People of the Books: The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley

I truly did not mean to stay away for a month, my apologies.  Every time I think I have a handle on this semester, something else comes along—however, now that we’re in midterms (can you believe it?) I think I might be finding a rhythm.  This is a semester where I spent A LOT of time actually in class, which is unusual for graduate school.  I’m hoping this is not the case next semester; be patient with me, Reader, and stick around.

I have a great many books that have been piling up and it’s been some time since I did a review, so I present The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley.  I don’t remember where or when I got this, but I do remember picking it up solely because Huxley (of Brave New World fame) wrote it and I was fascinated to see what he’d do with devils.

It is, I discovered, a historical overview of a spate of supposed possessions in a convent in Loudun, France, in the 17th century.  Or it’s an indictment of 17th century Church corruption.  Or it’s a showcase of what happens when you tell people sexuality is bad but then make it enticing.  Or it’s religious theory.  Or it’s psychology.  Or it’s poetry.  Or it’s comparative religion, drawing on Taoism and Buddhism as well as Christianity and Judaism.

Or it’s all of that.  Huxley isn’t writing a novel (which is what I originally thought this was, especially having read The Devils by John Whiting, which is a play based on these same possessions.)  It reminded me a lot of The Cheese and the Worms in terms of taking a historical event/text and extrapolating with stories and theories about the personalities and relationships involved.  And Huxley has a lot to work with:  as I mentioned, it’s about possessions at a convent in France.  A priest named Urbain Grandier was accused of bringing a whole slew of devils to torment (mostly via impure thoughts and some flopping about and such) a nunnery; he was eventually convicted and burned to death as a sorcerer.  Along the way, though, Huxley goes through how the politics of religious France allowed this, what relationships Grandier was having that would have set him up for such a claim, what the abbess of the nunnery was doing in claiming such possession, and whether or not the entire affair had any grounding.

Huxley comes down hard on the side of this whole thing being a frame-up because the nuns were sexually frustrated and Grandier slept with all the wrong gals, but fortunately he doesn’t dismiss the reality of the situation for the people involved.  He’s pretty good about not judging the actors through 20th century eyes, which not every historian can pull off.

Be warned:  there are a lot of times when Huxley will quote from some document or other in French or Latin and just move on without translating.  That can be frustrating if you don’t quite know what’s being said, but fortunately it’s never anything on which the argument turns.  And there are sparse citations in this book; there are a few footnotes, but they’re as random as the choices to translate.

Huxley goes through so many tunnels to get at his objective of totally dismantling this entire mess and tearing apart the politics of the Church and the fear of evil, especially as it manifests in sexuality.  I found myself feeling awful for pretty much all of the characters because they got caught in this machine they’d foolishly started and then couldn’t stop, ground in its gears without mercy or tempered judgment.

Let me share some quotes with you that I found particularly of note:

“A Church divided by intestine hatreds cannot systematically practise love and cannot, without manifest hypocrisy, preach it.”  (27; oh modern Church, do you hear?)

“Christ delights in the lilies precisely because they are not prudent, because they neither toil nor spin and yet are incomparably lovelier than the most gorgeous of Hebrew kings…[they] enjoy a glory which has this in common with the Order of the Garter—that ‘there’s no damned merit about it.’  That, precisely, is their point; that is why, for us human beings, they are so refreshing and, on a level much deeper than that of morality, so profoundly instructive.”  (85-86)

“Such was the atmosphere in a convent of demoniac nuns, and such the persons with whom, in an intimacy that was a compound of the intimacies existing between gynaecologist and patient, trainer and animal, adored psychiatrist and loquacious neurotic, the officiating priest passed many hours of every day and night…The long-drawn debauch took place in the imagination and was never physical.”  (121, on the weird sexual tension between the possessed nuns and the exorcists brought in to cure them)

“[A]ll the evils of religion can flourish without any belief in the supernatural…Few people now believe in the devil; but very many enjoy behaving as their ancestors behaved when the Fiend was a reality as unquestionable as his Opposite Number.  In order to justify their behaviour, they turn their theories into dogmas, their by-laws into First Principles, their political bosses into Gods and all those who disagree with them into incarnate devils.”  (125; oh, that doesn’t sound familiar at all here in 2016…)

“And Montaigne concludes with one of those golden sentences which deserve to be inscribed over the altar of every church, above the bench of every magistrate, on the walls of every lecture hall, every senate and parliament, every government office and council chamber…’After all, it is rating one’s conjectures at a very high price to roast a man alive on the strength of them.'”  (133)

“For the first time in his life he knew the meaning of contrition—not doctrinally, not by scholastic definition, but from within, as an anguish of regret and self-condemnation…Father Ambrose pronounced the formula of absolution…and spoke a little about the will of God.  Nothing was to be asked for, he said, and nothing refused.  Except for sin, all that might happen to one was not merely to be accepted with resignation; it was to be willed, moment by moment, as God’s will for that particular moment.  Suffering was to be willed, affliction was to be willed…And in the act of being willed they would be understood.  And in the act of being understood they would be transfigured, would be seen, not with the eyes of the natural man, but as God saw them.”  (203)

“At Saintes, for the first time in ten years, Surin found himself treated with sympathy and consideration—as a sick man undergoing a spiritual ordeal, not as a kind of criminal undergoing punishment at the hands of God and therefore deserving of yet more punishment at the hands of men.  It was still all but impossible for him to leave his prison and communicate with the world; but now the world was moving in and trying to communicate with him.”  (297)

 

Rating:  3.5/5 stars  3-5-stars

Advertisements

People of the Books: Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz

Hullo, Reader!  Thanks for your patience with me in my not warning you I’d be dropping off the radar last week; I had a conference last weekend (and also confirmation at church), so I wasn’t able to get to this.  But I’m back now (albeit a day late)—happy Saturday!  Have a book review!

