In praise of a great book

First, two prologues to this post. Both necessary, both unfortunately, likely to go longer than the post.

This is my first post with religious content. I posted about politics once, and we’re getting a faith-issues post here. I probably won’t talk about religion a great deal on this blog, because, as with politics, it’s something that people feel very intense about, and something that everyone has a conflicting opinion about.

My bargain with my readers is this. I am going to write about religion because it is important to me and because I hope it is important to you. I will write about it only as it affects the real concrete day to day world we live in. I’m not interesting in debating theology, I’m not writing about how many angels fit on the head of a pin. I will respect the fact that some, maybe many, maybe all of my readers are not coming from the same ballpark, same city, same state, or even same continent that I am. I want to write about things that those people also need to know about, but I want to do it in a way that shows that I’m certainly not looking down my nose at anybody. In exchange, please keep it civil. If you want to theologize or argue or question or whatever, shoot me an e-mail (jrcox004@gmail.com), but be civil to me and to each other.

Secondly, I can’t really write this blog without a brief and hopefully non-messy bit of personal background. I do not have, nor have I ever really had a good relationship with my father. My father never abused me or caused me any physical harm. He’s not even a bad person. But we don’t have a very close relationship. I say that just as a fact that you’ll need as background to the post. I’m not complaining, I’m not seeking sympathy; I am certainly aware that many people have many more serious issues than I do on this topic, and many, many other ones. Again, just FYI and mentioned so this post isn’t totally out of left field for people who don’t know.

The book (see, I finally DID get to the point) I am talking about is To Own a Dragon by Donald Miller. Miller is, I guess you can say, a modern Christian writer. He’s more than a little unorthodox, very funny, down-to-earth and a nice public speaker. I have heard well meaning people criticize some of his theological points at length. I’ll leave you to read his books and think of them what you will.

Dragon is Miller’s book about growing up, and becoming a Christian, and being a human being, without a father figure. Miller’s own father has not been part of his life since he was a baby, and he writes at great length of the fact that being without a strong male role model changed his view of himself, of other men, and ultimately of God.

Miller notes that the Bible speaks of God the Father, but as Miller says, “[I]n writing some thoughts about a father, or not having a father, I feel as though I am writing a book about a dragon or a troll under a bridge. For me a father is nothing more than a character in a fairy tale. And I know fathers are not like dragons in that fathers actually exist, but I don’t remember feeling that a father existed for me.” Thus a dichotomy for MIller– who is called to look to God in a role on which he cannot claim personal understanding. And there are the messy issues of how to deal with this gap.

Miller goes on to further explain, “It makes you wonder if just having a dad around… you were supposed to understand something, some idea God in heaven wanted to offer as a gift. Lately, I have been curious about what that something is, and whether or not a person could understand it even in his father took off.”

I won’t spoil the book, but Miller puts great stock in mentoring. He talks about the special responsibility that men like Miller, and, I suppose, myself have been given– to share our maturing process with those in situations like ours. Miller states, ” We are the ones who will wrestle with security, who will overcome our fear of intimacy, who will  learn the hard task of staying with a woman and our children, who will mentor others through the difficult journey of life, perhaps rescuing them from what we have been rescued.”

I am struck by Miller’s insight, both on a religious perspective and on a purely social one. I am afraid that too much emphasis in Christianity is placed on dogma and not enough on getting to know people who need us. There is no better way to spread the Christian faith than by applying it rather than parrotting it. 

And what of the social value of this policy? As the number of boys without father figures spirals higher and higher, the institution of family is so broken that the only way to fix it is by assuming individual responsibility to those like ourselves.

I was inspired enough by this book to resolve to become a member of the local chapter of Big Brothers, Big Sisters. I’m proud to say that my sister has already done so, and is enjoying the experience.

I would certainly recommend this book to anyone with father issues. But I would recommend it to everyone else as well. If you don’t know about the experiences Miller discusses, you should. And I hope that his message resounds as much to you as I did to me.

Thanks for sticking with me on this LOOOOONG post. I’ll get back to some more light-hearted fare tomorrow.

Joe

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4 Responses to “In praise of a great book”

  1. Teresa Says:

    I’m glad you liked the book. You need to let me borrow it.

  2. Julie Says:

    I had never considered the father/son issues this way before I read this book. Miller is such a sensitive writer who really tries to get at the truth. Reminds me of you.

  3. Amy Hilliard Says:

    I like the ideas of applied Christianity and assuming individual responsibility. Both very important. I’m not familiar with the author but I will be on the lookout. Sounds like some very important subjects are discussed.

  4. eljoe1235 Says:

    Miller is always interesting– I think I’ve read three of his four books. “Blue Like Jazz” was his first book, and is probably his most popular. At the moment, I believe it’s being turned into a movie, with Miller’s help, which will either be brilliant or horrid.

    Joe

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