Monday, March 23, 2009

Books You Should NOT Read When Trying to Figure it all out…

Books have always been a very central part of my life. I go to them to learn. I go to them for inspiration and for escape. I go to them to understand life…I think a good novel is often better than good theology, and I believe poetry can carry us beyond ourselves in ways that even a good sermon seldom does.

But books are dangerous. I’ve often thought that a really good book should carry the same sort of warning that a pack of cigarettes does:

Warning: This book may be hazardous for your health, leading to the death of cherished ideas and unthinking apologia.

So, I thought that, from time to time, I’d include a books-you-should-NOT-read addition to my blog, so that you can avoid these in the future and, thereby, keep those careful convictions carefully tended…..

Saint Francis by Nikos Kazantzakis. I read this book a hundred years ago when I was a student in high school. It moved me deeply then. In fact, one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life occurred while reading this novel. Francis, as I assume nearly everyone knows, is one of the saints all folks recognize, even those of us who think canonization a strange practice. Like Mother Teresa, who will no doubt one day be recognized as a saint, he transcends denominational posturing and bickering. Why, we even use both of these in Church of God curriculum as a model for nearly everything spiritual.

But like most saints, Francis and Teresa are difficult. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that she struggled for years with a sense of hopelessness and despair and he, well, he is hardly a model of healthy Christian living. And Kazantzakis’ Francis is all of that and more. Why shouldn’t you read about him? Well, for one thing, he walked away from a very good life. He was well positioned in society, coming from a good, solid middle class family. He gave it all up and started kissing lepers, wearing patchwork habits, going barefoot in all kinds of weather, seldom sleeping, and praying endlessly. Oh, and don’t forget the self-flagellation and the stigmata. What are you going to do with a guy like this? Probably avoid him as much as possible. At on point in the book, Francis says, I pity the village that doesn’t have a saint, and I pity the village that has one. Even he knew how much of a problem sanctity can be.

Here are some dangerous words:

• A woman asked Francis, “Is this what you were born for?” “Yes, madam: to dance, to weep, and to journey toward God.”

• Brother Leo, his constant companion, asks Francis, “What does a man’s soul resemble? A nest filled with eggs? The thirsty earth gazing at the heavens and waiting for rain?” Francis’ reply: “Man’s soul is an ‘OH!’—a groan that ascends to heaven.”

• “Do not sigh, Brother Leo,” [Francis] murmured after a moment. “Who knows, perhaps God is simply the search for God.” Those words frightened me. They frightened Francis also….” And they frighten Arthur as well…

Be careful!

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