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My Journey of Spiritual Reading

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A Reading Update Hidden in an Oscar Rant

Well, I did watch some of the Oscars and I, along with approximately 43.74 million others laughed at the group selfie of A-list celebrities that “broke” twitter.  It was novel and cute and most pundits agree that the Oscars were pretty good this year, because of folksy stuff like that.  This was an Oscar broadcast that really crossed media platforms.  The tweet instantaneously became the most re-tweeted tweet of all time.  I’m sure there are people a lot smarter than me who muse about this being a defining moment for the digital communications revolution, as if there were any doubt about it being at least part of the catalyst for a post-modern world.

What does this have to do with my reading?  It should be noted I forsook a great opportunity to do some deep reading to instead watch the Oscars.  How long is this show?  Hour of agonizing hour, and I admit, I stuck with it for the sheer spectacle of the thing.  I probably could have finished Guns of August which I am really enjoying these days.  Or maybe I could have turned to Unspoken Sermons in which I am trying to read a sermon a week, and failing.  Notice Letters from Prison which sits on my desk mocking me with its bookmark showing that I only have a few pages left, just one good hour or so of reading to finish.  I am enjoying every one of these books, and yet, on Sunday night, I eschewed reading any of them so I could watch an awards show I care very little about celebrating movies I have not seen by people who I do not know for reasons I cannot entirely say.  This is not the first time in history something like this has happened.  Henry David Thoreau questioned the new, modern world of the early 19th century.

“We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.  We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.” – from Walden

Of course, Thoreau is talking about the imminent telegraph which will soon meander its way across this great land – drooping line after drooping line – connecting every city with every other city until we are all a part of its web.  Why is Thoreau against the telegraph?  Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, enlightens us.

“Thoreau, as it turned out, was precisely correct.  He grasped that the telegraph would create its own definition of discourse; that it would not only permit but insist  upon a conversation between Maine and Texas; and that it would require the content of that conversation to be different from what Typographic Man was accustomed to.

The telegraph made a three-pronged attack on typography’s definition of discourse, introducing on a large scale irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence.  These demons of discourse were aroused by the fact that telegraphy gave a form of legitimacy to the idea of context-free information; that is, to the idea that the value of information need not be tied to any function it might serve in social and political decision-making and action, but may attach merely to its novelty, interest, and curiosity.  The telegraph made information into a commodity, a “thing” that could be bought and sold irrespective if its uses or meaning.”

The definition of discourse is changing yet again.  What is the internet?  It is the telegraph on super steroids.  If, as Postman posits, the telegraph changed the nature of discourse for the “Typographic Man”, modern communication has pulled him into a dark alley and stabbed him repeatedly until he is no more.  It is here in this new and emerging definition of discourse where I find myself these days struggling to read as a discipline in a world that encourages with every new techno-wonder, context-free reading as commodity.

Perhaps you think I am reacting unfairly?  Maybe I am.   Perhaps you think I am just a lazy reader.  Let me help you with that one, I absolutely am.  But I cannot deny that our modern modes of communication do exactly what Mr. Postman says they do, not only permitting new and novel forms of communication between people and institutions and organizations, but also insisting on them, regardless of whether or not they are in our best interests as an individual or as a society.  Where is the voice that questions whether these wonders are really good for us?  Our world has no problem asking “if” we can do a certain thing, but we do have a problem asking “should” we do a certain thing, and not just in communications, but also in medicine, government, science, entertainment, even church!

But, I am not criticizing anyone but myself.  Sunday night, I didn’t ask if I should watch the Oscars rather than read, I spent a nanosecond wandering if I could.  Then I spent the next four hours of my life watching people congratulate themselves when I could have been reading some very good books.  That’s not on anyone else but me.  I press forward.

For Veteran’s Day

I know I haven’t written much lately. Sadly, that is because I have not been reading much lately (outside of the scriptures and sermon preparation reading). However, as I don’t believe in fate or cosmic chance, it will be noted that I finished Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose last night and today is Veteran’s day. This confluence of events spurs me on to sharing a great quote from the book on this Veteran’s day. I truly am thankful for the service men and women of this nation who put themselves in harm’s way for the security of our country, even while I lament the fact that the broken system of sin, death, and selfishness in which we are all a part requires them to do so.

