Sunday, September 03, 2006

Books that have made a difference to me

I've started thinking about what books have made a difference to me, and why. I think it'd be interesting to start a book club with the first theme of having people nominate books that have made a difference to them. I'd like to read what others have found, and to hear why they made a difference.

So here's a beginning to my list. I'll add to it as I remember more.

C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia and science fiction trilogy
Jane Goodall's Reason for Hope

The C.S. Lewis books have (maybe this is sacreligious) almost made more difference to me than the Bible. What they've done is helped to feel I understand beliefs that really aren't understandable.

Here's an example. Today our minister talked about God's holiness. He's doing a series on the Lord's Prayer. He talked about the paradox of addressing God as "Abba", almost like Daddy, the intimate name for our Father, and the awesomeness of God's holiness. How can we have both that intimacy and awe? For me, Aslan helps. Susan and Mary slept with Aslan when he was lying on the stone table. They lay on his warm, soft fur. They also rode him. Very intimate. But yet there's no lessening of his awesomeness, of the almost fear they feel toward Aslan, too.

Over and over again I find myself relating things to what I've read in C.S. Lewis' books when thinking or hearing about hard to understand beliefs. Last night I was talking with friends about how we imagine heaven. I said that Perelandra helps me with that. I like to imagine heaven as a place like Perelandra, in that it's a beautiful, exciting place where you feel completely satiated and content, and happy. Maybe it won't be a world of water and islands, maybe it'll be very different than that -- probably. But the book has made me feel like I have a small understanding of heaven.

Jane Goodall's book is a more recent read. Jane is like a hero to me. The main thing that's made a difference to me with her book Reason for Hope is the idea she presents that there is reason for hope because of people who do good in spite of so much evil and hopelessness. In the book she writes about a country in civil war. I can't remember what country it was actually, maybe Serbia. There was a woman on one side who had a baby and because of the war there was no milk for the baby. A man on the other side had a cow and every morning he put a bottle of milk on that mother's front step. He got no recognition or reward for it, in fact when she saw him later he was very poor and suffering from the war still.

This act of good in the midst of war is an example of a reason for hope. Often the news can totally depress me. In fact when I read this book I was in a down time because of 9-11 coming on top of some tough times for us with our son that were making me feel like there wasn't much to be happy about. But I realize that it's true that individuals do good things even in horrible times, and there is some reason for hope.

I saw Jane on a t.v. special and she said, "I have a give people reason for hope."

Friday, July 14, 2006

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

This book has the subtitle "Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality". My friend Sally B. recommended it to me and she said it was similar to Anne Lamott's book, Traveling Mercies. It is and the author even credits Anne Lamott with starting that type of writing -- a sort of Christian essay. I thought it was a little less hilarious than Anne Lamott's but still quite humorous and very thought provoking.

Going back to a book I read before feels like an assignment so I'm not going to go into this book in detail, but I'll write about a few things that stuck in my mind.

One is the way he talks about the need to ask for forgiveness when you become a Christian. That sounds so fundamentalist to me. (And Donald Miller is far from fundamentalist; he's very liberal in fact.) Often I've talked with people who say that they try to be a good person and they don't feel a need to be a part of any kind of religion in order to do that. I can see their point. When I know the people saying it, I know they ARE good people. And that counts for a lot.

So it was interesting to read some of what he said. In a conversation with a friend he wrote:
Miller: "I mean the idea that you want to confess. I think that God is wanting a relationship with you and that starts by confessing directly to Him. He is offering forgiveness."
Laura: "You are not making this easy, Don. I don't exactly believe I need a God to forgive me of anything."
Miller: "I know. But that is what I believe is happening. Perhaps you can see it as an act of social justice. The entire world is falling apart because nobody will admit they are wrong. But by asking God to forgive you, you are willing to own your own crap."

Then in another part he writes about how he and a bunch of his Christian friends decide to put up a confessional booth in Reeds College in Portland, where he lives. I never heard of Reeds College but I guess it's a very liberal college. Miller and his friends put up this booth on some festival type of night. But the booth was for Miller and his friends to confess to the people -- not the other way around. He writes about the first "customer" to whom he confessed. When the guy asked what he was confessing Miller said:
"There's a lot. I will keep it short. Jesus said to feed the poor and to heal the sick. I have never done very much about that. Jesus said to love those who persecute me. I tend to lash out, especially if I feel threatened, you know, if my ego gets threatened. Jesus did not mix His spirituality with politics. I grew up doing that. It got in the way of the central message of Christ. I know that was wrong, and I know that a lot of people will not listen to the words of Christ because people like me, who know Him, carry our own agendas into the conversation rather than just relaying the message Christ wanted to get across. There's a lot more, you know." And then he says, "I'm sorry for all of that" and the other guy forgives him.

I'm not doing a good job of conveying the humour and easy-readingness and enjoyment you can get from the book. But this stuff about needing to ask for forgiveness stuck with me.

