Archive for October, 2006
Yes, I know they mean the same thing.
Here is my costume:
It’s a T-shirt, and the small print at the bottom reads “and the Alaskan Scallop Surprise.” That’s because it’s a T-shirt from Alaska, where they have many sea otters (though not as many as they would have if they hadn’t been made into pelts for centuries)! I prefer 100% cotton otter-inspired clothing.
Porpoise encouraged me to buy the shirt to wear as I pass out Halloween candy tonight. It will probably also make a couple of appearances next summer when the Harry Potter 7 book and the Harry Potter 5 movie are released.
If you want your very own “Hairy Otter” shirt, it’s available here. Sadly, it only comes in youth sizes (fine for those of us who are vertically challenged).
October 31st, 2006
I meant to post about this last week, but it slipped my mind. Check out this USA Today story about Episcopal churches using U2 songs for their communion services.
I’m not sure what I think about this. I love U2 as much as any trying-to-be-cool Christian girl. I have a lot of admiration for Bono’s passion about AIDS and poverty in Africa. I find U2’s songs meaningful to my own spiritual life. And yet something in me squirms about the idea using exclusively U2 songs for a Eucharist service.
Many of U2’s songs are great psalms of our time—often psalms of lament, in particular. But worship is not made of lament-psalms alone. Now, I admit I don’t know every U2 song ever written, but I think they’re fairly weak on songs of praise or dedication (dedication of ourselves, our gifts, etc., to God). And that’s fine, as far as U2 the band goes, because they’re not trying to compose comprehensive worship music. But I think I would find a service with only U2 music lacking in something.
Then there’s the issue that, if you’re playing recordings of U2 songs, your musicians aren’t there, aren’t a part of the local church community. If you do have your own musicians covering U2 songs, then U2-savvy members of the congregation (I initially typed “audience”) will inevitably be comparing this version with the original. And for the non-U2-savvy members . . . well, I don’t know where to start with them, because U2’s songs aren’t the most sing-able. (I do have fun imagining what would happen if the congregation didn’t have the lyrics printed for them, though: I can see each congregant happily warbling away what he or she has always thought are the words to “Pride (In the Name of Love).” But maybe that’s just because I’m a champion at mis-hearing lyrics and making up my own.)
That said, I don’t really see harm in what these churches are trying to do. I’d welcome incorporating the occasional U2 song in a church context, because, as young Natalie Williams says, it becomes different and you hear it in a new way. I can imagine a song like “Grace” or “Yahweh” being particularly effective with other symbolic images or actions accompanying it. And I’ll always recommend U2 music for private devotion and prayer . . . and shoe-shopping (yes, that’s right: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”).
October 30th, 2006
Last Sunday night, The Learning Channel aired the first episode of its five-part series “The Monastery” (on at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time). Filmed at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in northern New Mexico, the show follows five “seeker” men as they spend 40 days and 40 nights with the Benedictine monks. The men are not seeking to become monks; rather, they are there to wrestle with their questions about God and faith.
You can read full profiles of the seekers and of some of the monks (side note: it annoys me how the series and the web site refer to the two groups as “men” and “monks,” as if the monks aren’t also men—thus, I’m going to call them “seekers”) on the series’ web site, but I’ll give a brief introduction here.
(1) Warren, age 24, is a former Satanist, now an Episcopalian. He believes he has been called to be an Episcopal priest. He is also trained in martial arts, so the meditative aspects of monastic life come fairly easily to him. When he made a comment about this ease in front of the other struggling seekers, they obviously wanted to smack him, and so did we. Our label for him: “teacher’s pet.” I’m curious to hear more of his backstory, though, especially how he got out of Satanism.
(2) Tom, age 46, is a former TV comedy writer, whose life has fallen apart due to his alcoholism. He’s been sober for three years, but believes that he can’t stay with it unless he somehow comes to believe in God. We haven’t seen a whole lot of Tom’s interaction with the monks yet, but his discussion with young Alex about how a near-fatal car accident didn’t even stop his drinking was moving. You get the feeling that, if anyone can break through to Alex, it might be Tom and not the monks.
(3) Alex, age 23, is a former Marine who lost his leg in an ambush in Iraq. He has no religious background at all, so he has a hard time showing respect in the sanctuary. When the monks ask him to genuflect (or at least not prance around the sanctuary pointing a shovel as if it’s a gun) in church, he responds that he doesn’t want to do something unless he knows what it means. Good point. A monk follows with an oft-true observation that, sometimes, if you go through the motions, you’ll find yourself believing. Another good point. This exchange, I think, reveals one of the strengths of the show: it doesn’t resolve complexity too neatly. My own gut reaction is that Alex is an immature jerk—you know that he was trained to obey and respect his superiors in the military, so why can’t he do the same for the monks? But, at the same time, I feel sympathetic to his desire to understand the reason behind all the rituals and symbols—if that really is his desire.