On speaking about the rather gruesome death of a new soldier recently assigned to Easy Company, PFC David Kenyon Webster writes these words:

He wasn’t twenty years old. He hadn’t begun to live. Shrieking and moaning, he gave up is life on a stretcher. Back in America the standard of living continued to rise. Back in America the race tracks were booming, the night clubs were making their greatest profits in history, Miami Beach was so crowded you couldn’t get a room anywhere. Few people seemed to care. Hell, this was a boom, this was prosperity, this was the way to fight a war. We read of black-market restaurants, of a manufacturer’s plea for gradual re-conversion to peacetime goods, beginning immediately, and we wondered if the people would ever know what it cost the soldiers in terror, bloodshed, and hideous, agonizing deaths to win the war. – Band of Brothers: e Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (Ambrose, Stephen E.)

Today, I wonder if we know the true cost of war.

Don’t Call it a Comeback

My life outside of this blog has been particularly active of late.  It is for this reason that one of the two people who read this blog recently asked me, “Where have you been?”  In response, I merely offer that I have been everywhere…but here.  As this blog is about my reading (or my sometimes lack thereof) not my life, I will withhold the commentary about where God has taken me over the past few months.  Suffice to say it is a good place, a place to which I have been led and I am very glad for it.  My new life (and it is a new life) is starting to find its groove and I think I may have some time now to devote to the chronicle of my reading journey.

What have I been reading in these silent months here at the melikereadgood blog?  That’s an easy one.  Since finishing Lewis’ That Hideous Surprise, I have read four books.

The Three Kings by Gene Edwards
This is a quick little book from the early 80s about the life of David.  You may consider it biblical   fiction in that it retains the biblical narrative of the Davidic story with certain artistic liberties taken.  The book centers around the relationship between David and King Saul and the later relationship between King David and Absalom   It is certainly not a heavy read, but I enjoyed it.  One of the interesting questions the book calls us to consider is, “What do you do when someone throws a spear at you?”  That question is timeless.  As I think back on the book, the words “modern melodrama” come to mind (point of fact, a dramatized version was also released after publication for churches to use in their drama ministries).  It gave me new and fresh things to ponder about one of my personal favorite Old Testament characters.  It is worth your time.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen
Nouwen’s studied, yet contemplative take on the parable of the prodigal was a pure joy to read. Using the framework of Rembrandt’s magnificent painting of the same name, Nouwen delves deep into his own life and calls the reader to do the same.  I would like to blog in-depth about how this book impacted me spiritually at a later time but for now, I will only say this book earns its moniker as one of the great modern christian classics of devotional literature.  I will read it again and perhaps soon.  I also have a new bucket list item – a pilgrimage to the State Heritage Museum in St. Petersburg to see Rembrandt’s tremendous piece of artistic brilliance with my own eyes.

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat
Astute readers will remember my gushing praise for a book I read last year called A Stone of Hope which I labeled “the best surprise” of my 2012 reading journey.  Douthat’s tight, well-written, and scholarly look at the American religious landscape as we know it today may well be this year’s “best surprise”.  The book is worth the price of admission for his detailed look at the  prosperity gospel teaching and the god within theology that has made its way into far too many corners of the religious fabric of our culture.  Douthat posits that the current religious zeitgeist in America is a direct result of a decades-long move away from orthodox Christianity.  He meticulously shows how America is a much stronger place when good orthodoxy is at the center of our pluralistic religious scene.  He ends the book with a clarion call back to historic Christian orthodoxy (not just an Americanized  version).  It was a great book that I encourage everyone to read, no matter whether you are a believer or a seeker or an agnostic or a presbyterian (just kidding).

Cancer Ward by Alexander Soltzhenitsyn
This one has been on my radar for quite a long time.  I finally got around to reading it in the past few weeks.  I am about 80% finished and I am loving it.  My only previous encounter with Alexander was a few years ago when I read The Gulag Archipelago.  I had to drag my way through that one.  This one is much easier and much more engaging.  Set in a cancer ward in the earlier part of the 20th century, Solzhenitsyn explores the human condition as his characters face humanity’s greatest plague – cancer – in each of their own particular ways.  As is usually the case with these Russians, there is the wonderful unforced meshing of the religious and the secular aspects of life that I really enjoy.  There’s community because we all live in community (whether we believe we do or not).  It’s grim because cancer is grim.  There’s hope because there is always hope.  But, how can there be hope with a terminal illness?  Ah, there is a question worth considering.  I have risen and fallen with each character as they attempt in various ways to assimilate their death sentence into their minds, hearts and lives.  I am almost finished but I can already give this book an unqualified recommendation to all.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
I would love to tell you that I read this book because I am working on a thesis about how the current pop culture interest in zombies informs our collective understanding of life, death, and the afterlife.  I wish I were that cool.  The reality is that I was looking for something to amuse (the archaic definition of “diverting the attention of so as to deceive”) me and this happened to be on the front page of whatever screen I was looking at at the time.  The only thing I have to say is, “It worked.”

