by Ron Estrada
The audience gasps. “What? Ron is annoyed with something or someone? It can’t be.”
Ron waits patiently while you all laugh at your little joke. “Ahem.” Maybe not so patiently.
As children, we were all told the Christmas Story in Sunday School or by our parents or by the kid on our bus who’d attended every Metallica concert within a hundred mile radius. His version was a bit different.
But, you know what? At least his version was honest. Wrong. But honest.
Every year the Christmas Story went the same:
Mary gets pregnant.
An angel appears to Joseph.
Long journey to Bethlehem.
Cows and pigs and chickens.
Jesus is born.
More stuff happens.
Wise men drop in.
Snoopy wins first prize in the lights and display contest.
We heard the story so many times that we gloss over it when we read the first chapters of Luke. I think it’s time we stop glossing.
Did you know that it was only a few years ago that I realized that the wise men visited Jesus in a “house”? That’s what my many versions of the text say. In fact, many of the “facts” we learn as children are merely a Reader’s Digest version of the Christmas Story so we can get the kids off to bed early because, as you all know, the real Christmas Story is how many curse words fly out of Dad’s mouth as he begins the all night journey of “some assembly required.”
Okay, I take it back. Stop praying for me.
Now, admittedly, we’ve done better over the years. In our “reality age,” we like to see and read the truth as it happened. No sugar-coating. War movies now contain enough blood and carnage to satisfy the most avid gamer. When cowboys go off to do battle with the Indians, it turns out we were not always the good guys. And the adult movie versions of Christ’s birth and crucifixion are disturbingly realistic (I barely got through The Passion. I will not see it twice).
Hollywood is maturing. Novelists are maturing.
Is it time to allow our children’s version of Bible stories to mature as well?
Is it wrong to take our board books and include the next chapter of the David and Goliath story and show that severed head? Maybe.
Should we let the kiddies know that Lot’s daughters were a tad naughty after that whole pillar of salt incident? Probably not.
But is it too much to tell a child that the wise men probably showed up long after the birth of Jesus? Maybe as much as two years? I think they can handle that harsh reality. And they can probably handle many of the other details of the Bible often left out of the children’s versions.
Why am I on this rant? Because, if some of my favorite radio preachers and teachers are correct, Bible illiteracy is the number one problem among Christians. We cannot defend our faith because we don’t know it. Too harsh? I don’t think so. And part of that fault has to begin with how we write Biblical accounts for our children.
Yes, we have to condense some things. Simplify the language. Include a flannel graph. But we can help them along on their long journey of Bible study by giving them accurate details at an early age.
In my last past about writing for kids, I stated that we should never “write down” to our young audience. They’re smarter than we give them credit for. They want the truth. And maybe, just maybe, some of those ten year-old boys would find Sunday School much more interesting if a severed head did show up in the midst of their nice lesson (I’m thinking a pop-up book).
So what do you think? Are we sugar coating Bible stories too much for the kids? As Christian kidlit writers, should we begin the push toward accuracy and reality in our rendition of Bible stories?