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Category Archives: Books

what I’m reading: Moonwalking with Einstein

Once upon a time, memory was at the root of all culture, but over the last thirty millennia since humans began painting their memories on cave walls, we’ve gradually supplanted our own natural memory with a vast superstructure of external memory aids – a process that has sped up exponentially in recent years. 

Imagine waking up tomorrow and discovering that all the world’s ink had become invisible and all our bytes had disappeared. Our world would immediately crumble. Literature, music, law, politics, science, math:
Our culture is an edifice built of externalized memories.

So good, this.

O for the rebuilding of the internalized palace of living, breathing memory! Before the bytes disappear…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2015 in Books, Quotes, Uncategorized

 

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palate touching moments

Go for a slow and mindful walk.the-parents-tao-te-ching-ancient-advice-for-modern-parents-a-new-interpretation_2816976
Show them every little thing that catches your
eye.
Notice every little thing that catches theirs.
Don’t look for lessons or seek to teach great
things.
Just notice.
The lesson will teach itself.

Love this piece of parenting advice from The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents by William Martin.

Yes.
I was far too fast as a parent.
Far too fast.
Lessons, I think, were too much like frontal assaults. They tended to suffer from the same sledgehammer effect that afflicts most attempts at movie-making by Christians.
We’re far too explicit, far too direct.
It’s the art of the oblique, the indirect. Ehud parenting. Left-handed, minus the dagger.

“Train up a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

More proverbial, ancient eastern wisdom – though our English translation conceals the beauty and simplicity.

“Train” conjures up the instruction regarding facts and procedures; external principles being transferred through classroom impartations, when the metaphor employed by the proverb is much more primal and intimate. It is the mother touching the palate of the child she would wean by sharing whatever she happens to be chewing. There was no “Weaning 101” class where the child was taught the value and necessity of leaving the breast for the brisket. There was only the seeking out and utilizing of natural palate touching moments, of sharing what was being chewed and in so doing shaping tastes that would not only draw the child from teat to table, but would shape appetites that would last a lifetime.

This extends far beyond the weaning of a child. It reaches all meaningful relationships. It informs (or should inform) all mentoring walks, for they should be just that, mentoring walks. Slow and mindful. No desire to teach great things is here. The best mentor is the one who isn’t trying to be one. The best mentoring sessions are the ones that are anything but that.

Palate touching.

This is at the heart of parenting, of mentoring, of friendship.
The sharing of what I happen to be chewing upon at the moment, of the little things that are catching my eye.

This, of course, implies that we are, in fact, chewing on something – and that it’s something worth sharing.
It implies that we are walking slowly enough to notice the little things.

And that we are moving slowly enough, and closely enough, to do the sharing…

courtesy of Henry Moore

courtesy of Henry Moore

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2015 in Books, haverings

 

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in praise of slow

A friend shared this from Rabbi David Wolpe (and I do believe I have a crush on the rabbi) on the Jewish holiday Sukkot:

All of us acknowledge how we rush the moments. If the computer lags for seconds, it feels endless as an insomniac waiting vainly for sleep. If our flight, traversing thousands and thousands of miles, is an hour late, we complain as if the sun refused to rise. We are not even minute men, but nanosecond men and women, splitting the day into innumerable microdrops of time. We do not merely fail to look at things under the aspect of eternity, we can rarely stretch our vision past the next moment.

Thankfully, there is Sukkot. During this holiday we read the book of Kohelet, Ecclesiastes. Kohelet reminds us that there is a “time for everything under heaven.” In the famous third chapter we are told that there is a time for living, for dying, for laughing, for weeping. We think ourselves masters of time but the true artistry of life is to live fully in time’s passing.

You would do well to read the whole article.
I was struck by two things.
First, that a Jewish rabbi gets it.
Okay, it shouldn’t be an epiphany that a Jewish rabbi gets it, especially when it comes to getting his own holiday. It’s just that the contrast with so much of the hysteria in Christian circles with the convergence of Sukkot, blood moons, and papal visits has been astounding. A holiday that leads too many to frenzied fears of what might happen at any moment as they look away to the uncertain future leads another to an embracing of the simple rhythms of life in which we find the “true artistry of living fully in time’s passing.”

