Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Reading So Far

So the summer is half over (that's a depressing thought when we only yesterday saw some summer weather finally arrive here in Kodiak) and I am way behind in my summer reading plans. I did not get much reading done on my recent summer trip to the lower 48 because I was otherwise occupied (see my earlier blog). But as far as it goes, I have read some good books and I have a stack waiting for my perusal ( and a "stack" lined up vertically on my kindle). Some comment is in in order. I read Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns who is the president of World Vision. It's a good story about how he came to be the current president. He was very successful and a very rich businessman selling homeware to the very rich. God took him out of that business and put him in one that tries to get food to people who have little of it and couldn't care less about the homeware upon which it is served. It's a good story about how he struggled to hear God's call when he was about to buy into another company that would have guaranteed him 25 to 50 million in stock shares. Does the rich young ruler come to mind? Stearns also has plenty to say about the mission of the church to the poor (try these stats on for size: 25,000 children die every day due to hunger and hunger related causes; 2.6 billion people live on less than 2 dollars a day - Americans live on 105 dollars a day; the richest 7 people on earth control more wealth than combined GDP of the 41 poorest nations; 20 percent of the earths people consume 86 percent of the worlds goods; one of four children in developing nations are underweight; 350 to 400 million children are hungry right now; roughly 850 million people do not have enough food to sustain them; 9 million people die every year due to lack of good food. Stearns believes the church needs to do something about the crises the poor face and he offers suggestions for ways we can help.

Marilynne Robinson is a very smart woman. She is a fine novelist having written Gilead, Housekeeping and Home. An Absence of Mind is a very different kind of book. Not a work of fiction, it is piece of cultural criticism in which she tracks the death of the mind today. "Whoever controls the definition of the mind controls the definition of humankind itself, and culture, and history." "if the answer is we are the accidental outcome of the workings of physical laws which themselves are accidental, this is as much a statement of ultimate reality as if we were to find that we are indeed a little lower than the angels..." This is a book to be read and read again.

Why is it that Christians just can't get along? I don't know why I have such trouble getting that, or accepting it. We have a history of fighting over definitions. Definitions of theology, and of practices like baptism, and church symbols, and music, and furnishings, and lifestyle. We split, and split again until we are atoms in the larger church universe. If we are all one in Christ, I hope God can figure it all out and put us together again someday. John Philip Jenkins is a terrific church historian and writer and he has done it again in The Jesus Wars which tells the story of church infighting from the beginning when the church struggled to get the definition of who Jesus Christ was exactly right. The stakes were high and emotions were too. People died in this theological warfare. At least no one lost their lives when we replaced some pews with chairs.

Family life is hard. What would it be like to be a husband with four wives and 28 children! How would you get to all those little league games in one night? Maybe you would just have your own team, or two or three! Brady Udall wrote one of my favorite books, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, so I took a chance on his next book, The Lonely Polygamist. You can see where this is going. Some good novels have been written about family dynamics; this is a good story about a man who has to deal with four families and himself all at the same time. Good read.

Stanley Hauerwas was catapulted to fame a few years ago when Time called him the greatest theologian in America. Hauerwas who teaches in the Duke Divinity School was taken aback. He is a hard working theologian who has written some books and is often asked to speak at theology conferences but much of his work is critical of our American culture and the church's captivity to it. He was not looking for this "honor". So he wrote this memoir to answer the question, Who is Stanley Hauerwas? It is not the person so dignified by Time's selection as America's Top Theologian. The name of the book is Hannahs Child. His mother, Hannah, had a child late in life after losing a baby who was stillborn. She prayed to God like Hannah did in the Samuel story in the book of Kings and promised to dedicate her son to God just like Hannah did if God would answer her prayer. He was named Stanley after Stanley who sought after Dr Livingstone in Africa. Stanley's mother Hannah told him when he was six that he was a direct answer to prayer and he was dedicated to God. He says:"I am not sure what possessed my mother to unload her story on me at that time... My fate was set - I would not be if she had not prayed that prayer...whatever it means to be Stanley Hauerwas is the result of that prayer. Was I robbed of my autonomy by my mother's prayer? Probably. But if so, I can only thank God. Autonomy given my energy would have meant going into business and making money. There is nothing wrong with making money but it was just not in my family's habits to know how to do that... I certainly like the work my mother's prayer gave me.

He had me hooked when he told about his conversion. " I was baptized at Pleasant Mound Methodist Church in Pleasant Mound, Texas - a small town outside Dallas... Pleasant Mound Methodist was Methodist but like most folks in that area we were really Baptist which meant that even though you had been baptized and become a member of the church you still had to be "saved". Baptism and membership were Sunday morning events. Saving was for Sunday nights. Sunday night was an hour hymn sing, a time for personal prayer at the altar, a forty five minute to an hour sermon, and then a call to the altar for those convicted of their sin. I was in my early teens and had begun to date a young woman who also went to the church. I was pretty sure I was beginning to sin and I needed to be saved but I didn't think I should force God's hand. Our pastor was Brother Zimmerman. He had actually gone to college but he preferred to be called "Brother" to show that even though he was educated he was not all that different from the rest of us. He was thin as a rail because he gave everything to being a minister. I remember him being a lovely, kind man but he believed we did need to be saved. He put up a tent outside the church every summer so we could have the yearly revival. It was quite an honor for a clergyman from another nearby Methodist Church to be asked to come and preach the revival. Despite the honor, the clergyman had to be from a nearby church because we could not afford to pay travel. It was never clear to me why we needed to be revived but you could always count on some members of the church, and they were often the same people year after year, being saved. I sometimes think they wanted to be saved in order to save the preacher, because it was assumed that the Word had not been rightly preached if no one was saved.

So there I sat Sunday night after Sunday night thinking I should be saved but it did not happen. Meanwhile, some of the youth were "dedicating themselves to the Lord" which usually meant they were going to become a minister or missionary. I am not sure how this development among the youth of Pleasant Mound began but it was not long before several kids older than I was, had so dedicated their lives. So, finally one Sunday night after singing "I Surrender All" for God knows how many times, I went to the altar rail and told Brother Zimmerman that I wanted to dedicate my life to the Lord. I thought that if God was not going to save me, I could at least put God in a bind by being one of his servants in the ministry. When I took that trip to the altar, I assumed I was acting "freely" but in fact I was fated to make that journey by the story my mother had told me."