Books I Read in February 2018
February is a hard month, isn't it? Around here we missed the record rainfall amount by hundreds of an inch. So, it's been wet. Spring is coming, though, right? Wasn't there a groundhog somewhere that said so?
So while all this rain fell outside, I picked up a few books to keep me occupied.
Here's what I read in February 2018.
Martyn Lloyd- Jones was arguably the greatest preacher of the 20th century. His towering theological insights into the Bible helped thousands in his lifetime and endure far beyond the grave. Personally, I have been immensely helped by his sermons on revival as well as, more recently, his sermons on Ephesians. He combined depth of thought with a heart enflamed with God. He had the unction of the Holy Spirit in his preaching and if you dropped him into a river, he’d bring it to a boil. His gifting did not get to his head. He remained humble and usable by God. May we all be so.
“Lloyd-Jones believed the man who is called to preach comes under a sobering humility. He believed that this person is overwhelmed with a deep sense of his own personal unworthiness for such a high and holy task and is often hesitant to move forward to preach for fear of his own inadequacies.”
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
I continued reading through C.S. Lewis’s works this month, and this was next on the list. Lewis’s argument is that pain serves a purpose for us. As much as it may seem so, suffering and pain is not meaningless. Perhaps I should just let his words do the talking. “We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the “intolerable compliment.” Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.”
“When pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”
From Weakness to Strength: 8 Vulnerabilities That Can Bring Out the Best in Your Leadership by Scott Sauls
Scott Sauls seeks to serve pastors and leaders in his latest book about strength growing out of weakness. He opens up his story as proof that God does deep work in our heart when life seems to be falling apart. This isn’t a book about tactics and strategies. It’s a book about character. And it’s a good one.
“Until leaders have suffered, and have learned to steward their pain, they don’t really have much to offer. They may build a big platform and develop a cool “brand,” but little else of lasting value.”
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor
Flannery O’Connor’s writing is fantastic. I read through her stories year ago and they stick with me still. So when I saw that her prayer journal was published, I wanted a copy. Her stories are filled with religion. To use her own words, her stories are Christ-haunted. This is a very short book. It takes no longer than one short sitting to read the entire thing. What struck me most was her awareness of how much she got in her own way. She wanted more of God, but to get more of him, he had to remove her from her primary thoughts. Isn’t that interesting? We block our own view of God.
“I do not know You God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”
Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics by C.S. Lewis
This was the first book of Lewis’s poetry I’ve read. These poems were written during World War I, in which Lewis was serving heavily in battle. The lyrics are filled with a man longing for something larger than himself, looking for God but not sure how to find him, and hearkening back to mythology to help make sense of the world around. It is clear that the Lord was already at work in his heart, even if he was unable to perceive him at the time. Lewis had a lot of questions as he wrote these poems, and Jesus was the answer he was looking for.
“Yet I will not bow down to thee nor love thee,
For looking in my own heart I can prove thee,
And know this frail, bruised being is above thee.
Our love, our hope, our thirsting for the right,
Our mercy and long seeking of the light,
Shall we change these for thy relentless might?
Laugh and then slay. Shatter all things of worth,
Heap torment still on torment for thy mirth—
Thou art not Lord while there are Men on earth.”
Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home by Jen Pollock Michel
I’ve seen articles recently talking about the reasons men don’t read women writers. I’m not sure why others don’t, but I love reading women writers. They see the world through a different lens, one that I need in order to see as clearly as I ought. I’m not sure a man would ever though to have written a book on housekeeping, but Michel does it so well. She brings out the theological meaning of home, of place, and brings the reader into a deep understanding of the longings of the heart and the true satisfaction found in God.
“The story of the Bible witnesses to the happy ending called home. For despite the human experience of estrangement in this middle act of the drama, the good news of the Christian gospel begins and ends with homecoming. Our anxiety to belong, our desire to be received, our hope for intimate embrace: these are met in the homemaking God of Abraham, who speaks the yes of his promises in Jesus Christ. He seeks and saves the wandering lost. ”
Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine D. Pohl
This may have been my favorite new book I read this month. Pohl traces the history of Christian hospitality from the first century down to today. In doing so, she presents the biblical case for welcoming strangers and serving the least of these. It’s an eye-opening look at the importance hospitality has played in the growth of Christianity throughout the centuries. It is especially helpful, I think, for those of us living in the individualized Western world, where our privacy is prioritized and hospitality fits in the most extreme margins of our lives.