That Hideous Suprise…

Over the months of December and January, I tackled C. S. Lewis’ celebrated space trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.  Lewis is on my short list of writers.  I may have read more by him than perhaps any other single author.  In fact, now that I think about it, I have read more Lewis.

Mere Christianity
The Great Divorce
The Space Trilogy (3 books)
The Chronicles of Narnia (2 of them)

I like Lewis, a lot.  So, my reaction to reading the Space Trilogy was a little bit of a surprise.

How shall I say it?  “Meh.”

Hey, it’s still Lewis and the writing is great.  The story in the last two books were particularly intriguing.  The characters are all fairly well developed and the reader has an emotional investment in them.  Lewis builds a great mythology that is the saving grace of the story (more about that later).  His descriptions are vivid and the plots were engaging.  As always, Lewis opens up my ideas of God and gives me a fresh way to consider His nature and movement in my life.  What is not to love?

I didn’t love them.  I liked them, but I probably won’t read them again.

Normally, this is pretty standard with books I read.  Most of the books I read are pretty good.  I file them away and move on.  Some are very good.  These I place in the prominent places of my life so I can see them and remember them and possibly read them again.  Some are very bad.  I hide these from sight and pretend I didn’t read them.  Up until this trilogy, I had never read a Lewis book that wasn’t in the very good section.  I think the Great Divorce and Mere Christianity should be required reading for every Christian.  They are that good.  And the Chronicles of Narnia series works on almost every level.

So what happened, Jack?

Two things.

First, Lewis has a propensity to throw everything but the kitchen sink into his novels.  Maybe a better way to say this is that at times, Lewis can be kind of…well, corny.  This is something that Tolkien chastised him for in Narnia, but in Narnia one has a better chance to get away with it.  Do you remember when the Pevensie children are making their way to  the Narnians and Father Christmas shows up in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?  Seriously, Clive, Santa Claus?  But it works because you are in Narnia and the grown-up in me forgives Lewis for his excess because the grown-up is having such a great time in Narnia.

Lewis is going to do the same kinds of things in the Space Trilogy.  Consider That Hideous Strength.  The name of the antagonist group is the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments.  We will refer to them for the rest of the book as the NICE group.  Nice…nice and corny.  And, oh by the way, they are in cahoots to bring Merlin back from the dead…Merlin the magician.

The beauty of this is that Lewis almost pulls it off.  It kind of works, even the Merlin bit*.  But this isn’t Narnia.  This is 1940’s Britain and the whole thing feels a little contrived.  Maybe I am being a little too critical, but I think you need more aesthetic distance for the reader to fully immerse themselves into the world.  Lewis tries admirably and does a better job than practically anyone else has done or could have done.

Second, the scientific limitations of the time place a very heavy burden on the timelessness of the story.  Lewis places his trilogy out in the field of Arbol, perhaps better known to you and I as our own solar system.  In the first book, we travel to Mars (Malacandra) in a rocket to find it teeming with life.  In the second book, we travel to Venus (Perelandra) to find a primeval island planet where life is about to take root and the eternal choice of good and evil is about to made.  Back in the 40s, we didn’t really know what was on those planets.  Now science has given us a pretty good idea about what is and what is not on our planetary neighbors (though I would argue that they know much less about it than they think they do), and so Lewis feels a little like another H.G. Wells or Jules Verne, quaint and fun, but not timeless.

To mitigate that, Lewis builds a great mythology around the eldila and Maleldil.  This differentiates Lewis from Wells and Verne and gives his stories a certain gravitas that the others lack.  It is the mythology of the universe that Lewis creates which is at once the best  and most interesting part of the stories and also, the piece that causes me to long for much more than what is presented.  You need mythology to help explain the unexplainable in the universe.  A great mythology gives the story a moral center, and it is only from within the confines of this mythology that the actions of protaganists and antagonists make any sense.  Without it, the reader has trouble finding his way.

But this great mythology is also an achilles heel.  Ultimately, this is what gives the Space Trilogy an ‘almost timeless’ feeling, if a book can be described as such.   Lewis is at the threshold, but he doesn’t seem to get it all the way through the door.  While the mythology is great, the setting and the characters seem to struggle to be at home in it.  I can hear Tolkien reading the manuscript and handing it back to Lewis saying, “You are not finished yet.”  I left the trilogy thinking that it was great, but it could have been more. 

It begs the question, can truly timeless science fiction be written and set in the human past without losing the subsequent generations of readers?  The more successful science fiction literature usually has to get out of the solar system, at least, if not get out of our timeline completely, to work.  You have to go Narnia, Middle Earth, or even Tattooine to make it work forever.

All this is not to say that you shouldn’t read the books.  They are pretty good.  You should read them.  I was just expecting a little more, I guess, since it was C. S. Lewis.  It seems that even the mighty Lewis is not immune some of the vagarities of science fiction writing.  I still give him an “A” for trying.  Most other writers wouldn’t have dared to do that.  And to his great credit, Lewis almost pulls it off.

* Merlin works when one considers him part of the mythology rather than a pawn between the two warring factions.  Lewis actually does a very good job of placing Merlin within the “deeper magic” of the universe.  As such, while my first reaction to Merlin’s appearance was “what?”, upon further reflection, this is not as corny as it initially sounds.

Hold the Applause…

Well, this was, perhaps, my greatest year of reading.  Having accomplished a goal I failed to reach last year, I triumphantly come to the end of 2012 with 28 books under my belt.  Pretty good for a spiritual midget like myself.  As usual, it is a mixed bag, so let’s just dispense with it.

I read me some classics this year.  I know, that’s terrible.  I just wanted to type it and to read it to myself out loud.

Despite its syntax, it is a trustworthy saying.  I did read some classic books this year.  Some were re-reads from my past and some were brand new.  My favorite classic book this year was Walden by Thoreau…hands down.  No other book comes close.  It was great.  I blogged about earlier in the year.  I will probably read it again.  Thoreau is a great writer.  It was so good, in fact, that I went ahead and read Civil Disobedience as well.  It was good too, but 2012 is memorialized in my memory as the year I first read Thoreau’s Walden.  Do yourself a favor and go get a copy.  They’re free online, for crying out loud!  You are without excuse.

My least favorite book (also known as the I wish I had the past two days of my life back award) goes to Mocking Jay by Suzanne Collins.  I’ve blocked most of it from my memory so there is not a whole lot to tell.  Worst.  Trilogy.  Ending.  Ever.

Best Surprise in my reading this year:  A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow.  I really enjoyed this book.  It is a scholarly look at the role of prophetic Christianity in the civil rights movement.  Well researched and well written, the book takes a hard look at the civil rights movement in the South and how true Christianity was a great and important part of it as well as a look at how religion was used by both segregationists and anti-segregationists to defend their positions.   I guess the best surprise of all was learning that Southern Baptists were one of the first groups to de-segregate their seminaries.  I was proud of my denomination.  That was another surprise.  The book is not an easy read, but it is worth it.  Check it out.

Worst surprise in my reading this year: Raven: The Untold Story of Rev. Jim Jones and His People.  This book screwed me up psychologically for about three weeks.  I am not the kind of guy who sees demons or angels everywhere I look (this might be a flaw rather than a good thing) but as I made my way through this book, I felt like I was being let in on a very demonic and evil situation.  There is evil in the world, too, Virginia, and Jim Jones is one of the worst.  Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this story is that the people who fell prey to Jones were not necessarily the poor and the ignorant and those whose lot in life makes them more susceptible to the demagogues and the cult leaders.  Some of the people were college educated.  Some of them came from good homes.  Some of them were girls with dads who loved them very much.  That was a bad surprise, indeed.  God, be with my daughters…

I also rowed down the river with Lewis and Clark (Undaunted Courage), got a little too close for comfort to the underbelly of New Orleans (A Confederacy of Dunces), spent much of my Summer praying the offices (The Divine Hours), and learned a little (a lot) about citizen-community from a homeschooler that went to Yale (On Common Things).  I returned to Middle Earth (The Hobbit and The Fellowship)  and to the Abbey of Gesthemani (The Seven Storey Mountain) and dwelt there for a while with these good, old friends.  I even journeyed out to the field of Arbol and talked with the eldila (Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra).  I found grace in an unlikely place (Bonhoeffer) and in a most likely place (Testament of Devotion).  And I was brought to the Truth in fresh and powerful ways through a couple of really great teachers (Unspoken Sermons and Purity of Heart).