(4) Jon, age 30, is also a former Marine, now a paramedic. His everyday proximity to death and suffering has made him doubt God’s existence. The show has thus far labeled him “the cynic.” He’s the one rolling his eyes when Warren says meditation is easy for him, and in pretty much every situation. He says this visit to the monastery is God’s last chance to prove his existence. Interesting that it doesn’t occur to him that God might still be able to work even after this “ultimatum” is past.
(5) Will, 35, is a former gang member and drug dealer who spent six years in prison. He’s now trying to work with youth in his community, but he has a hard time not getting too wrapped up in his work. He wants to develop a better balance between his work and his family life. So far, he’s my favorite of the seekers, because he seems to have a genuinely open attitude. His spiritual mentor at the monastery is also the one who’s impressed me most thus far. Father Luis has had some great advice about developing deeper prayer habits.
Overall, the show does have some predictably cheesy narration, and it does bother me how it’s set up as almost a contest to see who can grow the most during these 40 days. It’s so limiting to God’s time to assume that the fruits of this stay at the monastery will develop while the seekers are there. However, the show is respectful of monastic tradition and of the monks themselves, and it does give a fairly good overview of Benedictine spirituality. (I was happy to note that the list of books recommended by the monks included one by Esther de Waal, my favorite Anglican-Celtic-Benedictine!).
I was also interested to learn that “The Monastery” was inspired by a similar show done previously on the BBC. The Brits also did another project with female seekers at a convent, so apparently we’re going to copy that, too, with a show filmed at a Trappistine (“Trappistine”? I didn’t even know there were female Trappists. Can’t they just be called a Trappist convent, though? The “convent” bit would seem to indicate their gender) convent in Iowa. I know I’ll be watching that one, too.
October 26th, 2006
Sorry for the puns in my title: when I’ve just watched a movie dealing with wordplay, I can’t resist.
I’ve been wanting to see Akeelah and the Bee for months: I first heard about it at Starbucks (the coffee company partially funded the movie), where I picked up a paper coaster with the word “argillaceous” on it. As a former spelling bee competitor, I’m a guaranteed audience for almost any spelling bee movie, documentary, or play (except last fall’s movie Bee Season, which I’m not interested in seeing because I already read the mediocre book—and because it has Richard Gere in it, and I really don’t like him). The documentary Spellbound is definitely the funniest and cleverest (and also most heartbreaking because you see how much pressure really falls on these kids) entry in the genre, but Akeelah is definitely the most hopeful and encouraging.
Akeelah and the Bee follows the sports-movie formula closely: disadvantaged underdog rises against obstacles to succeeed. Writer-director Doug Atchison, in the “making-of” feature among the DVD extras, openly admits being influenced by Rocky and Rudy. In this particular case, Akeelah is a natural word-whiz, having turned to Scrabble and spelling as a form of comfort after her father’s death. Her obstacles? Pretty much the stereotypical ones you’d expect in a story about a smart African American girl from South Los Angeles: an under-funded school with bullies who mock her as a “brainiac,” siblings in various forms of trouble, an initially unsupportive mother. In short, it’s not only the sports-movie formula; it’s also the inspiring-movie-made-by-white-people-about-the-inner-city formula.
Atchison says the story first came to him when he was tutoring children in a South L.A. neighborhood. As I heard his comment, though, I wondered how he could write the film’s dialogue, which features Akeelah switching back and forth fluidly between slang and “proper” grammar.” The “making-of” feature seemed about to answer my question, as a female voice began to say, “Doug called me in to help with the authenticity of the script.” I was expecting to see an African American face appear on screen next—but, no, it was the very recognizable blonde-and-blue-eyed face of Paige Kimble, head honcho of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. However Atchison managed it, the dialogue does seem realistic without being stereotypical, perhaps because it demonstrates how many different “languages” Akeelah is capable of speaking.
Possibly that realism is due to the acting talents of the films’ stars. Big names Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne (as Akeelah’s mother and tutor, respectively) agreed to appear in the low-budget film for peanuts, simply because they felt the story was inspiring. But by far the greatest performance is young KeKe Palmer’s. She makes Akeelah a very believable and lovable character, alternately sharp-tongued and sweet, but smart throughout. At first, she’s reluctant to spell publicly for fear that her peers will laugh at her, but eventually her love of words wins over. At times, she also feels the pressure of the entire community depending on her as its token star—a heavy burden for any 11-year-old.
