Our "Community Group" (i.e. Bible Study) finished up a book tonight. I always have high hopes for new books. This one wasn't great. Mediocrity is nothing less than a plague in Christian bookstores. A friend and I have been encouraging each other to fight that mediocrity in our own writing. In this era of consumer driven manufactured entertainment, a reader has a lot of opportunity to tell publishers what we think. Here's a spot I posted to my Facebook bookshelf:
When I pick up a small, compact book like this, I hope it will be packed with truth. I want it to read like "Practice of the Presence of God" or "My Utmost for His Highest." I want a small book to be the 100th re-write of a bigger, fluffier book - condensed to a simple, wonderful, pure truth. Or, I want it to be one experienced truth, retold.
This wasn't that. I wanted to know about Humility. Humility is profound, elusive, divine, paradoxical, and miraculous. This book was another generalized lecture on vague "Christian Living." Every chapter was a different subject, with a generalized connection to being humble - being humble while disciplining your children for example, or while trying your best at work.
Perhaps it was the irony that got me: writing about humility is instantly convicting, and yet the author had no problem offering a series of sermons on right living. None of the sermons got to the deep conflicts of the issues, and it cruelly left its readers with more questions than answers.
Critiques are difficult - see chapter 9. Here's my point: If we (Christians) are going to pursue humility as God commands us, let's sort this out! Let's pursue it! What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? What does it mean to lay down your life for your friends? What does it mean to serve your earthly masters? When God commands His people to humble themselves and pray, that their land may be healed, what does He mean? Our people, our nation NEEDS that healing. Our people don't have time for another generalized sermon series like this.
We just returned last night from a fantastic vacation up North with our family. We gave a little party for my folks' 50th wedding anniversary. We were each asked to give a 5 minute speech. It was a sweet opportunity for a family with good parents, but I knew my other siblings would say most of the mushy stuff. Here was my script:
If you know my parents, you know that they’re always reading. When I think about my parents, about growing up in their home, about their marriage, about seeing them together now, that’s a major picture in my mind. I see Dad reading in his recliner and Mom beside him.
I heard a statistic recently that children’s performance in school can be directly related to the number of books in their house. According to the study, it didn’t necessarily make a difference if the parents read directly to their children or if their children simply saw their parents reading. If that statistic is true, I should have been a valedictorian. I saw my parents read a lot.
They read the newspaper: they get the local paper every day, and the New York Times because one paper wasn’t enough
They read magazines: their coffee table has strong legs, which is good, because the coffee table books on the table are covered in magazines.
And, books, always books. Mom keeps an enormous dictionary, atlas, and several bibles in her cabinet by the kitchen table. Dad has a bookshelf behind his recliner in the livingroom, and always one or two books on the side tables and on his bedstand.
When my parents visit, they devour anything printed that we have in the house. They read the parts of the newspaper I never get to, and they skim all our magazines. One time before they came to visit, I bought single issues of a variety of magazines I thought they would enjoy during their stay. I still think it was a nice gesture, but those magazines evaporated within minutes.
Recently, Mom looked at my bookshelves and asked what my favorite books were and what they were about. I named a few, but also had to admit that many books on our shelves are there for show.
Let me make a few main points:
1) When I started writing this speech, I was afraid that the topic wouldn’t come across as very romantic, for an anniversary speech after all. However, reading the newspaper together every morning, and sitting in the livingroom together every evening for fifty years, while children look on, is a romance I look forward to catching up to with my wife and my own family.
2) My Dad has always read enormous biographies about profoundly important people: presidents, statesmen, entrepreneurs. Some books have taken him years to digest. Only occasionally has he told me what he learns about those individuals. However, his habit of reading has taught me that people can do great things that are worthy of writing in books that are big enough to read for a very long time.
3) I’ve often seen my parents read the Bible. My mom with her reading schedule and all her pens, and my dad secretly in his study on Sunday mornings. This has been a persistent reminder for me of the habit of faith, and the wonder of never tiring of the one true Book.
4) Another literary habit my parents share is writing – Mom with her commentaries and Dad with his journaling. Their writing is very private – I’ve never read it. Their private writing reminds me that their marriage is still personal and intimate, with meaning that only they know between them.
I’ve heard it said that reading books allows you to live more than one life, as you share in the experiences of others. My parents have lived more experiences than most people I know, and the books have always been trying to catch up. Now their books are leading them on new experiences, from visiting Anne of Green Gables in Prince Edward Island to the world of CS Lewis in Cotswold, England.
I’ve been able to experience my parents and their marriage while they read their books. Sometimes, I secretly think the books merely provide a way for my parents to be together. Reading allows them time to not say all the things that after fifty years don’t need to be said. And, I also know that reading is a recreation they built through years of economy and responsibility, from times when going out was too expensive and when four kids were kept at home.
So, Mom and Dad, happy anniversary! Thanks for teaching us to read and for letting us watch you read. Thanks for teaching us about the world and faith and about others, as you learned yourselves. More than that, and this is my point, thanks for letting us see you always together.
[This post was originally delivered by email to our local Toastmasters Club.]
I enjoy multi-tasking. Almost always, I work with music in the background. At home, I have two computer monitors which allows me to pay bills and watch a little nonsense on youtube. Over the past few nights, I’ve been a little more deliberate about my multi-tasking. If you’re like me, and have an opportunity, I encourage you to do the same. Here are a few opportunities I’ve taken:
1) Catch up on politics – watch their speeches and compare: This year’s election feels like it’s the most important one in which I’ve had the opportunity to vote. Maybe it’s an increased awareness with age, or because the world seems to be coming a little looser at the seams. However, I’ve lost track of what my presumptive candidates’ proponents are. Watching their speeches and interviews has been hugely helpful. I can learn about the issues and also admire or wince at their rhetorical achievemrnts.
I've been invited to post on another blog, a new one, a political one. Politics is not my gig. I know nothing about the players. I have opinions like anyone else, but I have no statistics to back them up. But, in this season of what feels like real-deal issues, I'm thankful for an opportunity to say my piece, to explore my opinions through writing.
Got a surprising email today - I've been asked to "websit" one of my favorite blogs while the author is away. I made my first post tonight - it was a little dry, but fun to put up. I'm one of two sitters who were asked to contribute.
I've been a Facebook junkie for the last several nights. It's terse, and compelling. I have learned much about myself - significant things. According to my facebook profile, the following scores are true: