Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Shack

Book: The Shack
Author: William P Young
Edition: Paperback, 2007
Read: August 2008
258 pages
Rated: 4
out of 5

I have a mixture of reaction to this book. It started with the Eugene Peterson’s plug saying “this could be this generations Pilgrim’s Progress”. Is The Shack that great of a book? Well, no. As literature goes, it is sort of clichéish. It reads more like an action pack spiritual thriller.

But at a different level, once you get beyond the writing style, the author has a lot to say, at least to me. Such as what is God’s relationship to me—or more importantly, what relationship do I have with God? Young portrays God’s more folksy than I care to think about—there is none of the arm’s length, holy whole other, but closer to some real sensitive folk who want the best for you.

What Young does well is to portray God wants the best for you and will go to great extremes to not only reach out to you, but pursue you. This is not a chase by a lion after his prey, but a burning stick scorching the innards of your soul. Young shows that God knows our inward thoughts, but will allow you to expose them in your time.

A big part of this fictional story is tragedy avoided – tragedy occurring. Where is God in all of this? Young’s answer is God is along side of us. While he does provide some insight, he tries, but unsuccessfully, to work through the “why” question.

A theme plays through out the book is joy vs. sadness. Young’s protagonist, Mack, has experienced a great tragedy—the loss of his daughter. He has entered in a period of his life which he calls, “The Great Sadness”. As Mack goes through the story, joy replaces sadness, culminating in the reunion of his estranged father. But joy is not happiness. It is deeper. Young starts the book noting that joy inhabits the storms in nature. The stuff God makes shows the nature of God.

The book wraps up all loose ends: relationships healed, people changed, missing body laid to rest. I have not seen that life is so neat and clean. Maybe I am not that spiritual-actually I know I am not. Yet when you read the lives of the saints, their lives are not serene, but full of turmoil. They know the path to take—I read and do not detect indecision. May be a sequel is to show a life lived works.

Something I appreciate is Young acknowledgements. He names off many of my favorites. He starts each chapter with a quote from an author or songwriter. In many paces he seems to lift ideas—if not the words—from other authors. Page 80 sounds like Lucy coming into Narnia; page 99 is similar to L‘Engle’s Walking on Water. When Young talks about nature, there are remembrances of Annie Dillard. Sometimes you make a cookie with everything you like in it and it just does not meet expectations. Some places it works, other it does not.

This is a flawed book—but one which has caused me to rethink my relationship with God. Do I try to experience Him? Do I value Him? Trust Him? Love Him? In that respect, it is a successful book.
By the way, there are surprises for you when you read the book.

Notes from my book group:
The reaction is mixed. To some it was unreadable because it was too corny. TO others, they found meaning here.

Good Quotes:
  • - Sometimes honesty can be incredibly messy. pg 68
  • - It does a soul good to let the waters run once in a while. … Don’t ever discount the wonder of tears. They can be healing waters and a stream of joy. Sometimes they are the best words the heart can speak. Pg 83, 228
  • - Love always leaves a significant mark. Pg 96
  • - Relationships are never about power, and one way to avoid the will to power is to choose to limit oneself—to serve. Pg 106
  • - Sin is its own punishment, devouring you form the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish; it’s my joy to cure it. Pg 120
  • - It’s not the work, but the purpose that makes it special. Pg 131
  • - The choice to hide so many wonders from you is an act of over that is a gift inside the process of life. Pg 132
  • - Judgment is not about destruction, but about setting things right. Pg 169
  • - Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors. Pg 185
  • - Faith does not grow in the house of certainty. Pg 189
  • - It is not the nature of love to force a relationship but it is the nature of love to open the way. Pg 192
  • - If anything matters, then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes, every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes… pg 235

Chance Meetings

Book: Chance Meetings
Author: William Saroyan
Edition: GK Hall, 1978
Read: Sept 2008
174 pages
Rated: 2
out of 5

When you read a Pulitzer Prize winning author and you say the book does not make sense, you wonder about your tastes, you wonder what you are missing, why you are not picking up on what the author is saying? As it turns out my book group had about the same thoughts as I did.

What is the book about? A series of memories by Saroyan, both of friends and acquaintances. Those who Saroyan enjoyed and those who he could do without. About how friendship changes as fame grows.

This book had great potential. The title, Chance Meetings, gives you a want to see meaning in each of the meetings view. If there is any meaning from this book, it is lost on me. The stories appear to be of random memories with no central thrust. Is this book like a John Cage symphony? Some thing to be endured because it represents our world? Or is it more like a verbal wanderings of an elderly man?

Even within the short stories, there are possibilities which do not hit the mark. The first section ends with an intriguing line “He can neither choose his parents nor choose not to be drafted into the Army….” But the thought is not advanced. Instead he talks about everybody has a favorite person and that should be himself. That is as far as he takes the thought.

The whole book shows a potential for depth, but then he pulls up short. Saroyan does not delve the depths, but moved onto his next story? Why? Does Saroyan want us to see something else? There is no pattern in our relationships? Only chance meetings? Nothing to tie our lives together? Or was Saroyan just being lazy or lost his abilities when he wrote this book?

Like Saroyan, I will leave this question to ponder, but probably without an answer.

Notes from my book group:
Basic comments included:
- - Slow book
- - Lack of meaning
- - Good cultural view

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Last Season

Book: The Last Season
Author: Eric Blehm
Edition: First Edition, 2006
Read: August 2008
335 pages
Rated: 4
out of 5

The Last Season is about super backcountry ranger Randy Morgenson and his demise. Blehm is a friend of Alden Nash, Morgenson’s supervisor, hence researches the story from that angle. This is a story of a range, it has two warnings:
  • - The mountains are dangerous to any body, even those who are experienced; and
  • - There are dangers in becoming too isolated.
Blehm tells the story well form the point of view of a hero worshipper. He is intrigued with the ways of the backcountry and those who are stationed there to protect and assist.

