I’ve had this book on the shelf for about two years now, and I was actually almost entirely certain that I was never going to read it. I bought it after a particular moving sermon mentioned the title in passing (and for $4.00, why not, I thought…because you could have bought a Pumpkin Spice latte for that much, that’s why! said my caffeine addicted brain). So much time has passed that I have no idea what the context was, or why exactly I decided I needed a book that basically translates important stories from the Old Testament (Marc Gellman is a rabbi) into bite sized stories for children.
Having read it, I admit that I still have no idea. The stories are sweet, if a little bland (it doesn’t hold a candle to the cartoon Bible I had when I was little…or at least I assume it doesn’t, since I mostly used that particular book to make a bunk bed for one of my barbies in the amazing house I constructed. I didn’t really get how to play with those dolls, but I loved to build junk for them). As I was reading them, I tried to decide if this was something I wanted to keep for my kids. Could I imagine myself reading this interpretation to them someday? Would it supplement what they learned in Sunday School or Youth group? They certainly were written to appeal to a very young audience (sort of the Frog and Toad of biblical translation), and I didn’t read anything objectionable in them.
I think what bothered me though, was how simplistic and one-sided they were. I don’t really remember how I learned what I know now about my own faith or others, but it certainly wasn’t from Sunday School – a waste of time where I’d goof off because I was the minister’s daughter and could – behavior I assume acted as a relief valve since I wouldn’t dream of misbehaving in what I considered “real school” Monday through Friday. I feel like church for children is mostly about coloring and learning to sit still; I had a friend in college whose parents would bribe her with lifesavers to get through a service, and I know for a fact her family was not the only one that employed such measure to keep the peace.
So then, how do we learn a code of conduct when we are very young if not with the help of a religious institution or books like these? I can’t speak for anyone else, but in my family, it was a combination of the examples set by my parents and what I learned from the books I loved the most. I’m obviously not talking about books like Gellar’s, although it was well-written with enough humor and doctrine to be a worthwhile read if this sort of thing works in your household. No, I’m talking about the books I read over and over when I was little, the ones that instilled values in me without my even noticing.
Mostly, the books I liked best were about independent children (usually without any parents, a staple of that genre) who were capable, mischievous, and ultimately brave and willing to sacrifice when it came to protecting friends, animals, or what was just. They were respectful and intelligent without being stuffy. They were everything that I strive for now as an adult, and they have been with me constantly as I’ve made my way through the treacheries of growing up.
Between reading those books and having the opportunity to watch my parents fight, again and again, for equal rights for all people, including those who might be incarcerated, marginalized, or excluded, I figured out how faith and day-to-day life can coexist. While I’m knowledgable to some extent about all five world religions and have spent time reading texts from each, I don’t believe that’s where I’ve grasped the really challenging concepts of my faith. The stories were important and interesting, but ultimately, a little flat. The really tough stuff, I had to live out.
Has it helped to have a strong background in one of those religions as guidance? Maybe. But I know plenty of people with no interest in religion who get along just fine, so I can’t say for sure that it matters. All I know is that books like this one, while well-intentioned, probably do more to make a parent feel better about doing his or her due diligence than they do making any real impression on the child.
Gellar did capture two moments that I particularly liked though, so I’ll leave you with them:
After a long while, God spoke to them saying “The tomato plant is dead.” Adam and Eve cried. They asked God, “Why did it have to die? Nothing dies here in the garden.” But God would not answer this question no matter how many times they asked.
So they became angry with God. They demanded that God let them out of the Garden of Eden so they could take care of the tomato plant . God said to them, “You can leave, but you can’t come back.”
Well, Adam and Eve got up and walked right out of the garden and right over to the little tomato plant that had drooped over and turned brown. Inside the garden nothing needed help, and even though outside the garden everything needed help, they were not sorry they could not return. (p24)
The man and the woman asked, “What’s a partner?” And God answered, “A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I am not doing enough and on the days I think you are not doing enough, even on those days, we are still partners and we must not stop trying to finish the world….” (p 3)
For more about Marc Gellman, go here.