Saturday, March 20, 2010

Book Review: Ruth: Under the Wings of God


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 sheep
Beside the mill; and if I keep
Them safe, and make them fat, he said
That 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 sharp
For being eight. And how's your harp
These days? I'd like to hear you play
Sometime. I heard your daddy say
You've gotten really good. Let's go
Sit beside the sheep, and show
Me what you've learned." So David took

His grampa down beside the brook
And mill, beneath the carob tree,
And cradled, like a lamb, the C-
Shaped kinnor in his lap and played
A ballad Jews had sung and prayed
For centuries. The old man laid
His head back on the tree and swayed,
As if the music made the tree
A 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 about
Great-grandma Ruth. Can you stay out
With me and tell me how she came
To live in Bethlehem? Her name
Still makes the people smile and sing
Down by the barley fields. They ring
A bell at harvest time, and all
The grown-ups go down every fall
To watch some actors do a play
About Great-grandma Ruth. But they
Won't let the kids go down. It's got
Some parts that Daddy says are not
For 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 yield
And ate your simple breads.

O barley field! O barley field!
All scorched with desert breath,
You starved the one I would have healed
And stole my love in death.

O barley field! O barley field!
A paradise in truth,
You kept for me a better yield
And 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

1 comment:

David said...

Becky,
I don't think Piper is under the illusion that he's a great poet. I think he writes poetry sometimes because he likes to try to express ideas within the constraints of a certain style of poetry. He wrote advent poems as a gift to his church.

Also, have you heard an audio of Piper reading any of his poems. I think they sound much better with him reading them than just reading them yourself.

David