God Is Disappointed in You
Artists and authors always walk a fine line when the subject of religion enters the room. There are many that truly wish to have a dialogue about faith, but how to begin the conversation?
Author Mark Russell and illustrator Shannon Wheeler present a humorous and though provoking retelling of the Bible with God Is Disappointed in You. While there are many Bible adaptations on the shelves already, this new foray approaches with a wry inquisitiveness that comes from a place of open curiosity. Russell has managed to pare each chapter down to a modern day Spark Notes style which, when compared to the actual text, is surprisingly not far off the mark.
Most people are familiar with the list of rules in Leviticus, familiar in that they know there is a list but perhaps not able to rattle off all 613 rules. With that in mind, how much easier is it to grasp the rules than through a memo from Moses to “The Children of Israel” that states (in part):
“If you have a mildew problem, you have to burn your clothes and blankets. If you have a wet dream, you have to take a bath. If you have a pus-filled sore, take a bath and then burn your clothes. If someone gets a skin disease, make him take a bath and shave off all his hair. If a man with eczema spits on you, you have to take a bath and burn all your clothes. If we can’t be the holiest people of all time, we’ll damn well be the cleanest.”
But we truly see the author’s deft touch when we get to the New Testament and Jesus enters the scene. This is not a staid and somber Jesus, this is Jesus with a smirk. While not a common portrayal, it does serve to make Jesus more accessible and approachable. When Jesus speaks in the Gospel of Matthew on the topic of humility, the translation into modern day parlance allows for a much quicker visualization of Jesus’ meaning:
The King James Version:
"Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
The Mark Russell Version:
“When you give to the needy, do it because you’re a decent, caring person, not because there’s a crowd watching. I see these guys in the marketplace who make a big show of throwing coins to a blind man and I think, ‘Shit, why not just bring a trumpet player with you?’ If you need a fanfare every time you do something decent, then you’re probably a miserable human being. It’s when nobody’s watching that God notices us.”
Using numerous formats for this presentation, from Psalms presented as a Greatest Hits compilation to Revelations annotated with common theories as to the prophetic representations, God Is Disappointed in You is a wonderful path through an often unapproachable text. It invites the reader to compare and contrast the revised retelling with the canonical texts.
Illustrator Shannon Wheeler’s New Yorker-esque cartoons are great touchpoints used with care to either enhance the ongoing story or to view a story through a different lens. Sometimes surreal but always amusing, Wheeler applies a matching sardonic wit to his keep pace with the author.
The book as a whole is a departure from the normal fare offered through Top Shelf, as this is not a graphic novel but a humor title. But what started as a three-page explanation of the story of Job to a friend, Mark Russell’s two years of research have produced a very relevant volume that will get the conversation started.