Monday, May 29, 2006

Review: Lamb - The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal

A while back I read about a book on Sarah Dylan Bruer's Grace Notes - Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore. (#10 in my year of books, for anyone keeping track) It's been on my "must read" list since then - who could pass up a title like that? I got the book for my birthday last month, and finished it last week.

The book is excellent. It is hilarious, and irreverent, and moving and profound in ways I'm not even sure the author intended it to be. For anyone who lives a life immersed in the church and the Word, I think you'll find the jokes and puns and convergence of faith and pop culture laugh-out-loud funny. I've read that some find Moore's writing offensive or controversial, but I think those reactions (at least to this book - I've read nothing else of his, know nothing else about what he's written) would come from missing the point. Actually, Moore says of the story, "Theologically, I made certain assumptions [in the novel] about who Jesus was, mainly, that he was who the Gospels say he was." (pg. 441) (On this point, in an afterward, Moore writes, "This story is not and never was meant to challenge anyone's faith; however, if one's faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do." (pg. 443) I think he sells himself a bit short.)

Lamb takes a look at Jesus (Joshua in the book) and his struggle to figure out what it means to be the Messiah as he is growing up, from about age 10 through his crucifixion. In the book, Joshua clearly knows he is the Messiah, he just doesn't know what it means yet. His struggles are shared with us through the eyes of Biff, his best friend. Never heard of Biff? He's been written out of the gospels we know for reasons I don't want to reveal/spoil in this post. Read the book!

Joshua and Biff travel near and far in Joshua's quest to understand his mission. The bulk of the story talks about Joshua's pre-"official ministry" days, though the last section does make an account of the same time we are most familiar with from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, though explaining these events in a different way.

I actually used a passage from this book in my sermon on Sunday, to explain the difference between disciples and apostles. But a more intriguing passage is this, spoken by Maggie, aka Mary Magdalene: "You two (Biff and Joshua) are the ninnies here. You both rail on them (the disciples) about their intelligence, when that doesn't have anything to do with why they're here. Have either one of you heard them preach? I have. Peter can heal the sick now. I've seen it. I've seen James make the lame walk. Faith isn't an act of intelligence, it's an act of imagination. Every time you give them a new metaphor for the kingdom, they see the metaphor, a mustard seed, a field, a garden, a vineyard, it's like pointing something out to a cat - the cat looks at your finger, not at what you're pointing at. They don't need to understand it, they only need to believe, and they do. They imagine the kingdom as they need it to be, they don't need to grasp it, it's there already, they can let is be. Imagination, not intellect." (pg. 384)

Moore also imagines what it might have been like if Jesus had been exposed to Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism. You'll also discover how sarcasm was invented, and maybe even irony. And a lot about angels. Highly recommended!
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