And I say unto thee, 'Don't sweat me, man'

AND on the first day, God said: 'Lighten up]' This is the Creation according to Black Bible Chronicles, an attempt to make the Good Book 'bad', or accessible to black American teenagers.

The King James Bible of 1611, itself an attempt to make the Bible available to a wider audience, commanded: 'Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.' The Black Bible version warns: ''You shouldn't diss the Almighty's name, using it in cuss words or rapping with one another. It ain't cool, and payback's a monster.'

The author of Black Bible Chronicles is P K McCary, a Sunday school teacher determined to make the scriptures relevant, or 'happening', to her students.

In Ms McCary's version, the serpent ('a bad dude') knows the language Eve understands: 'Nah, sister, he's feeding you a line of bull. You won't die. The Almighty just knows that if you eat from this tree you'll be hipped to what's going down.' This, says Ms McCary, prompted one teenager to conclude that the snake was like a drug dealer saying that crack cocaine would not hurt you.

The full description of the first day of Creation is an eye opener: 'Now when the Almighty was first down with His programme, He made the heavens and the Earth. The Earth was a fashion misfit, being so uncool and dark, but the Spirit of the Almighty came down real tough, so that he simply said, 'Lighten up]' And that light was right on time.'

Ms McCary, a preacher's daughter, does not shy away from moral teachings, warning readers against pre-marital sex: 'It was a bad thing to do the wild thing without a blessing from the Almighty. You had to be hitched.'

The book covers Genesis to Deuteronomy, describing Noah as 'one cool brother', in contrast to Cain, who 'wasted Abel'.

Ms McCary is praised by liberal theologians and damned by fundamentalists. 'It sounds like an honest attempt to make the Bible legible to a large segment of the African-American community, which has for various reasons been alienated by religion,' according to one academic.

Her opponents, however, have responded with a little street language of their own, describing Ms McCary as a 'whore' or a 'pimp for the white man', and her brainchild as 'an abomination'.

Undeterred, she is now writing Rapping about Jesus, her version of the Gospels, in which He tells the Pharisees: 'Don't sweat me, man.'

Theologians worry that such a paraphrase of the Bible risks distorting its message, leaving it open to eccentric interpretation. But Ms McCary, a feminist, says she is just telling the Bible like it is - which is why God's advice to Eve remains resolutely old-fashioned: 'Your ol' man is your boss.'

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