046: Great Holiday Gifts!

ave you made your list?
    Checked it twice?
    Well, you may want to go through that list a third time, because here are some terrific holiday gifts — perfect for avoiding the holiday-shopping crowds, because you can order them all online.
    Plus, with Hanukkah and Christmas just around the corner, why not choose gifts that celebrate the religious heart of the season?   

HERE’S HOW to Shop Our Site: In any ReadTheSpirit article, you can click on either titles or book covers — and you’ll jump to our reviews and our bookstore. We run our bookstore through Amazon, so the prices you see on our site are the deep-discount Amazon prices — but any purchase through our site returns a small portion to us, from Amazon, to help support our work.   

So, consider this Holiday Shopping List:

    The Nativity painting, shown at right, is one of the world’s earliest images of Christmas: a veiled woman and infant seated just below a golden star that’s visible through the twisted limbs of a tree. This ancient painting is on a decaying wall in a Roman Catacomb.
    You can read all about this stunning image — this mother and infant who still peer out at us from this crumbling plaster across the millennia — in “Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art.”
    This is a wonderful Christmas gift for anyone on your list who enjoys Bible study and the fine arts. Even many non-Christians will enjoy this book, because it opens with sections on early Jewish art from the Hebrew Bible before it crosses over into the New Testament world. It takes a balanced, eclectic approach to the subject from cover to cover.
    Even if you’re not a member of a particular religious group, if you love the fine arts and appreciate the importance of understanding our global spiritual heritage, this book is a lavish treat.

    We are all benefiting this Christmas from the enormous success of “The Bible Experience!”
    If you’re not familiar with this major achievement, published by Zondervan, then here’s a brief summary: A handful of famous African-American producers and performers set out to record an audio version of the New Testament. Soon, they found that nearly all of the leading lights among African-American actors, musicians and preachers all wanted to play roles in this historic effort. Now, the entire Protestant Bible has been released — and it is terrific!
    I’ve listened to this audio Bible — some portions of it many times now — and, after about a half century of reading the Bible myself, I find that it freshens the familiar texts to hear these new audio renditions.

    BUT THE REAL NEWS HERE is that several other terrific audio Bibles are available now, too — surely fueled by the success of “The Bible Experience.”

    One of our favorites is “The Gospel of Jesus Read by Garrison Keillor.”

    Probably the most beloved “audio-only” storyteller in America, this is an easy Christmas choice for anyone on your list who enjoys the Bible and “Prairie Home Companion,” as well. They’re sure to want this 7-hour presentation of the gospel stories.
    Who can argue with a creative combination of The Voice and The Word?

    Another real treat this holiday season is “Johnny Cash Reading the Complete New Testament.”
    This is a great holiday choice, not only for country-music fans who love Cash’s trademark sound — but there’s a crossover appeal here, because Cash picked up millions of young fans in the final years of his life. Got a young person who is intrigued with the Bible and also is hooked on Cash’s raw, musical honesty — and this could be a holiday choice they’ll remember for years.
    This is Johnny Cash reading, not singing — but Cash is Cash is Cash. That’s his crossover appeal.
    Inside the boxed set, the cardboard folders that hold the 16 CDs are covered with color photos of Cash and quotes from the biography, “The Man Called Cash.”
    One line from the book captures his appeal to teens and 20-somethings: “He was a presence, a form of energy, a vehicle for truth.”
    Christians say the same thing about the New Testament, don’t we? So, like the Garrison Keillor production — this is a natural wedding of talent and material.

    What makes shopping for audio Bibles this holiday season incredibly difficult is that there’s yet another big-budget production available just in time for Christmas! That makes FOUR recommended choices in audio Bibles, alone — so, we are sympathetic! It’s tough to choose.
    What’s a spiritually minded shopper to do, if they’re Christian and they’re intrigued with the idea of bringing the New Testament to life in this way?
    Here’s an idea: Buy more than one and invite the recipients to swap them after a month or so. You can form your own audio Bible circle!

    So, it’s ultimately your choice. But, that final Best Bet in the audio Bible cateogry?
    It’s “The Word of Promise New Testament.”
    Like the Johnny Cash Bible, this is the New King James Version, so the narration will sound a little more stilted to most American ears than, say, “The Bible Experience,” which uses the more contemporary-sounding Today’s New International Version — or the Garrison Keillor Bible, which has gone through a lot of editing to make it come out in a more easily digestible style.

    But, let’s cut to the chase.
    Here are the big hooks in the “Word of Promise” production: Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Jesus in the Mel Gibson movie, stars as Jesus in this audio production. So, fans of that film — and there are millions of fans out there — will “hear” Jesus as they did in the movie. Plus, by opening the cast to men and women of all races and ethnicities, the publisher was able to call on such terrific voices as: Michael York (as the overall narrator), Richard Dreyfuss (as Moses), Lou Gossett Jr. (as the narrator of John), Lou Diamond Phillips (as narrator of Mark) and Marisa Tomei (as Mary Magdalene).


    Finally, we’ve recommended some books focused on the upcoming holidays already — but we’ve got a few more excellent choices to add to your shopping list!
    The first is “Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.” We’ve already told you about, “The First Christmas,” which digs into the gospel stories of Jesus’ birth and explores the original intention of the gospel writers.
    You might think of “Watch for the Light” as an inspirational companion to that journey — a book to pick up each morning through Christmas, and even until Epiphany, for some provocative reading material that will point your daily reflections in dozens of new directions.
    The one book (“First Christmas”) digs into the biblical accounts; but the other book (“Watch for the Light”) points our vision outward in a host of directions beyond the Nativity story.
    Click on the cover or the title for our review.

    We’ve also found a wonderful new family book: “On Angel Wings.”
    My own children are now in college, but our whole family loves storybooks like this colorful tale with its unusual narrative of the Nativity — and its clever plot twist in the middle of the dramatic tale.
    If you’ve been clicking on titles or covers to jump to our reviews — click on this one to read about some of our recommendations for Children and Families.
    You’ll also find reviews on that page of “Great Joy,” another Christmas storybook, and “Letter on the Wind,” a storybook for Hanukkah.

    In addition to this fanciful new take on the Nativity, a ReadTheSpirit reader recommended that we check out “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins,” which we did.

    And I can report that it is, indeed, as our reader named Sam from Chicago insisted: “A whole lot of fun to read.” Sam wrote, “Even my son who I have to unhook from the video games for time with the family smiles when I read this one.”
    Sam and I aren’t alone on this recommendation. This book won the Caldecott Honor and carries that highly respected silver medallion on the cover.

    AND, that’s all for this update on our Holiday Shopping List. But, keep reading each day, because we just might spot some other literary star on the horizon before we reach the holidays.

    COME BACK Next Week for more great stories, our weekly quiz — plus, on Wednesday a very special treat: A Conversation With the internationally respected scholar Karen Armstrong on her new book about “The Bible.”

    Tell us what you think. Click Here to email me, David Crumm, or leave a Comment for other readers on our site.

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