Friday, October 22, 2010

Update: A Book a Week

If you follow my blog you would know that I recently took on a challenge to read a book a week for six weeks. It was a challenge I was presented by Donald Miller's blog. If you aren't going to read this whole blog, at least read the first few paragraphs.
I regret that I did not successfully complete my set goal. I am glad that I didn't just give up though. I did read all six books, it just took me seven weeks instead of six.
Why take on such a challenge? Well, I was told that I would be bored with being bored by the end of the six weeks. It is true. Technically, it was during my seventh week that I noticed how unappealing things like facebook and twitter had become. I found myself reading news articles more often online. I found my time spent on the internet was spent on websites like Good and Information is Beautiful. Also, just for kicks, check out The Daily What. I read statistics online. I read articles about businesses with incredible employee benefits. I read articles about the effects that siblings have on each other. I read articles about peoples lives and experiences. The point is that I read more.

I would highly recommend this challenge to everyone. Seriously, it will change your life; it will discipline you; it will engage you; it will stretch you; it will teach you to manage your time better; it will teach you to be bored with being bored.

Here are the books I read and some of my thoughts throughout each one.

Week 1: i am not, but i know I AM - Louie Giglio
When I finished the book, I wrote in my journal, "There are so many points that make me want to restructure my life."
I learned more and more as I read that the sabbath isn't just a day to rest, but it's a day that keeps us in check. It's a day that says, "Lord, I cannot, but you can." I feel like I can get so into the habit of working, working and not taking a day off that I feel I can do it all on my own. When I work continuously without a break, I get into the mind set of thinking that people should think higher of me because I am working hard, I am working diligently, and I am awesome. The sabbath is a humbling day. It's a day that says, "Hey, I cannot work everyday of the week. I cannot do things on my own. I cannot do anything without Him." It is a way to show the people around you that even though you can work hard, you can take a day off because God doesn't have to.
The point of the book is to make the case that the lives we live, the world we live in, the story that we are in, is in fact, not the story of us, but rather the story of God. It is a story that we are a part of, but not the star of. One of my favorite parts of the book comes near the end when Giglio starts listing ways that we know we've lost the plot of the story, of His story.

...When I live like I'm privileged, I have lost the plot...
... When I am demanding, I have lost the plot...
... When I act pompous, I have lost the plot...
... When I crumble under pressure, I have lost the plot...
... When I start protecting, I have lost the plot...
... What I crave the spotlight for myself, I have lost the plat...
... When I fail to celebrate the success of others who are living for His fame, I have lost the plot...
... When I dwell on feelings of being unloved, unnoticed, or insignificant, I have lost the plot...
(Louie Giglio, p. 134-135)

In each situation, Giglio points out that we are trying to be the ones doing the work, that we are ultimately not seeking Him but rather ourselves. In living like I deserve to live a life of luxury, I act like I actually have the right to be living in this story apart from Jesus. In being demanding, I require that others meet my needs. In being pompous, I believe that I am actually important, thus pointing out that I haven't even glimpsed the greatness of God. In crumbling under pressure I put the weight of everything on my own shoulders, as if the outcome is solely my doing. In craving the spotlight, I obviously lose sight that He is greater than I. In failing to rejoice with the rejoicing, I act as if I am fighting against my own brothers and sisters, as if their win for Him is my loss. In dwelling of feelings of insignificance, being unloved and unnoticed, I act as if His love for me means nothing. Hello, can someone say "conviction?" Yes, I can. CONVICTION.

Those are my key thoughts on Giglio. I read it so quickly that I felt I needed to read it again and again. I will, but not today.

Week 2: Into the Wild- Jon Krakauer
If there has ever been a book that forced me into myself, that caused me to delve into the solitude of my own being, it is this book. I definitely think that this book was one of my favorites. The main plot is about this kid, Chris McCandless, fresh out of college, with what he feels is a terrible relationship with his parents, a disdain for authority, and a desire to be completely sufficient on himself and the elements around himself.