Some of the best moments of the film involve Akeelah’s interactions with her fellow spelling competitors from Woodland Hills, a much wealthier L.A. neighborhood. Her new friend Javier is loyal, funny, and cares more about friendship than about competition—watching him, you could almost believe that the National Spelling Bee is a blast. And Akeelah’s rivalry with Dylan, who has placed 2nd in the National Bee two years in a row (much to the dissatisfaction of his father), forms the backbone of at least the last quarter of the movie. I won’t give away any details, but I was very pleased with how the film handled the inevitable Dylan-Akeelah showdown towards the end.
My other favorite moments are perhaps unrealistic, but nevertheless touching. After Dr. Larabee (Fishburne) tells Akeelah he can’t coach her anymore, she finds “coaches” all around her in the community. There’s a great montage in which everyone calls out words from Akeelah’s flashcards: she sits on a car hood as her brother’s druggie friends quiz her, she places apples in a bin as the grocery store owner listens to her spell, she jumps rope (spelling in time to the rhythm) among her school friends. So it’s kind of an extended “public service announcement,” and it may be cheesy, but I like it anyway.
Overall, the film’s “message” can be summed up in the quote that Dr. Larabee has Akeelah read during their first session together:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
While I shy away from the “be yourself” messages that are proliferating in children’s and teens’ movies today, this has a different angle that makes it more palatable. I’ve seen so much false humility among Christians, and this quote gets to the heart of the matter: letting God shine through us isn’t pride, it’s showing others God’s glory, and, as the quote says, allowing them to do the same. The movie attributes these words to Nelson Mandela—and, unfortunately, that’s not quite right. I wish they were Mandela’s words. He did say something similar in a speech, but the actual quote is from New-Agey inspirational writer Marianne Williamson. Argh.
Anyway, Akeelah and the Bee may be formulaic, but I found it enjoyable anyway. If it had been around when I was little, it might have replaced The Girl Who Spelled Freedom on the list of most frequently watched movies.
October 20th, 2006
Thanks to the Think Christian blog, I just heard about this study on religious beliefs among professors in higher education.
The overall result of the study is that professors may be slightly less religious than the American population as a whole, but they’re not as atheistic as commonly thought. The study included professors at “religious” and “secular” schools, and these schools ranged in prestige from community colleges to elite research universities.
After looking at the questions about belief in God (summarized in In Higher Ed), I have to admit that the survey seems deeply flawed. The questions seem intended to classify the devotedness of the subjects to their faith, but the surveyors don’t seem to understand that doubt can coexist with very fervent religious belief. I’d be inclined to suspect that those 35.7% who said they never doubt God’s existence are lying. Even if they don’t doubt it rationally, they probably sometimes act as if they don’t believe in God’s existence on a practical level. Most of us, even those of us who are trying to follow Jesus, don’t always trust in his goodness and providence.
The other particularly troubling question (if you want to see the whole report, here it is, though I warn you that it’s boring–too many words and too few pictures!) has to do with beliefs about the Bible. The potential responses were: “The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word”; “The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word”; or “The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by men.” What on earth is the phrase “actual word of God” (as opposed to “inspired”) supposed to mean? I might say that I believe the Bible is the actual word of God, but that certainly doesn’t mean that I think everything should be taken literally (otherwise, we’d all be walking around with gouged-out eyes and hacked-off hands, in obedience to Jesus’s teachings). It just seems like the survey questions were designed by people who have no idea of how the majority of Christians (even academics!) talk about their belief. And, of course, the survey doesn’t distinguish between the responses of Christians and non-Christians to this question.
It’s an interesting study, but I’m not sure it actually tells us much about anyone except the sociologists who designed it.
October 19th, 2006
In between fits of doing the writing that I actually have to do, I got to watch Casanova and catch up on the second series of the new “Doctor Who.” I’ve already posted here about the first half of Casanova and the “Christmas Invasion” special, but that only accounts for 3½ of my eight hours. 4½ more to go!
