Friday, March 12, 2010

A book review, of sorts

I'm a sucker for book lists.  By that I mean that give me a book list, and I'll be compelled to read all of the books on it, or die trying.  This isn't true for every genre, of course.  I can easily bypass westerns, mysteries, auto-mechanics, computers...ok, that list is also long.  But there are lists and then there are lists.  When my kids were in the advanced placement literature classes in high school, I read the lists they might be expected to know with relish.  Marked off how many I'd read, made a point to read my way through many others. It's why we keep having to buy or build more book shelves in our house.  J also has this reading gene, specifically  in the field of history.  Since his room here has no more space left for books, he had to move out and begin a whole new library.

When I was accepted at Regent College in the spring of 1997, in the packet came a book list.  Later I discovered that most students took that list as a suggestion, but not me.  I felt it was my responsibility to track down and read every book on it.  Complete with pencil to mark the pages, and notebook beside me, I waded through Martin Buber's I and Thou, Blamires' The Christian Mind, Nemeck and Coombs The Way of Spiritual Direction, Newbegin's Foolishness to the Greeks.  Skimmed History of Israel and New Testament History.  There were other books I couldn't get my hands on, others too expensive to consider buying (we lived far too far from any major lending library before we moved to this side of the water--plus, I needed to build my library, didn't I?).

The best gem of the spring was by Frederick Buechner, a man I'd already been introduced to my our best friend JM.  A preacher, teacher, brilliant writer, Buechner writes the way I think.  That's exactly how I think of him.  There have been so many times when I've read one of his books and thought, "EXACTLY!"  Before reading him, sometimes I thought I was born under a different sun or something, because I saw the world in this unique way, where every single thing has the whisper--or something the shout--of Christ in it.  And yet, sometimes I'm just so much like an ostrich, I plow through life with my head firmly in the dirt, cutting a large swath as I go, but not seeing anyone, or anything, but my own dang feet.  It's writers like Buechner who help me pull my head out of that dirt and see more than myself, more than just the earth, more than just the cars on the street cutting in front of me, or the person cutting in front of me in the grocery line.  Buechner helps me look at those very same situations and ask what God might be--is--doing in them.  In the situation, in the other person, certainly in my own dirty heart.

The little gem 'assigned' on that book list is Telling the Truth: The Gospel As Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale. This book appeals to so much that I love.  For one thing, it uses King Lear as the jumping off connection to the gospel.  For me, an English Literature major in college, this had me at the first sentence.  But for those of you--just the one or two--who might not be in love with Shakespeare as I am--there's more than enough to recommend this book without Lear, and even enough explanation of the play that your eyes might not roll up inside your head as you read about it.  Buechner is readable for anyone, even when he's talking about stuff you aren't all that interested in (though I can't be completely sure, because he's never written about auto-mechanics!).  But don't take my word for it, here he is in his own words:

        "The Gospel is bad news before it is good news.  It is the news that man is a sinner, to use the old word, that he is evil in the imagination of his heart, that when he looks in the mirror all in a lather what he sees is at least eight parts chicken, phony slob.  That is the tragedy.  But it is also the news that he is loved anyway, cherished, forgiven, bleeding to be sure, but also bled for.  That is the comedy.  And yet, so what?  So what if even in his sin the slob is loved and forgiven when the very mark and substance of his sin and of his slobbery  is that he keeps turning down the love and forgiveness because he either doesn't believe them or just doesn't give a damn?  In answer, the news of the Gospel is that extraordinary things happen to him just as extraordinary things happen in fairy tales."  Buechner, 7.

This book is worth finding, friends.  Worth reading, marking up (if you're a marker).  Worth owning.  It helps you 'be a better man', to quote Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets (not a man I ever expected to quote here).  It helps you be a better woman.  It does me, because it's provocative, and challenging. Doesn't tell me what to think, but causes me to.  I like that.  I need it.  And it leads me to pray.

Last night I was thinking about a whole lot of books that have impacted me life deeply for a variety of reasons.  For the next several days, partly because I'm tired, and I'm pretty sure you're tired, of all the minutiae of my life with the elders, I thought I'd inspire us all with these books.  Maybe encourage one of us (probably at least me!) to read one of them, or some of them, or all of them for the first time, or the fiftieth.

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