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Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Let’s say you have a friend who has recently converted to Christianity after a long period of spiritual turmoil. He grew up in a heterodox church (think Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Christ Scientist, etc.) that read the Bible but was largely untethered from the orthodox body of Christ, so while he grew up reading the Bible, it was from a theological perspective that is now of only limited use.

He’s intelligent and curious, and a fairly voracious reader, so he has done some solid homework and now knows a lot about Christianity, but doesn’t really feel like he knows Christianity from the inside, as a believer. So he is now looking for books to read that will not only help him to become truly grounded in the fundamentals of all areas of discipleship but that will also point him toward a long-lasting and deep faith in Jesus Christ.

For the record, he reads the Bible daily, he has already read most of C.S. Lewis’s widely-known works, so far he is generally inclined toward a Reformed theology, and he is a little antsy about charismatic worship. But again, he was raised outside of orthodox Christianity, so he is aware that he may not know what he doesn’t know.

So what books would you point him towards?

(PS, he’s me.)

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The Not Even Once Club is a new children’s book by Wendy Nelson (who is married to Russell M. Nelson) about a group of kids who form a club where they pledge to never break the commandments, Not Even Once.

I think a book like that might be okay (if a little didactic) if it was a heartwarming story about kids with good intentions to do the right thing all the time but who inevitably fall short, because we all do, and learn a little something along the way about forgiveness, grace and the power of the cross.

But nope, it’s apparently just a story about choosing to never break the commandments and only hanging out with other kids who do, and it even comes with a certificate your kids can sign to join the club by pledging to never break the word of wisdom, lie, cheat, steal, do drugs, bully, dress immodestly, break the law of chastity or look at pornography. NOT EVEN ONCE.

There was a recent post about it over at Wheat and Tares but that post deals more with the psychological and sociological problems with making commitments like that, rather than the basic incompatibility of The Not Even Once Club with the gospel. (EDIT: there’s now a follow-up, cross-posted at Wheat and Tares and Rational Faiths that does address gospel issues more directly.)

The Bible is incredibly clear that we all sin, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because we are fallen people in a fallen world and heirs to a sinful nature, a promise to never break God’s commandments is a promise that we will invariably break. We are hard-coded to break God’s commandments, and we absolutely lack the power on our own to do anything about it. Personal perfection projects like the Not Even Once Club, whether we attempt them as little kids or as adults, get us off on the wrong foot from the very start. Are the kids in the Not Even Once Club really going to never break the “law of chastity,” not even once? What about when they hit puberty and their brains are flushed with hormones? They’re going to be able to never entertain lustful thoughts? Really?

How is the Not Even Once Club good news? “Good news, if you manage to never sin, you can be part of the club!” “Good news, if you manage to never sin, you can go to heaven!” That’s not good news for sinners like you and me. That’s really bad news. I’ll admit that I haven’t read The Not Even Once Club, and I’d love to be wrong about it (by all means, tell me if I am!), but everything I have read about it and everything I know about Mormonism leads me to believe that the book is nothing less than a false gospel aimed at children. I am confident that Wendy Nelson has good intentions, but they’re not enough.

The Good News is that we don’t have to join the Not Even Once Club, because we get to join a far better club. Despite our corrupted natures and our inborn tendency to sin, we are declared to be in the right with God, right now, by virtue of Jesus Christ. Not because we managed to never sin (no matter who we are, that ship has always already sailed–we literally can’t help it), but because he did. Through God’s grace we are given the ability to respond to God’s grace and submit to the reign of Jesus. He makes us good. We don’t.

We don’t have to worry about qualifying for the Not Even Once Club because we get to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven. I promise you it is way better.

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I haven’t seen James Franco’s As I Lay Dying yet, but I want to so bad I can taste it.

Now it looks like James Franco is going to tackle The Sound and the Fury. That’s awesome. I am 100% in favor of as many Faulkner adaptations as possible. Bring all of them to the screen! I will watch them all.

Neither As I Lay Dying nor The Sound and the Fury are among my favorite Faulkner novels, but a not-favorite Faulkner is still like a billion times better than most everything else. Hopefully HBO will get around to making everything else.

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A few months ago (probably on a Literary Friday, because that’s when I really tend to go overboard with this kind of thing) I got the idea into my head that I wanted a picture of William Faulkner to hang on my wall. So I Googled pictures of him for about thirty seconds before I fixated on this one. I’m not completely sure why–maybe it’s just the great light/dark contrast, or maybe it’s because Faulkner appears to be outside and unmistakably (stereotypically even!) in the South, which is fitting for an author whose work is so inseparably rooted in Place–but in any case, I liked this particular photo and I decided I wanted it on my wall (at home? In my office? I confess I had not got that far yet).

My first inclination was to ask my mother to draw it or me. For years she did portraits for everyone we knew for Christmas, and she even painted a portrait of my beautiful and sexy wife and me on our wedding day.

But then it hit me: Shit, I thought, I can draw. I should just draw it myself.

So I got started, and I worked on it here and there throughout August and September while I read Go Down, Moses, which turns out to be just a fucking amazing book and without a doubt one of the most powerful novels (and it definitely is a novel, not short stories) he ever wrote, second quite possibly to only Absalom, Absalom!.