It makes me want to convert to Judaism. Oy!

Second. The dovetailing of this article with the book I’m   s l o w l y   reading: In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honoré. The book was written ten years ago, but is more relevant than ever. Honoré observes:US-cover-200x300

As we go on accelerating, our relationship with time grows ever more fraught and dysfunctional. Any medical textbook will tell you that a microscopic obsession with detail is a classic symptom of neurosis. The relentless drive to shave time into ever smaller pieces – it takes five hundred nanoseconds to snap your fingers, by the way – makes us more aware of its passage, more eager to make the most of it, more neurotic.

The very nature of time seems to have changed, too. In the old days, the Bible taught that “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” – a time to be born, to die, to heal, to weep, to laugh, to love and so on. In Don Quixote, Cervantes noted that “Que no son todos los tiempos unos” – not all times are the same. In a 24/7 world, however, all time is the same; we pay bills on Saturday, shop on Sunday, take the laptop to bed, work through the night, tuck into all-day breakfasts. We mock the seasons by eating imported strawberries in the middle of winter and hot cross buns, once an Easter treat, all year round. With cellphones, Blackberrys, pagers, and the Internet, everyone and everything is now permanently available.

Honoré’s evaluation of Christianity’s effect on us, our time, and our acceleration?

“Christianity piles on pressure to put every moment to good use.”

How sad.

Followers of Jesus should be at the forefront of a counterculture “in praise of slowness,” but all we seem to manage to do is to spin the not-so-merry-go-round that everyone else is riding, pushing faster and faster. Time is short, after all. Behold the blood moons…

But maybe, just maybe, this is not what “redeem the time” means.

“Make it your ambition to be quiet,” says Paul.
Quiet = sedate, tranquil, restful – used of those not running hither and thither.

Methinks we have some rethinking to do…

Courtesy fatboyke (Luc)

Courtesy fatboyke (Luc)

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in Books, haverings

 

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Strange Glory (a book review, of sorts)

My latest read.Strange Glory
Charles Marsh’s A Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

It was Eric Metaxas’ tome that served as my first real introduction to the story of Bonhoeffer, so I hadn’t imagined needing to read another biography, Metaxas covered the ground so well, his book almost reading like a devotional for me at times.

But then I saw this title and Speakeasy sent me a copy to read and review.

Yes. There is room for another biography.

I still love Metaxas’ work, but Marsh in his lively and meticulously researched book showed me refracted views of Bonhoeffer’s story and character that I hadn’t seen. In many ways I felt as if I was meeting Bonhoeffer anew, and he’s always worth meeting, so the book richly repaid each moment spent. And as a bonus, Marsh sent me frequently to the dictionary to dig into words that are either new acquaintances or ones that I’ve met and quite forgotten. I know this may not be a selling point for all too many of us. But it should be. We need a rekindled love affair with words!

Musing on the refracted views I mentioned – I was reminded of this comment by Joshua Shenk about histories and biographies and how when we tell the truth of them we invariably “tell it slant” to use Dickinson’s phrase:

Historians must choose interpretative frameworks. And in this they are inexorably subject to the fancies and suppositions of the times they live in. As times change, so do popular dogmas and curiosities. Therefore our approach to history changes as well. This is not to say that history is merely subjective, but that objective and subjective realities interact to create a foundation of accepted truth. “What happens over and over,” J. G. Randall wrote in 1945, introducing the first volume of his biography Lincoln the President, “is that a certain idea gets started in association with an event or figure. It is repeated by speakers and editors. It soon becomes a part of that superficial aggregation of concepts that goes under the heading ‘what everybody knows.’ It may take decades before a stock picture is even questioned as to its validity.”

Joshua Wolf Shenk, Lincoln’s Melancholy

I suppose what I feel Marsh has done with Bonhoeffer is taking what for me was a bit of a stock picture and giving it some helpful dimensions that have helped me to better “behold the man.”

And with such a man and story as Bonhoeffer, that is a true gift.

Take and read.

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Posted by on August 8, 2015 in Books

 

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book review (of sorts): A More Christlike God by Brad Jersak

A More Christlike God SnippetIs it that I’m just getting lazy, or am I pasting a picture of highlighted text rather than transcribing it because I want to lure you into picking up a copy of Brad Jersak’s book A More Christlike God and marking it up like I have been doing? When I saw A More Christlike God come up on Speakeasy’s menu of books inviting me to read and review, I just couldn’t resist the title.

