Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Problem of Pain - by C.S. Lewis

I can't believe it took him that long to say that

The Problem of Pain is a good book. In it, C. S. Lewis tackles a very sticky problem: how can a loving God allow the pain and suffering we see in the world around us? Himself a former atheist, Lewis takes the time to address real accusations and issues in a thoughtful way. However, I really believe brevity and simplicity of arguments would have been on his side, had he chosen to use them.

We didn't learn anything about Lewis' belief in Satan until chapter 9(!), and then only as a kind of aside. His concept of human suffering doesn't really allow Satan into the picture much. I think I might have mentioned Satan on page 2 and wrapped up the book about page 14. Lewis boldly asserts the accuracy of certain biblical truths, yet is uncertain about the basics of a seven-day creation and the wages of sin being death.

He did touch lightly on the possibility that hell destroys people instead of eternally torturing them. But this, too, was a tad iffy. He didn't seem to be very certain about what he believed in. I think this is very rare for Lewis. And I was a bit uncomfortable with it.

I suppose what it came down to is that 75% of pain and suffering comes from wrong exercise of free will. The other 25% comes from God to purify us. Lack of punishment raises intolerable justice issues, so we shouldn't mind that evil people will be burned eternally.

The last chapter, Heaven, was truly awesome. I plan to borrow some of it if eventually.

In all: some good arguments, some interesting points, some wrong theology, some long-windedness, and some decent writing. He certainly made 150 pages feel like 300.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Book Selection

In which the author attempts to explain how he chooses which books to read

Kendra and I own a lot of books. I know "a lot" is a subjective term, but the way I know we have "a lot" is that I have only read a small fraction of the entire collection. So my "a lot" is purely relative to my past reading record and my current reading capacity.

We have books upstairs, downstairs, and at my office. I have books sitting in stacks on my desk. And we have books in boxes, waiting for us to buy shelves to put them on. I have books that have been given to me and recommended to me. I have a collection of 9 books by Lyle Schaller that I just bought and intend to read.

So, the question comes, how do I choose which books to read? Well. Let me tell you. I get out my blindfold and have Kendra spin me around a few times. And the book my head lands on when I fall down is the next book I read.

No. Actually, I have a number of ways that I select books to read. 1. Recommendation. 2. Guilt. 3. Enjoyment. 4. Personal Development. 5. Clusters. 6. Wowsers. Let me explain.

1. Recommendation. When I say that I read books that are recommended to me, I really mean to say that I read books recommended to me by a very small (very trusted) group of people. These people include Kendra (my wife), Jonathan (my brother), Ron Gladden (church planting guru), and Aquarius (my hair dresser). Actually, Aquarius has not recommended any books to me yet. But if she did, I think I would read them. They recommend things to me because they are well written, or practical, or profound, or fun. I have rarely been disappointed. There are always the church members who want me to read every single book they have read. They even lend them to me. But I tend not to read them. I already have a shelf full, recommended by trusted sources. Thanks, though.

2. Guilt. There are books that I know I should read. I tried reading some Jane Austen earlier this year. I have never read any Jane Austen. It turns out I just couldn't slog through it. Sorry, Jane. I am a pastor, so I try to read the Bible every year. I feel like I should be reading more history, but I just can't make myself do it. So I pick up the book and try and try and try to read through it. I reason, It's good for me. I can't expect to like everything. I can't give up on something just because of a lack of enjoyment. There are also books gifted to me that I feel I have to read. Some of the guilt reading turns out to really be awesome (or useful). So guilt's not all bad. Right?

3. Enjoyment. Often, I want to just sit back and not have to think. I'll read a little light fiction. Or some children's books. Or some light, fictional children's books. This whole set tends to be fiction.

4. Personal Development. I like reading about leadership and management. I read about church development a lot. Often, I find these books through the general buzz (huh. a lot of people are talking about this "good to great" stuff. maybe I should read some of it.). Or I make lists of books that my favorite authors refer to. Or I just read more books by my favorite authors. Sometimes, I will try to see where I'm lacking in knowledge or ability, and try to read in those areas to make up for those shortcomings.

5. Clusters. Maybe I am interested in Anwar Sadat all of a sudden. So I go to the Wichita Public Library and find the major important works on Anwar, and I read them all in a cluster. Or I get on a kick about human nature and read Shantung Compound (again) and three or four other books on the topic. I like this method of book selection, because I tend to get a more balanced view by reading several perspectives over a short period of time (before I can latch on to an opinion and make it mine).

6. Wowsers. Right. There are just some books that I have to read over and over and over again. I usually find them in areas 1-5 and then latch on to them. Steps to Christ, The Bible, The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, Who Moved My Cheese?, The Chronicles of Narnia, Choice Theory, etc. are such wowsers. I find new things each time I read them. And so I try to read them once per year (or so).

