Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Singer: a Classic Retelling of Cosmic Conflict

If you are looking for a different, creative approach to Easter for teens, Calvin Miller's powerful allegory, The Singer, may be just what you need. The Singer is written in free verse and parallels the gospel accounts of Jesus' life, with some fictionalization of thoughts or events. Each chapter begins with a thought-provoking statement, and continues by telling a part of Jesus' story. Jesus is called "the Singer," or "the Troubadour," God is referred to as the "Father-Spirit" or "Earthmaker," and readers will recognize other familiar biblical characters easily.

The story begins with the Father-Spirit charging the Singer to sing the Ancient Star-Song. Although he protests initially, the Singer seeks out the River Singer (John the Baptist) and is baptized. He then goes to the desert to learn the Song better, and is accosted by the World-Hater, who tries to convince the Singer to sing his song instead. The Singer embraces his identity and accepts Father-Spirit's mission to sing the Song to all people, even if it means traveling to the Great Walled City of the Ancient King (Jerusalem). Along the way, the Singer heals a crippled young girl, forgives a lost woman, and sets a madman free.

However, when the Singer sings the Ancient Star-Song to the Keepers of the Ancient Ways (the Pharisees), they do not recognize it. Instead, they accuse him of heresy for not singing the Anthem of the Great Shrine. They sentence the Singer to death on a killing machine. Of course, they are shocked when the killing machine is destroyed and no trace of the Singer's body can be found. The risen Singer makes a point to visit the young girl, the forgiven woman, and the madman he has freed. He comforts them and asks them to sing the Ancient Star-Song as well.

The book includes brown, ink, stylized line drawings throughout.

What I Like: This is one of my favorite books, and I love everything about it. Miller's statements at the beginning of each chapter are so memorable and thought-provoking, and serve as the theme for the chapter. For example, before the chapter when the Singer tells his mother he must close his father's shop and sing the Ancient Star-Song, Miller writes, "If she has loved him, a man will carry anything for his mother--a waterpot or a world." The quote I like best is "Humanity is fickle. They may dress for a morning coronation and never feel the need to change clothes to attend an execution in the afternoon. So Triumphal Sundays and Good Fridays always fit comfortably into the same April week."

The other thing I like is the way Miller parallels the gospel accounts, while giving us a glimpse into the humanity of Jesus. His Singer is a selfless, loving person, who rejoices in singing the Song, grieves over hurting people, and is tempted by the World-Hater's pleasing tune. Bible stories can become so familiar to us, but Miller's writing gives us new insight and a different perspective on Jesus' life and death. Particularly effective is Miller's description of the Singer dying on the "great machine of death." Again, the cross is so familiar, but the Singer's death on the machine wakes us up to the reality of his sacrifice again.

The quality of Miller's writing is superb. He is a masterful storyteller, and his sense of poetry, use of vocabulary and tricks of phrasing are powerful. There is not an extraneous word anywhere, and he uses every syllable to draw us into the emotion and essence of the story.

The Singer has been one of my favorite Easter reads since high school, and I often use it as a devotion. It also would work well as an introduction to free verse, extended metaphor, imagery, and allegory.

What I Dislike: Nothing

Overall Rating: Excellent

Age Appeal: Not listed, but I would say 13-adult (the forgiven woman sold herself for love, and the writing style is complex).

Publisher Info: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001; ISBN: 978-083-0822850; Paperback, $15.00

Buy it Now at for $11.99

OR Buy it at for $10.20.

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