Ruth: Under the Wings of God. John Piper. 2010. February 2010. Crossway Publishers. 96 pages.
Where to begin? I really love John Piper. He's a great preacher and a great writer. Of nonfiction books. But. A great poet--a good poet--he is not. It saddens me to say that. It does. Because I do love, love, love Piper. I've listened to his sermons for years. I've read a handful of his books. And loved them. For the most part. But I didn't love this book. Not even close.
I do like the premise of this one. David, a young boy, is asking his grandfather (Obed) and great-grandfather (Boaz) to tell him stories. Stories about his great-grandmother, Ruth. And it's sweet to think about a young David wanting to hear family stories, making connections--loving connections--with his family.
But because Piper works under the philosophy that poetry has to rhyme no matter what, well, rhythm and the story itself are sacrificed a bit. Poetry doesn't have to rhyme. Free verse can be a good thing, a very good thing. And prose. There is nothing wrong with prose! Sometimes poetry isn't the best way to communicate a story.
Awkward is the best way I can describe this book. Or maybe stilted.
"My daddy lets me watch three sheepBeside the mill; and if I keepThem safe, and make them fat, he saidThat next year I'd get five instead.'If you can keep your three in line,Then you can handle five at nine.'My daddy's always making rhymes.But they're not very good -- sometimes."His grampa laughed. "You're pretty sharpFor being eight. And how's your harpThese days? I'd like to hear you playSometime. I heard your daddy sayYou've gotten really good. Let's goSit beside the sheep, and showMe what you've learned." So David tookHis grampa down beside the brookAnd mill, beneath the carob tree,And cradled, like a lamb, the C-Shaped kinnor in his lap and playedA ballad Jews had sung and prayedFor centuries. The old man laidHis head back on the tree and swayed,As if the music made the treeA ship mast on the rolling sea. (10-11)
It continues on a few pages later,
"Grampa, I'd love it, if you can,To have you tell me all aboutGreat-grandma Ruth. Can you stay outWith me and tell me how she cameTo live in Bethlehem? Her nameStill makes the people smile and singDown by the barley fields. They ringA bell at harvest time, and allThe grown-ups go down every fallTo watch some actors do a playAbout Great-grandma Ruth. But theyWon't let the kids go down. It's gotSome parts that Daddy says are notFor kids. Grampa, I am a youth,But tell me 'bout Great-grandma Ruth." (14)
It is a fictionalized story, of course. With biblical characters playing their roles. But it does take a few liberties with the story. Like the invention of this annual play-acting of the story of Ruth. Boaz also receives a first wife who died tragically because of the famine--the same famine that took Naomi's family out of the country.
"O barley field! O barley field!When you were bent with heads,I feasted on your ample yieldAnd ate your simple breads.O barley field! O barley field!All scorched with desert breath,You starved the one I would have healedAnd stole my love in death.O barley field! O barley field!A paradise in truth,You kept for me a better yieldAnd brought to me my Ruth." (59)
That 'song' is from Boaz's narrative section. And I thought it actually worked better than the rest of the piece.
This one is meant to be a companion to A Sweet and Bitter Providence. That book was one I just loved!
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible