From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Pastor puts Dr. Seuss among theological giants

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Wed, 7 Apr 2004 13:11:22 -0500

April 6, 2004	News media contact: Tim Tanton7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.
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NOTE:  This story is distributed by UMNS with the permission of Religion News
Service, which has offices in Washington. Photographs and a UMTV report are
available at

By Bob Smietana
Religion News Service
When he was a student at Duke Divinity School, the Rev. James Kemp studied
the great theologians of the Christian faith - the Apostle Paul, St.
Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and John Wesley, founder of the
Methodist Church to which Kemp belongs.

But his favorite theologian was the one he first read at the public library
in Lexington, Ky. - Dr. Seuss.

His favorite theological work? Horton Hatches the Egg. "It is the first book
I remember reading or having read to me," recalls Kemp in his new book, The
Gospel According to Dr. Seuss.

Since its release in February, The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss has already
sold more than 14,000 copies, and has headed into a second printing.

It got a boost in early March, when Barnes and Noble featured it as part of a
national celebration of Dr. Seuss' birthday on March 2.

During his 15 years as a United Methodist minister, Kemp often used Dr.
Seuss' stories as illustrations in his sermons. For example, Horton the
elephant, who keeps his promise to sit on a bird's egg till it hatches -
despite ridicule from those around him - is a model of faithfulness of
Christians, Kemp says.

"In the face of challenges, persecution and ridicule," he writes, "Horton
remains faithful 'one hundred percent.'"
Each chapter focuses on a single Dr. Seuss book, and was condensed from
Kemp's old sermons. The Cat in the Hat Comes Back becomes a story about the
"restoring power of Jesus Christ." Yertle the Turtle a lesson about greed.
Green Eggs and Ham a parable about embracing change, and The Sneetches one
about overcoming discrimination.

Two chapters focus on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas: one about materialism
and another about loving difficult people. Kemp sees a parallel between the
Grinch and the biblical story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. Jesus treats Zacchaeus,
a despised tax collector, with respect and completely changes his life, Kemp

"If we are to follow Jesus," he writes, "we too must learn to recognize and
love people, who, like the Grinch, are miserable and difficult because they
are in so much pain."

In an e-mail interview from his home in Lexington, Kemp said he likes Dr.
Seuss as theologian "because Jesus told us to come as a child, and Dr. Seuss
makes us look at things through the eyes of a child."

Kemp, 48, suffers from severe multiple sclerosis, a condition that forced him
to retire from the ministry in 1996. The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss is the
third book he's written since then.

The first, Who Says I'm Dead? deals with his struggles with MS, which has
made him a quadriplegic. The title comes from an incident in 2000, when
Kemp's bank accounts were frozen after the federal government mistakenly
decided he had died. A 2002 book focused on ideas for children's sermons.

For a time, Kemp wrote using a computer with speech recognition software. His
speech has declined so that the computer can no longer recognize him, so he
dictates his writing to his mother, who acts as his secretary. His wife
Barbara interprets for Kemp during interviews.

He says he wrote the book to show that people with great limitations can
still be productive, as long as they have the right support system. He says
he relies on his faith, family and church friends to help him keep going,
despite his circumstances.

Hope is another of the themes Kemp finds in Dr. Seuss. One of his favorite
characters is the Cat in the Hat, he says, "because through him we see that
something good can come out of bad circumstances; we are never hopeless."
That's the overall message of the book, he adds.

"There is always hope," Kemp said. "There is always hope in the unlimited
richness of God. Most of our problems are trivial."

Since the release of The Gospel According to Peanuts by Robert L. Short in
1975, there've been a number of similar books that combine spirituality with
pop culture. There have been "Gospels According to" the Simpsons, Tony
Soprano, J.R.R. Tolkien, Harry Potter, and even "The Gospel Reloaded," tied
into the Matrix phenomenon. And then there's the 2003 spoof, The Gospel
According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal.

Linda Peavy, associate publisher for Judson Press, Kemp's publisher, says the
book connects with readers because so many grew up reading Dr. Seuss. 

She says Kemp's book "is a joy to read."

"This book will appeal to readers because it is easy and enjoyable to read,"
she says, "but also because it contains insights that will change their lives
for the better. Hopefully, they will see Dr. Seuss's stories in a whole new

Kemp says he enjoys the attention the book's success has brought him - "I've
always liked attention," he admits - and that it allows him to continue his
ministry. He's even done a few book signings, with his wife stamping his

During a signing at a Cokesbury bookstore in Lexington, the store sold 75
copies in 15 minutes and had to order 100 additional copies. But the signings
will be limited, Barbara Kemp says. The physical toll is just too much for
Kemp's limited stamina.

Still, he hasn't given up on being a famous author. "One of my lifetime goals
was to be on the best-sellers list," he told the Kansas City Star, "and I
hope I can do that."


United Methodist News Service
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