“Our contemporary situation is surprisingly similar to the early Christian context in which the normative understandings and practices of hospitality were developed. We, like the early church, find ourselves in a fragmented and multicultural society that yearns for relationships, identity, and meaning. Our mobile and self-oriented society is characterized by disturbing levels of loneliness, alienation, and estrangement. In a culture that appears at times to be overtly hostile to life itself, those who reject violence and embrace life bear powerful witness.”
Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America First first edition by Gilbert King
This is a heartbreaking story of four black men accused of raping a white women in Florida in 1949. The accusation was made up. The men did nothing. But they paid for their “crime.” This book tells that story, as well as others connected and relevant to it. Injustice reigned in Florida during the mid-twentieth century. It was the most dangerous stat for a black man to live, and the Sheriff of Groveland, Florida was one of the most dangerous in the country. If you want to understand the depth of depravity that ruled white America during the Jim Crow era, this book will take you inside the gruesome details. But be warned. It’s not easy to read.
“They tried to make me say that I had been with the group of fellows that raped a white woman,” Shepherd said. “It was terrible the way I was whipped, there was just knots all over me. They said they were not going to stop whipping me until I said that I was the one. I kept telling them I was in Orlando where I was. Finally, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I said yes.” Shepherd said yes, he raped Norma Padgett, and the men dropped their hoses. Yates told Shepherd he could have “saved all the beating” if he had just said yes the first time they asked.”
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The movie just came out and I’m sure it’ll be all the rage for a little while. I don’t watch many movies. I read books instead. The book is always better than the movie, anyways, right? In this case, I believe that’s probably more true than elsewhere. It’s a fantastical story with fantastical characters and plot. I imagine it would be difficult to capture the wonder of it on the screen. This is a book I was probably assigned to read somewhere in my childhood and never got around to. I’m glad I finally did.
“You mean you're comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it? Yes. Mrs. Whatsit said. You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.”
Miracles by C.S. Lewis
People doubt miracles not because they’ve never seen or experienced them but because they can’t explain them. It troubles the ordered mind. But miracles are not necessarily a breaking of the laws of nature. Who can even say what the laws of nature actually are outside of infinite observation? We know far less than we claim. Miracles, rather than obscuring our view of the laws of nature help us see them more clearly. As Lewis says, “It is much less important that the doctrine itself should be fully comprehensible. We believe that the sun is in the sky at midday in summer not because we can clearly see the sun (in fact, we cannot) but because we can see everything else.” We can’t explain miracles, but then again we can’t explain how our brain works, or how exactly it is that we can see the colors and dimensions we take for granted with our eyes. Miracles are not a step outside nature, not a problem to overcome, but a gift to received. They’re there to bring us to Someone higher. As Lewis says, “In Science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.
“An 'impersonal God'-well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads-better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap-best of all. But God himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, King, husband-that is quite another matter.”
Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
These are the last of T.S. Eliot’s poems. Some consider them his best. I can’t be the judge of that. I haven’t read enough. But these are very, very good. In these four poems, Eliot struggles with the reality of time, humanity, and the suffering that happens between the two. But they aren’t hopeless poems. Eliot’s Christianity shines forth, ushering hope into what seems as times meaningless and at others cruel. In the end, we see that mankind has but two options: to be burned by the fire of our own destructive bombs or to be burned by the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit.
“The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.”
Home: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson
I love this novel. I love this author. Every time someone asks me for recommendations of novels, these are the first I give. Robinson’s writing is deep, theological without being cliche, insightful, and stylistically smooth. As for Home, the simple plot allows for complexity of character and depth of insight beyond want many novels can achieve. Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize, and is a fantastic book, but this sequel is my favorite in Robinson’s trilogy (Gilead, Home, Lila). I listened to it this time around and was just as floored by it as I was a few years ago when I first read it. Dealing with the complexities of family dynamics, faith and repentance, reconciliation and forgiveness, this novel is as tough as they come, supported by the weight of a thousand pounds of grace.
“There is a saying that to understand is to forgive, but that is an error, so Papa used to say. You must forgive in order to understand. Until you forgive, you defend yourself against the possibility of understanding.”