So that's basically how I choose which books to read. It's not very scientific. And it's not very complete (because if a topic is off my radar screen, the books aren't on my shelves). But it's what I do. How do you choose books? I'd love to know.


The Pearl - by John Steinbeck

Amazing writing. Depressing topic. I couldn't put it down.

In his book The Pearl, John Steinbeck explores the nature of good and evil, economic classes, class (im-)mobility, greed, luck, destiny, happiness, and profound loss.

This is the third time I have read The Pearl. I think the first time was in the 7th grade (as if being a teenager wasn't depressing enough). It is one of the first books to have made any kind of deep impression on my mind. I think it may be the first book that made me stop and think about class struggles and greed and the desert and the mixed blessing of comparative wealth. I guess I might say that it was the first book to make me think about much of anything at all.

This time, as I read through The Pearl, I was just stunned at what an amazing writer Steinbeck is. His foreshadowing, his recurring themes, his musical metaphors for archetypical realities (excuse me) really blew me away. I really had to just keep on reading until the book was done.

The book left me with a sour ache in my stomach (or maybe that was lunch...). But I think that's what the author wanted. I think he wanted us to come away disgusted and upset, so that we would actually think about what we read.

In a way, it almost seemed like Steinbeck wanted us to see how the world is structured to prohibit upward class mobility. I think he wanted us to feel disgusted about it so that we could think about how we are doing the same things in our society. In the book, you get the feeling that Kino is a caged animal. And that no matter how hard he tries, no matter what good fortune comes to him, he has no choice but to stay in the cage.

This book really highlights the role greed plays in the everyday evil we see in the world around us. I know that all pain is not inflicted by societal norms. And I don't think anyone is naive enough to claim that. But I do come away from The Pearl just disgusted about how much evil goes on in the world around us on a day-to-day basis.

It looks like I'm on a pain and suffering, ultimate reality, good vs. evil reading spree. The next one I have on my shelf is The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis. We'll see how Lewis weighs in on this matter.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Holy the Firm - by Annie Dillard

Looks like a book I'll have to read again

I just picked out three books to start reading. I knew Steinbeck's The Pearl and Lewis' The Problem of Pain would satisfy me in their interrelatedness, but I did not know that Dillard's Holy the Firm would add meaningfully to that set. Having never read anything by Annie Dillard before, I decided to start there.

You really should read this book. It is amazing.

Don't be fooled by Annie Dillard's apparent stream of consciousness. She has something she wants to say, and an amazing way she wants to say it. Perhaps it is less something she wants to say and more a series of hard questions she wants to ask. And you cannot help but be drawn into the asking. In Holy the Firm, the author explores ultimate reality, God's (and gods') relationship to that reality, pain and suffering, and dead moths. Read it. And you'll probably want to (or need to) read it again.

The 33 Laws of Stewardship - by Dave Sutherland and Kirk Nowery

A half-decent book on biblical stewardship

Truthfully, I was a little disappointed in this book. It purports to be "33 Laws," but several of the laws are just different ways of saying the same thing. For instance, Law 26 is "The Law of Unconditional Contentment" and Law 28 is "The Law of Godly Contentment." Both of these "Laws" use Paul in prison to make the exact same point about how we should be content with our lives. In all, I think the "33 Laws" could be boiled down to about 10 or 12 without too much difficulty.

Initially, I was excited about the "Living the Laws" section at the end of each chapter. But it turns out that these are far from being the practical, life-changing action steps I was hoping for. One of these "practical" applications was called "don't forget the faith factor." Okay. I won't. I guess.

This book did have some solid biblical exposition and good jumping-off points for pastors to write good sermons on the topic. But the illustrations were tired and dated. Illustrations about stewardship at work in the lives of real people were all about men. And the newest illustration was about 70 years old.

Tithing was mentioned only once, and then only as something that some Christians might do. I realize that the authors were trying to make the book about "whole life stewardship," but (hello!) tithing is a biblical mandate! And when they did mention tithe, they didn't even explain what it meant.

It is obvious to me that this book was written for those already initiated, informed, and committed to stewardship. So my question becomes, why write the book? I will use this book in some sermon or devotional preparations, but I don't think I would recommend it to real people to read (maybe that's why I got my copy for free. hmmm).


In which the author attempts to set forth the purpose of this blog

I like to read all different sorts of books, although I have recently concentrated in the area of church leadership. Often, after I have read certain books, I find myself (quite uncontrollably) recommending them to others. In this log, I will be commenting on books I am reading, or have read (or intend to read - *ahem*). This weblog is intended for my benefit, so that I may have a record of what I have read and easy access to my summaries and opinions of that material. If you have stumbled across this page, I hope that you enjoy its contents.