Saturday, December 27, 2008

Books Galore!

Now that Christmas is over and the New Year is full speed ahead, I have composed a tentative reading list for the year. Here's what I've decided to read so far:

1. "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ," by Jose Saramago: My friend Pete got this book for me last year for Christmas and I have yet to read it. He kind of yelled at me when he saw this book sitting on my crowded book shelf, so I feel like I need to knock this one off first. I'm really excited to read it though, and be exposed to a different perception of Christ, outside of the Christian realm.

2. "Chomsky on Miseducation," by Noam Chomsky: I just got this book, and I can't wait to read it. One of my major passions in life is education, and I am excited to hear Chomsky's prescription for the educational erodication in America, and what educational reforms are needed to collaborate with democracy.

3. "Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals," by Shane Claiborne: Claiborne's "Irresistible Revolution," helped me to develop my own religious path and helped me realize that it's okay that I'm not following the same path that my family has. It made me realize that I'm not doomed to chill with Beelzebub for all of eternity just because I'm an advocate of social justice. But, I will say that there are a lot of topics where I disagreed with Claiborne, but that was even more encouraging to know that I could formulate my own stance on religion rather than just going along with some "radical" for the sake of being "radical." I am a firm believer in the power of prayer, and am excited to read what Claiborne has to say about the practice of prayer, and how it might help develop my personal prayer life.

4. "The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is," by N.T. Wright: Although I don't necessarily subscribe to Wright's theories on Revelation, I think that he will have some great things to say about Jesus. And is there such a thing as reading too much about Jesus when you're a Christian? I don't think so. This book is a part of a series of Wright's all focused on the life and teachings of Jesus. I got turned on to Wright after my Pastor, Bob Whitaker, read from Wright's book, "Simply Christian." A must for any Christian.

5. "Assassination Vacation," by Sarah Vowell: I love history (especially if it deals with presidents), and I love listening to Sarah Vowell's segments on "This American Life." It kind of makes me mad that she beat me to the point in capitalizing on this market of witty, historical writing, though, but I'll still support her. This book discusses the first 3 presidential assassinations. (Can you name the 3 presidents?). As the year progresses, I hope to get to Vowell's latest book, but we'll just have to wait and see.

6. "Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America," by Paul Tough: This book discusses social activist Geoffrey Canada's educational program, Harlem Children's Zone. I'm excited to learn more about Canada's organization. Also, Canada's educational program is admired by President-elect Obama, and is a source of inspiration for Obabma's educational plan.

7. "Me Talk Pretty One Day," by David Sedaris: I've only listened to this book on tape. Never read it. Decided I should read it. I got some of my family members Sedaris books...should be interesting to see what they think.

8. "Chronicles of Narnia," by C.S. Lewis: My interest in "Narnia" has been rekindled. When I was younger I was scared of the "Narnia" books, solely based on the creepy BBC television special. Mr. Tumlas and Mr. Beaver were bed-wetting material.

9. "The Narnian," by Alan Jacobs: Biography of C.S. Lewis that my brother got me a couple of years ago. I wasn't that interested in Lewis at the time, but (as mentioned above) I've become overwhelmingly intrigued by Lewis and his imagination and spiritual interpretations. This book should be perfect for satisfying my curiousities.

10. "Franny and Zooey," by J.D. Salinger: A favorite author, and yet I've never read this book all of the way through.

11. "Maggie Cassidy," by Jack Kerouac: Again, a favorite author, and yet I've never read this book all of the way through. And since it carries my name, I feel somewhat obligated to read it...just like I felt obligated to know the songs, "Maggie May" and "Maggie's Farm." But, I also think it will be a great book, considering it takes place during the high school years.

12. "Tender is the Night," by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Again, a favorite author. A few summers ago, I read a buttload of Fitzgerald's work, but, unbelievably, this one slipped through the cracks. I lov Fitzgerald's character development, and how he can suck you in through the traumatic lives of his characters. I love it.

13. "Scalia Dissents: Writings of the Supreme Court's Wittiest, Most Outspoken Justice," by Kevin A. Ring: My brother got me this book for Christmas. He loves Scalia. I don't. But, I will say this: Scalia is a judicial enigma. Just when you're ready to write off Scalia entirely as a complete imbecile, he goes and does something like his opinion in Morrison v. Olsen, and totally blows your minds. (discussing separation of powers issue...sorry, total nerd moment) With that, I will say I am interested in reading more of his dissents, and digging deeper into the legal psyche of Scalia.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Praise Reports

