Face to face

22. Head and shoulders above the rest

23. How the mighty have fallen

24. Kiss of death

25. Lambs to the slaughter

26. Left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing

27. Man cannot live on bread alone

28. Many are called, but few are chosen

29. No rest for the wicked

30. So to speak

31. Such and such

32. The truth shall set you free

33. Two heads are better than one

34. Who do you think you are?

35. Wolf in sheep's clothing

36. Woe is me

37. Written in stone

38. You reap what you sow

39. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

40. A broken heart

41. Cross to bear

42. Drop in the bucket

43. Fly in the ointment

44. Labor of love

45. Man after his own heart

46. Peace offering

47. Sign of the times

48. Two-edged sword

49. As old as Methuselah

50. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust

51. White as snow

52. Spare the rod, spoil the child

53. Bite the dust

54. By the skin of your teeth

55. Can a leopard change its spots?

56. Cast the first stone

57. Coat of many colors

58. Fall from grace

59. Forgive them for they know not what they do

60. Get thee behind me Satan! (Not to be confused with "Get the too a nunnery!")

61. Harden your heart

62. Alpha and Omega

63. It's better to give than to receive

64. Land of Nod

65. Twinkling of an eye

66. Oh ye of little faith

67. Den of thieves

68. Patience of Job

69. Pearls before swine

70. Put your house in order

71. Wisdom of Solomon

72. Ends of the Earth

73. Powers that be

74. Straight and narrow

75. Sour grapes

* I made up those percentages. They are utterly meaningless.

** My very favorite so far is the DK Children's Illustrated Bible. Do check it out if you're in the market.

 

Taking the 'Myth' out of the Bible

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Oh, Bible. You do confound us so. You are so very dense, complicated and repetitive, not to mention confusing, contradictory, outrageous and far too long-winded to actually read. And yet you are so wise, textured and powerful. You are surprising and exciting and flush with cultural references. In fact, you make it almost impossible for any of us to understand who we are as a civilization without at least getting your Cliffs Notes.

As author E.D. Hirsch Jr. tells children in The First Dictionary of Cultural Literacy:

The Bible is by far the best-known book in our culture. Hundreds of its sayings have become part of our everyday speech. Biblical stories are frequently referred to in books, newspapers, and magazines, and on television. Many paintings and other works of art portray people or scenes from the Bible. Furthermore, the Bible is the basis of some of our most important ideas about law and government. Because it is such a basic part of our culture, it is important for you to know something about the Bible, regardless of your individual religious belief.

 Unfortunately, when it comes to talking with kids about the Bible, some nonreligious parents categorically dismiss the entire the thing by calling it "a book of myths" — akin to Greek and Roman mythology — which is both short-sighted and completely inaccurate. (Ironic, as most these parents seem to value broad-mindedness and truth so very highly.)

The Bible's focus is a single god (AKA God) and, as such, is used as scripture for the three main monotheistic religions — Islam, Christianity and Judaism. And, yes, there are myths in the Bible. But there is quite a lot of history there, too, and some really great stories about how to live that have been handed down from generation to generation. Certainly, we can tell kids that the Bible has lots of fiction inside it, but we must tell them, too, that it contains truth — and interpretations of truth. And there are many things whose historical accuracy is simply unknown because the stories were corroded by time and endless retellings. It's a like the game of telephone; something always get changed from one end to the other.

It's for this reason that the first three gospels of the New Testament — Matthew, Mark and Luke — all contain the "same" story of Jesus' life, and yet all of them are different — sometimes strikingly different. [Warning: This next part is a bit of a tangent] History tells us that the Gospel of Mark was written first, and that Luke and Matthew borrowed from Mark in telling their own versions. History also tells us that there was another, unknown source of information about Jesus' life — sometimes called Q — which is why Luke and Matthew have some overlapping stories that cannot be found in Mark. (There's a great diagram here that explains this much better than I do, if you're interested.)

Anyway, I think it's best to describe the Bible as a book of many genres. It's fiction, nonfiction, biography, genealogy, letters, poetry, wisdom, proverbs, songs, prophecy and apocalypse. It's also one of the world's most important works of literature. Right up there with Shakespeare's stuff, if you ask me.

Did Jesus really exist? Yes. Did Moses really exist? No one is quite sure. Did Moses introduce the 10 Commandments to the Jewish people? Not likely. Did Jesus feed 4,000 people with seven loaves of bread and a few fish? Not on your life. Is the following verse one of the most beautiful ever written?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

— 1 Cor 13:4-13

You bet it is.

 

Jesus & Julia: A Tribute to Real Books

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I love reading books on my iPad. I love that I can touch a word, and the definition pops up instantly. I love that I can change the font and read in the dark and buy books online. I love being able to access my entire library from a single page. And being able to switch to the Internet to find more information about what I’m reading. And being able to copy and paste entire passages into e-mails. I love that I can highlight text and make notes and bookmark pages — and then undo it all just as easily. I love that I can travel with dozens of books at a time without adding any weight to my luggage.

Although I found it difficult to go digital at first, I'm no longer nostalgic for the smell and feel of a book in my hands. In the end, it really is the words that matter to me, not the mode.

But there is one thing I do lament about the loss of real books on real bookshelves — something my iPad, no matter how advanced, will ever deliver. And that's a connection to the past.

Without paper pages, we will no longer be able to stumble across other people's underlined passages, or read their notes in the margins, or feel the creases left over from from their dog-eared pages. We will no longer have the opportunity to think — if only for a fleeting moment —  about the people who lived and read before us, or to let their marks and notations deepen our enjoyment of the texts themselves.