All in all, it has been a good year, nay, a great year.  I wonder what adventures there are to have, what truths there are to learn, what love there is to give and to receive in 2013.  Time will tell.  I am thankful for all of the reading I did in 2012.  Maybe I am starting to grow up a little, after all.

The Life You Save…

I have recently become aware that, while I do love to read, I love making lists of books to read so much more.  Perhaps that is not completely accurate, but I have a lot of fun looking at books and admiring them, reading reviews and samples, and of course, making lists of books to read.  Ironically, I have yet to complete a booklist that I have made.  I will come as close as I ever have this year, but the fact remains – I seem to be better at planning and preparing to read books that I am at actually reading the books.

So, it should come as no suprise to the two readers of this blog that I have recently been thinking on the books I want to read for next year.  Here are some options:

Augustine’s Confessions – this was on my list this year, but I bailed due to time constraints and general inability to keep my mind on anything longer than a ….

The Life You Save May Be Your Own – being such a Merton fan, it is natural that I would like to read him in correspondence with some other pretty great writers – Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and Dorothy Day

Cloud Atlas and/or Life of Pi – two books made into movies this year.  From what I have read, the movies suck, but that is pretty standard.  I might give one or both of these a read in 2013 or I might not.

The History of English Speaking Peoples Since 1900 – this is a book that I have owned for a couple of years.  You can be assured of it’s popularity by noticing the $.o1 price tag for the used hardback on Amazon.  Everybody wants one!

The Complete Stories: Flannery O’Connor – I have never read any Flannery O’Connor.  I want to read The Life You Save (above) and then maybe take a swing at this one.  Of course, I might not like the first book which would put the reading of this book into serious question.  But I do have a guy who will shame me greatly if I demur, so…

The Waters of Siloe by Thomas Merton – A new Merton book (new to me) that I picked up for a song on amazon.  I read all Merton….

Also, I have made another change to the 2012 book list.  I am replacing David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas with David Chappell’s A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow.  I have already started Stone of Hope after finishing Merton.  It is really good.  I look forward to sharing some of it on this blog.

John Wesley at Herrnhut with the Moravians

Though the title of this blog sounds more like the conclusion of a game of Clue, it is in fact, very descriptive. In 1738, after John Wesley had returned from the colonies and a rather tumultuous and unsuccessful missionary journey there, he went to Herrnhut to study with some Moravian brethren. Wesley had become impressed with the Moravians while travelling with them on his voyage across the Atlantic. Their devotion to the Lord and their piety in the faith as they made the treacherous journey put his fellow English brethren to shame.

As Wesley lived and worked and worshipped with the Moravian brethren he wrote the following words:

“God has given me, at length, the desire of my heart. I am with a church whose conversation is in heaven, in whom is the mind of Christ, and who so walk as He walked. As they all have one Lord and one faith, so they are partakers with one spirit, the spirit of meekness and love, which uniformly and continually animates all their conversation. Oh! How high and holy a thing Christianity is! And how widely different from that, I know not what, which is so called, though it neither purifies the heart, nor renews the life, after the image of our Blessed Redeemer. I grieve to think how that holy name by which we are called must be blasphemed among the heathen, while they see discontented Christians, passionate Christians, resentful Christians, earthly-minded Christians. Yea, to come to what we are apt to count small things, while they see Christians judging one another, ridiculing one another, speaking evil of one another, increasing instead of bearing one another’s burdens.”

No doubt Wesley’s words were influenced by the personal and professional struggles he was having within his own denomination and perhaps this experience with the Moravians, coming so soon after his disastrous missionary journey to America seemed to him a beatific departure from ministry as he had known it thus far. It is equally important to note how the Moravians emphasis on unity and brotherhood in Christ would have been a welcome break from the fractious Anglican church with which Wesley often found himself at odds.

