Book Review: The Give-Away

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Written by a Lakota/Tlingit/Scots author, this story introduces the Incarnation of Jesus, beginning from the animistic worldview of many tribal peoples.  The illustrations in Buckley’s books feature recognizable artistic motifs from pan-tribal Native American culture to produce an effect that is strikingly beautiful.

In the opening scene, the animals hold a counsel under a Great Tree in which they lament the fallenness of humanity.  Each animal offers a gift to help the humans learn to do what is right; then the Creator speaks, promising the gift of Himself as a small baby who will bring hope to the world.

Scripture teaches that the creation does serve as a testimony to the character of God:

19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:19-20a)

This story takes the creation’s testimony a step further by giving animals and trees personhood and volition.  This anthropomorphism is troubling for biblical Christians because in traditional tribal religion, animals and plants are viewed as having spirits of their own, similar to those of humans.  Animals are often referred to as “relatives” of people, and the idea of humans ruling over the world as the crown of God’s creation is usually rejected.

Still, in the biblical tradition it is obvious that humanity’s fall into sin has caused other created beings to suffer under our choices, although they are innocent of our rebellion:

19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21).

Additionally, the concept of animals making sacrifices on behalf of humanity is played out in covenantal history, from the time God killed animals to make clothing for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21) through the Hebrew tradition of sacrifice (See Genesis 4:3-4, Genesis 8:20, Genesis 46:1, Job 1:5, and many others).  Animal death was necessary because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).  In the Jewish religious tradition, this principle kept the Children of Israel in the fellowship and fear of God until Jesus, the Lamb of God, came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17), die as the final sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 9:11-13), and restore humanity to Himself (Revelation 21:1-3).

What Buckley is attempting in this story is to portray an animistic religious teaching, and then show how it is completed through Christ.  Don Richardson describes this as a cultural key — an element of culture which can be used to unlock a door for the Gospel (The most famous example of this is probably the Apostle Paul speaking on Mars Hill, Acts 17:22-32).  The cultural traditional belief poses a question which can only be answered by Jesus.  In this case, the animals are depicted as attempting to influence humans by their actions, but it is clear their plan will not be effective.  The Creator counters their plan by stating that their gifts are incomplete, and the only answer to human sin is the gift of Himself: “It is I who must give myself away.  I must give-away my protection and come vulnerable to their lodges.  I must choose to become small, so that they can choose to know me large.  I must give-away my Name so that they can know their names” (25).  This action presents a Gospel solution to the culturally-interpreted problem.

Buckley states in his preface that “the message of Jesus becomes one not only of restoring humanity to God, and human-to-human, but also of restoring humanity to ‘all our relations.’”  This phrase, often used in the same way as “Amen”, expresses the traditionally indigenous idea that all beings are connected to one another.  By invoking this phrase, Buckley is making an explicit claim that the Christian Gospel answers questions left unanswered by American Indian religious tradition.  Since he does not address the biblical admonition for humans to rule over creation, and since he plays off of traditional animism rather than confronting it head-on, some may feel he skirts too close to the line between cultural contextualization and syncretism.  However, I believe the story succeeds in its goal of introducing the Gospel in a culturally understandable way.  This is a very beautiful and unique Christmas book, which should be presented with careful discussion of its deep spiritual themes.

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Publication Information: Buckley, Ray. Give-Away, The. . 1999. ISBN: 0687071860.
Categories: 3 Stars, Age 04-08
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Posted on May 26, 2009

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