Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What I'm Reading

I had been aware of Malcolm Muggeridge only on my periphery--he was someone I had seen quoted by writers I admire, but I had never read any of his books for myself. Thanks to an infusion of Christmas money, I was able to snag this one (along with a couple of others) from I picked this title to read first because it was the shortest, which is, I suppose, commentary enough on my competence as a student of literature.

The book's complete title is A Third Testament: A modern pilgrim explores the spiritual wanderings of Augustine, Blake, Pascal, Tolstoy, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky. These men have likewise been heavily referenced by writers I respect, but had read little of for myself. I remember reading something of Bonhoeffer's many years ago, and I have recently finished Augustine's superb Confessions--nothing from the others, to my knowledge. In any case, I am looking forward to this read.

Here's just a brief excerpt, from the Introduction:
What a perfect description of the revolutionary happenings now, which take place silently, invisibly, with the media lulling everyone to sleep, until the people awaken--if they ever do--to find that the Honorable and Right Honorable Members going in and out of the Aye and No lobbies are ghosts voting for and against nothing; that the vested priests at the high altar are praying to no one about nothing, and dispensing wine and wafers lifeless as stale yeast; that the currency notes being printed at the Mint have lost their value before they come off the presses, as the words dispatched to the composing room have lost their meaning before they are printed.
If that's a fair representation of Muggeridge's genius, I think I'm going to like him ... at least as much as I can understand.

Because sometimes (very often, in fact) I read things that are too deep for me. Chesterton comes to mind, and Luther and Jonathan Edwards. But I also realize that, by dipping my toes into the deep end of the pool, I am learning how to swim in those waters, albeit gradually. The thoughts of the masters are influencing the thoughts of humble me, and helping me to grasp concepts I probably never would have even considered, being, after all, an average TV-loving American male.

I've also just begun a book simply for pleasure. Since I spend so many hours on topics that are relatively weighty, I also like to send my mind out to play sometimes as a reward--kind of like recess in the midst of the schoolday. My wife Susan bought me this tome for Christmas: The Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour, Volume 6: The Crime Stories. I won't be offering a review of this one here--if you've ever read Louis L'Amour, you know what to expect--but it's fun to read.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

So ... What Next?

(Prior to reading this sermon, you might want to read Ecclesiastes 2:12-23.)

On Christmas morning, my wife Susan and I had the pleasure of having our year-and-a-half-old grandson Taylor with us for breakfast and a time of opening gifts. It was great fun watching him as he opened each present, delighting in tearing the paper off the box and finding what was inside, sometimes even pausing for a fraction of a moment to inspect or play with its contents. I think his favorite gift was a box of Ritz cheese-and-crackers that his grandmother gave him. But after each package was opened, and each brief inspection completed, it was instantly on to the next box, searching for another bow to tear off, another bit of colored paper to rip away.

What's next? What's next? What's next?

We've all heard stories of children who, after they had opened all of their gifts on Christmas morning--more gifts than they could have had any right to reasonably expect, since their parents probably went into debt to provide them--sullenly sit on the floor and say with a poorly-disguised sense of disappointment, "Is that all?"

Remember that old song that Peggy Lee used to sing: "Is That All There Is?"

Is that all there is? Is that all there is?
If that's all there is, my friend, then let's keep dancing.
Let's break out the booze and have a ball,
If that's all there is.
(copyright Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller)

One of the most depressing songs ever written, both for its sense of ingratitude and its sense of hopelessness.