A quick read of this passage and the context in which it occurred might lead a modern believer to conclude that Wesley had found the Perfect Church, that elusive (and quite mythical) holy grail for which so many well-intentioned believers today search as they traipse about from congregation to congregation. This modern American reader may quickly ask, “Why didn’t Wesley just join up with Moravians?

Wesley did not throw in his lot with the Moravians. He went back to the Church of England. It should also be noted that this “Father of Methodism” never gave up on the Anglican church. It was Wesley who intentionally kept himself in the Anglican church even when many of his English parishioners were clamoring for secession and even though the Anglican church continued to look down upon them and ostracize them. It is not until after Wesley’s death that the Methodists finally and fully break away from the Anglican Church in England (though American Methodists were free during Wesley’s lifetime). Wesley would die as a presbyter of the Church of England.

The example of John Wesley is a lesson for evangelical believers today. Wesley would have us know that being a part of a family of faith is important and as such, it must cost us something. In today’s culture, filled with pop psychology, narcissistic entertainment, and take-what-you-want buffets, it is easy to approach our church with the same give-me-what-I-want or else mentality. And so many believers merely “church hop” when things get tough rather than engaging in the hard, but Spirit-led ministry of reconciliation and fellowship. Wesley reminds us all that fellowship is more about “them” than it is about “me”, no matter whether “they” are outside of the church community or inside of it.

John Wesley shows us the importance of maturity in the faith. His example is both timely and relevant. We live in what is arguably the greatest time ever to be a human on this planet. Our knowledge, our innovation, and our understanding are far and away above what any other culture has ever experienced. Yet, so many of us struggle with relational superficiality. This is one of the few areas where our forebears outdo us and it is a place where we can learn from them.

This makes the legacy of John Wesley all the more potent and significant. His words are not to send us out on a useless quest for a mythical church that doesn’t exist. Rather, his words exhort us to do all that we can to make our place of fellowship and community “a church whose conversation is in heaven, in whom is the mind of Christ, and who so walk as He walked.” He is not calling us to find people like that. He is calling us to be people like that and may the Spirit of Christ Who is present in His church guide us to that very end.

For more information about Wesley and his experience the Moravians – check out some excerpts from his journal here.

The Moravian Revival that preceded Wesley’s visit is detailed here in this excerpt from Canandian pastor Oswald J. Smith’s book, The Spirit at Work.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes…

What can I say?  I’m a flip-flopper…

As I have noted before on this blog, I am not above changing the rules as I go along.  My goal is to be reading as opposed to not reading (and doing other less worthy things like watch tv, stare off into the distance, check facebook, etc.)  So, while I have made my monstrous list of books, I am not married to it.  My book list and I are not even going steady.  We have open relationship.

So, I am taking off Cancer Ward because I do not own it and I don’t really need to go into debt to do so.  I am replacing it with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s a re-read, but again that doesn’t matter to me so much.  Tolkien is always worthy of a re-read. I am also taking off 1984 by George Orwell and replacing it with A Confederacy of Dunces by American novelist John Kennedy Toole which I did manage to read during my late Summer swoon and hope to dive into on my blog at some point in the future.

I am removing some more books from the list for various reasons.  The first one is Confessions by St. Augustine.  I still want to read it, but I don’t want to rush this read.  I might put it in the 2013 book list. I am also removing The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey.  I started this book earlier in the year but I found his voicing and development less than desirous.  I have read Yancey before and find him to be a good writer.  I’m just not in the mood for this book at this time.  I’m a flip-flopper.

I hope to finish New Seeds of Contemplation by Merton and God’s Generals by Liardon by the end of this month.  While Merton is re-energizing my desire to read, I haven’t read Liardon for a while because I find it tedious.  But, just to show that I have some fidelity to my list, I intend on finishing the book, albeit for all the wrong reasons.  Sometimes we need to read things for which we don’t particularly care.

Finally, I have finished Unspoken Sermons Vol.1.  There are two other volumes in the book, but I am going to count each volume as a separate book to pad my numbers.  I plan on McDonald being an ongoing read in some form or another for the rest of my life so, what’s the hurry?

