Tag Archives: Books

Spiritual Vision and Hearing Loss

Hear this, you foolish and senseless people,
    who have eyes but do not see,
    who have ears but do not hear….
Jeremiah 5:21 (NIV)

The other night Wendy and I finished watching the third season of Grantchester produced as part of BBC’s Masterpiece Mysteries. I’m four books into James Runcie’s tales from which the television series sprung (a book review to be published on this blog one of these days). It has been interesting to both read the books and to watch the series which was adapted for the screen by Daisy Coulam. The storylines are quite different between the books and the television series.

The protagonist is an Anglican priest named Sidney Chambers who solves mysteries with the crusty, unbelieving local police Inspector, Geordie Keating. As the third season winds down Sidney finds himself having a crisis of faith that is rooted in his institutional church’s inability to see beyond rigid religiosity and demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit in any real human way.

As I have been fond of saying over the years, all good stories are reflections of the Great Story. The theme of spiritual blindness and deafness is woven throughout God’s Message. In the days of Jeremiah the prophet it was the people of Judah who were afflicted with spiritual blindness and spiritual hearing loss, as we read in today’s chapter.

By the time Jesus came on the scene some 600 years later, it was the institutional religious establishment who suffered from the affliction. Jesus was constantly accused and criticized, not by the “sinners” and common people with whom He associated and ministered, but by the institutional priests, teachers, and lawyers who incessantly criticized Him and found fault with Jesus’ teaching and lifestyle:

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

“‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

The upstanding, committed religious people who should have been the first to recognize what God was doing were the very ones who suffered from spiritual vision and hearing loss.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the saying goes. Or, as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Along my journey I have found that spiritual vision and hearing loss is more acutely present within the walls of the religious establishment than without.

Wendy and I watched the character of Sidney Chambers struggle through his crisis of faith and grapple honestly with the blind, deaf church. I felt for him. I know that struggle. Many memorable episodes from my own journey bubbled to the surface. I confess, it pissed me off.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded to accept that dealing with those who suffer spiritual vision and hearing loss will ebb and flow along the journey, but will never really end. It is a part of the Story. My role is to continually and increasingly channel the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control to which institutional religion is so often blind and deaf.

Fahrenheit 451 and a Famine of Words

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
    “when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
    but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.”
Amos 8:11 (NIV)

Twenty-four years ago, in the summer of 1993, the City of Des Moines was hit with a terrible flood. No one living in Iowa had seen anything like it in our lifetime. The city’s water works facility was flooded and was unable to generate clean water for ten days. I will never forget those days of having to chug five gallon buckets of water from our apartment building’s swimming pool to use for flushing toilets. Walking to watering stations where tanker trucks would fill whatever receptacles you could find with fresh water to use for cooking. The mindless daily routine of showering took on new meaning.

We don’ t realize how much we take for granted until it’s gone.

The same can be said for spiritual things. The first chapter of John’s biography of Jesus is one of the most beautiful passages ever penned. John introduces us to Jesus, the “Word.”

Food provides for our physical daily nourishment. In the same way God tells us that the Word provides us with spiritual daily nourishment. In our day and culture, this resource is ours in abundance and I know that I take it for granted. I have access to God’s Message on my bookshelves, library, cell phone, tablet, and computer. We don’t realize how much we take for granted until it’s gone.

In today’s chapter God gives the ancient prophet Amos a vision of what’s to come. A spiritual famine was coming to Israel: “A famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” The famine did come generations later. The last prophet of the Old Testament was Malachi who died in 430 B.C. For over 400 years there was spiritual silence. There was a famine of the words of the Lord. Until a deeper and far older prophecy was fulfilled when, as John wrote, “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”

This morning I’m pondering the incredible luxury I have of enjoying such unfettered access to the Word. I have such rich spiritual nourishment so readily available to me 24/7/365 from countless sources. Such a thing was unthinkable just a few generations ago, and I wonder what happens when we begin to take such a thing for granted.

