Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Would Jesus Blush?

Aaron Ghiloni, to whom I should link in my sidebar, has posted briefly on the release by Thomas Nelson publishers of a magazine-style Bible in an entry entitled Jesus at the Clinique Booth.

The substance of Aaron's post is a quotation from a representative of Thomas Nelson:

"The main criticism we get is that we have trivialized scripture by putting images of girls on the same page. But if Jesus was here today, he'd be hanging out at the Clinique booth with teen girls. He went where the people were, and that's the message of the Bible--it's about understanding the connection between the Bible and the world that we live in."
- Laurie Whaley, brand manager for Thomas Nelson, publishers of a magazine-style Bible. Reported here

Frankly, it does trivialise Scripture -- in fact, 'special interest' Bibles of all kinds do that, this isn't unique in that way.* But I wonder if the way that we have culturally constructed the idea of 'girls' or 'teen girls' itself implies trivialisation -- not of the Bible, but of the people, these young women. Is there perhaps then a difficulty in making a Bible for these people which reinforces that stereotype?

If that isn't clear, or you don't see it as a problem, then how about a thought experiment? What if we travelled back in time 150 years in the US and entered the precursor to the Thomas Nelson Publishing Company and joined a meeting there? Perhaps they would be discussing the new issuing of a gift Bible for Christmas.** But why not introduce the idea of study Bibles for certain audiences -- maybe a Bible for slaves, for example? Of course the visceral response that evokes in us (right?) is because we object so strongly to the institution of slavery: to have a Bible which is aimed at this group seems to endorse the continuance of this foul practice. 'Slave' is a way of culturally constructing the identity of a person (i.e. a piece of property, 3/5 of a person, etc.); it can be contested. So also can the way that we construct the identity of 'teen girl', in a way that does more than trivialise and marginalise these people in society.

What Ms. Whaley -- no doubt speaking for more than just herself -- fails to grasp is that Jesus did not merely imitate (and, by implication, endorse) the cultural trends of his day for the sake of some (extra-cultural?) 'message'. Jesus 'hanging out at the Clinique booth with teen girls' is rather ambiguous. Are we meant to think of him there, just chilling? Or would it be more likely that he would be getting to know the women there and challenging them to leave behind the false, overpriced, self-centred, shallow stereotypes that they are consuming their lives to fulfill and instead denounce Clinique et al, and call them into a fuller life in God, loving God and their neighbours? It is clear to me which he would do. It is not that he would steer clear of the Clinique booth (or wherever), but that he would demand more and offer more. But perhaps we have been reduced to offering 'magazine-style Bibles' because we in the church have failed to offer the sort of alternative we are called to do. If we don't/can't offer an example of new life in God, maybe our practices of marketing can.

Or not.

To answer the question posed in the title of this post, I'm not sure if Jesus would blush or not. But I think that Ms. Whaley and Thomas Nelson Publishers -- heck, all the rest of us -- ought to.

* This is not to say that there is some 'pure' Bible that we alone need to focus on: I think Biblical texts without columns, or chapter or verse numbers might be quite helpful. I tend to support Eugene Peterson's interpretation of the Bible (The Message). And I allow no quarter to the tired old hacks who insist that the KJV/ Majority text is the only true translation. But these sorts of products -- I use the term advisedly -- do seem different, whether it is the teen boy/girl Bible, the Precious Moments Bible, or the Scofield Study Bible (with words of Scofield in red), it is laying a filter over Scripture of which we ought to be suspicious. That's not to say that a commentarial tradition (such as is found in the Talmud in Judaism) is illegitimate; but the Talmud is a living tradition of commentary over centuries, not merely the best guesses based on Whatever's Popular Now.

**This is based on truth. Bibles were among the first gifts given in the 'traditional' industrial-age Christmas we celebrate in the West, and they were often fancied up with leather bindings, etc.

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Blogger Aaron G said...

Hi Jason. I'm glad you expanded upon my little post.

Someone at church actually wanted to buy these Biblio-zines as Confirmation gifts...and I quickly vetoed that idea. One problem with them is that they assume that Scripture is not interesting in itself - it requires articles on skin hydration to make it worthy of our attention. Secondly, the format naturally leads to teens reading the "fun" magazine bits and ignoring the "boring" Bible bits.

Regarding "laying a filter over Scripture"...I agree that this isn’t optimal. However, given (a) the Scriptural ignorance of our culture and (b) the profound differences between our world and the world of the Bible, certain filters might be useful at least temporarily. Like the “Left Behind Rapture-Ready edition” :-)

Thursday, July 06, 2006 3:12:00 AM  

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