Monday, October 31, 2011
Bibles For Kids
I wrote an article in one of my previous blogs about the "right" Bible for kids. The post bothered me then and it still bothers me. What bothers me is not that I wrote it but that the subject presents to me as something of a jungle. I am a firm believer that kids should have access to the Jewish and Christian scriptures. They should be able to read them for themselves without too much doctrinal interference and should be allowed to make their own conclusions. That said, it can be a complicated issue for parents. The Bible is complicated. It encompasses a wide variety of topics and a vast array of styles. It is also--to be honest--a book that many parents (including church-goers) do not know very well, even if they like to believe that they do.
I know that some folks don't like their kids to read it because of the violence and sex. The fact that many of these same people allow their kids to play video games and watch TV would indicate that there may actually be other reasons. I know that there are others who are concerned with what sort of conclusions that kids will make. It is this second group that actually prints and purchases children's Bibles. This dynamic is also part of the reason it is hard to find a "good" one.
The parental urge to tidy things up can wreak havoc on the book. It can also create a final product that reflect the theological leanings of its editors as much as it does the Bible, itself. A similar process goes on with Bibles for teens. There is sometimes a desperate attempt to make scripture more accessible by re-packaging scripture and--in some sense--rewriting it. It may then read like what old people think of as "cool"...but is it still the Bible? Is it still accurate enough for kids to make their own conclusions? If you truly believe that accepting a specific creed or doctrine is a necessary prerequisite for eternal life, wouldn't you naturally want to emphasize that which might reinforce your position?
Well, anyway, you see the problem. I think that more important than which Bible is read is how it is read. As parents and religious educators it falls to us to explain our approach. That, of course, means that we need to educate ourselves about what that approach is. That means taking a little time to do some research, to read a bit, to ask our pastors and others what their take is. A couple of weeks ago at Eliot we had an after-church forum about our approach to scripture. I have written about my own take in previous posts. Others had their own--yet mostly compatible--ideas. Discussions like this give us the tools to teach or, even better, be "learning companions" with our children.
The homeschooler in me is a big believer in participating in the education of our offspring. In no place is that more necessary than in their moral and spiritual development. After all, the schools don't do this work (separation of church and state is a good thing!). Sunday school is only an hour a week and (were we to be honest) most of us don't make it every week, do we?
So here is the link to that old post. It now lives on the web page of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship. If you are looking for specific book suggestions, you can start there. Like I said, though, it bothers me that I cannot think of better ones.
Finally, if you are looking for a Bible yourself, I recommend the Oxford Annotated Bible (with Apocrypha). It's translation (New Revised Standard) strikes the best balance, I think, between readability and scholarship. The Annotated Bible also provides a wealth of clues and notes for a deeper understanding of the work.
My thoughts have changed a bit since that UUCF article was posted so there are two things worth mentioning...
1) The grade levels are merely suggestions! The DK Bible that I mentioned is actually fine for K-2 as well as pre-K...just expect your 2nd graders to be ready to move on...
2) I should note that these days we are handing out "Good News" Bibles to the 2nd graders instead of the version listed in the article. Ostensibly the Good News is more readable for younger kids, which is great if they actually do read it. Honestly, though, the one my kids read is the one in the article, which is an NRSV translation with age-appropriate notes. They didn't look at it much in 2nd grade but picked it up again in middle school....