I’m reminded this morning of Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. It was required reading back when I was a kid, but I’m not sure younger generations know it or study it today. In Bradbury’s dystopian vision parallels Amos’ vision of a famine of words. Society is given wholly to quick and efficient media entertainment. Books are first abridged then completely outlawed, burned, and forgotten as needless and having no value to society. The Bible and all great works of literature are tossed aside for easier, shorter, and more entertaining media. I’ve never forgotten Bradbury’s vision of a small group of people living in the wilderness and committing great works to memory to pass down to future generations.

I know there are some who regularly read these blog posts that I scatter like seed across the internet, and I’m grateful for those who care to read my thought and words. At the same time, I hope that readers click on the chapter and verse link at the top of each post and read the very chapter themselves. It’s one thing to read my thoughts about a chapter, but there’s nothing as spiritually nourishing as tapping directly into the Source.

Meet Kingman & Reed

Confession: I am a terrible reader. There is a stack of “must read” books in my office that never shrinks. It remains a perpetual source of shame. For this reason, it took a while for me to make down the stack to my autographed copy of Officer Involved, the debut novel of Iowa author Bill Zahren. I’m so glad I got to it!

For the record, I love the mystery novel. I will always love Chandler and Hammet’s hard-boiled detectives. In my opinion, Sharon Kay Penman does not get enough credit for her historical Queen’s Man series. My heart, however, especially melts for those authors who can, tongue-in-cheek, make me laugh while compelling me to keep turning the pages. The greatest compliment I can give Bill Zahren is that he has officially joined the hallowed ranks of Gregory McDonald (Fletch) and Laurence Klavan (The Cutting Room) in my list of authors who can spin a great yarn while making me guffaw out loud as I read.

Officer Involved is set in Sioux City, Iowa. You read that correctly. Sioux land in northwest Iowa is not exactly known as a hotbed of mystery and intrigue. That’s part of the enjoyment. Despite the media’s constant, willful ignorance interesting things actually happen in flyover country. While we resent the snubs from both coasts, we also appreciate being left alone. Zahren is one of us. He gets this and uses it to make Officer Involved a novel with a unique setting.

Tom Kingman, deft investigative journalist covering the latest Iowa heat wave, finds himself an unexpected witness to a police shooting. Assistant District Attorney Hillary Reed asks Kingman to sit on some of the facts of the even to protect a much larger story. In return for his silence, Reed promises Kingman an exclusive once the larger story breaks. As suddenly as a midwest thunderstorm, the pair find themselves embroiled in circumstances far deeper and more dangerous than either anticipated. I chuckled and kept turning the pages as Zahren swept me along for the ride.

I had a lot of fun with the story and the budding relationship between Kingman and Reed. I appreciate the humanity Bill writes into both characters and the subtext to which he allows us to be privy. I found them not to be cookie cutter protagonists. In Officer Involved I was introduced to both Tom and Hillary, but finished the book wanting to know more about each of them, and I was itching to find out where Bill is taking us in future installments.

I have HUGE respect for Bill and his courageous leap into publishing. I’m so glad he followed his passion, brushed off the manuscript, repressed his doubts, and worked his butt off to introduce us to Kingman and Reed. If you’re looking for a good yarn for the summer reading list support a local author and enjoy Officer Involved!

Officer Involved is available on Amazon.

You can find Bill Zahren on Facebook and follow him on twitter @BillZahren.


