Books I Read in April 2018
April is always a slow reading month for me. I'm not a big TV-watcher. But when April rolls around, we get into what I consider to be the best TV time of the year: Major League Baseball opens their season and the NBA and NHL playoffs kick off. I LOVE all of these. So I stay up later than I should. I wake up later than I'd like. And I read less than just about any other month of the year.
But that doesn't mean I didn't read anything. I still managed to get through 7 books, and I nearly finished an 8th. Below is what I read this month.
On my journey through the writings of C.S. Lewis, I came to his book of essays and stories, which begins with an apologetic for reading and writing children’s stories. As the author of the Narnia series, he’s qualified for such a topic. I too am a lover of children’s stories so I appreciate Lewis’s insights. This book is just another example of Lewis’s ability to write on anything. He never lacks for insight. The writing is always superb. Reading Lewis is never anything less than joyful.
“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty.”
Only Killers and Thieves: A Novel by Paul Howarth
An Australian western novel isn’t usually the genre I swing for, but I’m glad I came across this one. I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly because it does have some rough topics. But it gives insight into the mindset of 1800s Australia, especially surrounding the black indigenous people groups. Racism isn’t only an American problem. Turns out it existed, and exists, throughout the world. Howarth’s novel follows the story of two brothers who find themselves swept into a world they didn’t realize existed outside their family farm. Their story is tragic and complicated. It takes us inside the mind that’s able to kill another person even when the very thought is sickening. Howarth shows that when people are pushed into compromising situations, almost anything is possible, and the sins committed in such times aren’t easily forgotten.
“So there you have it. You were faced with a choice and you acted. There is too much hand-wringing in the world these days, when the truth is, no one ever really feels remorse. At night in their beds or on their knees to pray, they chunter about regret and feel at peace. It is a charade. If they truly regretted something—if you were truly remorseful about what you’ve done, you would fall to your knees and ask to be shot. Or else you’d ride into town and confess and insist on being hanged. But you won’t. No one ever does.”
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman
When a poet writes prose, you know it’s going to be imaginative. But Wiman doesn’t stray too far into the obscure with this book. He deals with faith in light of his cancer. Suffering didn’t destroy his faith. In many ways, it created it. With writing that is, at times, overwhelmingly brilliant, Wiman gives us a look at the insides of a man on a journey toward Christ. He doesn’t have it all figured out (who of us does, really?) but he’s honest about what he sees. And what he sees is Jesus.
“Even when Christianity is the default mode of a society, Christ is not.”
Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by David J. Garrow
It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. Was assassinated outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Fifty years later, many wonder how King’s dream is fairing. It’s not as true as he hoped—as we hoped. Instead, racial tension still pulses through our country. It’s a news-cycle staple so long after the death of the Civil Right’s most glorious decade.
Garrow’s biography of MLK won the Pulitzer Prize in 1897. So it comes with substantial critical acclaim. It is well deserved, from what I can tell. Garrow tells the story of King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) through a compelling narrative. King was a man marked by conviction. He believed in non-violent action more firmly than anyone else of his era. He stood tall and that standing cause many to hate him. Eventually, it led to his assassination. King was a complicated man, as all men are. He was not perfect. No man is. But his legacy of fighting for justice lives on today. And one day, though it won’t come easy or quickly. His dream will come to life in fullness.
“Tell Montgomery they can keep shooting and I’m going to stand up to them; tell Montgomery they can keep bombing and I’m going to stand up to them. If I had to die tomorrow morning I would die happy because I’ve been to the mountaintop and I’ve seen the promised land and it’s going to be here in Montgomery.”
Paul: A Biography by N.T. Wright
This was the first of two books on Paul I read this month by N.T. Wright. As much as anyone can, Wright has sought to get into the mind of the Apostle Paul and deliver to his readers the insights he gained while in his shoes. What he gives is a fascinating look at the monumental man who, aside from Jesus, changed the world more than any other. Wright takes us through the journey of Paul’s life, from his early beginnings to the silence of the Bible surrounding his death. He takes us by the hand, walking us along the path with Paul from city to city, prison to prison, hardship to hardship, joy to joy. I loved this book. There are a few things in it I’m still pondering, and probably will for a very long time. If you’re looking for something to give you fresh understanding of the famous apostle, grab this book and take up and read.
“If Jesus has defeated the powers of the world in his death, his resurrection meant the launching of a new creation, a whole new world. Those who found themselves caught up in the ‘good news’ that Paul was announcing were drawn into that new world and were themselves, Paul taught, to become small working models of the same thing. As I think of Paul launching this new venture, the image of the tightrope over the volcano doesn’t seem to go far enough. He was inventing, and must have known that he was inventing, a new way of being human. It must have been a bit like the first person to realize that notes sounded in sequence created melody, that notes sounded together created harmony, and that ordering the sequence created rhythm. If we can think of a world without music and then imagine it being invented, offering a hitherto undreamed-of depth and power to space, time, and matter, then we may have a sense of the crazy magnitude of Paul’s vocation.”
Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy) by C.S. Lewis
I’m not a big fan of science fiction. But since I’ve set out to read as many C.S. Lewis works as I can this year, I’m reading science fiction. I’ve heard of this space trilogy for some time. But my disinterest in it never compelled me to pick them up. After reading the first, I can say I’m intrigued enough to continue. And since these books came from the pen of Lewis, I know only good writing lies ahead.
“But already it had become impossible to think of it as “space.” Some moments of cold fear he had; but each time they were shorter and more quickly swallowed up in a sense of awe which made his personal fate seem wholly insignificant. He could not feel that they were an island of life journeying through an abyss of death. He felt almost the opposite—that life was waiting outside the little iron eggshell in which they rode, ready at any moment to break in, and that, if it killed them, it would kill them by excess of its vitality. He hoped passionately that if they were to perish they would perish by the “unbodying” of the spaceship and not by suffocation within it. To be let out, to be set free, to dissolve into the ocean of eternal noon, seemed to him at certain moments a consummation even more desirable than their return to Earth. And if he had felt some such lift of the heart when first he passed through heaven on their outward journey, he felt it now tenfold, for now he was convinced that the abyss was full of life in the most literal sense, full of living creatures.”
Paul: In Fresh Perspective by N.T. Wright
This book has been on my shelf for a long time. Reading Wright’s biography of Paul led me to pick it up. I’ve read enough of Wright’s works to not be surprised by anything in this book, and find much of it very helpful. Wright has a way of showing us how the Apostle Paul thought, and he argues that Paul’s goal was to help us know how to think, not merely what to think. That insight has been so helpful to me. We tend to read the Bible as stale doctrine but much of Paul’s writings are pastoral pleas rather than mere doctrinal truths. While Wright uses the “fresh perspective” language rather than the “new perspective” language regarding his reading of Paul, you would do well to read this primer on the differences between what John Piper (since he’s so influential to many of my readers) and N.T. Wright have to say on the topics of justification. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/june/29.34.html
“What has happened in, to and through Jesus has convinced Paul that hidden within the divinely intended meaning of Messiahship was God’s determination not just to send someone else to do what had to be done but to come himself to do it in person.”