May 23, 2012

The Hidden Life of Prayer

Reading Camus's The Stranger with Dr. Ryken at The Gospel Coalition has been such a great experience that I am joining another reading group. This time it's with Tim Challies and the book is David McIntire's The Hidden Life of Prayer. Get your copy of the book (paperback, cheap kindle version, free pdf) and head over to The first chapter will be discussed on May 31. See you there!

The Hidden Life of Prayer - David McIntire

May 21, 2012

The Only Christ We Deserve

Albert Camus said that Meursault, the protagonist of his existentialist novel, The Stranger was "the only Christ we deserve." He's right. And I'm glad that God gave a Christ that we didn't deserve.

I'm reading and discussing The Stranger with some fine folks at The Gospel Coalition under the guidance of Professor Leland Ryken. We're discussing chapter 4 now, but it isn't too late to join!

May 20, 2012

A Confederacy of Dunces

I read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole on the recommendation of Russell Moore, and must say that I've never met a more despicable protagonist. You would never want to cross paths with Ignatius J. Reilly. He's an over-educated, underachieving, extremely judgmental, scheming, neurotic, physically disgusting, ungrateful mama's boy who billows through life leaving chaos in his wake. The book is funny, laugh-out-loud funny in many parts, and the disparate threads of the zany plot all wind together in a surprising yet oddly fitting way at the end.

Statue of Ignatius J. Reilly in New Orleans

A Confederacy of Dunces has been reviewed all over the place, so I won't spend much time on the story here. I'll just touch on one recurring motiff that made me think--the well-meaning, yet out-of-touch helper who only makes things worse. Myrna Minkoff, Reilly's girlfriend/nemesis is a socially conscious New Yorker who
had stopped throughout the rural South to teach Negroes folk songs she had learned at the Library of Congress. The Negroes, it seems, preferred more contemporary music and turned up their transistor radios loudly and defiantly whenever Myrna began one of her lugubrious dirges.
Mrs. Levy, wife of the owner of Levy Pants, refuses to allow Miss Trixie, an aged senile employee, to retire because she worries that Miss Trixie will fall into despair if she is not contributing to society. Really though, Miss Trixie wants nothing more than to retire, and spends her days at work napping, making bitter remarks, and hoarding bits of paper and foil.

Ignatius engages in this kind of activity more than once. He stages a "Crusade for Moorish Dignity" at the pants factory where he works, and he tries to organize New Orleans's gay community to infiltrate global government and military power structures in movement to "Save the World through Degeneracy."

Potential readers, be warned. A Confederacy of Dunces contains foul language including multiple f-bombs, and treats various sexual topics, though not lasciviously. In my opinion Toole, describes immorality without reveling in it, and the good in the book outweighs the bad. Christians sometimes jump in to "help" too quickly, and this book demonstrates the danger of that behavior with humor and compassion.

You can find A Confederacy of Fools on Amazon. As of this writing, the kindle edition is $3.99, the new paperback edition is $10.20 and you can buy it used for as little as a penny plus shipping. If you've read it, let me know what you think in the comments.

May 12, 2012

The Divine Comedy

A Medieval Journey Through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven

Loved the poetry.
Could have done with less
medieval astronomy.

This was my first reading of The Divine Comedy. I was blown away by some fragments of poetry. The amalgamation of classical and biblical references with modern (for Dante) political and religious intrigue was interesting. On the other hand, I kept losing the flow of the poem because I didn't recognize Dante's contemporary references--I had to either stop and check the notes or continue without understanding

The Divine Comedy takes a lot of its structure from Ptolemaic astronomy which I have very little familiarity with, so again, I depended heavily on the notes. It's kind of hard to know the constellations when you live in Tokyo and can usually see only a few stars at night.

After being totally engrossed by The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, I found The Divine Comedy tough going. If it weren't for some insightful bits of beautiful poetry (like the one below on the inability for humans to fathom God's justice), I might have put the book down. A second reading will surely help, but I'm not interested enough in teh book to tackle it again right away.

"therefore, the vision that your world receives
can penetrate into Eternal Justice
no more than eye can penetrate the sea;
for though, near shore, sight reaches the sea floor,
you cannot reach it in the open sea;
yet it is there, but hidden by the deep."
Divine Comedy, Paradiso XIX, 58-63

The Divine Comedy - Dante Alighieri

May 4, 2012

Why Christians Should Read Literature

Many Christians wonder whether reading fiction is a good use of time. In an interview with Tim Challies, Russell Moore, the Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, discusses the benefits, possible dangers, morality, and responsibility of reading fictional literature.

Here are some of the benefits Moore sees of reading literature:
  • "Fiction helps to shape and hone . . . the moral imagination."
  • "Fiction can sometimes, like Nathan the prophet’s story of the ewe lamb, awaken parts of us that we have calloused over, due to ignorance or laziness or inattention or sin."
  • "Fiction helps the Christian to learn to speak in ways that can navigate between the boring abstract and the irrelevant mundane."
  • Fiction teaches empathy
  • Fiction is "rooted in an endlessly creative God who has chosen to be imaged by human beings who create."
Moore also shares his personal guidelines for whether or not to read a book that might contain objectionable material, and muses on the difference between literature and mere fiction.

Challies asks Moore to recommend a few contemporary novels. Moore's first and highest recommendation is for A Confederacy of Dunces. On his recommendation, and in spite of the hideous cover art, I downloaded it for my kindle. Happy reading!

Read the whole interview here.

A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

May 3, 2012

Read Camus with a Wheaton Professor

Professor Leland Ryken, a professor of English at Wheaton College is leading a discussion of Albert Camus's The Stranger. It's a great opportunity to read and discuss a classic under the guidance of an eminent Christian man of letters. He s going through a chapter a week, with his comments on chapter 2 just being posted today. I found a copy at my local library and caught up with the reading and discussion today. I'm commenting there as Jeremy. Here are links to what's going on so far.
See you there!

Albert Camus - The Stranger