Top Five Mystery Heroes

Speaking of mysteries, I have always been a sucker for good mysteries. For Top Five Tuesday, here are my favorite mystery

  1. Sam Spade. I’ve always loved the hard-boiled detective stories of Hammett and Chandler. The grit, the guns, and the gams. You gotta love that seamy exploration of the dark side of humanity.
  2. Philip Marlowe. See above.
  3. Sherlock Holmes. I’ve loved the reboot of this character in the BBC series Sherlock, but I’ve loved the character since watching Basil Rathbone playing Sherlock on PBS when I was a kid. The thing that I love about Sherlock is his frail humanity beneath that all-knowing exterior. Opium addict. Broken relationships. His human faults gets me as much as his super human deduction.
  4. Fletch. If all you know of Fletch is the series of movies, you need to read the series of books by Gregory McDonald. While the first Fletch movie sort of captured the spirit of the books (then when wildly astray in to absurdity), the Fletch series is witty, humorous and top notch mystery.
  5. Encyclopedia Brown. Consider it the kid in me. I loved these books when I was a kid. A mystery in every chapter and you get a chance to solve it along with the boy sleuth. Classic, marvelous, and what every kid needs to build reason, deduction, and imagination.

Did I miss your favorite? Share who and why in a comment to this post! I’d love to hear.

Summer Reading List Shaping Up

readingWith my birthday and a number of gifts purchased off my Amazon wish list, the summer reading list is shaping up. The themes this year are baseball (once again) and the Monuments Men with a little business, art, and spirituality thrown in.

Here’s what I’ve got (so far):

  • The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri M Nouwen
  • The Art of the Sale by Philip Broughton
  • The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel
  • The Rape of Europa by Lynn H. Nicholas
  • Practicing the Way of Jesus by Mark Scandrette
  • I Never Had It Made by Jackie Robinson
  • Wrigley Field the Centennial by Les Krantz
  • A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Better Business by Ari Weinzweig
  • A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader by Ari Weinzweig

The reading list is always greater than my amount of time to read, but (as I always remind myself) slow and steady wins the race.

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My Summer Reading List

I have a confession to make: I’m a terrible reader. I envy those who can consume mass quantities of books, and I get jealous of people who write columns about the boat load of books they read over the summer months. Don’t get me wrong. I love books, but I read relatively slowly and books tend to stimulate my brain in such a way that I can barely get through a page before I’m thinking about how what I’ve just read relates to other things and I start pondering all sorts of connections and ideas. Pretty soon I’m staring off into space as my brain whirrs and minutes go by before I realize I better get back to the book. C’est la vie.

I made it a point this summer to actually get through a book or two, and I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. So I’m giving myself a guilty pleasure of writing a post about my summer reading list.

Moneyball ImageMoneyball by Michael Lewis. I loved the movie and had been told by two people I respect (one who’s not a baseball fan) that the book was a must read. They were right. While the movie did a masterful job of telling the true and enthralling story, there was no way to relate on screen just how much Billy Beane and his stat geeks changed the game of baseball and why. I loved this book and it prompted a lot of late night baseball conversations. The book made me love the movie even more.

Holy Shit ImageHoly Sh*t (A Brief History of Swearing) by Melissa Mohr. I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about Melissa Mohr’s book about how swearing has developed in the English language from ancient Rome to modern times. Swearing has always involved the profaning of the sacred (the holy) or exclaiming what is scatological (the shit). The real story is in how the pendulum has swung between the two in history. It’s a fascinating book and Mohr does a nice job of taking what is really an academic work and layering it with her own sarcastic wit. It’s a helluva good read.

Whos on Worst ImageWho’s on Worst by Filip Bondy. If you read this blog with any regularity you know that Wendy and I are baseball fans. This quick, trivial read is a fun look at the worst of the worst in baseball history. I was pleasantly surprised at how few Cubs actually made the list (you knew there had to be a few). Perhaps my favorite chapter listed the worst deals the New York Yankees ever made, paying players millions of dollars for a few hapless innings of work. Amazing. It’s an easy, enjoyable read for baseball fans. And, it may help win me a few game of Lunchtime Trivia at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Tolkien Letters ImageThe Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien. For a life long lover of Middle Earth, I can’t believe what a treasure trove Tolkien’s letters actually are. Sometimes personal letters are rather uninteresting, but Tolkien writes long letters to fans explaining things that have long eluded me about the mythology he created. I was amazed to discover in his letters just how central his personal faith (he was Roman Catholic) was to everything he did and wrote (he called Lord of the Rings essentially a religious and Catholic story). I was also fascinated to find out how often he references C.S. Lewis (it’s actually a lot) and what good friends and colleagues they were.

