Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Big Meal

I kind of feel like I'm eating a delicious, multi-course meal right now. I'm reading a few books at once and they're all very tasty. I'll write more about each in my reading blog after I've finished them, but I thought I'd write a little about all now, while I'm still in the midst of the "meal."

One is by Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember. It's a bunch of his essays, some unpublished, some sermons he preached, and so on. He calls it a "grab bag." I've read just the first couple so far but they're wonderful. He is full of such wisdom. And joy.

In the first essay, the one the book title is from, he talks about a dream he has where he stays in a hotel in a room he finds absolutely wonderful and when he asks the host about it, the host says the room is named "Remember." He writes about looking back and remembering, "the need--not all the time, surely, but from time to time--to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves....". He speaks of a "deeper, slower kind of remembering;...remembering as a searching and finding." One thought I had was that my "stories" blog is a bit of that for me.

He writes about the memories of hard times, and reminds us of David and all the sinful things he did, yet he sang a song of thanks. Here's one of my favorite lines: "Hope stands up to its knees in the past and keeps its eyes on the future." And after that, "There has never been a time past when God wasn't with us as the strength beyond our strength, the wisdom beyond our wisdom, as whatever it is in our hearts--whether we believe in God or not--that keeps us human enough at least to get by despite everything in our lives that tends to wither the heart and make us less than human." I can't stop. "To remember the past is to see that we are here today by grace, that we have survived as a gift."

And that's only the first essay!

I'm also reading Life, God, and Other Small Topics: Conversations from Socrates in the City," edited by Eric Metaxas. Metaxas and some others decided to start a speakers' series in New York "with the simple idea that the philosopher Socrates was quite right when he famously said that the 'unexamined life is not worth living.'" He happens to know "a number of brilliant writers and speakers who had thought rather a lot about the Big Questions and who had some pretty terrific answers to those questions" so he decided to invite them to speak at these events. The book has Metaxas' introduction of each speaker (and they can sometimes make me laugh out loud), the speech itself (which they kept to around 45 minutes) and the Q&A after. I'm just loving it.

Again, I've only read a few so far but the other night I was lying in bed thinking how I'd like to send this book to several of my friends, and as I was listing their names the list got WAY too long for me to afford. I'll have to see what I can do. I'm not sure if these events are still happening in New York but if they are and if they're open to the public I could easily see it as worthwhile to plan a trip to New York around getting to one of these nights.

The first 2 essays/talks are named "Belief in God in an Age of Science" and "Making Sense out of Suffering." Talk about big questions, right? The speakers were Sir John Polkinghorne and Peter Kreeft, respectively. Great talks, intros and q&a. A couple quotes from the first one: and religion have one extremely important thing in common--they both are concerned with the search for truth.
Of course, science and religion are looking for different aspects of truth.
Science does not seek to ask and answer every sort of question. It restricts itself essentially to asking questions of process, which are the "how questions" of how things came to be.
Religion is asking a different set of questions, deeper questions,...even than those of science--questions of meaning and purpose: "Is there something going on in what is happening in the world?" 
Sir Polkinghorne was a scientist himself, a physicist, then became an Anglican priest. One of the things he talks about is the incredible once-in-a-lifetime-ness (my "word") of the fact that our world and human beings came to exist. He goes further than saying this shows "intelligent design," but speaks along those lines. I can't be as eloquent as he is so I won't even try, but it's a wonderful essay. I'm so glad to have read it. Just one more quote I much appreciate: "Those seeking to serve the God of truth should welcome truth from whatever source it comes." If only we could all live that.

Lastly, I'm also reading a book called Bad Religion, by Ross Douthat. I would not put it on the same pedestal as the two above books, but it's kind of like the meat and potatoes of the big meal. I'm reading it for a book club I'm a member of, and although at first I wasn't sure I liked it enough even to finish it, I actually am getting more from it than I thought and plan to continue. The subtitle is "How We Became a Nation of Heretics" and, at least so far, the author is kind of writing a history of religion in America. It'll be interesting to get to his conclusions and perhaps propositions for improvement.

I guess I'm also reading one more as a kind of palate cleanser, which is a Georgette Heyer novel I read every so often just to get in a little lightness and relaxation.

So there you go. An embarrassment of riches.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Peter's my fave

Yesterday's sermon was based on Luke 5:1-11, where Jesus calls his disciples. Peter is still called Simon there. Peter reminds me of me. In this story, when Jesus tells him to put his nets out, Peter first has to let him know that they've already done that and it didn't do any good. I tend to do that -- make sure I get my potential "I told you so" setup, you know? So Peter says, "Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." Right. "OKaaaay, since YOU say so."

And then, of course, there's definitely no I told you so happening from Peter. And Jesus -- well, he IS Jesus after all -- doesn't say it, either. But those nets get filled with fishes, overflowing, nearly breaking them. And then Peter's actions take a huge pendulum swing. "...he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, 'Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!'”

Oh Peter, you're a man after my own heart. I'm so glad you are in the Bible. It just shows you, if Jesus could love Peter, he can love me, and you and all of us.

Once I started to gather all the passages I could find with Peter in them. Story after story he proves Jesus loves us in spite of ourselves. Peter gets out of the boat full of confidence and faith,...then loses it. Peter says "You are Christ, son of the Living God" and Jesus tells him he'll build his church on this Rock. Peter says he'll never, ever deny Christ, and then he does..three times! But after all those failures, Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and Jesus does use Peter, and he does build his church with him. There's hope.