Sacred Bullet (Ron Hoffman)

***** 5 of 5 stars

I have been thinking about my theology of suffering these days. Buddha had it right: everybody suffers. Frankly, ALS isn’t that bad yet. I have friends who are suffering much more than myself as I write. I am not asking the well-worn questions of theodicy. Even Jesus did not answer the big WHY. As I read my Bible and pray, I am asking myself, “what did Jesus say about suffering”?”

Ron Hoffman, the author of Sacred Bullet, came to the same conclusion as Jesus. And the apostle Paul. Suffering is a gigantic opportunity to evolve. It makes you more compassionate, wise, aware and unselfish. Suffering is a gigantic opportunity to make the world a better place. It enlarges your moral footprint. If you can do the right thing, despite the pain, your effort will bear great fruit. However, there is a hitch. You have to give up your attachment to the goal of pain-free living and reattach yourself to the goal of righteous living. As Ron words it, you have to make a wholehearted effort to heal yourself spiritually.

Ron and I come from different worlds. I am a Christian; he is Jewish. I had the ideal childhood; his was a nightmare. I grew up in the Northeast; he grew up in the South. I discovered a higher plane of spirituality through evangelical Christianity; Ron found spiritual healing through Buddhism and new age-inspired spirituality and retreats. Isn’t that amazing? Ron discovered the mysterious truth that a bullet can be sacred through a very different religious path than my own. God apparently enjoys revealing truth to anyone who honestly seeks it. How cool is that?

Today, Ron is the director of Compassionate Care ALS. He has journeyed with over 1000 people with ALS, with particular attention to end-of-life. I look forward to including him on my journey.

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Posted in *****5 Star Books, Biography, Spiritual Biographies, Spiritual Growth | 2 Comments

Bonhoeffer (Eric Metaxas)

**** 4 of 5 Stars

Great man. Good read. Thought-provoking. Uneven writing style.

I relished every bit of this book.  I had read short articles and books about Bonhoeffer but never a full biography.  Metaxas provided just the right level of detail for my taste and kept me hanging on each chapter. I like how he organized the book into many short chapters. I appreciated that he included Bonhoeffer’s human weaknesses as well as strengths in true Biblical / Navajo fashion.  Read it!

My only criticism is that his writing seems to get lazy in the last quarter of the book. Instead of writing a gripping narrative, the book turns into string after string of quotes from other books.  It’s like reading somebody’s research notes for a book.  Such a bummer after the strong beginning.

Bonhoeffer makes me want to worship God ALONE, Numero Uno, and go wherever that takes me.  It’s the pearl of great price but hardly anybody knows it.

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A Mission from God (James Meredith)

**** 4 of 5 Stars

James Meredith is one of the most unique people I have ever read about. He is the civil rights activist who was the first black student to enroll at Ole Miss. I swung wildly between admiration and criticism, back and forth, back and forth, throughout the entire book. In the end, I liked him and was glad I listened to his story.

What did I admire?  (1) Clear Vision – he felt called to drive a stake in the “the holiest temple of white supremacy in America”: Ole Miss.  Despite threats and setbacks, he just kept up the legal challenges. Despite daily harassment and social isolation, he just kept going to class.  In his own words, “I was called by God”.  (2) High Self Regard – Meredith had a great Dad who ran his own farm, set his own prices, and kept his family far away from the demeaning habits in the cultural around them.  He refused to let anyone in his family be dependent on the white man. The US Military also gave Meredith a strong sense of self worth. He wouldn’t take crap from anybody after that.  (3) Honesty – Meredith says what he thinks whether you like it or not.  He disagrees with the venerable Martin Luther King.  He wants his own statue removed from Ole Miss because it twists his story (and he was never consulted during the design).  (4) Independent Thinking – the man worked for Jessie Helms!  He made a convincing argument for black Americans to take an honest look at their own self-defeating habits and change them.  He is particularly passionate about valuing education. (5) He’s smart.

What did I criticize? (1) Sexism! OMG.  Men can march and risk their lives, but not women.  Men need to protect women. He mostly describes the physical beauty of his mother and wife, not their other characteristics.  (2) Force! Meredith believed only overwhelming physical force could change our sick culture.  While some could argue history proved him right, I can’t help but think Jesus would disagree.  Meredith didn’t count on God to do much of anything. His philosophy is, “if you want to get it done, do it yourself.”  (3) Cantankerous!  Meredith turns everything into a battle rather than giving folks the benefit of the doubt and seeking cooperation.

At the end of the book, Meredith got humble. He admitted a few mistakes. He admitted he was incredibly lucky his wife stayed with him because no other woman would have him.  He admitted he is cantankerous and “these white people can be decent.”  The humility won me over.

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Lost Daughter (Mary Williams)

**** 4 of 5 Stars

This book gave me respect for Jane Fonda.  She adopted teenage Mary Williams, rescuing her from a dysfunctional family and abusive sexual relationship.  Mary, now an adult, tells the story of growing up in the Fonda household as well as reconnecting and reconciling with her biological family.

What I liked best about this book is its realism.  Yes, Jane was unselfish and generous to pour her heart and money into this teenager . . . but there were many times Mary rejected her love or didn’t follow her advice.  Yes, money bought Mary a great education and a big new perspective on life . . . but money couldn’t fix the deeper wounds of her childhood.  Yes, Mary’s Mom neglected her children . . . but she loved them within the limits of her own psyche and resources.  Yes, Mary wanted to forgive her Mom and Dad . . . but it took many tries, many talks, and large doses of forgiveness.

