Thursday, May 08, 2008

What I'm Reading - May 2008

Thought I would give another update on what I'm reading right now. I have finished all but the Lamott book from my most recent list - and her book may have to take a back seat to higher priorities.



Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America by Steven Waldman. This is a very recently published work on a controversial and particular poignant topic: The American History of Religious Freedom. I'm only a couple of chapters in, but this book feels very balanced. The author has few biases, and owns those he has. I find even being an American who is a student of religion and the history of religion I have discovered historical nuggets I find valuable. This book would be accessible to those with or without expertise in the history of religion or American history.



The Last Word: Scripture and the Authority of God--Getting Beyond the Bible Wars
by N.T. Wright. Just picked up this book this week. My interest in this work came out of a conversation with one of our Christian Education/Sunday School teachers who is looking for resources for a course on canonical history, particularly regarding the New Testament. I've only read the introduction, but this short work appears to be classic Wright -- very readable and insightful. I'll plan to comment more on this work in the future.



The Town: A Novel of the Snopes Family by William Faulkner. I've nearly finished the second book in Faulkner's "grand" trilogy of the Snopes family in his fictional Yoknapatawpha county, Mississippi. And I still have never decided how I would pronounce Yoknapatawpha. There are moments in the first Snopes novel, The Hamlet, which I think are among the best fiction I've ever read. The Town has fewer of these moments, but actually functions more smoothly as a single novel. The story is set in Jefferson, the county seat located near but not too close to Frenchman's Bend - the "hamlet" of the previous book. Three characters, with three very different perspectives, tell the the story. Each narrator has limitations, whether it be a tendency to romanticize or naivety of age. By the end of the book the narrators even begin to become frustrated with each other as their competing perspectives each try to convince the reader of their "truth." The climax is surprising, though upon reflection I'm not sure it should have been. There are no heroes to be found (not one), but there is incredible insight into the human condition. This is classic Faulkner, and I agree with the back cover of the book: These book are best experienced together.



From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible
by Eric H. Cline This is the final book I am reading right now, and it is a book which, in a way, chose me. Each month, LibraryThing.com invited readers to apply to receive free advanced copies of books which are "coming soon." Usually many more requests are made of each work then are copies available -- however, I submitted a request for this book and recently received my free copy. In return, LibraryThing asked those who receive books to submit a review (good or bad). I look forward to this. This book explores the archaeological evidence for such biblical locals and items as the Garden of Eden, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Ark of the Covenant (among several others). Since the author is an accomplished archaeologist (and I am not), I will likely be reviewing whether I find his arguments persuasive, rather than arguing the evidence. I will post my formal review as a separate post upon completion. Note: This is a revised paperback version of a work published last year in hardcover.

I'm sticking to Wisdom Literature in my biblical studies at the moment - Ecclesiastes. Read any of these books? Reading something related? Share a comment!

Grace and peace,
James

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Eternal Hope of Spring

Those who know me well know that in addition to Biblical studies and classic fiction, I have a true passion for baseball. It is around this time of year we see a multitude of articles, diaries, and blogs on the wonder of Spring baseball. Better writers than I have waxed and waned poetic about the hope and grandeur of our national past time in its inaugural throes.

Here in St. Louis there are a variety of standard April jokes concerning the rival Chicago Cubs. Most of them are along the lines of "Hey, even Cubbie fans believe their team has a chance...at least until May 1st." This year, the Cubs are proving to have some fight in them. However, the jokes illustrate how quickly fans can lose the hope which is so empowering during the weeks leading up to opening day. One wrong injury, one early losing streak, and suddenly the sky is falling.

My team, the Atlanta Braves, are an unfortunately perfect example. Three starting pitchers from the opening day rotation have spent time on the disabled list - and two are still there. The ace of the staff, John Smoltz, now appears to be planning to return as a reliever. Since the team's closer and top set-up reliever are also on the DL, he might be as needed in such a role anyway. The team is 12-15, and at least one Braves fan (yes, fan) has told me he thinks their season is over. In a recent article on ESPN.com, one scout was quoted as saying pretty much the same thing.

As of this afternoon, the club from Atlanta is averaging more runs per game than any other team in the NL East. They have allowed fewer runs than any team in the NL East. Yes, they are in fourth place - a whole 2.5 games out of first. Their record is largely a product of two mind-numbing statistics. In games decided by more than 1 run, the Braves are 12-6. In games decided by exactly 1 run, the Braves are 0-9. What a way to torture fans! Baseball historians and professional statisticians can demonstrate how such streaks are often the result of luck (and sometimes a bad bullpen)and tend to even themselves out, particularly in a sport with 162 regular season games. However, knowing this has not made all nine of those one-run losses less painful, and finishing one or two games behind the Phillies or Mets in September would be excruciating.

I have no idea where the Braves, or Cubs, or Cardinals will finish this year - though telling a friend of mine that I think the Royals have more talent, player for player, than the Cardinals this year did not win me points in this town. Regardless, I think hope can be pretty cheap for most baseball fans, myself included. Why should any of us give up on our teams on May 1st?!? Perhaps we should use words like "wish" or "desire" to describe our Spring feelings, rather than hope or anticipation. Yet, the romantic baseball fan in me clings to the spiritual elements of baseball (ah, a future post, TBA), and the transformative power of hope - even hope unrealized. I mean, really, weren't most Red Sox fans a lot more fun to be around when all they had was inevitably tragic hope?

Grace and peace,
James