Normally I don’t bite at such offers of “we’ll send you a free copy and you review in x number of days” because, well, I like to read what I want to read when I want to read just because I do. But the title got me. Then Jersak’s bio got me. The book did not disappoint.

It’s a thinking book, but not overly chewy. But it’s chewy enough that I didn’t want to plow through it to meet a deadline. I wanted to savor. And I have. Which is why this review is two days late. I just couldn’t rush the read for the simple reason I didn’t want to. But then I’m a theology geek.
Theology/Philosophy geeks, meet Brad Jersak. Take a spin through his latest book.

If you wonder about the seeming disparity between the Father and the Son when it comes to anger issues;
If you struggle with the theme and graphic instances of Divine violence in either part of the Book;
If you’re turned off by a weak Jesus that anyone can beat up in favor of the conquering, William Wallace* kind of Christ – or vice versa;
If you’ve spent more than your share of time grappling with the idea of God and the fact of suffering in this world;
If you’re a thinker who can handle some alternative ways of looking at God and Scripture to alternately stretch and/or infuriate/delight you;
If you’re a major theology geek and “too much theology” is simply not a phrase that would ever be heard passing through your lips;

Then you should be right at home with A More Christlike God.more Christlike God

“Behold the kindness and the severity of God,” says Paul. It seems we tend to lean either into the one or the other, emphasizing kindness while downplaying the severity, or vice versa. Yet while we can call attention to Divine violence glimpsed in Christ in the Gospels (after all, he did curse a barren fig tree and drown a thousand pigs!), such incidents provide a curious counterpoint to what is clearly on display front and center in Jesus: he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. Yes, he overturned tables in the temple once. Okay, maybe twice. Yes, he cursed a tree. Yes, he decried the religious elite of the day as hypocrites and the temple as a den of thieves. But it is his merciful touch and presence that dominates the landscape – all under the shadow of the cross that serves as the focal point of his life and of the Gospel that he birthed through it. This is Jersak territory.

Clearly, God has layers. And so does Christ.
Oniony God.
Thank you, Brad, for your refreshing A More Christlike God exploration through the layers.

Take and read.

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* Years ago after returning from a mission trip to Scotland, someone asked me if I thought God approved of William Wallace’s approach to dealing with injustice. “It depends…” I said, adding after a profound pause, “…on which Testament you happen to be leaning into.” I also could have said it depends on which Joshua we are trying to follow: the one in the Old Testament book of the same name who went about wiping out the Canaanites by Divine fiat, or the one we read about in the Gospels who shared some crumbs of mercy from the Divine table with a desperate Canaanite woman. Yeah. Jersak’s book is kinda like that

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2015 in Books

 

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a book review (of sorts)…David: The Divided Heart

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 4.24.24 PMMy friend Gina shot me a link to Rabbi David Wolpe’s latest book David: The Divided Heart. I’ve read snippets from Rabbi Wolpe, but never followed his thought through a book.

Glad I listened to Gina.

There’s something to be said for reading outside the lines of our faith and fellowship, outside of our cultural, social and political orbits. One way of doing that is reading old books. Another is reading books by someone coming from a truly different perspective. Perhaps the best of both worlds is occasionally reading something that is both! (Which is perhaps why I spend so much time in Jewish Scripture, ha!)

In this case, considering a Jewish Rabbi writing about a pivotal Jewish ancestor, one might think his perspective might indeed shed some light on that of relative newbie Christian observers looking over their Jewish neighbor’s fence. And so it does.

At any rate, I read half the book in one afternoon’s brief sitting.
It floweth…

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yes! within me. within others. yes.

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you know any book using the word “tendentiousness” is going to be awesome.

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this one left my mouth agape. what an observation!

There will be things that you’ve seen and heard before, sure, but there were enough fresh insights from the biblical text to make me giddy – and to keep going. Perhaps one of the best compliments that can be extended to any book is that you’re sorry when it’s over.

And so I was.

Take and read.