The book left me feeling like it’s always worth it to give love, but life isn’t a storybook. It has ups and downs and requires unconditional love and persistence over the long haul.

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Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me (Ian Morgan Cron)

**** 4 of 5 Stars

After reading, enjoying, and critiquing Chasing St Francis, a friend told me he knew Ian Cron from his Young Life days. He said the real Ian is not as dumb at the pastor in that book.  Well, he was right. Not only is the real pastor Cron wise, his memoir is better written, and moving in its honesty.

Cron explained in painful detail the wounding caused by a narcissistic, alcoholic father on a sensitive boy.  It hurt just to read it; I can’t imagine living it.  This is a great book to read if you want to understand the soft spots in many of the people we love.

Cron’s writing style irked me sometimes (he makes a giant drama out of EVERYTHING) . . . and utterly delighted me at other times. The delightful times gave me such a grin or a belly laugh, it was well worth putting up with the excessive drama.  Most of all, Cron was honest, humble, insightful, and God-loving.  I am honored to have “met” him!

 

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Mission Possible (Marilyn Laszlo)

**** 4 of 5 Stars

If you like to learn about other cultures . . . and you believe translating the New Testament into a new language is a good thing to do (I sure do, but it’s not PC any more), you will like this book.  For me, this classic missionary tale never gets old. A few brave souls putting Jesus’ words into practice, then a few more, and eventually the entire tribal culture is transformed.  I wish Marilyn specified more of the cultural changes.  She did mention the Sepik Iwam people not getting ripped off on trades after they became literate.

One of my favorite little cultural moments in the book is when she told them the Bible says that man was made from dust and God breathed into him.  I don’t take this literally but apparently Marilyn and her translation team did. There was a long silence. Finally, one young man finally spoke up, “I never did think we were really descended from the crocodile.”  I guess everybody has logic problems with their religion : )

The most encouraging aspect of this book for a church planter such as myself is Marilyn’s perserverence in spite of many set backs.  A praiseworthy person and book.

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Zealot (Reza Aslan)

*** 3 of 5 Stars

The Historical Reza

Reza Aslan started out a hero . . . is now becoming a goat . . . but I predict he will end up a revolutionary.  Aslan became a hero after Lauren Green’s biased Fox interview, garnering sympathy, publicity, and book sales.  Now that actual PhDs in the Historical Jesus are reading and reviewing  Zealot, Aslan is turning into a goat. I will tell you why I think Aslan is actually a revolutionary at heart.

At first, I too felt sorry for Aslan and bought Zealot.  He writes beautifully and I breezed through the book. As I read, I screamed at it. I even screamed at the footnotes.  He would say things like the Judaizers Paul attacked in Galatians were really James-brother-of-Jesus, Peter, and John.  And that this was “definitively proven” by Gerd Ludemann in 2002. He claimed first century Jews were xenophobes who wanted to “rid the land of all foreigners.”  He loves to use dramatic language, calling Paul “heretical” and “deviant’’ from James’ and most likely Jesus’ perspective.  He sees deep spiritual discontinuity between Jesus, the gospels, and Paul, in just 60 years time.

OK, I’m an open minded person. Show me what ya’ got. When Aslan laid his cards on the table all I saw was inconsistent logic, meager evidence, and picking /choosing dubious sources.  The book is so replete with errors, Elizabeth Castelli, Barnard Religion Professor, advises, “Nothing to see here, people. Move along.”

After I finished the ranting stage, I began to wonder about the historical Reza. Who is this man? Why did he write this book?  Reza quotes Bultmann, who said that the quest for the historical Jesus is ultimately an internal quest.  Scholars see themselves in the image of Jesus they have constructed.  Reza looked in the mirror and saw in Jesus a deep compassion for suffering, powerless people.  Reza says that Jesus blamed Rome and the elite Jews who sided with Rome.  So, Jesus tried to create a revolution.  While Jesus failed at toppling Rome and putting his 12 disciples in charge, he succeeded in becoming Reza’s hero.  Reza calls himself a “committed disciple of Jesus of Nazareth” but not the Christ of Paul’s invention.

So, who is this man, Reza Aslan? Probably someone who has deep compassion for people suffering under oppressive and greedy governments, especially in the Muslim world.  Why did he write this book?  To destroy Paul’s over-spiritualized Christ and replace him with a more useful regime-changing role model. Reza is not a hero. Not a goat. Not a historical Jesus scholar. But a highly intelligent and caring child of Iranian immigrants trying to mitigate suffering by inspiring regime change.

To test my hypothesis, I investigated Reza’s academic interests and activities.  His PhD Dissertation: Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework. He is the founder of AslanMedia.com, an online journal for news and entertainment about the Middle East and the world, and co-founder /Chief Creative Officer of BoomGen Studios, the premier entertainment brand for creative content from and about the Greater Middle East. BINGO.

I only hope and pray he doesn’t edit out the parts of the gospels where Jesus tells us to purge ourselves of anger.  Because, by my reading of Jesus, the enemy isn’t Rome. We’re our own worst enemies; the Bible word is “sin”.  Both Islam and Jesus teach that the secret to winning the “outer jihad” is winning the “inner jihad.”  I am curious about Aslan’s inner jihad, spirituality, theology, and mission. Zealot was a lot of deconstruction; by the end, there wasn’t much left to believe in. Maybe his next book?

Posted in Bible Study, Church History, International Cultures, Uncategorized | 4 Comments