June Update

As we close the month of June out, I have come to July with mixed feelings. There is good news and there is bad news. First, the good news…

I continue to read. That is the good news. This month I have completed The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton and A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly. I have also started The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey and I am halfway through God’s Generals by Robert Liardon. I will give a brief word about each.

Merton’s The Seven Story Mountain did not disappoint, even on what was the third reading in the past six years. I continue to be amazed at Merton’s writing skill which is at once fresh and familiar. His spiritual journey from the foothills of France to the Abbey of Gesthemani in Kentucky is a forceful and compelling story of which I seem to never tire. My re-read was especially poignant as I was able to look at highlights from the last read and remember my previous adventure with Merton and add new highlights as I gleaned fresh understandings from the book. I wonder at my devotion to Merton. Our journeys are quite dissimilar in some ways (he being a Catholic and I being a Protestant most glaring of all) and yet, there are a great many similarities as well. Our disparate journeys of faith have much in common and I guess that is one of the reasons I continue to come back to this book time and time again. I hope to write a blog that will explore some of this at a later date.

Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion was an add-on book that I read at the behest of my pastor, Bob Adams. Kelly was a Puritan and his book was and is a great classic of devotional literature. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his essays and meditations, particularly the ones entitled the Light Within, Holy Obedience, and the Simplification of Life. These are certainly themes with which the Lord is gracing my life these days and while I cannot say with a straight face that I have achieved much understanding or success with them, I can say that I am much farther along than I was even a year ago, particularly the simplification of life. I am grateful for the Lord’s patient teaching to me and Thomas Kelly’s book was a rich experience into the heart of the matter. I have no doubt but that I will return to this well of spiritual wisdom again, perhaps very soon.

I am struggling to complete God’s Generals. The book, by its very definition, is more of a survey of biographical material, by which I mean that I am only being introduced very briefly into each of the lives as recorded by Liardon. The writing is adequate and the pacing is done well, but Liardon does not delve very deep into the spiritual lives of his subjects and the places where he does touch down seem to be more about their actions rather than their spiritual lives. Also, the theology of the group is markedly different from much of my other theological explorations (see Merton and Kelly) and since Liardon is giving only cursory information, I find my desire to finish the book waning. However, not all is loss. I am being introduced to some lives that I have heard about for much of my life and their exploits are interesting, even if I am longing for a more thorough look at the men and women whose lives are being explored.

I just started The Jesus I Never Knew a few nights ago. I am three chapters in and will withhold comment until I am a little further along.

What about the bad news? Well, the bad news is that I have gone a month without blogging/journaling about my reading journey this year. I really want to be writing. I need to be writing, but while the spirit is willing, the flesh is very, very weak.

May Update

Unlike last year, I am approaching the Summer with some serious reading done.  I’m feeling so good, in fact, that I am yet again adding books to the list.  Two of these are books I have read before, but I just can’t let this Summer go by without reading them again.  They are two of my island books, that is, if I was relegated to life on a deserted island and I could only take five books, one or both of these books would go with me.  In what is either vain ignorance or confident determination, I am not removing any books to make room for these new ones.

What are the books?

The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton
Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton

I also read The Giver by Lois Lowry, so I threw that it into the mix.

That puts me at 31 books for the year.  I have read 12 so far.  The year is almost halfway over.  My plan is to complete God’s Generals, Surprised by Joy, and The Seven Story Mountain by the end of June.  That would put me at 15 out of 31 at the halfway point of the year.  Considering two of my books (the Bible and the Unspoken Sermons) are books that I am reading a little every week, that means that I will actually be ahead of the pace required to complete the expanded book list this year.

So, I’ve got that going for me…

However, let us not get the cart before the horse, as the old timers say.  The deed is not done and last Summer, two difficult books and a pretty hectic work schedule proved too much to overcome.  My desire to read went ice cold.  So far this year, I haven’t really had a difficult book yet, at least, a difficult book that didn’t hold my attention, though, truth be told, I am a little scared of Augustine’s Confessions.

I also need to remind myself that the list is not all important.  I have made changes to it and will make future changes to it.  The goal is not to read 31 particular good books, the goal is to be reading good books.  And I am doing that.  I have read some really great books this year (Walden, Undaunted Courage, Athanasius, Unspoken Sermons) and one really crappy one (stupid Mockingjay).  I can’t stop now.  Bring on the Summer!