Saturday, January 27, 2007

2006 - Books In Review

Below, a list of the books I have finished in the year past, with short commentary and/or a favourite quote.

Animal Farm - George Orwell – Orwell is brilliant. Animal Farm understatedly and accurately portrays the sinful nature of Man carried out to its realistic extents. The narrative is perfectly simple, the accounts never exaggerated or sensationalized. The characters are allowed to stand as who they are and how they would simply respond in joy, greed, sadness, or lust.
"Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Frankenstein - Mary Shelly – A masterful reminder of all that I love about the Romantics: ecstasy in the triumph of a dream realized, anguish of a defeat, joy, and bliss. There is such wonder in exploring the depths of the human soul--lofty language, a heightened sense of emotions, grandeur in narrative and description—all things that make Romantics Isle a place that is great to visit, but not conducive to a sojourn of any great length.
“Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred.”

Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller – I don’t think I would ever confuse Donald Miller with a great theologian or philosopher, but I don’t think he is or is trying to be. Most of the frustrations I had with the book (beside the band name dropping) were when I was holding the book to the level of a Mere Christianity or an Institutes of the Christian Religion. Blue Like Jazz is more of an open, think-out-loud, ask-unanswerable-questions kind of exploratory. The themes I saw drawn out were his search for God in all aspects of life, struggling to nurture a love and faith for the everyday. There were many of his confessions or open-ended questions that were convicting or spurred my own consideration. There was also some of his advice that I think should quickly find its way to the wayside. I liked the book—a lot at times--but would not give it a whole-hearted recommendation.
“I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes and he never opened his eyes. After that I liked jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way. I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve. But that was before any of this happened.”

Wild At Heart - John Eldredge – I love the idea he explores and most of the conclusions he draws. So much of the bleak depiction of modern man struck me deeply, and conversely, much of the description of who man was created to be resonated with my Romantic soul. This book has made me a better Cadet counselor, a better role model, and makes me long even more so for my own male offspring. Much of Eldredge’s A-to-B thinking is good, but gets into trouble when he tries to boldly go from B to D. There is Scripture referenced throughout the book, but often the “proof texts” seem to be stretches. He reads like a counselor, which he is. There is great wisdom to be gained from experiences, but concluding something is true because you’ve seen it play out a dozen times cannot and should not be held to be as true as the Word of God.
“Adventure, with all its requisite danger and wildness, is a deeply spiritual longing written into the soul of man. The masculine heart needs a place where nothing is prefabricated, modular, nonfat, zip lock, franchised, on-line, microwavable. Where there are no deadlines, cell phones, or committee meetings. Where there is room for the soul. Where, finally, the geography around us corresponds to the geography of our heart.”

Death of a Salesman - Arthur Miller – A tragedy of dreams never realized. Of the favored son never fulfilling the inflated potential imposed upon him by his father, and the forgotten son who may have actually achieved those dreams if only he had received more than crumbs of recognition. And above all, the dreamer of all dreamers, Willy Loman, who, at the end of his life, craves more than anything the assurance that he is, in fact, leaving a legacy. Yet in the end, he finds he has built nothing lasting after a life chasing the clouds. Rich characters, deep heartache, beautiful tragedy.
“Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people? Do you know? when he died—and by the way he died the death of a salesman—hundreds of salesmen and buyers were at his funeral.”

Fighting the Good Fight - D.G. Hart and John Muether – One of two books I was required to read in our church’s Leadership Training class, the other being Lest We Forget, immediately below. Much of what I read in Fighting the Good Fight was new to me, and I have an immeasurably greater sense of pride and gratitude with regard to the men whom the Lord has blessed throughout the history of the Church. Never before has the purity of the church been as precious to me, and therefore the fracturing of the visible church has never been as heartbreaking.
“This book is not intended to silence other perspectives but to contribute to a healthy discussion of the OPC’s identity and mission. We hope it will persuade the unpersuaded, confirm the already committed, and prompt those who disagree to voice disagreement. Above all, we hope that this book will challenge the church to think hard about its identity. For we believe that a church without an identity will lose its reason for existence.”