Nowhere is this sense of loss more profound, for me personally, than when I consider two books sitting on my own bookshelf: My grandmother’s Holy Bible, and my mother’s copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

The covers of both books alone, well-worn and threadbare from decades of constant use, speak volumes about what both women loved and valued. For my grandmother, it was Jesus. For my mother — Julia Child.

The Bible, published in 1900, was given to my grandmother by her grandfather, a minister himself, when she was 13 years old. It reads: “In Remembrance of Christmas Time 1922 at Deerwood, Minn.,” and is signed “with God's blessings, Grandpa Erlander.”

The cookbook, an eighth edition published in 1968, is signed “Bon appétit! Julia Child.”

The inscriptions alone make these books special, but their real value to me is within the texts themselves, where the marks and stains and notes make me feel as though I'm in the room with these women, watching over their shoulders as they absorb the nuances of the sentences inside.

My grandmother has been dead many years now, but the Bible was a focus of her life. She very much wanted to be the person her Christ wanted her to be. And she prioritized her faith above many other things. In her Bible, which is incredibly beautiful in its own right, she underlined passages about being “saved,” noted the importance of being helpful to others, and seemed to revel particularly in the story of Jesus’ birth. My grandfather died years before my grandmother, and I know – based on her notations – that she must have thought of him often, Bible in hand, and longed for the day she would meet him again in heaven.

"Mastering the Art of French Cooking" is equally fun for me to open and scan for what it can tell me about my mother. You can tell, for instance, from the oil stains and food splatters, that one of my mom's go-to meals was Chicken Sautéed in Butter (mine, too, incidentally). She loved the "sauces" section — especially the recipe for Hollandaise Sauce — and spent many evenings poring over pages 315 to 317: Boeuf Bourguignon. When I was growing up, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was brought out from its nesting place only on the happiest occasions — dinner parties, family get-togethers, and holidays. Glad times, those were, for all of us.

Looking at these two books side-by-side, I am struck by all the parallels. I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to call cooking my mother's religion or Julia Child her savior, but meals did play a central role in how she lived her life  — just as faith played a central role in how my grandmother lived hers. Both women must have read and reread the pages of their respective books hundreds of times, always taking away something to feed them — body or soul.

Had Jesus lived long enough to know Julia Child, it seems quite possible that they would have become friends. Julia, for example, would surely have enjoyed that trick Jesus did when he changed water into wine. And Jesus, when faced with deciding how to season the two fish that would feed 5,000 people, might have asked himself: What Would Julia Do?

Or maybe not.

The point is, I've got these two books — two of my most valued possessions, frankly — and neither of them would exist without traditional publishing houses and traditional books. And while I would never advocate a reverse in the course of technology — that train has left the station, and I jumped on board a long time ago — I am so grateful that these books exist and that I can open them (literally open them!) anytime I want. I am glad for every imperfection left inside, each stain, each crinkled page. For every mark, intentional or not, tells me something about the women who came before me. Women I love very much.

Do you think my iPad will tell my daughter anything at all about me?

The Bible + LEGOs = Pure Genius

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Three words, people. The Brick Bible.

I don't know how many of you have stumbled across this little work of genius — or have heard about it, as it's been a point of controversy in recent days. But I've just spent some of the best minutes of my life perusing the offerings of The Brick Bible — a collection of Old Testament stories illustrated entirely with LEGOs — and I'm not kidding, everyone's getting one for Christmas.

Because look:

And this, too:

Okay, so it's not all fit for children. I mean, unless you consider incest, gang rape, bestiality and genocide fit for children. (Hey, whatever, I'm not judging.) But creator and illustrator Brendan Powell Smith, who has spent the last 10 years (!!) illustrating the Bible with his abundant collection of LEGO building blocks, assured readers that the most salacious of his illustrations (which you can find on his website, The Brick Testament) were edited out of  the book version.

From what I gather, most of Smith's opponents take issue with how he has chosen to condense each story down to its essence, inject levity into some of his depictions, and include crazy-violent scenes — despite the fact that kids will be reading his book.

For example, this:

But it's hardly fair to blame Smith for that. Look what he was given? The Bible can be scary and brutal, not to mention pretty damn weird at times. I mean, come one, Sodom and Gomorrah? You can't put that shit on Smith.

But I want to go on record as saying that this is not some sort of atheist bible, either. In fact, it reminds me a lot of The Book of Mormon, the broadway musical written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Yes, the show was hilarious and irreverent. And yes, there was a song with the refrain "There are maggots in my scrotum." And no, Stone and Parker didn't miss an opportunity to cast a bright light on the nuttier aspects of the actual Book of Mormon. But the musical was, above all, a genuine depiction of Mormonism — from its creation to its doctrines to its ministry. Those parts were never exaggerated, never mocked. That's an important distinction.

I first heard about The Brick Testament through a writer name Deborah Markus. I'd been searching the Internet in search of religious stories for nonreligious families, and came across an essay Markus wrote for secular-homeschooling.com. In it, she said she and her son were huge fans of The Brick Testament. She said her only requirement was that her son be familiar with the Biblical stories before looking at the Brick versions. I liked that, too.

This is all to say (sort of) that I'm still looking for the best religious books for nonreligious families. So if you have any recommendations – based on what you've read personally — please let me know. And if you're looking for a recommendation from me, well...

 

Enough said.