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February 27, 2004

A couple of books for Lent

I always have lots of books in various states of progress; right now I've got stacks of partially read books because I have so much time to read. Mostly I read non-fiction, but Lent just started, so it's a good time for some reflective reading.

Just around the corner from the house where I'm renting a room in Pasadena is a bookstore called The Archives. Before I went in, I assumed it was a used bookstore; instead I found it was a store specializing in church history, bible studies, and theology. It's not really a Christian bookstore as such, but rather the kind of store where one entire aisle is devoted to "preaching," and where you wonder if the people you see in that aisle on a Saturday afternoon are looking for a little inspiration for the next morning. It's sort of a technical bookstore for those in the field of religion. (The Fuller Theological Seminary is just a few miles away.) And although it isn't the kind of bookstore I'd normally go in, it was a bookstore, so I looked.

I'm a relativist in most things: I try to take each person and situation as they come. What's right for me may not be right for you. So when it comes to faith, I don't do well with books that tend towards the absolute.

The first book I picked up was The Ironic Christian's Companion by Patrick Henry. The back of the book had a review that mentioned Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris.

So far, Amazing Grace is the better of the two. It's actually a book of short essays on words of faith: words such as silence, preaching, worship, anger, trinity ... It's an eclectic list, and each essay illustrates some part of Ms. Norris's journey. It's her combination of ambivalence, perseverance, and humility that touches me:

I find it sad to consider that belief has become a scary word, because at its Greek root, "to believe" simply means "to give one's heart to." Thus, if we can determine what is is we give our heart to, then we will know what it is we believe.
  --- from Kathleen Norris's essay on Belief, Doubt, and Sacred Ambiguity

The Ironic Christian's Companion isn't as compelling, but anyone that manages to combine references to Star Trek: The Next Generation, Monty Python's Galaxy Song, Edwin Abbott's Flatland, and Andres Serrano's photo "Piss Christ" in the first 50 pages has something going on. I'm still reading.