Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

More Books

March 1, 2010

And on with the great literacy challenge of 2010.

7. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller.

Donald Miller is one unique cat. He would be my Christian theologian most likely to be seen in a bar. And in his latest book, he talks about what he learned in preparing one of his autobiographical/essay books to be a movie. Basically, he had to create himself in a movie. Which, admit it, we’ve all done 7,000 times in our head. I’ve even got the soundtrack to mine, even though I still have to figure out a scene which allows for a semi-random use of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love”.

From this premise, Miller hypothesizes that LIVING a life is, essentially, creating a story. We can sit on the couch and watch a lot of reality shows (or read Christian themed literature), or we can go out and DO something, something to strengthen our relationships with God, and with other people. And that juxtaposition isn’t coincidental. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is half of God’s own two most important commandments.

Miller reconnects with his father, rides a bicycle coast to coast for charity, falls into and out of love, and describes a renewed commitment to living life aggressively rather than passively. Which is a good focus for a Christian book. Most of your Christians aren’t out there lopping off heads and sodomizing animals. If they fail, they often fail for lack of initiative and involvement. And hopefully, Miller helps prevent that here. I dig it, as I have pretty much all of his books.

8. Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich.

From Christian spirituality to card counting. Mezrich recounts the story of a group of MIT math students who use an intricate team-playing system to bust casinos in games of blackjack. The book is so fun that it reads like a thriller. Unfortunately, the more I read about the book, the more I learned that Mezrich played hard and fast with the truth. Jeff Ma is the real name of Mezrich’s main subject… google him if you want some more info about all of this.

And if it all sounds familiar, the movie “21” was made from this book. I’d love to see it, if anybody wants to send me a belated Presidents Day gift.

9. (ongoing) Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

Jacobs is a magazine writer who decided to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Wacky hijinks ensue. He had me in the earliest pages of the book when he confessed that this wasn’t the worst idea he’d had– that he once tried to write a screenplay about a President with Tourette’s syndrome, called Hail to the Freakin’ Chief.

Or when he recounted an article from an old edition of the EB, which stated that ex-President John Adams retired to a life of drinking a tankard of hard cider every morning before breakfast and admiring the size of his manure pile. Of course, you can insert your own President/hard drinking/piles of crap joke here, with the name of said President likely being indicative of your particular leanings. But if you say it about John Adams, it was apparently true.

So anyway, the page count…
2,250 +
A Milion Miles 288
Bringing Down the House 288
Know-It-All 200 (so far)
TOTAL 3,026/20,000
Books: 8.6/50

And correct pace through 59 days of 2010 would have been 3,233 pages and 8.1 books. So I’m a bit behind on my page count and a bit ahead on my book count. Or am I? I counted “Magic in the Night” as a full book, when I read about 80% of it in 2009. I did go back and only count 50 pages from the book… so that probably explains the disparity there. I’m actually probably a little behind on both fronts. But hey, there’s 10 months to go.

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Another book or two…

June 24, 2009

#23 The Day that Christ Died by Jim Bishop

The evilness of work subsides for a second and I’ll update you, my loyal and solitary readership, on the 50 new books in 2009 project. I polished this one off at the Kentucky Bar Convention. Bishop is a historian, not a theologian, and it is from this angle that he takes on the last 24 hours of Christ. This is a common theme for him, although his other subjects were the day Lincoln died and the day JFK died. I loved the Lincoln book, but I never read the JFK one. I mean, who knows where the guy on the grassy knoll or the umbrella man were at 8 AM? 😉

Anyway, Bishop makes clear early on that he is a believer in Christ, so we don’t have a historian here who is trying to second guess miracles or re-write the story to make Judas Iscariot a hero. Instead, he moves hour by hour through the last day of Christ, utilizing the Bible and whatever other historical accounts will fill in the account. He does take some occasional liberties in the act of telling a story, but don’t all historians?

In any case, the book was very readable, and managed to place the last day of Christ in context well. Learning about the historical and political bent of the time helps explain the events of the crucifiction more clearly than I understood them before. It’s a well-written history. Admittedly, Bishop is guessing about some things and is likely wrong about a few. But like a good historian, he works from what he knows and posits his best guesses about the rest.

Joe

Book #9- Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

February 19, 2009

Part of my compact in trying to get 50 new books in during 2009 was that 1/10th of the books (my tithe, if you like) had to be religious books. Given my background, that essentially means that they have to be Christian books. Nothing against Buddhism or Islam or Judaism or whatever your creed, but frankly, I’m confused enough without studying other religions’ ideas of God and His/Her teaching at this point.

Manning’s book is outstanding. I’ve been feeling more than a little burned out lately, and in an imperfect world, with all of my human failings, it’s very easy to fall into constant navel-gazing over how inept or lazy or self-centered I am. Manning reminds us that the gospel is about a love, an insane, ridiculous love by human standards, but point of order for God. One of his essential points is that God loves everyone, that he loves us in our inept, lazy, self-centeredness, and that we don’t have to dress ourselves up as anything we aren’t. And, of course, all we have to do to have this love is accept it.

Manning’s Christianity is not a prison of regulations, but a world of freedom. Manning won’t have much appeal for people who try to hide their humanness beneath a mask of feigned competence or control. He doesn’t like or accept worry or anxiety or guilt. His book reminds us that Christianity truly is a relational faith, and that so much of the work was already done for anyone who will accept it. He reminds us of Christ’s two great commandments– that aside from honoring God, our other direct challenge is in loving our fellow humankind, who are probably all, well, ragamuffins, not so different than us.

Also, for whatever it’s worth, Manning tells an anecdote early in the book which gets its own post. It was like Jerry Seinfeld discussing sin. I hate to tease without the info, but the book is at home right now… I’ll post it later.

In the meanwhile, I dig this book. It’s positive, it’s thoughful and it seems to me to be solidly based. It’s definitely worth reading.

Joe

In praise of a great book

July 14, 2008

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