On the first day of advent Bob (the pastor at the church I attend) challenged us to keep a list of praises for every day of the advent season. "I don't know what it'll do, but I do know it can't hurt," he said. I was all for this idea. One thing that I have learned in my spiritual life is that when I am praising God for the things that He has done, things start to open up in my life, things make sense. But why haven't I learned to do this all of the time rather than when a spiritual leader tells me to do so, or when I am in dire straits (or listening to Dire Straits)? Because I'm an idiot and think way too highly of myself. Probably one of the biggest problems I have in my spiritual journey is surrendering to Christ and realizing that He's in charge; not me. I've always cherished my imagination, but I've come to realize that it gets me into trouble. I create these whimsical ideals in my mind of how my life will turn out or how certain circumstances will be, and then when they don't unfold exactly like I imagined (because they're in the realm of reality) I crash. A lot of the problems I face as a result would be resolved if I would just allow God into my imagination and my mind creations. (one good thing about law school is that I can definitely see how it's making me approach life in a more rational and analytical way. I just need to learn how to balance this with my imagination and creativity and let them work together rather than make them battle it out for the role of main perspective). But when I don't visibly recognize God in my life, I just think that He's not there, or if He is there He doesn't know what He's doing. This is really cheesy, but I watched the first and second "Chronicles of Narnia" last night, and there were 2 parts that really got to me. First, when Aslan goes and sacrifices himself for Edmond and Lucy and Susan follow him to the altar. Susan says, "He must've known what he was doing." In case you don't know, there are a lot of comparisons that can be drawn between Aslan and Jesus. This is one of them. Even though we don't understand what God is doing, He knows what He's doing. When He's not there, He knows what He's doing. The second part was in the second movie when everyone is looking and waiting for Aslan to return but they have just concluded that he has abandoned the Narnians. When Lucy says that she sees Aslan, no one believes her and she doesn't go on to find him. When the others finally admit that they need Aslan and send Lucy, the only one who believed that he was there, to find him and seek his help, Lucy goes and encounters Aslan. When she asks where he's been, he simply responds, "You saw me. Why didn't you come after me?" Lucy responds, "Because I was scared. I didn't want to go alone." Whoa. Okay, that is some heavy shit when you think about it. Lucy saw Aslan, but was afraid to go to him because the others disbelieved and she didn't want to take the journey alone. I'm getting chills just thinking about the religious application of this. And no, I'm not reading Christianity into pop culture here. "Narnia" is saturated with ideas about faith and the Christian walk. These two just jumped out at me and my current situation in life.

This past Sunday, the church bulletin included a paper with all of the praises submitted by the congregation from the previous Sunday. When I looked over the compilation, I became overwhelmed and just started crying. There was something powerful about seeing all of the ways that God has provided for other people, and seeing so much positive reflection on God. I struggle because I find myself in situations where I am surrounded by criticism of my beliefs, and even though I do appreciate such outlooks because it challenges me to look into what I truly believe, it can become tiring and discouraging. But seeing so much positive reflection on Christ made me see another side of my beliefs; that God loves us all. I've hung the list up on my fridge.

I plan on sharing my personal list of praises at the end of the advent season, but, in the meantime, I figured that I would share some things that I have been praising God for lately.

1. Friends. For some reason, God has decided to bless me with such a wide variety of individuals who, for some reason, care about me. Every single one of them is unique, and I love it. My best friend, Stacie, has been there to see me be tough and let everything roll off my shoulders, and then turn around and start bawling my eyes out because I can't handle it anymore. When I need it, they make me laugh. They put up with all of my bathroom talk. Last week, my friend Becky made me laugh in talking about the walk through of her new house. "The guy that lives there now is definitely a larper. I turned the corner and there was a big taxidermy wolf in one of the rooms and there were battle axes hanging over his bed. I think it's inevitable that there will be a residue of larping when I move in." My friend Pete can make me laugh more than anyone I've ever met. He doesn't even have to do anything and I start cracking up. We've recently crossed over into feeling comfortable enough in our friendship to discuss bowel movements (and anyone who knows me knows that I love talking about bowel movements). Pete and I were gchatting while I was binging on a chipotle burrito:

me: okay
got the burrito
it is paaaaacked

Peter: pack it in your gullet

me: i do not want to take part in the bowel movement that is about to follow after i gluttonously partake of this burrito, but i guess i have no choice

Peter: dude that thing is like the size of a medium cat
and you are gonna poop it out
i pray to god that you didn't get a bag of flaming hot cheetos with it, or you will be experiencing what sailors call "the red tide" or, "red skelton dropping by"

Peter: "watching some red dwarf"

2. Family. My family and I are VERY different, but I love them all more than anything else in my life. My dad told me that I had to limit my time with my nephew because he's afraid I might influence him too much; we're that different. I honestly think that the only reason why we're so different is that they are closet weirdos/dorks, whereas I'm right out in the open about my weirdness and dorkdom. When i was a kid I used to talk to the Mrs. Butterworth's syrup bottle. Very precocious, afternoon tea conversations. Then I would get very angry at her for not responding to me and I'd storm off from the breakfast bar. The next morning, I'd come back and go through the whole routine again. One day last year, when I was going through a rough time at school, my brother Anthony sent me a text message with a picture of a Mrs. Butterworth bottle and a caption which read, "I'm sorry I didn't talk to you when you were a kid." While I was sitting here composing this blog, my other brother Andrew sent me a text message which said, "On Christmas will you play battleship? I've been wanting to play it for some time but no takers." He knew I would accept the invitation. That's the thing about Andrew and me. We're never too cool for battleship.

The newest family member, my nephew, does nothing but make me happy. When I came back to Ft. Wayne for Thanksgiving, I went straight to my brother and sister-in-law's house to see Dominic. The minute I saw him, he smiled really big, like he remembered me. I got really choked up. It was one of the best feelings I've ever experienced in my life. He just brings so much joy to my life. I find my mind wandering to thoughts about him, and how excited I am to get back up to Ft. Wayne just to hold him and watch him stare at his little penguin toy with such curiousity. Here he is:

I can honestly say that in vocalizing and recognizing the wonderful things that God has done for me, I have experienced a joy that has been missing, a clarity of mind, and a reassurance that everything's going to work out for good, and I couldn't be happier.