Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reflection on The Bible mini-series

Reflection on "The Bible"

What I am about to say may get me in trouble. And this is a little long, so bear with me.

Like about a zillion others of us, I watched The History Channel's mini-series "The Bible". I thought it was interesting, but was not overwhelmed with it. It was interesting by what the chose to include and how they chose to represent it. It was even more interesting in what they chose to leave out. Here's a few thoughts.

First, I liked that it did get a few million people to talk about the Bible, and maybe about spiritual and religious things. It may have opened doors for Christians and others to talk about their faith. I don't know that it did- frankly, where I live most everybody is already talking about their faith. But maybe it did in other places.

Second, I hope that it got people interested in reading the Bible. However, our society seems to be getting less and less literate. The Great Gatsby is coming out in a new movie in a few weeks. It may increase the sale of the book, but I don't think many people will actually read it. Which is a shame (both for the Bible and Gatsby), because there's some great writing in there!

And third, I know a lot of families watched this together. I think when we can families to do anything together, we are doing something good. 

There are several problems with trying to bring the Bible to video. The Bible is not a novel. Sure there is a story line that runs through it of God's creation, our fall, God's redemption, and God's ever-lasting love for us. But this is not a story like even James Michener would write. The Bible has history (which can be made into video story pretty easily), but it also has poetry, proverbs and saying, letters, genealogies, prophesy, and all kinds of other literature. All of it, ALL OF IT, is important! And when we make a movie of something, people tend to think, "Well, the most important parts were included." Future video-oriented generations will have this conversation- "Have you read the Bible?" "No, but I saw the movie." Not the same. Not the same at all. Sorry. It just doesn't work.

But even the story line leaves off so much. I know you can't include every thing. None of Pat Conroy's novels that have been made into movies carry all the story. Prince of Tides, my favorite, has the movie leaving off...oh......about half of the story. It omitted the white porpoise, the grandmother stories, the mansion, all of those things and more. But it did include Lowenstein wearing 9-inch heels and ordering in French. (Can you tell I was disappointed in the movie?) I know you can't include all the stories in the Bible. Jepthah's daughter, the love between Jonathon and David, Paul's friendship with Priscilla. But to leave out Jacob and Esau? That divided family still is fighting today, and they left off the roots of their rocky relationship!

And a movie leaves off cultural context. In some cases that's okay. I just saw Lincoln , a great movie. No one had to explain the cultural context to me. I live in the south, where some people still think we are trying to secede from the nation. Over 150 years later that war is still being fought around here. I know the cultural context.

But most people today, even those in our churches, do not know the cultural context of the stories of the Bible. We have an amazingly Biblically illiterate society, even for those who live in the Bible belt. So we see Saul being told to go conquer his enemies and to kill everyone and everything- warriors, women, children, aged, infants, cattle, dogs- everyone and everything- by God, and Saul does not do that, then Saul is punished by God. 

An acquaintance- I really can't call him a friend- said to me as we went into the war with Iraq, "We need to go in and kill them all. Men, women, children. Everyone. I don't think we need to nuke them to the ground, because then we wouldn't be able to get their wealth. But we need to kill them all. After all, that's what God commands in the Bible." This is why preachers and teachers and wise elders are needed to teach the Bible. Just to lay the story out there and not put it into context, then to say, "This is the Word of God. Thank be to God." causes some mighty bad things to happen.

I also know that the point of a television show, any television show- whether it is Fox News, HBO's Game of Thrones, ABC's Dancing with the Stars, or the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives is to get viewership and sell advertising. So things must be presented in a way that will make people watch, watch the ads, then go buy. So we have Biblical characters who sound like they have come from the BBC. And Jesus is a mighty handsome man, though, if we believe what the prophesy from Isaiah says "He had no beauty that we might admire him." (Probably the most realistic Jesus in the movies was in the old black-and-white Italian film, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Jesus was not a particularly handsome guy, just another person on the street, who was overweight. Hey! I can identify with that Jesus!) But I'll put up with Ninja angels, and people who never seem to get too dirty though they spend most of their time in the wilderness. I can give way for some artistic license there.

I did like the fact that the's Bible app YouVersion was one of the main sponsors. YouVersion is a free Bible app for mobile phones and tablets. As a matter of fact, makes all of their online resources free for the asking. It is not a business plan that most churches or ministries would adopt. I can't see Cokesbury or LifeWay or Group saying, "Hey! It's only electrons, and those are free, so download all you want. We've already made this stuff. And if you want to donate, thanks. If not, that's okay." I sort of like those people. And I highly recommend their YouVersion.

It was to be expected that a week after the series ended the DVDs would be available. What I didn't see coming was the book that went along with it, a week later. The Story of God and All of Us is the companion novel to the miniseries. So....they make a movie based on the book then make a book based on the movie. Why not just say, "Want to learn more? Stop by your nearest church and they'll be glad to give you a free Bible, even discuss it with you!" But then, what would people buy? When I was a child we would often get these Gold Key comic books. They were the classics put into a simple comic book form. Don't want to read Silas Marner? No problem, here's the comic book. The thing is you miss so much.

And finally, for all it's wonderful stories and letters and songs and wisdom, the Bible was not written as a book to be read alone. We do, and that's okay, but it was written to be told to groups of people- families, tribes, friends, churches. It is a communal book. I read it and study it deeply by myself, and urge others to do the same, but it is in sitting with others and talking about what it says, listening to what others say, discovering the meanings of words and the current application of eternal truth together that brings life. And that what's the Bible is supposed to do, bring us life. John ends his gospel with these words- "Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:30-31)

The mini-series did not bring life, at least not to me. All it did was entertain.

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