First of all, “Doctor Who.” While each episode has had its strengths, my favorite so far is “Tooth and Claw”: it’s set in Scotland, it features Queen Victoria, it has a werewolf, and it chronicles the creation of Torchwood (both the Institute and the anti-alien weaponry—for which, it turns out, the Doctor was unintentionally responsible). I really like the bits that tie into the Torchwood story arc—I admit I’m drawn to stories of how a fall into evil occurs. Every time I say this, Porpoise points out that they’re only mentioning Torchwood to generate interest in the new BBC spin-off show of the same name. So cynical, that Porpoise of mine. (Oh, by the way, I felt very silly when I had to read a Wikipedia article to find out that “Torchwood” is an anagram of “Doctor Who.” Argh!).
“School Reunion” was touching—and sad. Though I haven’t seen any of the old “Doctor Who” episodes with Sarah Jane Smith as the Doctor’s traveling companion, I could still definitely grasp her struggle to adjust to normal life after years of traveling the universe. Her presence in the episode helped to give us a sense that Rose may be having fun and larks now, but she has something of the same adjustment-difficulty waiting in her future. This was also the first time I’ve met K-9, the robotic dog who used to be a “Doctor Who” regular. If the Doctor hadn’t rebuilt K-9 for Sarah Jane, I think I would have cried and possibly held the Doctor in lower regard for the rest of his lives. Apparently I also get upset about metal-animal death. And Mickey’s realization that he now serves the same function (technical assistance, etc.) as the metal dog? Priceless.
On a complete side-note, I just have to say that I love the Tenth Doctor’s outfit. Especially the striped suit with the Converse-style sneakers. Porpoise has been hoping for weeks that I would allow him to wear tennis shoes to an upcoming wedding. Last week, I told him he could do so if they were Converse sneakers. He’s now torn between wanting to be comfortable and fear of encouraging my David Tennant obsession.
Speaking of which . . . Casanova. After the light-heartedness of the first half, the second installment was heart-wrenching. After Henriette’s marriage to Grimani and Casanova’s escape from prison (an escape which necessitated his self-exile from Venice), he, his manservant Rocco, and his illegitimate-son-by-a-nun Jack, travel from Paris to London, and, finally, to Naples. In Paris and London, we get to laugh at the debauchery and sadism of the French and then the smugness and the relative propriety of the Britons. But, in each place, Giacomo Casanova seems to be sinking deeper and deeper into a joyless debauchery. Meanwhile, he has no idea how to relate to his young son, who, as he grows older, reveals some disturbing pleasure in torturing others. It’s finally in Naples, under the shadow of smoking Mt. Vesuvius, that Giacomo sees the full wages of sin, when his son tries to seduce his own half-sister (Giacomo’s illegitimate daughter by the singer Bellino). The costumes for the Naples segment are clearly inspired by 80’s punk culture, and the Neapolitans are dealing with living in the shadow of death by throwing away all scruples. Jack, throwing his father’s own words and actions back at him, is all too willing to do likewise.
After we had finished watching, I asked Porpoise if he thought Casanova would have been faithful to Henriette if he’d been able to marry her. Porpoise thought that was certainly the implication. After all, as much as Giacomo sleeps around with married women, he will never pursue Henriette after she marries Grimani. He knows she wouldn’t want him to, and he respects her wish. It’s the one boundary he won’t cross.
And that’s what makes this version of Casanova more than a simple scumbag. He’s a scumbag, of course, but not a simple one. And, as he (the older Casanova, played by Peter O’Toole) tells Edith, he has written down his life-story not out of pride, but in penance. So when he dies without getting to see Henriette one last time, you do feel pity for him, even though you know that’s the only way it could have ended.
Anyway, life will now settle down into one Tennant-hour per week–a much more sustainable pattern.
October 18th, 2006
When I heard this morning that Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, had won the Nobel Peace Prize, I dropped my spoon into my cereal bowl and started dancing around the kitchen in glee. It’s so exciting when someone whose work you’ve been following for ten years actually gets honored for it, especially when that work has helped so many thousands of women living in poverty. Plus, I admit that I have an element of personal satisfaction in Yunus’s receipt of the award: when I was in high school economics class, our teacher required us to read about and report on some famous economist (like, you know, Adam Smith or John Maynard Keynes). I didn’t want to. Instead, I went to Borders, browsed the shelves, and selected a book about Muhammad Yunus. I think Mr. W thought I was insane for reporting on somebody who actually helped the poor. Ha! In your face, Mr. W! (A very “peaceful” attitude on my part, I know.)
