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The Good Book still provokes and inspires


“I was raised a Catholic, and in those days Catholics weren’t really Bible people … Bible reading, I understood then, was something the Protestants went in for, and look where it got them.” 

In Print | S.J. DAHLSTROMSo goes the pithy beginning of a chapter of “The Good Book: Writers Reflect on Favorite Bible Passages,” by The New York Times’ Charles McGrath.
 
That quote represents the perfect dichotomy of the entire book: the essays within it neither praise nor slam the Bible or the people who read it. Instead, the writers offer honest feedback and experience from outsiders — not the choir. This is valuable to those of us who would like to bring the outsiders in. 

You won’t find any big names from the past that might reel you in with curiosity like say, Hemingway, Twain, Austen or Poe — or perhaps even better, Donald Trump. All the authors are accomplished people of the pen in some contemporary genre.  

But you will find thoughtful observations from myriad viewpoints on the one book it seems we have all been reading for thousands of years. Some parts are almost unreadably sarcastic and small, but many are encouraging, novel even, for the long-time Bible reader. That being said, even the most glaringly acerbic responses bear reading, if only to note how the Bible provokes everyone in some way.  

Many parts, however, are quite readable, as might be expected from a part secular, part agnostic, part believer authorship. 

Consider Lois Lowry, the two-time Newbery Award-winning author and pioneer of the seemingly endless teen dystopian genre (“The Giver” quartet), who describes herself as “an agnostic, raised a perfunctory Protestant.” She relates the story of her son’s wedding in Germany.  During the service when a woman sang the words of Ruth’s pledge to Naomi, she writes “I found myself, inexplicably, weeping.” 

Rev. Al Sharpton pitches in a few pages on Psalms. He writes beautifully about the African-American experience, which he finds paralleled to the Psalms. And he interestingly compares the Psalms to the blues. “We have always been a musical people … rooted in the relationship we insisted upon having with the tortured rhythms of our unaccomplished deliverance,” he writes. This is a fresh, defensible spin on the experience of Babylonian captivity, which anchors sections of the Psalms, such as the wonderful 137th.

The surprising, “inexplicable” quality of the Bible is on full display in this collection. Despite the unique and varied interpretations these authors derive from the Bible, a central theme develops in the readings — this book matters to people, still. It cuts them open. This sword remains sharp enough to divide soul and spirit. 

I found myself recalling the words of the prophet Isaiah while reading, “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty; but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

I find this encouraging. It makes me thankful in a renewed way that we have God’s Word. It sits on shelves and waits, and invites all to come. There is a great confidence we can take from this. The Bible is special. It is bigger than us. 

It is not just another good book. 

S.J. DAHLSTROM is creator of “The Adventures of Wilder Good,” a novel series for young adults. He and his family attend the Quaker Avenue Church of Christ in Lubbock, Texas.

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