Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Road Trips to Wonderland

Today in the Daily Office we started reading Colossians. Every time I read Colossians I think of the road trip my friends and I took to Oregon during my senior year of college. It was during this trip that I fell in love with the book. From then on I've counted it as one of my favorite books of the Bible, along with Romans, John and Isaiah.

That trip also reminds me of two other books. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. I read more books than that on the trip, but that is what I remember reading.

Most of the group on that trip had just read, were in the middle of reading, or started reading Blue Like Jazz on the trip. It was perfect timing, as we were headed up to where Don lived. We even visited the famed Powell's Bookstore that he mentioned. It was perfect. Reading books that tie in with where you are visiting is the best way to do it, in my opinion. Sir Walter Scott in Edinburgh. Charlotte Bronte in Haworth. Miller in Portland.

So now I'm reading Donald's new book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years at the same time that I'm reading Colossians again. In a sense it's like both books were chosen for me at this time. A Million Miles because I just heard Donald speak on it last week, and Colossians because the Episcopal church said that's what I should read right now. It's one of those things that seems lined up, providential. Actually, it seems cyclical.

There are things in my life that seem to keep showing up, reminding me of who I am and who I was. Of course there are the negative things that I wish didn't come up - those insecurities that I thought I got over years ago that come back at times when I least expect them. But I'm thinking more of those things that are more nostalgic in nature. Like a beautiful, although sometimes seemingly random, theme in a movie that keeps showing up.

Take Alice in Wonderland for example. The new Tim Burton version starring Johnny Depp came out recently. I love anything those two do together, so of course I went to see it, and I started remembering all the different ways the story of Alice in Wonderland had shown up in my life over the years. There's the Disney version of the movie, which is not my favorite (although I do like the ride at Disneyland). But then there's the live action version that I watched on TV as a child. The book by Lewis Carol that I adored, especially the second half, Through the Looking Glass. The Alice in Wonderland game for our CD-i, a learning and gaming technology that my family bought that never quite caught on. There's the visit to Alice's Shop in Oxford where my parents bought me the "Drink This" mug. Also the new book series The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor that I've been reading. All of these things came up in my mind as I watched Tim Burton's version of Wonderland. It's like I was being re-introduced to that part of me that loves Alice in Wonderland. It's kind of like those people that you are friends with on Facebook. You know them, but you forget about them until they post a status update on Facebook on something you have in common with them.

I'm not really sure what all these reminders come to, but they seem somehow meaningful, like no matter where I live, or how much it seems like I grow and change, it's still me hanging around.

What are some of those things that you find recurring in your life? Any thoughts on what it means?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Am I Really Going to Read The Purpose Driven Life?

I like stories. A lot. My favorite way to take them in is through books, but I also enjoy movies, TV and theater. If you’ve talked to me, I’ve almost surely said something like, “It’s like in this book I was reading yesterday…” or I will start singing you a song from a musical about what you just said. I tend to filter everything through what I read, watch and hear.

C.S. Lewis said, “If one is only to talk from first-hand experience, conversation would be a very poor business.” This blog is me talking about my second-hand experiences—what I’m reading, what I’m watching, what I’m hearing and how it shapes my life.

I thought my first blog entry would probably be about Madeleine L’Engle. I’m currently in the process of reading her books in the order they were published. I just finished her 28th book (of 63) and closed out the year 1978.

Another option would be to blog about Donald Miller. I just met and heard him speak at my church on Friday. When I say “met” I mean I stood in line with my newly purchased copy of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, handed it to him with the amazing line of “Hi,” and said “Thank you” when he handed it back. I had really hoped to sweep him off his feet with my amazing wit, but then I remembered I have no amazing wit in situations like that.

But no. What I find is that I’m blogging about The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.

Really? Am I really going to read The Purpose Driven Life? It’s not exactly my type of book, mostly because it’s been so popular. I am instinctively wary of products that are all the craze in Christian circles. Plus, it seems a little formulaic. Here’s a quote from the introduction of the book:
“Today the average life span is 25,550 days. That’s how long you will live if you are typical. Don’t you think it would be a wise use of time to set aside 40 of those days to figure out what God wants you to do with the rest of them?”

Wow, so in 40 days I will know what I’m supposed to do for the rest of my life? What a deal. I even get to eat, something that Jesus didn’t get to do during his 40 days that prepared him for his ministry.

I really don’t have much else to say against the book. I mean, I don’t actually know what Rick Warren says in it, so I can’t judge it. He may have some really great insights.

The whole reason I am even thinking about reading The Purpose Driven Life is that my church is doing a church-wide 40 Days of Purpose. This is where for 40 Days you read The Purpose Driven Life, sign up to join a small group where you will discuss the book and watch a DVD of Rick Warren’s teachings, and on Sundays you listen to the pastor give sermons about Purpose Driven themes. When I heard about it, I rolled my eyes. “Here we go, following the mega-churches again,” I thought. I had no plans of joining in.

And then this morning, when we were singing our praises to Jesus, before our pastor even started his first Purpose Driven Sermon, I realized what a snotty attitude I had. Who am I to scoff at this program that our church has decided they want to participate in? Do I honestly think that I understand what is spiritually better for myself and the congregation than the team of God-loving, seminary-graduated, wiser-and-more-experienced-than-I-am pastors? Wow, I must be amazing.

And then there’s this other thing that got me thinking. I am drawn to Episcopalian writers. Madeleine L’Engle. Donald Miller. Lauren Winner. C.S. Lewis (he was Anglican, which = Episcopalian in England). I love their books. I love their way of thinking about faith and life. I love getting glimpses into their churches. I’ve even attended an Episcopal church a few times, and I’ve been reading the Bible through the Daily Office. For me, the draw of the Episcopal Church is the structure. I like how they do things as a church, like the way everyone reads the same scripture passages and prays the same prayers on the same day. I like the idea of observing the holy days in a formal way, like Lent. I don’t participate in Lent myself, but that’s because no one around me participates in it, and I don’t really understand it. But I think if I did go to a church that explained it to me, and encouraged everyone to do it, and we all gave up something together I would want to do it. I would want to participate in what my faith community was doing.
This morning I realized that I was rolling my eyes at an opportunity to do something as a part of my faith community. This aspect of church life that I had been longing for was available, and I was setting myself apart from it because I didn’t really like the idea of the book we were going to read. Well, maybe not everyone likes the idea of giving up chocolate or coffee for lent (which also lasts for 40 days, incidentally), but they do it as a spiritual exercise within their church family.

So I’m going to do it. I’m going to read The Purpose Driven Life. I’m going to join a Purpose Driven Small Group and watch the Purpose Driven DVDs. Maybe I won’t like everything I read. Maybe I will love it. I’m thinking either way there will be excellent conversations within the small group and in my home as my church family and I process the ideas that Rick Warren offers to us.

And fear not. I shall still be reading what Donald Miller has to say in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years about what he thinks life is all about. Maybe it will be a Warren-Miller showdown.

Well, here we go. Time to read.