Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The NIV Ragamuffin Bible: Meditations for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up and Brokenhearted

I received a copy of the NIV Ragamuffin Bible for review, so what I'm reviewing is the meditations, reflections and stories that are placed throughout the Bible, although I will once again attempt to read the entire Bible in 2014 and plan to refer back to the NIV Ragamuffin Bible frequently.  

What's new about the NIV Ragamuffin Bible?  The additional material in this particular Bible is all excerpted from Brennan Manning's writings.  In case you're not familiar with Manning, he wrote a number of works but he's best known for The Ragamuffin Gospel (link leads to Goodreads description and reviews).  It's been a very long time since I read The Ragamuffin Gospel, but what I remember most about it is that it's not always easy reading, both because Manning sometimes can fall into the heavy use of what I'd call "ecclesiastical nomenclature" - very much the wording of a man who has studied the Bible deeply for the purpose of teaching (although a lot of his writing is very straightforward) - but also because Manning really makes you focus inward.  How are we as believers in Christ supposed to behave, treat others, live our lives? When you take the time to read and concentrate, you'll often find yourself taking a breath and saying, "Ooooh." His thoughts are deep and they really sock you in the core.

As in his classic work (and I have not read any other books by Manning, apart from The Prodigal, which he helped writer Greg Garrett plot but did not write), the writings in the NIV Ragamuffin Bible are not always quick-skim thoughts -- most are, but some require careful reading.  However, they're definitely placed to make you think. I deliberately started my reading of the Manning quotations in what Jews know as the Torah and a lot of Christians consider the boring, rule-heavy bit of the Bible.  I chose to begin there not because it's the beginning of the Bible but because there's been a lot of random quoting of scriptures of ancient rules by Christians in recent hot-topic debates and I wanted to see what Manning excerpts would be chosen for those books.  Here's an example:

Caring for Each Other 
read: Deuteronomy 19 
The way we are with each other is the truest test of our faith.  How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the antiabortion sticker on the bumper of my car.  We are not pro-life simply because we are warding off death.  We are pro-life to the extent that we are men an and women for others, all others; to the extent that no human flesh is a stranger to us; to the extent that we can touch the hand of another in love; to the extent that for us there are no "others". 

Here's the interesting thing about the placement of Manning's writings: even when you're in the midst of a section telling you when to take your rebellious son to the elders to be judged and stoned or which sexual sins are to be avoided at all costs, the thoughts from Manning's writings that were chosen for those sections are about love, self-evalutation and faith.  Basically, the NIV Ragamuffin Bible is a Bible whose extra material focuses on the reader.  When you're doing or saying something, is it done with love in mind?  How do you treat your fellow man?  Are you acting on faith?  

Boy, do I have a lot of work to do.  

What's not new or great about the NIV Ragamuffin Bible?  Well, there's nothing else besides a chart of weights and measurements, which is pretty standard in any Bible, and a bibliography that will lead you to the correct Manning work from which his thoughts are excerpted. No maps, no study notes, no topic index.  It is, otherwise, just a standard NIV Bible.  I would personally have appreciated a topic index in which you could refer back to what Manning had to say about a particular topic/theme. 

Some people might look at this Bible and think, "Heck, I might as well just buy some of Manning's books," but the really great thing about the NIV Ragamuffin Bible is that you can be reading all the annoying, outdated legalities for a primitive culture and Manning pulls your head right out of that mess to remind you that Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees who focused on legalities and ate with the sinners to make the statement, "We are all sinners." He will tell you the Jews used the Sabbath as a celebration of joy and family before the Pharisees came along and turned the focus on not lifting a finger.  In other words, Brennan Manning had a way of saying, "Look again, people. See where the weight of our focus is meant to be: love, love, love." 

I don't know about anyone else, but I like the reminder.  I have been chastened and uplifted, reminded of miracles and had a bit of hope restored, just in reading a portion of the writings in this Bible.  I want more.  I'm going to do my best to keep the NIV Ragamuffin Bible nearby while I'm reading, this year.

Recommended as a secondary Bible, kept to read in parallel with a good study Bible OR for those who desire an NIV Bible that is pretty basic but includes the occasional thought-provoking story or reflection to remind you as an individual where your focus needs to be.  

Speaking of study Bibles . . . I've yet to find the study Bible of my dreams, unfortunately.  If you've found a particularly illuminating study Bible that helps to clarify the meaning of tricky passages or to set scriptures in their historical context in a clear way, would you please share info about it in the comments?

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

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