Also, I’m really excited about Orhan Pamuk winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, because I just started reading his novel My Name Is Red on the way back from my trip to Turkey and Egypt. K had recommended the novel, which is about the meeting, involving both mixing and clash, between Eastern and Western artistic styles during the Ottoman Period. I’m only about two-thirds of the way through, so I can’t yet make a definite declaration of whether I like the novel or not, but I do find the themes interesting. The Washington Post’s article on Pamuk describes his work as evoking “modern Turkey’s complex blending of westernized culture and Ottoman tradition. It is a mix, Pamuk said, that puts the lie to the simplistic notion of a ‘clash of civilizations’ between Islam and the West.”
It’s so gratifying when Nobel Prizes go to people you’ve actually heard of.
October 13th, 2006
Now that I’ve seen “The Christmas Invasion,” the 2-hour special that launched David Tennant’s stint as the tenth Doctor Who, I think I can safely declare myself a “Doctor Who” fan. Unlike many of my peers, I didn’t grow up watching “Doctor Who” on PBS, so I’m a newbie. I only started watching when the ninth Doctor appeared on the Sci-Fi channel this spring.
For anyone who’s more a novice than I am, Wikipedia’s “Doctor Who” article probably offers the best introduction. For now, all you need to know is that Doctor Who is a Time Lord, the last of his kind, and that he travels through time and space in a phone-box called the TARDIS, along with a British female companion, saving various planets from destruction. Because so many different actors have played Doctor Who, writers gave his character the ability to periodically “regenerate” in a new body.
So, in the episode prior to “The Christmas Invasion,” Doctor Who has self-sacrificially saved us all once again, necessitating his regeneration as a new body (hence the transition from the ninth to the tenth Doctor Who). Apparently regeneration takes a lot out of you, though, because after his initial appearance, Doctor Who Ten collapses and goes into a coma-like state. In the meantime, of course, naughty aliens try to invade the Earth. Things look bad for humans.
However, naturally the Doctor wakes up in the nick of time. What brings him out of his deep sleep? Tea. Yes, tea, that best of all God’s potable gifts. The official BBC “Doctor Who” site (click on the big picture on the home page, and then select “The Doctor wakes up” from among the videos) contains this video of the Doctor’s first moments awake, in which he praises tea and complains that he hasn’t returned with ginger (red) hair.
The zany humor continues as he, still clad in his pajamas, duels the head Sycorax. After the Doctor wins, Rose hands him his bathrobe, leading him to declare, “Not bad for a man in his jim-jams! Very Arthur Dent. Now, there was a nice man.” Oh, dear. If the writer had been deliberately trying to appeal to me, he couldn’t have done much better. Arthur Dent, tea, and dueling in pajamas! All that’s missing is an otter. David Tennant’s Doctor does have an otter’s sense of mischief about him, though.
The show isn’t entirely fun and laughs, however. You think the climax of the episode comes when the Doctor defeats the Sycorax, telling them to let everyone else out there know that “the Earth is protected!” But, no, the big, heart-wrenching moment actually occurs after they return to Earth. Harriet Jones, the British prime minister who has helped Doctor Who before, fires a sort of long-distance laser weapon at the departing Sycorax ship, blowing up everyone on board. The Doctor turns on her, accusing her of slaughter (and, since all his people were wiped out by the Daleks, the Doctor is particularly passionate about the preservation of life whenever possible). “I gave them [the Sycorax] the wrong warning,” he says bitterly. “I should have told them to run, as fast as they can. Run and hide, because the monsters are coming – the human race.”
As far as I know, this is a new twist for “Doctor Who.” Here we’ve been thinking we’re innocent little humans trying to defend ourselves from the evil aliens, and it turns out that we are the true monsters. The Sycorax didn’t even have the ability to do more than pose as conquerors, while Britain had secretly been developing a “weapon of mass destruction” known as Torchwood. The very name makes me think of Wormwood, a fallen star—and also the name of an apprentice devil in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. Apparently there’s going to be a whole spin-off TV show called “Torchwood,” so this will continue to be a theme.
If life-and-death ethical situations like this one appeared in a sci-fi show featuring stilted, pseudo-medieval speech (as in Star Wars), I doubt I’d be interested. But give me ethics mixed in with some Douglas Adams-esque patter, and I’m hooked.
October 12th, 2006
Inspired by a similar idea on the Think Christian blog, I decided to add to Christianity Today’s “Top 50″ list by naming the books that have been most influential for me. The following are listed not necessarily in order of importance, but in chronological order of when I read them. Of course, those early books do tend to be quite formative–especially when they’re such good stories!