Lest We Forget - Robert Churchill - Fighting the Good Fight was much more the broad, historical account, while Lest We Forget is an autobiographical memoir of an early OPC minister in Washington state. What Fighting the Good Fight stated in broad, history book language, Lest We Forget delivered with a touch of genuine sadness and experiential intimacy.
“How then, you may ask, could such strong churches welcome into their teaching ministry [such liberal material] into their teaching courses? Couldn’t the church leaders recognize such un-Reformed and unscriptural instruction? The answer is not a simple one, but this at least can be said: fundamentalism in its non-Calvinistic form came into the Presbyterian Church to fill a vacuum. The vacuum existed because the church was no longer teaching the Confession of Faith and catechisms in any adequate or vital way. ‘Easy-gesis' (easy exegesis) of Scripture was often substituted for more scholarly exegesis and this allowed portions of Scripture, often taken out of context, to be forced into a human scheme of prophecy.”

Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson – As many times as I may page through Treasure Island in the rest of my life, no reading will ever compare to the first I was ever privileged to experience--that of my father reading the story to my brother and sister and I in the summer of 1992. I was ten and it was the summer of my father’s sabbatical, when, among other destinations, we spent two weeks at a cabin on a lake in Ontario. Read by the light of the fireplace like a colonial family two centuries before, my father’s dramatic—and oftentimes frightening—unfolding of this fantastic voyage stoked my boyish heart and imagination as wild as the sea itself.
“So things passed until, the day after the funeral, and about three o’clock of a bitter, foggy, frosty afternoon, I was standing at the door for a moment, full of sad thoughts about my father, when I saw some one drawing slowly near along the road. He was plainly blind, for he tapped before him with a stick, and wore a great green shade over his eyes and nose; and he was hunched, as if with age or weakness, and wore a huge old tattered sea cloak with a hood, that made him appear positively deformed. I never saw in my life a more dreadful looking figure.”

Being the Body - Charles Colson – At my suggestion, the Washington Small Group began a study of the Church, using Colson’s book as a guide. I originally intended the group to read and study the book together, but for better or for worse, we eventually strayed from using the book at all. Colson identifies and thoroughly characterizes many of the social and cultural battles the church faces, both within and without. The Lord has used Chuck Colson more than anyone else in my life to help me understand the importance of looking at issues on the level of their underlying worldview, and for that I am grateful. The book served as a great topical outline for discussion each meeting, but I didn’t find Colson’s work able to stand alone sufficiently enough to make it the only source for our study.
“Are not these days of the early twenty-first century a season of urgency, shattered complacency, hellish loss…and unprecedented opportunity? If freedom is at war with fear, if catastrophe can turn from death to resurrection, if hope can triumph over despair…if there was ever a time for the church to be the church, it is now.”


George said...

Nice list of books. I would recommend _Total Truth_ by Nancy Pearcey before you have those male offspring. She has a great section that might be a good counter to the _Wild at Heart_ mentality. It talks about pre-industrial-revolution America where families worked together and men weren't wild. The whole macho-woodsman thing was pumped up within the past 150 years. Now it's funny when men can't change a diaper, but this isn't the way it has always been - see her Martin Luther quote.

Adam said...

Hey Scott, I go to Donald Miller's church here in Portland - Imago Dei. You're right, the book isn't deeply philosophical in the style of most "help me make sense of life" books, but it's very much in tune with the Christian atmosphere in this part of the country - simplified, organic (less constrained by structure, not "pesticide-free") and experiential. I really appreciated his no-BS explanation of why the modern church drives him crazy, and the rather unconventional thought to examine his own shortcomings before blasting criticism on everything else that's wrong. I think it's interesting to compare your assessment with that of someone from this area.

Scott said...

