The Poisonwood Bible
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
By Steve Stockman

A friend recently told me that, among his group of friends, this was the book of the moment. One friend had just read it and couldnít wait for everyone else to finish it until he could have a good discussion on it. Well, Iíve just finished it and am wondering where to begin the conversation. There is so much going on in this book and every debate fills me with interest. Would we talk about how badly the western Church has taken the Christian Gospel around the world? Would we discuss how social, mental and spiritual misfits become missionaries and how their arrogance wrecks not only Jesus of Nazareth but their own families as well? Would we talk about colonialism in general and how we marred the individual personality of Africa? Would we discuss the great contradiction of  civilization that we can pay sportsmen millions of dollars to take part in some one hour of strength and speed while we allow the vast majority of our world to lose their very lives in starvation and lack of care? Can we ask why sometimes these two things happen yards apart?

Or do we get more spiritual? Should we discuss why those who are most liberal with Scripture are often better at living out the spirit of it than those who take a fundamental approach to loving neighbors and enemies? Should we talk about how Scripture needs to be looked at closely over thousands of years of cultural change and translation impediments? Should we ask how Christ is best introduced into different cultures than ours? 

Or maybe we need to get personal? How do we deal with the things that life throws at us  whether that is the tragedy of death or the mistakes of marriage? How do we deal with forgiveness? Of others? Of self? How do we get implicated in the sins of our parents or nations? How does the future relate to our past? 

Barbara Kingsolver deals with all of these and a whole lot no doubt that I am missing. In a fascinating story of missionary stupidity we are told the story of the Price girls, daughters of the great preacher idiot Nathan Price whose stubborn arrogant ways of spreading the Gospel are sadly too familiar. As one daughter later reflects he tries to save all the children of the Congo where the novel is set and loses his daughters in the process. That in a nutshell is the plot. It is a healthy novel at 543 pages but it is so well written that every page can hold a gem of a phrase or simply be the brilliant bedrock of poetic description and storytelling that the gems are embedded in. Flitting from one sister to the other with the odd introduction by the mother we are led through some forty years of a family saga that is the saga of the latter part of our century and how we have been involved in the historical upheavals of Africa especially its central part. And if you are not that interested in that particular part of your world atlas do not think that this is not relevant to you. Indeed it is. You are involved whether you like it or not. Fantastic.  Now, letís getting talking. 

Steve Stockman is a Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He used to book the bands for Greenbelt, edits Juice magazine, has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster and a web page - Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org. He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and 20 month old daughter Caitlin.
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