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Posted by on June 13, 2015 in Books

 

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alternative medicine

Brought this in for a friend.alternative medicine
Can’t carry it in the bookstore.
Language issues, among other things,
the kind you hear in hospital corridors
and church parking lots
or wherever else
I find people leaking
pain.

Alternative Medicine by “celebrated physician-poet” Rafael Campo.
His sixth collection of poetry.
Examining the primal relationship between language, empathy
and healing;
the balm of song
the salve of imagination.

Good medicine. Hard medicine.
Who would have thought:
Poetry can hurt and heal at the same time.

Primary Care

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Posted by on April 7, 2015 in Books, Poetry

 

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reading is powerful

Behold, the power of reading.
A wee snippet from a great blog post by Orange Marmalade.

Reading is powerful.

Reading aloud together forges enduring, companionable bonds as we journey together to new places and into new relationships, Jesse Wilcox Smith reading girlsexperience the emotions of a story together, make sense of stories together, create memories and build associations through story. We build a Secret Club, as it were, with passwords of just the odd word or phrase from countless stories that trigger curiously sweet camaraderie.  As we read, we join a larger community with all those who love sorting hats or Frogs and Toads or a red-haired girl who hates being called Carrots. Connection happens through reading, and connection makes the world a better place…

Reading heals.

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Posted by on March 28, 2015 in Books, Quotes, Reading

 

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speechless God

One of my favorite Robert E. Lee stories. After the war…from Lee: The Last Years by Charles Bracelen Flood:

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.09.40 PM

What self-styled orators we all can be when it comes to God.
When we come to God.

Such flourishes.
So many words as we gain the porch,
or perhaps hoping through our eloquence
to gain access to the porch?

How often, I wonder, do we leave Abba speechless
as we seek to impress him as we ascend;
God speechless,
we continuing;
how often the Spirit waits for us to pause,
to take a breath,
so she can invite us to have a seat
and enjoy some lemonade in the cool of the evening…
 

Unknown

 

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Posted by on November 24, 2014 in Books, Quotations

 

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shut up. wash feet.

chasing-francis-cover

wild goose chase…

This stop turned out to be the community’s home for men dying of AIDS. When I discovered where we were, I was surprised by how apprehensive I felt. I’d spent a lot of time around dying people, so that wasn’t it. Maybe I was self-conscious about being around gay men and needle addicts.

“Most of the men who live here have no one to take care of them,” Angelina said. “Their families have disowned them, and their friends have stopped visiting. We help them die with dignity, and hopefully they see Jesus in us.”

The house was quiet except for a cat meowing in some faraway room. The three of us walked up the stairs to the second floor. Through open doors, we could see men in different stages of illness. Some were propped up in bed reading; others slept. At the top of the third-floor landing, a petite young woman with close-cropped hair and a beaming smile was waiting for us.

“This is Eva. She’s a volunteer in training from one of our houses in Germany,” Angelina said.

Eva shook my hand. “You’ve come just in time. We need to give the men baths,” she said.

“Maggie, why don’t you go downstairs and look in on some of the men? They love visitors,” Angelina said. I knew we’d soon hear laughter coming from the floor below.

“Can I go with her?” I asked.

Angelina placed her hand on my arm. “We could use you up here,” she said.”

My heart was beating like a drum against my rib cage, just at the idea of giving a man a bath. I scrambled for a reason why I couldn’t possibly help, but I wasn’t fast enough. Angelina took my hand, and we went into a room where a young man lay on a bed, staring blankly at the ceiling.

“Buongiorno, Amadeo,” Angelina said. “I’ve brought a friend today.” Angelina removed the blanket that covered Amadeo’s body. He was a naked stick, mute, his almond-shaped eyes filled with that pitiable mixture of panic and confusion. His pallid skin hung flaccidly — he must have been six feet tall once, but now he surely weighed less than a hundred pounds. I felt a rush of both shock and sadness. I looked at Angelina for help, and she smiled at me reassuringly.”

“Let’s put Amadeo in the tub,” she said, as she repeated in Italian so that he and I would both know what we were doing next.

Eva dipped her hands into the water to make sure it was the right temperature, while Angelina and I lifted Amadeo. I tenderly placed my hands under his shoulder blades. They felt like sharp-edged clamshells cruelly implanted in his upper back. I was afraid his skin would tear like tissue in my grip. The bones of his pelvis stuck out through his skin like six-shooters in flesh holsters.