I took my time, but when I realized today was William Faulkner’s birthday, I knew it was time to buckle down and finish it. So I did. And here it is.

Copyright by me. Don’t steal. But I hope you like it; I’m awfully proud of it.

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My top five favorite books of all time, in alphabetical order by author:

1. Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes: A dark carnival comes to a fictionalized Waukegan in a timeless October, bringing nightmares. It is a story about childhood and growing up, fathers and sons, friendship, and the good and evil in every one of us.

2. William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!: Unimaginably rich and mythic, a magnum opus about the South, chronicling Thomas Sutpen’s obsessive but doomed struggle to found–“tore violently a plantation”–an aristocratic dynasty in Mississippi before, during and after the Civil War, and about the destruction brought down on his bloodline and the land they inhabit as judgment that ripples through place and generations as a result. In the end, it is relentlessly a book about the dark places we should not go but that we ultimately cannot resist.

3. C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: Lewis’s re-telling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche is the most true book about God that I have ever read. It is the story of an ugly queen whose beautiful sister is taken from her by a god, and who unintentionally enacts her revenge on everyone around her by taking just as ruthlessly, until at last she is finally forced to come to terms with the true nature of herself and the Divine.

4. Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove: An epic, episodic novel about a pair of grizzled ex-Texas Rangers and the men and boys they lead on a cattle drive from Texas to Montana, for no reason at all, more or less, other than to be the first to be there. It is a powerful and poignant story about manhood, friendship, obligation, women, cattle and death. Uva uvam vivendo varia fit.

5. Jack Schaefer, Shane: A short but intense novel from a young boy’s perspective about a dark gunfighter who drifts into a Wyoming range war between farmers and an unscrupulous cattle baron. Shane is a cracking, fast-paced novel about courage, love, commitment, manhood and true strength.

6. T. H. White, The Once And Future King: A lush and quirky but immensely powerful retelling of the entire Arthurian legend. In a sense, there is nothing that this book is not about. If I had to give a boy only one book to live their life after, it would not be the Bible. It would be this book.

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Robert Holdstock died today. His books, which I read my senior year in high school, were instrumental in laying a foundation for my first attempts at genuine, authentic spirituality. He wrote vision-quests spectacular where his heroes and heroines delved into a real and fantastic landscape simultaneously composed of the individual psyche and the entire well of the human collective unconscious reaching to the most primordial centers of humanity’s existence.

When I first read Lavondyss, it grabbed hold of me immediately. Holdstock’s prose is hypnotic and mythic: he played word-melodies on the absolute deepest chords of the psyche. I have recently re-read a few of his books, and his work continues to influence my present spiritual development.

If you have not read Holdstock, you should. The world will be poorer without him.

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But I really don’t like any of them (other than the one I’ve got).  It’s a pity.  I am thinking about checking our Phil and Stephanie Carr-Gomm’s Druid Plant and Animal Oracle decks though.  I’m also on a hunt for tarot books that are a little more advanced than your basic “intro to tarot.”

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One of the biggest obstacles preventing me from simply embracing Christianity is that I am not entirely sure what it means to be a Christian.  Specifically, I can not wrap my head around what it means to actually believe in Jesus, to the extent that belief becomes faith.  By any reading of the New Testament, faith in Jesus Christ is absolutely fundamental to Christianity.  But what does it really mean, and how do you know when you have it?

I have no problem with a purely intellectual belief in Jesus Christ.  By this I mean that I can see myself thinking that statements like “Jesus existed,” “Jesus died and came back to life,” and even “Jesus was uniquely one with God” are true.  But is that all there is to it?  If I happen to think that Jesus is God, then I’m a Christian, and I have faith?  If I think it a lot?  If I think it really strongly?  What?

Is the difference between faith and mere belief simply a difference of quantity, or altogether a difference of quality?  I don’t know, but my intuition seems to be that it is the latter.  Really believing in Jesus has to mean more than simply concluding that Jesus is true.  So what is it?  It can’t just be thoughts that translate into action, either (i.e., thinking it enough so that I try to change my life), because any thought can lead to action.  If I think Borders has the book I want in stock, then I will go to Borders and buy this book.  That can’t be the same thing as faith in Jesus Christ, can it?

Similarly, faith can’t just mean thinking something is true even though you do not have proof enough to be sure, since “proof enough to be sure” is basically impossible anyway.  You can never be one hundred percent sure about anything–it could always be the case that your perceived reality is a complex delusion and nothing is really what you think it is, like the Matrix or something.  So if thinking that Jesus rose form the dead even though I wasn’t there to see it happen is faith, then I also have faith by thinking that I am typing at my computer right now, since I can never be really sure.  And that means again that faith in Jesus is really just the same thing as thinking that Jesus is true–mere belief–and not substantively different from any other thing I think.

The problem with mere belief is that mere belief is subject to change for a myriad of reasons.  What I think about anything today may or may not be the same as what I think about it tomorrow, depending on a variety of factors.  If thinking that Jesus is true is enough, then what happens when tomorrow I change my mind and decide that Jesus is not as plausible as I thought he was yesterday?  Does intellectual honesty somehow prevent me from having faith in Jesus?  If so, I’m not interested.

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