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Q&A with Lynn Tuttle Gunney

Lynn Tuttle Gunney is a mother and a religious educator. She published Meet Jesus: The Life and Lessons of a Beloved Teacher in 2007. It has been embraced by Unitarian Universalists (UUs) and people of many other faiths as a much needed resource. Here she talks about conservative Christians, how parents are using the book and her inspiration for the project.

What was the inspiration for Meet Jesus?
At Christmastime a couple of years ago, I looked everywhere for a book about Jesus for my daughter and son, who were 2 and 4 at the time. I searched book stores, toy stores, and religious stores but found only traditional Christian tales with more supernatural elements than I was comfortable with. I wanted something factual and historical, but still warm and fun for children to read.

So I decided to fill that gap. I wrote Meet Jesus to introduce my children to the historical Jesus and his timeless lessons of love, kindness, forgiveness and peace.

It’s also a matter of religious literacy. So many parents struggle with how to educate their children for a life of tolerance and mutual understanding in a religiously pluralistic world. I wanted to give them a resource for sharing the basic lessons of Jesus in a way that is respectful of Christian and non-Christian faiths alike.

What were your major historical sources?
I used the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which scholars recommend as the translation most faithful to the original texts. The Bible passages in the back of the book are from the World English Bible, because it’s available in the public domain. If I were to do it again, I might include content from the Gospel of Thomas, although it’s more controversial than the four canonical Gospels.

I also drew on the Babylonian Talmud for general information on how Jewish boys were raised at that time.

Was there anything about Jesus that you learned from your research that you hadn’t known before?
My experience was rather backward! The process of writing Meet Jesus kindled a passion for studying the historical Jesus and early Christianity. I’ve read many books on these topics since then and have become an associate member of the Westar Institute, home of the Jesus Seminar.

Two of the most illuminating books I’ve read so far are Jesus for the Non-Religious by John Shelby Spong, and The Misunderstood Jew by Amy-Jill Levine.

In future editions of Meet Jesus, I hope to be able to make some refinements that incorporate the most up-to-date Jesus scholarship.

What has the general reaction been to your presentation of Jesus in his humanity rather than his divinity?
The response has been very positive. The book has gotten great reviews from UU religious educators and authors, as well as from national secular book review services and liberal Christian leaders such as John Shelby Spong.

I did fear some negative response from conservative Christians, but it hasn’t happened. While the book definitely takes a liberal point of view, I think it remains respectful of the range of views about Jesus in the UU community and beyond.

You used parables to move the story along. How did you choose them?
I chose well-known, well-loved parables that would be easy for children to understand and identify with, as well as those that would lend themselves to appealing illustration. The illustrator, Jane Conteh-Morgan, did a wonderful job of bringing those stories to life. My favorite is the donkey in the “Good Samaritan” parable on page 13.

What did you most enjoy about writing the book?
Hearing how the book is making a difference in children’s lives. One parent told me that when her kindergartener wasn’t getting along with some girls at school, she thought about what she had read in Meet Jesus and made a special effort to be nice to the girls, even if they weren’t nice to her. That warmed my heart.

Many parents have thanked me for giving them a tool for opening a discussion about Jesus with their children. I get a sense that there are so many parents out there who want their kids to know about Jesus’ life and lessons, but have avoided the subject because they didn’t want to “indoctrinate” their children. It’s been very gratifying to provide a resource for them and their families.

What other religious figures would you write about in a similar fashion for children?
My husband was raised Buddhist, so I’d like to write Meet Buddha to introduce our children to their father’s spiritual roots. I’ve also thought about Meet Mohammed, Meet Moses, and Meet the Goddesses, among others. My husband jokes about Meet Satan, but that’s definitely not in the works!

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Last updated on Wednesday, June 2, 2010.

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