Adam, that's cool that you have first-hand view of some of Don's backstory information/environment. I certainly agree with his aversion to churches with 'agendas'--churches trying to sell Jesus or the benefits of the Christian life. How inane for creatures to try to 'help' the Creator and Savior of the world sell more souls by packaging Him better. And there are probably more aspects of the true Christian life that would be perceived as 'negative' to someone whom the Holy Spirit has not regenerated. To sell the Christian life for the benefits (and there are myriad benefits that most Christians never fully utilize) is both misleading and humanistic.

I do think, however, that Don's thoughts on church selection are laced with a consumer mentality. A skim of Chapter 12 reveals more than it's share of "I feel..." statements used as the basis for making decisions.

Feelings certainly play a part in many of our decisions as humans. I didn't propose to Becca because it was a sound financial decision--there were strong feelings of love, I assure you. But I didn't propose on a feeling, either. I found Becca to be a godly woman who displayed the qualities that God established as necessary in a wife and chose to marry her because I believed it to be in line with God's will as revealed in Scripture. My feelings of love served to confirm my decision--they were not the basis for it. Marriage is God's institution, so 'our take' or our feelings factor very little, if at all, in spouse selection.

The church is a similiar institution. Some would say that one of the primary purposes of marriage is to model Christ's love for his bride, the church. My purpose as a husband is to love and serve and sacrifice for my wife, modelling Christ. We don't choose to be Christ's bride because of how being married to Christ makes us feel or even for how it fulfills our longings to be loved and accepted. I am part of a church to love and serve and sacrifice for my brothers and sisters. We enter into marriage and we enter into a church to give--not primarily to get.

Scott said...

Throughout the entire chapter, Don's dislike for his previous churches, among other things already listed, is based on them being too Republican or on their focus on the cultural issue war. Don lists four reasons why he loves his current church: 1) It is spiritual 2) It supports the arts 3) Community 4) Authenticity.

Without even getting into the specifics of whether each of those is a good or bad reason--look at the themes of what I've listed. Not once in the chapter does he mention the faithful preaching of the Bible as a reason he loves his church. He talks about the early days of the church: "We'd sit around and talk about the crap in our lives, and then we'd pray for a little while, and then we would go home." There could be a lot of good accomplished through that, but how is that a model of the churches that Paul planted? It sounds very much like a support group--not the bride of Christ.

There is plenty of support to be had as part of a functioning body of believers. But it's a side effect, not the focus.

There is a lot of good in Don's Chapter 12, but I believe his perspective is far too skewed.

Greg said...

your list humbles me scotty. I have not read like that (for pleasure) in years, and not as much (unless commentaries count) since seminary. Wow, that was 8 months ago... time has flown.

But I have read some of those books at one time or another, most notably Death of a Salesman and Animal Farm. I loved both of them. Though all throughout Arthur Miller's book, I found myself wanting to beat up most of the characters.

I always wanted to read Treasure Island, but never got around to it. Maybe someday I can read it to my children and we can experience it together like you did with papa pearce.

I read Frankenstein in college for an english class. But it never engaged me, which probably says more about me than about Mrs. Shelly.

I've also wanted to read Blue Like Jazz, since I've heard so much about it. Unfortunately there is a list of books to read, some that I actually want to read, a mile long on my library shelves... somehow I don;t think i'll get there on this side of eternity. I sure hope there are books in heaven.

Scott said...

Most the list are books I read in the first half of the year before Leadership Training and other responsibilities picked up in earnest. Netflix is also an oppressor, albeit a voluntary one, of time spent reading for pleasure.

I was pretty down about the lack of pleasure reading until lately, as I've taken up Moby Dick. I am essentially forcing myself to read for pleasure at least 10 minutes every nite--if for no other reason than to prevent myself from being eligible of complaining that I don't have time for pleasure reading. At a pace of 10 pages a nite, I will make it through the tale of white whale in two and a half months, which is better than no pleasure reading at all.

I have resigned myself to the fact that I will probably never have the kind of free time I once had, and that there will always be something more 'important' or 'essential' or 'critical' to work on for the rest of my life. If I don't force myself to do something seemingly 'unproductive,' it will never happen on its own.

bleeeeeeeeeeeeeee said...
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Tirzah said...

Well written article.