This guy, Chris, is the most introspective, introverted person I have ever read about. Throughout the story he has many encounters with several different people, and though he loves his experiences with them, he ventures "into the wild" to be alone. There is such great irony in his death. He lives his life thinking he will find happiness in the wild. He lives life thinking he will find happiness when he doesn't have to rely on anyone or anything. When he finally realizes that "happiness is only real when shared" he heads out to make his way back to civilization. Unfortunately, due to river heights, he cannot return and he never does.
Upon graduating, he gives $25,000 to Oxfam, an organization that fights hunger. His death (of starvation) seemed so ridiculous to me. Some say when he ventured out, he was venturing out with a will to die, with a desire to die. I think he was just trying to find something. I think he was just trying to prove a point to himself that he didn't need anybody. I think that ultimately he realized that he couldn't live life without people. I think he was not ready to die. However unfortunate, death found him. The worst part is that there were several cabins within a few miles of his location. In addition there were two potential ways to cross the high river when he first attempted to return home. Had he been equipped with the proper foreknowledge, he could have, and probably would have lived. Sad story.
I left the city one day while reading the book because I just wanted to be alone and somewhere nobody would know me. Great book.

Week 3: A Grief Observed- C.S. Lewis
This was one of the least interesting books for me to read, surprisingly. I found myself unable to understand or relate to how great Lewis' pain was. The book is a collection of journal entries he wrote upon the death of his wife. He goes through all the stages of grief and processes it all through the pages. I do not know that pain. I do not understand that pain. I have sympathy for the man, but I do not have empathy. I hurt for his hurt, but I do not fully understand the hurting he is experiencing, thankfully.
Quoting Lewis is like the holy grail of retweeting in the Christian Twittersphere. I've heard the following quote a countless number of times. "I need Christ, not something that resembles Him." However, every time I have read that quote, the latter half of the quote is cut out, "I want H., not something that is like her." (C.S. Lewis p.65) Reading the quote in context, as with anything, gives such greater depth and significance to it's meaning. Lewis is talking about how the pictures of his wife, the memories of her are not her at all. He talks about how taking communion and remembering Christ is not in the least a resemblance to what it signifies. The partaking of communion is the remembering of Christ's suffering. Taking communion is not Christ's suffering. The same goes for his wife. Remembering her is not her. It is a resemblance of her. He needs Christ, not something that resembles Him. He needs Christ's sacrifice, not the remembering of him through communion. He wants his wife, not the memories or pictures of her.
Though hard to grasp, it was also a great book.

Week 4: Catcher in the Rye- J.D. Salinger
I must confess that though this book is a great book, it had little effect on me. I think it was a great story, very well told, but it didn't do too much for me. It was wonderfully enjoyable, and a book I would read again, but not necessarily one that stirred anything up in me.
I found this story to be much like Into the Wild, however, with a different outcome. It had the same idea and the same themes of poor family relations, disdain for authority, and angst. He (Holden) ventures alone into New York City, spends much time disliking people and being completely cynical, however, in his depths he desires company; he desires genuine relationships. He is constantly desiring to be with people and in the end, I think that's why he sticks around and doesn't pull a Chris McCandless and head into the wild.
I did love this quote from the book, but instead of analyzing it, I'll just let you think about it.

