The Book Club {June.08}

Here we gather for the first round of our book club. A few of us locals met up at Jittery Joes for first thoughts before we brought the discussion to the blog. The faithful present were Liz Rand, Jeromie Rand, Juli Kalbaugh and myself – quite a funky crew, if I may say so (and I may – it’s my blog).

Mainly I want to hear your thoughts. So, my question is – simply: Where do you go as you read? What did you like /not like?

Here are a few first thoughts from me:

The Man Who Was Thursday While this is on Miska’s list of all-time favorites, I will say it didn’t quite carry that level of sparkle for me. I did enjoy it, though. After I got in sync with G.K’s rhythm and tone and got to know Gabriel Syme a bit, I found his wit and sarchasm downright hilarious. One of my favorite sections was the opening dialogue of chapter ten where he spars with his companions about how he planned to introduce himself to the deadly Marquis.

Chesterton’s ability to connect to the human emotions and essence in all of us is, I think, one of his strong suits. I particularly connected with his line here: Through all this ordeal his root horror had been isolation, and there are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally.

Early on, I fell prey to the temptation to attempt to find Chesterton’s asserted point of view (his political philosophy, his moral philosophy, his vision of the world) embedded in the convoluted twists and turns of the plot and characters. I was chagrined as I read his letter that was included as an appendix reminding readers that we ought read titles as well as we read text. This was a nightmare, after all. Much of this story was neither the world as it was nor the world as Chesterton presumed it should be.

Have any of you read C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength? Did anyone else make any aesthetic or emotive connections between these two novels?

Surprised by Hope Now, this book captured me. It offered a convergence of multiple convictions that have been growing in me for the last year or two – only it took them further and encouraged them toward coherence.

Wright’s central thesis rejecting the notion of Heaven as our final home (particularly with the fuzzy assumption that heaven means some kind of ethereal state in a realm totally separated from the world God placed us in) is, in my opinion, right on target (for those who didn’t read the book: the Biblical vision is that after waiting in Heaven for resurrection, a new earth that has been joined to heaven is the good place all the redeemed will finally arrive). But I found his next point even more on target – the idea that God’s intention has never been to evacuate as many people as possible from this world but is, quite the opposite, to redeem and restore this creation that he named good at the beginning.

In other words – and contrary to much popularized theology and to a whole franchise of Christian fiction – God has precisely not said, “Scrap this planet and my intention for my image bearers (humans) to fill the earth with my glory. The Fall ruined it all.” Rather, God has said, “Satan and his lies and evil will not take what is mine, what I have named good. I will redeem it, every stitch of it. I will re-create it.” And, in the person of Jesus, in his resurrection from death, that is precisely what God began to do. The physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus is the prototype (the “first fruits,” Paul would say) of what God is going to do to all creation, all the earth, every human who will surrender to God’s intent to “make all things new.”

So, as Wright would say, “the Church has work to do.” Every place where sin and ruin has left its mark (which is to say, everywhere) is a place where the people of God should, in the name of Jesus, join God’s work of redemption. Every place of poverty. Every place of ugliness. Every smidgen of shame and abuse. All of these places are places where God’s redemption intends to break free. And this new creation is what we invite those far from God to receive, to enter. We invite them to be united to Jesus, to his death and resurrection. We invite them to be made new and then, in turn, to become themselves agents of God’s newness.

These lines will get much play from me: The church, because it is the family that believes in hope for new creation, should be the place in every town and village where new creativity bursts forth for the whole community, pointing to the hope that, like all beauty, always comes as a surprise.

Next Reads:

So, if you want to join the next round, we have two choices for you. Pick one or both:

[Fiction] So Brave, Young and Handsome, Leif Enger

Enger wrote Peace Like a River, one of my top ten novels. This should be great.

[Theology] The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus is the Way, Eugene Peterson

It’s Eugene Peterson. For me, nothing more need be said. Eugene is probably the writer/pastor/theologian who has influenced me most. This is the third volume in his intended 5 volume spiritual theology series.

8 responses to The Book Club {June.08}

  1. I read ‘The Man Who Was Thursday’ and I have to say I was really impressed by it. Fiction is very hit and miss for me, and the majority of fiction is a big miss. Once you’ve been immersed in real treasures (Lewis, Tolkein etc.), I just find so much other fiction… a little blah. It’s not that I don’t try – I just find myself more captivated by theology and pastoral books.

    Still, I’ve been wanting to read Chesterton for a while, so this was my chance. And read it I did! Voraciously, in fact. I really liked his prose, especially his descriptions (such as the ‘anarchists’ pouring over the horizon like black treacle).

    There were two mesmerizing things about the book. Firstly, there was a genuine sense of the unsettling about the story. I think Chesterton achieved it through the constant flux of Syme’s reality. Was anything as it seemed? No, but it wasn’t as if the revelations were absurd or impossible. The constant shift of understanding made me feel like I’d finally hit land after months at sea and now my equilibrium is off, but not so much that I fall down. Just enough that I’m somewhat disorientated.

