Books, Kindle, TheOOZE

Vacation Reading

One of the great things about summer vacation is reading novels without apology. Last week I read four books, two of which were re-reads, two of which were new to me.

#35 and #36 — After seeing the new Harry Potter movie and realizing how poorly I remembered details from the book, I decided to re-read both Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. LP laughed when she heard that I read them between Saturday morning and Monday morning. I pointed out that I was on vacation!!! But of course she remembers weekends in past summers that included this kind of possibly obsessive reading when sermons were also written and preached. This weekend just had more sleeping.

I enjoyed reading both of them. There are certainly things I would have done differently in the writing of them, but no one asked me!

#37 — I bought Where Angels Fear to Tread for my Kindle thinking it would be part of my Forster re-read, but once I started reading it I realized I knew it only from seeing the movie, as images of Helen Mirren danced in my head. In fact, I had a rather mistaken impression of the story. I loved the idea that the Englishwoman living in Italy realized she had more freedom at home. And I loved the relationship between her brother-in-law and her friend, and I loved the earthiness of the story, the details of life — the baby who needed a bath, the sweaty soprano on the train, the unpredictability of carriages and baskets and the general riskiness of simply being alive. Fools rush in…

#38 — KathyR recommended On Beauty, by Zadie Smith, as a companion to my Forster festival, since its author wrote it with Howards End in mind. The dichotomy between the two families is more about the political and religious spectrum than the jock-nerd continuum of the Wilcoxes and Schlegels, but the comparison works, and I appreciated the connections between the two plots, which were evocative and familiar rather than slavish. I highly recommend the book.

While we were away, I also started re-reading C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle. Years ago, Pure Luck read Tolkien to me, and I read Lewis to him, but we never made it through the last book. On our trip, we got started again, and we'll hope to finish before he goes away next month.

Next up: Diana Butler Bass and A People's History of Christianity, one of the books I will review for TheOOZE, and on my Kindle, Forster's A Passage to India.

Books, TheOOZE

Jesus, Interrupted–a review for TheOOZE

Book #22–Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them), by Bart D. Ehrman

Sometime last year I got an email from Michael Morrell of TheOOZE, asking if I would like to review books. I've never said "no" to a free book, and I agreed to read and blog about it, though the numbers of books that came quickly outstripped my interest in the particular topics that emergent or post-evangelicals might be reading more avidly. TheOOZE now has a new system in place, in which reviewers request books, with a promise to review them within 30 days of receiving them. This was my first title under the new system; I'll be reposting this review to TheOOZE Viral Bloggers.

I guess I do fit, to some extent, into the category of post-evangelical, or perhaps just post-Southern Baptist. I don't remember being hammered with rationalizations that allowed for a literal reading of the Bible, but I do remember questioning why people thought stories couldn't be just that: stories. Isn't there truth that transcends facts? Still, I remember withdrawing from "Christian Origins" in my sophomore year at the College of Knowledge, upset by the tone of the first lecture of the semester. I liked raising my own questions, but I didn't like the idea of scholars beating up on the Bible.

Flash forward thirty years and you have many of Bart Ehrman's students, young people raised in a more politicized religious environment, one in which the truth vs. facts tensions have only been magnified.

Other reviewers at TheOOZE are disturbed by or dismissive of Ehrman's point of view. They deride his scholarly credentials. It is, in fact, a very self-referential book. If I hadn't been to seminary (where I learned all the things he talks about, as he indicates seminarians would), I might wonder about the thread of some of his points. I might wonder why he mostly quotes himself! But to be completely clear, there is nothing Ehrman writes about history and texts that is not in line with what I learned at Andover Newton Theological School.

It's a very personal book, almost oddly so. It's very important to Ehrman to show us what's "wrong" with the Bible, and then to explain that these flaws or discontinuities are not the reason he no longer believes in God. (His reason: theodicy, which is a perfectly fine reason to take issue with the Creator. We do it at our house, regularly.)

I think it's a great refresher for those of us who aren't studying anymore, and an interesting starting point for the interested layperson. Ehrman lays down a challenge to pastors to reveal the historical-critical method to parishioners. I believe someone must have done so for me, since sometime between being a Southern Baptist teenager and a 33-year-old seminary entrant, I did get the message. I wonder if he lives in a milieu where this is less common? You wouldn't think so, as he resides in an academic community.

The title itself has nothing to do with the text, just seems to be a potentially provocative play on words. As a writer, I found that disappointing. If I wrote a book with such an engaging title, I would make sure the reader knew why! What exactly has been interrupted by the choosing of the canon of scripture? You or I or even Bart Ehrman might well have a case to make that something was, but he does not make it. That perturbs me.

I have already recommended the book to several people; it's a good survey of the historical-critical method of reading scripture and of the early history of our religious institutions. But it leaves me at least as interested in the author's personal psychology as in his topic, and I'm not sure that's what he intended.