Saints and Sinners imageSaints and Sinners (A History of the Popes) by Eamon Duffy. I am not Roman Catholic (I have some irreconcilable differences on non-essential doctrinal issues with my Catholic brothers), but I have been fascinated by the long and complex history of the Popes who have shaped the history of the world. I found myself intrigued by the conclave that elected Pope Francis this past summer and have been impressed with the man himself. He’s a leader I could and would follow. So, on the recommendation of the Wall Street Journal I ordered Duffy’s survey of the popes. I’m just getting into it as I write this, but am finding his objectivity and honesty refreshing. It’s already stimulating and challenging my thoughts about the Great Story and the part the church of Rome has played in it.

The Theme of One’s Life

JLM Photography via Flickr
JLM Photography via Flickr

I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another. This is not a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning. 2 John 1:5 (NLT)

Wendy has always been a reader. Her family tells me stories of Wendy as the little girl who always had her nose in a book. Times have changed and you won’t often find her with her nose in a book. However, the bluetooth headset, which is constantly in her ear, is always playing an audiobook. Over the past few years Wendy’s begun listening to series of books by the same author. She will often track down all of an author’s books and listen to them from the first to the last so she can pick up on the overarching themes and story arc of an author’s works.

When you read all of John’s writings (the Gospel of John and three letters) you can’t help but notice the theme: Love. John wrote about love. He repeated Jesus’ command to “love one another” over and over and over again. Love was the theme of John’s life and teaching. It’s unavoidable. If you read what John wrote you’re going to read about love.

This morning I’m thinking about the themes. I’m contemplating the theme of my own life. I have noticed that we all communicate consistent themes throughout our daily lives, our conversations, our actions and our decisions. What are the themes the emanate from my blog posts? What are the overarching themes that people notice from my writing and conversation?

What are the themes that other people recognize in your life? What do you want the theme of your life to be?

We don’t stop to consider the theme of our lives very often, but shouldn’t we?

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 43

There I will go to the altar of God,
    to God—the source of all my joy.
Psalm 43:4a (NLT)

When it comes to giving gifts to our little friends, Wendy and I like to give books. It’s become kind of a thing with us in recent years as the number friends with small children proliferates. We’ve seen the frustration in parents eyes at birthday parties and at Christmas time. Their kids open yet another buzzy, blinky, beeping toy which will hold their child’s attention for a short time while increasing the din of noise pollution in their home to levels the EPA would condemn as hazardous to human sanity. Books, on the other hand, tend to become treasured keepsakes. They promote togetherness and family time. They entertain and inspire over and over and over again.

A few years ago we gave a book to one of our little friends and I scribbled an inscription on the inside the front cover. I later learned from his parents that their son requires them to read the inscription each time they read the book. Wow. How cool. Suddenly what I wrote for an inscription took on a new meaning and purpose.

This past weekend Wendy and I bought an “I Spy” book for a couple of young friends we were visiting. It was cool because it was made up of works of art from across centuries and artistic periods. Children can play I spy with their parents while learning about art. When it came time to write an inscription I wrote an encouragement to our young friends that while God’s Message promises that those who seek will find, it’s also important to be wise in where you choose to search. The choice of where you look determines the quality of the treasure you find.

I thought of my inscription and encouragement to our young friends this morning as I read the verse above. The author seeks out God’s mountain and searches out God’s altar to find God the “source of all my joy.” Every one of us want a little joy in our lives. Who doesn’t desire joy in the midst of today’s rat race. The question is: Where am I looking? What am I choosing to chase after in an effort to find it?

The choice of where you search will determine the quality of treasure that you find.