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Restoring the Power of Jesus Words at a Perfect Time,
This review is from: The Poems of Jesus Christ (Hardcover)
Willis Barnstone is a living testament to the power of pen over the frailty of flesh. In his mid-80s, when most of us are at least slowing down if not already long gone, he continues to publish major works in poetry, religion and translation that freshly inspire readers of all ages.
Aside from his major works on poetry and world literature, just consider his books on biblical themes in recent years: The Gnostic Bible: Revised and Expanded Edition, a 900-page 2009 volume that he co-edited with Marvin Meyer; The Restored New Testament: A New Translation with Commentary, Including the Gnostic Gospels Thomas, Mary, and Judas, a 1,500-page 2009 volume that collected his own translations of biblical and gnostic scriptures; and, this spring, the closely related new book called, The Poems of Jesus Christ, which weighs in at a more comfortable-to-carry 288 pages. Meanwhile, Barnstone has two more big books about poetry and the art of translation nearly ready for coming seasons.
Considering that Barnstone's favorite cultural realm is thousands of years in our past--immersed in the works of poets such as Sappho, Deborah and Wang Wei --- he has a remarkable talent for timeliness. There is no hotter topic in Christianity today than the words of Jesus. Beyond the decades-long debate over what Jesus actually said, a growing chorus of influential Christian writers are urging the deeply divided body of Christianity to reunite over the actual teachings of Jesus. This note is struck loudly and clearly in new books by John Dominic Crossan (The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus), Diana Butler Bass (Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening) and N.T. Wright (How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels).
Other leading Christian writers are going further than that. Campaigning for a specific spiritual focus on the words of Jesus are the matriarch of re-emerging Christian spiritual practices, Phyllis Tickle, and the barnstorming theologian popular on college campuses nationwide, Tony Campolo.
Phyllis Tickle tried to capture the enduring power of Jesus' sayings in her own book, The Words of Jesus: A Gospel of the Sayings of Our Lord: "Devoid of narrative context, the sayings come straight at us like so many bullets, piercing all our armor and destroying all our carefully thought-out prior convictions."
In his own book, Red Letter Christians, Tony Campolo tried to give this particular spiritual movement a name, focusing on the sayings of Jesus: "By calling ourselves Red Letter Christians, we are alluding to those old versions of the Bible wherein the words of Jesus are printed in red. In adopting the name, we are saying that we are committed to living out the things that Jesus taught. The message in those red letters is radical, to say the least."
What all of these efforts lack, until now, is a fresh, artful and authentic rendering of Jesus' words in contemporary language. Yes, accurate contemporary translations of the Gospels are widely available--but that authenticity is rarely coupled with the "fresh" and "artful" pen of a poet. Enter Willis Barnstone. These sayings of Jesus, now separated out and rendered in poetic typography in this new volume, also appear in the complete Gospel texts of his 2009 Restored New Testament. Or, well--almost--Barnstone tells us that, when this more compact new volume was prepared, he freshened the prefaces to set the tone of each gospel and he did tinker with a few lines here and there--perfecting them in this purely poetic format.
Bottom line: If you care about reading the Bible in fresh ways--and especially if you find yourself among the broad movements encouraged by the many other Christian writers, described above, then get a copy of The Poems of Jesus Christ now.