The story starts with Morgenson being missing and the search which results. He jumps back to Moregenson’s childhood, then to the search followed by some background. Maybe this works to paint a picture of Moregenson better than a straight-forward chronology does. At times it seems too jumpy. The end is the analysis of how could an experienced ranger—more time in the Sierra’s than John Muir—have died in this place.

Blehm does a good job of showing Moregenson as having an artistic bent, in tune with his natural surroundings, but so badly out of tune with people. Even though he did have a knack with those pass through his area or those who were in danger.

Morgenson’s demise is a warning to those of us who enjoy the backcountry. No matter how good you are, no matter how pleasant the surroundings, you can get hurt real fast. Nature can be anthropomorphized but the bottom line is it is a rock, cold water, and wild animals are there. Things happen.

But even more of a warning is the social implications. As Morgenson enjoyed the solitude, so he became extremely self-centered and selfish. He ignored his promises, his wife’s emotional needs, his friends and only centered on his self. This story portrays why a person needs companionship as well as solitude. They are a balance to each other.

While some of Morgensons fascination are a bit over the top; his joy in knowing and personalizing nature I understand.

One of the reasons why the story works for me is I can see the areas of the Sierras both through experience and through my maps. The book helps me to live the experience. It is exciting.

There are a few quotes--his attempt at writing is much too descriptive for me. I enjoyed the read.

Good Quotes:
  • We’re a restless breed, we moderns. Hardest it is to sit still and be attentive to our surroundings. Boredom comes to most of us very quickly. Randy Morgenson, pg 155
  • Why does a flower, a tree, anything exist? Because the universe would not be complete without it. Randy Morgenson, pg 293
  • Here is your chance to find your own way. Don’t ask me how to get to McGee Canyon or Lake Double Eleven-O. Go, on your own. Be adventuresome. Don’t forever seek the easiest way. Take the way you find. Don’t demand trail signs and sturdy bridges. Don’t demand we show you the mountains. Seek them and find them yourself. Randy Moregenson, pg 313
  • Here’s your one chance to get lost, fall in the creek, find a beautiful pace. Randy Moregenson, pg 314
  • The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavor in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is. Albert Einstein, The World As I See It (1949)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Five People You Meet In Heaven

Book: The Five People You Meet In Heaven
Author: Mitch Albom
Edition: Hyperion, Hardback
Read: July 2008
196 pages
Rated: 3
out of 5

First, this book is not about theology or religion. It is a vehicle for Albom to remind us of certain truths—effects upon our lives which others have. He uses a relatively insignificant life and death to illustrate the power our lives have on those around us.

Albom takes the life of an ordinary person-a repairman at an amusement park called Ruby’s Pier. He dies while trying to save a little girl from a falling ride at the park. The story weaves his life, full of unfulfilled hopes, which looks like it has little meaning. When he dies he meets five people who have waited for him to die. These five people help him to see his life from a different perspective.

Even though Albom’s book is largely secular, it is head to escape religious statements, such as “understand your life” is God’s greatest gift. From the quotes below, it appears the Albom is more of a person who would subscribe to certain fuzzy philosophies—the oneness of us all, We start as pristine people and are warped with our environments, …

  • Lesson one-We are all connected—even if we do not know it. This was brought to Eddie by a man he did not know, but which saved his life by dying himself. Nothing spectacular—just avoiding Eddie while driving, and dying of a heart attack. Lesson? We are just family; we have not realized it yet.
  •  Lesson two-Sometimes the bad we experience prevents the greater bad. In this case Eddie was a POW. He escapes with others. As the group sets fire and the place burns, Eddie thinks he sees a child in a burning building. As Eddie tries to go into the building, he is shot—by his own captain—in order to save Eddie. Eddie only knows this in heaven after spending 60 years in pain, bitter for having it happen to him.
  •  Lesson three-Anger and hatred hurts yourself; forgiveness is the key. Ruby of Ruby Pier appears to Eddie and shows him a side of his father—loyalty to friends and family which he had not seen of his father.
  • Lesson four-Life ends; love does not. Eddie gets to spend time with his wife who has died around 35 years earlier. He realizes she is what made his life bearable. When she died, there was loneliness. She comforts him by having him understand that the love never died only took a different form.
  • Lesson five-We are put here for a reason. Eddie faces a beautiful child—a little girl. As he realizes who she is—the same child who he tried to rescue and who he had set afire in lesson two, the girl changes into a scabbed creature. He washes away the scars and he finds his life was not a waste. After 80 plus years, his final act in life was to save a life. His final task? To meet her and be one of her five people.
This is not a bad book to read. It is a simply written moral story stating we need to appreciate those around us. Not a bad story line to portray. The lessons Albom brings out are good reminders, but nothing more than what you would hear on Sunday mornings. So does he do it well? In a way causing you to think? Uniquely? Compellingly? He tells a somewhat flat story from an interesting vantage point. I personally do not find how he tells the story as something I want to go out and change my approach to things.

So to a person who does not have the connectiveness of a good religious community, this book may upon up some avenues of thought.

Good Quotes:
  • Pg 49 – Strangers are just family you have yet to come to know.
  • Pg 50 – No life is a waste. The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone.
  • Pg 104 – All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.
  • Pg 113 – You have peace when you make it with yourself.
  • Pg 126 – Parents rarely et go of their children, so children let go of them.
  • Pg 173 – Lost love is still love. It takes a different form, that’s all….Life has to end, love doesn’t.
- Mitch Albom’s Web Site