Also, it made me think about church and what we want to say as a church. Miller writes about church turning him off because it seemed like there were all these things you were supposed to believe that had little to do with Jesus, even sometimes that you felt like you had to be a Republican and there were other rules you had to follow. He wrote:

"Here are the things I didn't like about the churches I went to. First: I felt like people were trying to sell me Jesus. I was a salesman for a while, and we were taught that you are supposed to point out all the benefits of a product when you are selling it. That is how I felt about some of the preachers I heard speak. They were always pointing out the benefits of Christian faith. That rubbed me wrong....I wish they would just tell it to me straight rather than trying to sell me on everything. I felt like I got bombarded with commercials all week and then went to church and got even more.
"And yet another thing about the churches I went to: They seemed to be parrots for the Republican Party. Do we have to toe the party line on every single issue?...I didn't think that Juesus really agreed with a lot of the policies of the Republican Party or for that matter the Democratic Party. I felt like Jesus was a religious figure, not a political figure.
"Only one more thing that bugged me, then I will shut up about it. War metaphor. The churches I attended would embrace war metaphor. They would talk about how we are in a battle, and I agreed with them, only they wouldn't clarify that we were battling poverty and hate and injustice and pride and the powers of darkness. They left us thinking that our war was against liberals and homosexuals..."

Again, just trying to make religion about Jesus as a religious figure sounds sort of simplistic. But learning more and more about Jesus can still actually be very scholarly. It's intriguing to me to think about being a Christian means knowing Jesus. Sounds stupid, huh? Of course I already knew that.

Then he writes about a church he became a part of that started out with just around 10 people trying to be a church in the city of Portland, not in the suburbs. They don't grow much at first. Then the minister asks them if they feel convicted about loving people who were very different from themselves, living "missional lives", intentionally befriending people who are different from themselves. And not befriending them in order to get them to come to church, just to love them. And he writes, "So we started praying every week that God would teach us to live missional lives, to notice people who needed to be loved."

The book Nickel & Dimed made me think about noticing people who are often invisible -- people who clean airports, take out the trash in buildings, janitors, clerks in stores, people who you often don't even stop to think of as real people. And that made me try harder to think of others who I find it difficult to think of as real people, like people in far away countries I might never have heard of before. When I hear the news about people being shot or killed or hurt way out there it hardly feels real. So I try harder to remember how real it is. I think often of the time I totalled my car on the way to work. As I stood on the highway waiting for a tow truck I thought about the fact that there might be a newscaster saying there'd been a solo spinout near the 280 exit on Highway 85, and that would be me. And this was a big deal to me. It was quite traumatic spinning across the highway and now I had to deal with insurance and replacing the car and on and on. So these little news blips are real people having real things happen in their real lives.

Anyway, now Miller writes about loving people who need to be loved, who are different from us. To be honest, I usually secretly wonder what's so bad about having your circle of friends and just sticking to that? It's hard enough to stay close to that circle. Think of all the time involved in broadening it. It makes me tired to think of it.

I don't know what this means to me, really. How do I love people different from me? What should I do?

Then one other thing that stuck with me about this book was his chapter called "Community" where he writes about moving from an apartment on his own into a house with 5 other guys in it. He's a writer and likes being alone but his minister encourages him to move into a community and tells him it's not good for him to be alone. He writes "I was a serious recluse before I moved in with the guys...When you live on your own for years, you begin to think the world belongs to you. You begin to think all space is your space and all time is your time.
"It is like in that move About a Boy where Nick Hornsby's chief character, played by Hugh Grant, believes that life is a play about himself, and that all other characters are only acting minor roles in a story that centers around him...
"Living in a community made me realize one of my faults: I was addicted to myself. All I thought about was myself. The only thing I really cared about was myself. I had very little concept of love, altruism, or sacrifice. I discovered that my mind is like a radio that picks up only one station, the one that plays me: K-DON, all Don, all the time...
"Having had my way for so long, I became defensive about what I perceived as encroachments on my rights. My personal bubble was huge. I couldn't have conversations that lasted more than ten minutes. I wanted efficiency in personal interaction, and while listening to one of my housemates talk, I wondered why they couldn't get to the point. What are you trying to tell me? I would think. Do we really have to stand here and make small talk?"

He goes on to explain how he makes things right with all of his roommates as he realizes that they are people and he could "sense God's love for them" and he had considered them a bother.

About blogging my reading

I'm a little intimidated about blogging my reading. I don't feel qualified, really. My only qualification is I love to read. I wasn't an English major and I don't feel as if I do that great a job seeing themes and meanings in what I read. I love to read what others write about books they've read and that's the most intimidating part of all -- they do such a much a greater job than I will. Also, recently my boss mentioned he's thinking of blogging his reading. Well, I had the idea before he told me that but still, now it'll seem like I'm copying his idea.

But here's what I decided. The main reason I want to blog my reading is for myself. I like to think through writing. When I write, it helps me think. So I look forward to thinking through what I'm getting from the books I read and being able to look back at that. Also, I forget what I read -- a lot. I don't actually mind it too much that I forget what I read because it makes re-reading a pleasure, but still, it'll be nice to look back and be reminded of what I've read.