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Can God take a tweet? Mormon blogger gives Bible a Twitter makeover

First Published      Last Updated Nov 15 2013 10:03 pm

Nearly every home has at least one Bible, although few read it.

But 16 percent of Americans log on to Twitter every day. And that's where author Jana Riess takes the word of God. A popular Mormon blogger at Religion News Service and author of "Flunking Sainthood," Riess spent four years tweeting every book of the Old and New Testaments with pith and wit.

Now, the complete collection — each chapter condensed to 140 characters — is on sale as "The Twible," (rhymes with Bible) with added cartoons and zippy summaries for each biblical book.

Her tweets mix theology with pop-culture inside jokes on sources as varied as "Pride and Prejudice," "The Lord of the Rings" and digital acronyms such as LYAS (love you as a sister). To save on precious character count, God is simply "G."

Thus, the Ten Commandments passage in Exodus 20:1-17 becomes: "G's Top Ten List: No gods, idols, or blasphemy. Keep the Sabbath holy & love Mom. Don't kill, cheat, steal, lie, or look @ Xmas catalogs." That last one covers coveting.

The book of Ruth is summed up: "Foreign girl wins Israeli edition of 'The Bachelor,' thanks to savvy stage mom-in-law. Oh, and BTW? Women rock."

The woman of virtue in Proverbs 31 has strength among her precious qualities, so Riess gives her "Michelle Obama arms."

The collection reads like a comedy club encounter with a believer at the microphone. But her irreverent tone vanishes when she goes to the heart of the Christian text, the gospel stories of Jesus' crucifixion.

For Luke 23, she tweets: "There's just nothing funny about Jesus dying on a cross. Sorry. Catch up with me in the next chapter."

"Nothing I could say would be appropriate," Riess said in an interview. "I think I am very respectful to Jesus himself."

Riess had no trouble getting sassy with snarling prophets or self-important disciples "who misunderstood or distorted what Jesus said. I know I could never do what they did — give up everything and follow their teacher to do extraordinary things for God. (But) they are very concerned with themselves and with the day to day."

Riess reads the Bible as a charge to generosity and justice, as well as a guide to salvation. That allows her to mock the tea party more than once.

"I don't see the Bible as some do, as a free-market treatise on capitalism," Riess said. "It is very much about the idea that the government (not only the individual) is supposed to be righteous and caring for everyone."

One of her favorite tweets is Matthew 25, where Jesus says his sheep, who fed and clothed the poor, are heaven-bound. "P.S. Sorry, goats, you're on your own," her tweet concludes.

A devoted Mormon convert, Riess, said she will donate 25 percent of her net profit (after her self-publishing expenses) among five charities — faith-based and secular — that provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

"The hardest chapters were the Bible's many violent and disturbing passages," said Riess. "I never want to trivialize pain."

Also difficult: 150 Psalms including some of the Bible's greatest and most familiar poetry of praise, love and lamentation. "Twitter is all about being concise. It's not the greatest medium for conveying literary beauty," she said. Indeed, the 23rd Psalm in "The Twible" is no King James Version: "G's my shepherd. He lets me nap in green pastures. He protects me from the wolves. Sometimes it rocks to be a sheep, y'know."

The book does turn serious in short essays where Riess draws on Jewish and Christian scholars and authors to elaborate theological points. She turns to the late novelist Reynolds Price to discuss the ending of the Gospel of Mark.

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