The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.
(J.D. Salinger p.188)

Week 5 and Week 6: Let the Nations Be Glad- John Piper
This is the book that set me back and, as a result, was a key contributor as to why and how I did not finish this challenge. I thought it may be a bit ambitious to try to read Piper in one week. I was right. It was ambitious. It took two weeks and I definitely should reread it about twenty four hundred more times. If you read the first paragraph of that book, you should probably take a week to process it.
The whole purpose of the book can be summed up in a very short and clear sentence found in the first paragraph, "Missions exists because worship does not." (John Piper p.17). The whole idea of the book is that we have missions not just because we should want to see others in heaven, not just because we have compassion for the lost, not just because we are called to it, but ultimately we have missions because there is a lack of worshiping God. Our whole purpose is to glorify God. That is what we were created for. We weren't created to find people and tell them about Jesus, but we were created to please Him. We have missions because God is not being glorified. We have missions so that more people in more places can glorify God too.
Here's what's so awesome about it all though; we were created to glorify God and in glorifying Him we find our ultimate joy. We are ultimately satisfied in the glorification of Him.
Do you lack joy? Are you not satisfied in life? Do you feel like there's something greater that you don't understand? There is. His name is Jesus Christ. Give your life over to Jesus. Seek Him out. Pour all of your time and efforts into glorifying His name. If you do that, not only are you fulfilling your purpose here on Earth, but you will find ultimate joy in doing so. This is a joy that can't be broken in the hurting. This is a joy that withstands the trials. This is a joy that doesn't break under pressure. This is a joy that perseveres though the dessert. This is a joy that you can have because of Jesus. Let your joy be in Jesus.

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.
-Psalm 67:3-4

Week 7: Brave New World- Aldus Huxley
It was during this book that I realized that things like facebook and twitter had become incredibly uninteresting.
Let's get right into this. I remember I was supposed to read this book as a senior in high school. Of course, I only read the first couple chapters. I do remember loving what I read though. It was so weird, so unusual, so unnatural. Basically, the book opens up with a tour of what are called "hatcheries." The idea is that people are no longer born, no longer have mothers or fathers or families, or even a choice in social status. The are born (which is a term I use loosely) into a caste system and through brain washing and electroshock, they are trained to be happy with who they are and what the do. Alpha's are the highest and look down on the lower castes, but are trained to understand that everyone is essential to a happy and peaceful civilization. The lower castes, Delta's, Gamma's and Epsilon's, are chemically hindered while in developmental stages. They're also electrocuted when exposed to things like flowers. They are trained to hate certain things so that they can be content with where they are. They are trained to appreciate how much the higher castes work instead of envy their status.
Though the book is mostly about a "savage" named John who grew up on a reservation (which is basically one of the few "uncivilized" areas) my heart broke for the "civilized" society. They didn't have the chance to even know what love is. They didn't have the chance to really embrace pain. Drugs, sex and ignorance are the remedy for every bit of life's problems.

The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get. They're well off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they're plagued with no mothers or fathers; they've got no wives, or children or lovers to feel strongly about; they're so conditioned that they practically can't help behaving as they ought to behave.
(Aldus Huxley, p.220)

They live in a world completely devoid of any truth. They live in a world where they don't get to know or understand any emotion. Reading this book breaks my heart and I think it's because in some ways it's very similar to the world we live in. People just want to be happy; they don't care what it costs them. The only difference is that in the real world people know that something isn't right when they don't know Truth. People in our world who know Truth wouldn't give it up for anything. In Huxley's world, they have no idea what they are missing out on. The "Savage", who grew up in a society completely primitive, knows pain, knows sadness, knows sacrifice, knows the arts, and knows love, and ultimately knows the "truth." He goes on, later in the book, to state his feelings on living in a world where people are strictly comfortable. He says, "But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin... I'm claiming the right to be unhappy." (Huxley, p.240). Ultimately the man just wants the choice. He wants the opportunity to know truth. He would rather give up comfort and happiness for the ability to live with what is true, no matter the cost.
This book was ranked among one of my favorites throughout the challenge and is probably a book I will read again soon. What a wonderful piece of literature.

So that's it. That's the summary of my challenge. If you read the whole blog I feel you also have the ability to successfully complete the six week, six book challenge, and thusly so, I challenge you to do it. Thanks for your time. I'm going to go read a book now... or re-read this blog for errors. What I'm saying is that I'm going to go read now.

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