1. Madeleine L’Engle’s “Time Trilogy” (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet)
I can think of no better introduction to the unfathomable aspects of a personal God than L’Engle’s books, which so skillfully combine scientific wonder with imaginative mythology with very concrete love between family members. My dad first read her books to me when I was five and six years old, and some of the images still spring to mind today.
2. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
A quest where the hero sets out to lose something? A sense that we’re all part of a grand story, even if we can’t fully understand our part in it? Grace acting through apparently irredeemable characters to save us from ourselves? Even a six- and seven-year-old can sense the depth here.
3. C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia
It’s probably cheating to count them as one book. If I had to pick two out of the seven, they would be The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Eustace’s de-dragoning, Lucy reading the book in the magician’s house—and Dufflepuds!) and The Last Battle (to this day, Emeth is the best answer I can think of when people ask whether non-Christians go to heaven).
4. C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
Why is it that Lewis is the only writer I’ve ever read who makes heaven seem appealing? The Great Divorce is like the best points from Mere Christianity and The Four Loves all rolled up into vivid characters.
5. Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk
I started reading Norris because she reminded me of my mom—both were former military brats who reclaimed their Christian faith in their twenties and subsequently spent a lot of time hanging out with monks. As a poet, Norris continually provides fresh images for a spirituality rooted in ancient church tradition.
6. The Venerable Bede, The Life and Miracles of Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne
After Cuthbert has spent the night in the sea praying, two otters come up and dry his feet. He blesses them. Need I say more? This short work launched my obsession with Celtic Christianity and with early hagiography.
7. Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Complete Poems
This guy definitely got Incarnation. And sprung rhythm.
8. Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality
Yay, paradox. There’s nothing more helpful to living in Christ.
9. Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy
Willard emphasizes how the scriptures are not merely prescriptive, but also descriptive of life in the kingdom of heaven. This helped me to stop whacking myself over the head for not having followed all the prescriptions yet.
10. Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being (a collection of her letters)
O’Connor reassures me that it’s okay to be a cranky Christian. Plus, she doesn’t romanticize faith. Not one bit. And she’s really funny.
I’d love to hear your own top ten lists–send them in!
October 10th, 2006
I love “Top 50” or “100 Most [Insert Adjective Here]” lists. It’s fun to look at them and say, “Ulysses? The best novel of the 20th century? Really?” or “I can’t believe they left Benny and Joon off the list of 100 Top Films Featuring Dancing Hot Dog Buns!” In other words, they’re inherently going to cause disagreement.
So it’s no surprise that Christianity Today’s “Top 50 Books” list (which only includes books published since World War II) seems to be an odd conglomeration featuring books from all over the evangelical spectrum. Of course, my first question when I look at the list is: Which evangelicals are we looking at to determine these books’ influence? Are we measuring influence by sheer quantity of people who have read these books or by the relative power within evangelicalism of the individuals who have read these books? Looking at the list, the answer seems to be a little bit of both.
For example, I doubt that, as crucially important as it is, many typical evangelical congregants—or leaders, for that matter—have read Philip Jenkins’s The Next Christendom. Granted, it’s a pretty recent book, but I don’t get the impression that many American evangelicals are aware that the Global South is currently the hotbed of fervent, evangelistic Christianity—or if they are aware, it’s from their personal experience and not from reading Jenkins’s book.
Similarly, though I wish it were the case, I doubt that Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger has that much clout among the majority of evangelicals. It’s popular enough that it got republished in a special 25th anniversary edition a few years back. But if more American evangelicals had read Sider’s prescient vision of the current global political situation, I doubt we’d be in the mess we’re in today. However, when I look at the names of people who made suggestions for the “Top 50” list and see the “evangelical social justice” triumvirate of Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis, and Sider himself among them, Rich Christians’ inclusion isn’t that surprising.
Similarly, I’m puzzled by the inclusion of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, since evangelicals have been even more suspicious of it than they have of most Christian-authored fantasy. It seems like Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe would be a more representative choice (though, even there, I had a couple of childhood friends whose mothers wouldn’t let them read The Chronicles of Narnia because they were “Satanic” books—they had witches and magic in them, after all).
Sigh. My cynicism about evangelical subculture really shows through when some of my favorite books on the list are the ones that I doubt the popularity of. Just to be fair, I’ll say that I also really like Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, and C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and I don’t question that they’ve been truly influential among evangelicals.
My biggest complaint about the list? It’s really white. What about the books that have been influential among African American evangelicals—the books of T.D. Jakes, for example?
In general, though, since I haven’t been alive for all of the past 60 years, I’m probably not the best judge of what should and shouldn’t be on the list.
October 9th, 2006