Autumn is for Reading

Whenever the days get shorter and the nights longer, I want nothing more than tea after dinner and to wear wooly socks. I bought a puzzle from the 1960s at a thrift store for one dollar and twenty-five cents last week and it is 1500 faded, musty pieces. We began working on it a few nights ago, with intermittent trick or treaters, and it will probably take us all winter if we let it. Another short day, long night pastime I love is reading, which I suppose is no secret. Here are some we've been enjoying in our home: Hannah Anderson sent me the manuscript for this last spring and I read every word then, but having the real book in my hands made me want to give another go at her new book, Humble Roots. Attention to creation, the care of it and the learning from it, is something I think we in the church need more of. A pivotal time in my faith was when a friend taught a four week class at my church in New York on creation, the New Heaven, New Earth, God's role in it, and our role in it. It was deeply formative for me. Writers like Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, Walter Bruggemann, and more began to inform my concept of the land, the food we eat, the way we produce it, and the care we give to the people walking on it. Hannah's new book is now added to that section of our bookshelves because she takes lessons from the earth, much in the same way Jesus taught through parables, and teaches her readers about humility, peace, worship, and community—all through the lens of the gospel and scripture. When I wrote my endorsement for it, I said, "This is the book I've been wanting on the shelves of Christians everywhere," and I meant every word. If you have a longing in you for roots and a certainty in you of the hope of the new earth, I highly recommend reading Humble Roots.

Until my friend Katelyn Beaty sent me her new book, A Woman's Place, the book I most recommended to men, and male pastors particularly, was Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. Now I will add A Woman's Place to my list. Katelyn was specific in her research, articulate in her communication, and impassioned with her cause in this piece and I love this book. She not only showcases the various ways every woman works, she makes a case for a "cross-shaped ambition" much needed in the work of women today. "The ambition God invites us to is a cross-shaped ambition: to embrace our inability to have it all so that he be our all. Likewise, the contentment to which God invites us is a cross-shaped contentment: to choose to say "thy will be done," to willingly embrace our own constraints, because it is often through human weakness that God most clearly displays his power and glory." If you care about women and want to see the work of women flourish—both inside and outside the church—I recommend reading A Woman's Place.

Another thing we love to read are novels, particularly long ones. Nate had recommended a series to me which, based on the covers, I had no interest in. Call it snobbery, call it whatever, they looked like cheap beach reads for nerds. But they were also thick, 600+ pages, and that's my favorite quality in a novel, so I picked up the first one. It is called The Passage, by Justin Cronin, and I couldn't put it down. For the next few weeks I read all three every night before bed and during our Sunday sabbath time. The writing was captivating, the story was surprisingly good, and the character development was solid. I was sold. I've had a few people ask if these are "clean" and to be honest, I don't know what that means. If you want a book without any coarse language or the brokenness of humanity, these aren't the books for you, but if you want to read a compelling story of good versus evil where every good is touched with evil and every evil began as good, this is a solid series. The conclusion at the end of the third novel had me in tears. It was, without question, the best last 100 pages of a story I've read in a long time. There are three in the series: The Passage, The Twelve, and The City of Mirrors.

Happy reading!

book recommendations

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Eat the Words

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset I cut my teeth on L'Engle and Dillard, mulled over O'Connor and Greene, struggled though four semesters of Shakespeare, found myself in the pages of Berry and Kingsolver. Good writing has carried me along. Good writing taught me more theology than six semesters ever did.

In the attention deficit world of the blogosphere, it can be easy to subsist on the crumbs. Comments back and forth, public discussion and debate, he saids/she saids, commentary on every public event that happens and quickly dissipates. This is the oil that keeps the machine running, greasy stories and grimy bits that catch our fancy for a moment and flee just as quickly.

I want the slow meal. The feast prepared with wooden cutting boards and whole foods, the juices of meats flavoring the whole. The spice. The wine. The tablecloth and the candles. Shoulder to shoulder, leaving the dishes for later, much later. The slow food.

Spotlights, whether by association or viral fame, do not a good writer make. Good writing is made in the kitchen, with the dashes and pinches, the taste-testing and stirring, ruminating and storing, aging and serving. Good writing sits and satisfies from the first bite to the last. It is a chocolate cake with a dollop of homemade ice-cream, from which only one bite is needed—because it satisfies.

When I lived in Central America the close of the meal was signaled by the head of the home saying, "Satisfecho." It was a statement. I am satisfied. He would lean back in his chair, push back his plate, and we would sit there still, until all were satisfecho.

This is the writing I want to read. The kind that satisfies, that isn't clamoring for more attention, for commenting, for debate, for the spotlight. It simply is. And is beautiful.

Copying the Creator

It was the his third strike. He was a baseball player, so he and I both knew what that meant. Out. I was a TA for an English class in college. It was my first semester as a transfer student. I hardly knew my way around campus and I'd been tapped on the shoulder by the chair of our department to assist one of the English professors.

The first inkling of plagiarism seemed innocent, an uncited source; the second instance seemed lazy; but with two warnings under his belt, he handed in his third paper full of paragraphs I found in their entirety in a few minute google search.