    Secondly, following from that, it became apparent early on that all the ‘anarchists’ would indeed be policemen in disguise, and yet the ending still took me by surprise. The confusion ensuing from Sunday throwing strange notes at each of the council members, and the wonderful celebration of revealed character at the ending, all compelled me to ponder the issues of identity, and the problems of understanding the character of God.

    The peace of God which passes all understanding – I think Sunday certainly qualifies as passing all understanding!

    I had my wife, Sarah, read the book after me and we both felt the prose had a cinematic quality to it. Something in the dialogue and the descriptions really made the story visual to both of us.

    Anyway, I’m still digesting the content even now (thus I’m sure it’s going to be a book I treasure and recommend).

    I’ve already read sections of The Jesus Way, so I think I’ll take this opportunity to finish it off! Catch you in a month.

  2. Sheesh, I hope I can regather my thoughts to write them out!

    I read ‘The Man Who Was Thursday,’ and found it mesmerizing… perhaps dizzying would be a better description. I’ve been reading a lot lately, fiction and non, and this one threw me for a loop. I had trouble putting it down for fear that I wouldn’t have a clue where I was in the story the next time I picked it up, which I think Chesterton intended to some extent.

    Anyone can ask Jeromie, I spent much of the time chuckling or laughing outloud over Chesterton’s vivid & periodically hilarious descriptions of his characters & their antics. As funny as it was though, I also had to resist the temptation to read too much into it, especially toward the end.

    I think I’ll have to read it again to get a handle on what I really think.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to ‘Surprised by Hope.’ I want to. There are about a million books I want to read, and it grows each week. How could it not? I work in a bookstore.

    So… is this just a summer reading club, or will this continue on into the fall?

  3. Thanks, Jonathan. I like your description of the unsettled nature of the story.

    Liz, I don’t know how long we will do the club. Probably as long as there is interest…

  4. I read both books, though I’m just now finishing Surprised by Hope.

    I enjoyed The Man Who Was Thursday, though I didn’t know what to make of it at times. I’d never read any Chesterton before, and the name held a sort of mystical quality for me: author of Orthodoxy, influence of Lewis, and Miska Collier’s homeboy. I thought I might know what to expect of Chesterton’s writing, but I was wrong.

    The Man Who Was Thursday didn’t have a clear theological stance (though it was clearly theological), the story felt absurd at times (in an almost plausible way), and I had no idea what to make of the ending (but the more I reflect on it, the more it seems right). I think my favorite thing about the book was its perplexing nature.

    The main character, Gabriel Syme, found himself in a constantly shifting world of lies. Nothing was as it seemed to be. But it despite all the deception, it felt like there was something true within his character that he carried throughout the story. And there was a kernel of truth in the world around him, too. He had to work hard to find it and it never became quite clear, but that’s how the world works sometimes, isn’t it?

    I loved Surprised by Hope. I was especially pleased with the way that Wright showed that our view on resurrection and life after death, which often seems like an obscure theological point, is central to the way we the Church approach our world. Jesus often spoke of the kingdom of God, and the good news of his resurrection is that God’s work of renewal is beginning right now. This may be a bit of a simplification (on my part, not Wright’s – he has a whole book’s worth of space to avoid simplification!), but looking at God’s work in this world through a lens of renewal and redemption seems so very right. It gives meaning to the work of the Church in the present world, it fits perfectly with the message of justice and love found throughout the New and Old Testaments, and it gives God lasting glory for every good act done in His name (and even those done apart from His name, but in His purpose.)

    I love the Church, so it was particularly exciting to see the implications this view has for the work of the body of Christ. There is real value in bringing beauty into this world, fighting for social justice, and pursuing our vocation with all the enthusiasm that God’s renewal demands. This is exciting stuff!

    I’ll stop now before my comment gets ridiculously long. Suffice it to say that I’ll be reading more N.T. Wright. Oh, and I’ll try to tag along for more of these little book club conversations. My copy of So Brave, Young, and Handsome is currently on vacation without me, but I should be able to dig into it soon.

  5. By the way, Winn, yes I agree in the similar natures of The Man Who Was Thursday and Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. Strangely, though I made that connection myself, Chesterton’s work was much more enjoyable than Lewis’, although Perelandra (second in Lewis’ trilogy) is an all time favourite.

    I deviated from my plan too and decided I’d go for So Brave, Young and Handsome and so far, I’m glad for that decision.

  6. Jonathan, I’m glad to know someone else saw the Lewis connection. Personally, I actually enjoyed That Hideous Strength more.

    Glad you are reading Enger. If you’ve never read Peace Like a River, you will have to snag that sometime this summer – what a great book!

  7. I will definitely give it a go. I don’t know how far into So Brave… you are, but the scene I read last night where Glendon tells of his baptism blew me away. It really resonated with me about the process of redemption, even after we’ve received grace.

  8. haven’t gotten there yet – hoping to read a good bit on vacation (starts tomorrow – yippee!!)

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