Reading: A Habit I’ve Returned ToBy Steve | April 9th, 2010 | Category: Academics | 1 Comment »
Yesterday, I spent a few minutes updating my Books page. Over the past few weeks, I seem to have gotten my reading mojo back, after a pretty long hiatus. After a few years of reading like mad for school, I was forced to basically stop reading in order to focus on writing my doctoral dissertation, which took most of my time between August 2008 and March 2009. Once I crossed that finish line, I went almost completely dormant in the literary sense. I’m not sure if it was burnout, but I apparently felt the need for a break. I read very little in what remained of 2009. Even while flying all over the world, spending a ridiculous amount of time on airplanes, I only managed to read one book on my smart phone’s Kindle app.
But as quickly as my book lust went away, it seems to have returned. This makes me happy. Here are a few mini-reviews of my most recent book dabblings:
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, by Dan Ariely. This book is one of those fun, if maddening, looks inside the human brain, when it comes to why behavior isn’t always what we think it should be. Ariely looks at a lot of our consumer behavior, and the ways marketers have learned to manipulate it. But he also looks at things like the placebo effect, and the interesting ways in which the human body can heal itself if it thinks it’s getting a lot of help (or sometimes, even a little help). I think this book has a ton of very interesting implications for the way we approach things like church, community development, and breaking our consumer capitalistic bad habits. For example, Ariely wrote a blog post earlier this week in which some studies were done that indicate that people who describe themselves and their values in specific ways also have the belief that God’s view of things matches their own . . . even when they end up changing their views. Fascinating stuff. I’m already looking forward to Ariely’s next book.
Giving Church Another Chance: Finding New Meaning in Spiritual Practices, by Todd Hunter. I’ll just admit it for anyone who doesn’t already know this about me – I’m a full-on Todd Hunter fanboy. I got to know Todd about eight years ago, and have been shaped tremendously by him, his depth, his character, and his story. He’s been generous to me with his time, open ears, and ministry. He’s one of the few people who I’ll go out of my way to see/listen/learn from every single time I have an opportunity. In this book, Todd suggests several ways in which people who have been around the evangelical Christian block a few times can re-practice their faith in ways that add depth and meaning to things that may have become stale and vacant. He tells a lot of his own story here, which includes a lot of transition – from finding faith during the Jesus movement days in 1970s Southern California, to helping to start the Vineyard Movement of churches, to participating in the early version of the emerging church movement, to having recently been appointed as a Bishop of an Anglican movement. He writes with the candor that proves he doesn’t have everything figured out just yet, but with the battle scars of struggle that prove he’s gained wisdom through being teachable. This book could be helpful for people who have become disenchanted with Christian business as usual, but aren’t quite ready to throw the baby out with the bath water. It could also help people like me, who may have read Richard Foster’s classic Celebration of Discipline a number of years ago, but could use a practical refresher.
The Teaching of the 12: Believing & Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community, by Tony Jones. Over the years, I’ve developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with Tony Jones. I’ve only had a few electronic interactions with him personally, so perhaps I should rephrase and say that I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with his work. On the up side, I’ve found his advocacy for emerging church topics to be intelligent, and he has helped develop a good bit of energy around some topics that North American evangelicalism needs to engage and re-engage. I loved his book The Sacred Way, and found it to be a helpful, historically based way of approaching some spiritual practices that good evangelicals have typically found to be “too Catholic.” On the other hand, I’ve found that while he’s made efforts at congeniality, he seems to enjoy being a lightning rod for controversy . . . even when controversy isn’t helpful (mind you, it IS helpful at times). Also, I’ve found his use of language to be elitist. His book The New Christians is a good example of that, not to mention that it’s an inaccurate, and possibly self-centered, portrayal of the emerging church movement. I write all of the above as an introduction to this mini-review mainly because this book encapsulates a good bit of my love-hate feelings. Jones tells the story of the Didache, which is an ancient document describing a sort of rule of life that was practiced by the earliest Christians. It is a compelling look into the ways that people were rearranging their lives around following Jesus, even while the gospels were being written. This book contains the Didache, and then a good bit of Jones’ commentary, which I found to be well-balanced, for the most part. In an attempt to bring the Didache into a 21st century context, Jones describes how it is being used in the life of a faith community in the U.S. midwest. This is where I think things don’t go so well. I admire the attempt to demonstrate how this old document that clearly has some value, can be relevant in today’s culture. But he dwells very heavily on his friend, Trucker Frank, the reluctant pastor of this faith community. Frank seems like an incredibly intelligent, genuine soul, and it is certainly interesting to see the way he applies himself to this text, but I just didn’t need “thoughts from Trucker Frank” at the end of every chapter of the book.
[GEEK ALERT: THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH CONTAINS AN ACADEMIC CRITIQUE]
Additionally, I’m not sure Jones successfully navigated some tricky ground when it comes to textual criticism. Having taken a classic postmodern textual approach to the Bible in the past (one that I think is valid, by the way), Jones takes on the task of elevating a clearly non-scriptural text to a level of importance that it ought to be taken seriously and even practiced in contemporary times. But then he stops short of doing the same kind of textual criticism that he’s previously done on Scripture itself. I realize this was a tall order, and I give him kudos for trying. I just don’t think he navigated the tension effectively.
O.k., so there you have it, some writings about writings. Given that I’ve already started in on my next reading adventure, perhaps I’ll have some more reviews in the near future. Even if not, feel free to check in on my Books page every now and then if you’re interested in looking at what I’ve been setting before my eyes. Feel free to make some recommendations of your own as well.