We lowered him slowly into the bath; the steam that moved across the water parted as his body passed through it. Amadeo winced as the open sores on his body made contact with the tepid water. Angelina spoke to him soothingly while sponging off his brittle frame.

She handed me a rag. “Would you mind washing his genitals,” she asked evenly.

I was speechless. The stick-man looked at me as if to say, “What will you choose to do now?”

There is a tensile surface on water that’s always fascinated me. I’ve ruminated before about that infinitesimally thin layer of resistance when preparing for baptisms. Is the water giving the candidate one last chance to go back, a last-minute opportunity to pull away and say no to the intense yet life-giving drowning that lies ahead? Or is it a reminder that there really is a separation between this fallen world and the next?”

“As I pushed against my revulsion and plunged the sponge beneath the water, I thought of it again but refused its invitation to hold back. I’d passed through a border into the depths and found I could still breathe there. My terror and embarrassment was replaced by peace, edging toward sublime joy.

“Did you know that Francis had a phobic aversion to lepers?” Angelina asked, continuing to wash Amadeo.

I wrung the water out of my rag. “I’ve read about it,” I said quietly.

“He was so disgusted by them that whenever he saw one, he’d cover his mouth and nose and run away. One day, he was riding his horse on the outskirts of Assisi and saw a leper. He was tempted to take off in the other direction, but then he heard Jesus telling him to get off his horse and kiss the leper. He did, and it was a breakthrough moment in his conversion.”

Angelina and I lifted Amadeo out of the tub and placed him on the bed, where Eva had placed fresh towels. We patted him dry and gingerly dabbed ointment on his sores. Amadeo closed his eyes, and his expression softened into something resembling peace. I wasn’t sure which was the more soothing to him — the cleansing, the salve, or the sensation of people touching him.

When we were finished, Eva put a warm fleece blanket over him. Angelina put her face close to his. “Good-bye, my friend. I will look in on you tomorrow.” Amadeo opened his eyes and stared at her. His lips moved, but no words came — only the sound of air passing over his vocal chords. Angelina kissed him on the forehead.

While we were walking down the stairs, Maggie came out of one of the rooms and met us in the hall. I must have looked dazed because she looked sideways at me. “What happened up there?” she asked

“I think I became a Christian,” I said.

__________________________________________________________________

An excerpt from Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron – one of my more meaningful reads over the past few years. It’s fiction. It desperately needs to become non-fiction in evangelical circles.

Read the story.
Read the book.

Just how might this world be transformed if we all chased Francis just a bit?
What would happen if today we became Christians?
We are so good at defining our positions, venting our holiness, taking our moral stands…
When it is a basin and a towel that he puts into our hands rather than theology laden tomes;
a basin filled with water to wash the feet of our enemies culturally, politically, religiously, morally.
We will bury an offending mayor with Bibles and sermons in protest of our religious freedoms,
but who will wash her feet?
Who will feed her?
Who will give her something to drink?foot washing email

Our words would have weight if we washed more feet.

5 to 1. That’s the ratio. Every one word of instruction, correction, teaching should be preceded by five acts of hands-on, no-strings attached kindness. The ratio is arbitrary, I admit it. But it would be a start. In fact, theologians who are really into numbers say “five” is the number of grace, so five would be a good start.

Shut up. Wash feet. Five sets of feet. Then you can speak a word –
if you still want to.
If you still need to.

“Speak the truth in love,” say we.
But love is more than how you hold your mouth as you make your points and type your post. Saying “I love you” – and especially “I love you, but…” is not love. At least not biblically. The words are good and warm and affirming, but Love is only known in the Doing. Truth can only be spoken, if it need be spoken at all, in a context of demonstrated love. Anything less is mere harangue aka static. And this goes for whichever side you might take on whatever issue. Cowardice shouts from divers platforms, but it avoids dirty feet like the plague.

We much prefer the abrasive washing of words with our lips than the washing of dirty feet with our hands.

Our culture has a word for this:
Epic.
Fail.

Ah, but God has another word for it,
doesn’t he?

22foot-wash22-by-jay-peeples

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2014 in Books, haverings

 

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