I don't know what happened to him when I reported the situation to the administration, though I knew they didn't handle that stuff lightly. Looking back I wish I'd been more careful to explain why this wasn't acceptable. I had plenty more opportunities in my years as a TA to do so, but I never did.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Allegations of plagiarism by Mark Driscoll are all ablaze right now and they seem justified in some ways. Whole ideas or outlines have been lifted, slightly altered, and used as his own material. I would flunk a student for doing that, and yet—haven't I done it a thousand times?

In recent weeks I chew on John 3:30, "He must increase. I must decrease."

Whether you're a college student trying to get a passing grade or a pastor churning out books written by a ghostwriter, there is an element of "increasing" present that I'm not sure is healthy. I would argue too that even bloggers must wrestle with this dichotomy. If it is true that we must be ever decreasing and increasing Him—what does that say about all our platform building?

We may not be building a tower of Babel to reach God, but what have we made our god in His place?

This isn't easy wrestle through. God gives gifts to men and finds joy when we use them for His glory—but I wonder sometimes how many of us are like my college student: trying to get a passing grade. It doesn't matter who we seek approval from—if we seek it from men, we're in sin, and if we seek it from God, we do so in vain. If we are His children, we have His full approval in the righteousness of Christ.

I have one finger pointed at you and three back at myself here. I seek the approval of so many other than God and I want less of it. More than ever, I want to shrink my footprint—or at least my byline. More of Him, less of me.

God help us, we are all guilty of plagiarism. The wise man's words "there is nothing new under the sun," assure of us that. You are the author of all truth and we merely regurgitate it, chewed and masticated, hardly a form of its original beauty and intention. Help us to copy you, emulate you, take our truth from you—and if another steals words from us, let us hand them over willingly because we truly own nothing apart from You.

God in a Pickle

I have only on a few occasions reposted articles or blog posts in their near entirety. Doing so smacks of my days as an English TA in college, when 50% of the papers were handed in 50% plagiarized by unassuming and presumptuous freshman who borrowed another's thoughts because they said them so much better. Well of course they did, but they were freshmen once too and did their homework more earnestly, I promise you. (Lest there be any confusion, I am the freshman in this case.)

This book review by Joni Erickson Tada kept me gaping the whole time I read and so I'm at least sharing a few nuggets of it with you. But go read the whole thing if you please, and the book reviewed as well; I plan to.

Through the decades, I have learned that when you’re hemorrhaging human pain, answers—even if they are good, right, and true—can sting like salt in a wound. When you are decimated and down for the count, the “16 good biblical reasons why all this is happening” can come across as cold and calloused. Answers are good when you’re asking “Why?” with an open heart, but they can do damage when you’re asking “Why?” with a clenched fist.

That’s what irks [a few friends who gag when they hear the God of the Bible is not embarrassed to say he’s sovereign over suffering]: that sticky, inconvenient propensity of God to tuck everything under his overarching decrees without explaining why (or getting himself dirty). That’s what drives them crazy.

Admit it: like pickles in a jar, our minds are soaked with all sorts of secular subtleties. We are infected by our culture of comfort and convenience, and would rather erase suffering out of the biblical dictionary. We want a God who supports our plans, who is our “accomplice;” someone to whom we can relate as long as he is doing what we want. If he does something else, we “unfriend” him.

From Joni Erickson Tada's review of Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller

Plumb Tuckered Out: 100 in 2013

shelf As I was packing the last of our stuff last week and put July's books from 100 in 2013 in a box to haul to our new place, I realized I'd only actually had time to read half of one of them. Half. Of one. Of eight.

A few days later I was sitting next to a friend and she commented something about my time and the commitments on my plate currently. "I'm convinced you wouldn't be so pressed if it weren't for a certain book project you undertook," she said wryly. I don't usually use adverbs after "said," so you know it must have been said wryly. Point taken.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

At the beginning of this project I said, "I don’t have time to read 100 books in 2013. I didn’t have time in 2012, and I don’t foresee ever having the time to commit to such a project. If you know me at all, you know the possibility of failure is rarely a reason to not try something. Mumbo-jumbo about not setting yourself up for failure has never appealed to me much and so there is a very real possibility that I will hit March or September and get plumb tuckered out. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I won’t feel too badly if it does. The point is, I’m going to try (read full post here)."

Well, here we are, it's not even August first and I'm plumb tuckered out. And I would like to feel badly about that, but I don't. Since January I have read 56 and a half books. That might be small peanuts to some people, but it's a treasure trove to me. I have discovered books that will go down as some of my favorite pieces of literature. I have been challenged, stunned, and bored, I have skimmed, reread, and underlined more sentences than I have since college.

But I'm tired y'all.

Not tired of reading. But tired of consuming. While reading Wendell Berry last month, I realized I wanted to give him my entire attention and I just couldn't, not at the pace at which I was going. It seems somewhat unfair to take someone's life work and give them a cursory glance.

So I'm pressing pause on 100 in 2013. I don't think I'm quitting, but I might get to the end of 2013 and have renamed the project 67 in 2013. It doesn't have the same ring, but goodness gracious, it's still more than I've ever read in a year.

I know so many of you have loved the short reviews I've been doing and I have no plan to stop them. I may not do them monthly, or I may, but with less books, I don't know. But I will continue to do short reviews as best as I can.

Thanks for following along on this journey—and if you bought me a book for the project that I haven't reviewed yet, make sure you look back in the coming months—it will show up sooner or later!