Quo Vadis (which has apparently been made into a movie that I’m going to have to see now) is another of those books that somehow magically made it into my library when I wasn’t paying attention.  I have no memory of buying this or being given it, but I know I’ve moved it from at least one place to another with me.  In my great I Have to Read All These Books Before I Move Them Again project (yeah, it’s not going well; Reader, I own a lot of books) I finally decided to sit down with this one.

I must say, it was slow going at first.  Sienkiewicz doesn’t pull punches in how he sets up the story; he expects you to keep up as he throws you into 60s A.D. Rome under the craziness of Nero’s rule.  But stick with it; once you get situated in the overwhelming city (fortunately, my version had a map at the back so I could follow Sienkiewicz’s characters talking about where things were), you realize this is a pretty epic story.

The basic premise is that Marcus Vinicius, a nobleman of one of the ancient families and a decorated soldier now hanging about in Rome, falls in love with a gal named Ligia.  Add in the complication—Ligia is a Christian.  This is a time when Christianity was kept on the downlow because it wasn’t outright illegal but it definitely wasn’t liked, so Ligia’s faith is already questionable but also it’s a totally foreign idea to Vinicius.  He has all the power and wealth he could want; why on earth would someone want to follow a faith that tells you to give up stuff like that?  Foolishness.

So with this very simple plot, off we go.  Of course it gets more complicated; it’s set against the backdrop of Nero, who was batshit crazy and a half.  Petronius, Vinicius’s uncle, is one of Nero’s advisors (of a sort) and through his eyes we get to see the court falling apart as Nero loses touch with reality more and more.  The main punch of the book is when Rome gets set on fire, which Sienkiewicz described brilliantly, hauntingly, and horrifyingly.  For a city that large and that flammable to catch fire would indeed have been a sight for the ages, but the amount of people it displaced for the whims of a mad emperor is just staggering.

And then Nero blames it on the Christians—cue lions, torture, gore, and all of the awful debauchery that Rome could offer.  We of the 21st century are scary good at causing pain, but we have nothing on Rome.  They were terrifying in the amounts of ways they concocted to kill people; it’s even reflected in the language.  There are over thirty different verbs for “to kill” in ancient Latin.

I do try to correct folks when they think everything from Jesus to Constantine was lions eating Christians because that isn’t true.  Wide-scale persecution was relatively rare; most of the time Christians were mistrusted and ignored or simply thrown in jail for a while.  But sometimes they became scapegoats of epic proportions, and Sienkiewicz does a fantastic job of capturing how frightening and overwhelming that would be.  And one of the best parts about this book is that it makes you look at Christianity itself all over again.

Christianity is so completely embedded in modern Western culture we simply can’t look around without seeing it.  But when it was new and weird and secretive and still being ironed out—I don’t want to romanticize that at all, but I do love reading stories that make me remember it.  This is a time where there aren’t written stories but instead you would hear the Gospel from Peter himself (yeah, Peter and Paul have bit parts in this; it’s pretty awesome because I’m always ready to have them be ornery humans with their own doubts and fears, not knowing how much they would become pillars of the Church).  This is a time when there are the earliest of hymns, when people were still using the fish (ichthus) to identify each other, when books like Revelation make sense because people really did think Jesus was coming back any day because surely the world was tearing itself apart at the seams.

Sienkiewicz definitely has an angle—Nero bad, Christians good—but this isn’t at all a religion pitch.  He returns over and over again to how hard it is to be part of this faith and how different the early version of it was compared to what we know.  And the remarkable thing is that he was writing at the turn of the 20th century yet you can tell his heart is in the history of this rather than any attempts to convert the reader (of course, he would likely have assumed all of his readers would have been Christian already anyway).  Some of the characters don’t get Christianity and end the book still not getting it and yet being fully themselves, and five million points to an author who respects his/her characters enough not to try and force them into conversion moments.  My only real problem with characterization is in how Sienkiewicz talks about Ursus, Ligia’s bodyguard; a lot of the language there is very much about how this barbarian (they’re political hostages from a northern kingdom) is so very slow and more brawn than brains.  That caught me up several times because it’s so bald, but Ursus was still a real and marvelous character who actually stands in for the reader sometimes when we’re trying to understand what’s going on.  He also becomes a paradigm of loyalty and an example to be followed.

There is violence and sex and this is not for the faint of heart, Reader, but it is well worth the time, especially in this more modern translation (mad props to W. S. Kuniczak).  It’s a great story as well as a really well-written imagining of the early days of Christianity. I’ll definitely be keeping this on hand.

 

Rating:  4.5/5 stars  People of the Books:  Why I Am a Catholic by Garry Wills

 

People of the Books: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

“How on earth, Christiana, does this book belong on a blog about Christian spirituality?  It’s only an old nursery tale about a rabbit.  There’s no mention of God anywhere.”

True.  I think we both know that God doesn’t so much wait around to be mentioned, though.  Here’s the thing about The Velveteen Rabbit; I don’t actually understand this book.

I mean, I get the story line well enough—before Toy Story (but after Pooh and Pinocchio), there was the Velveteen Rabbit being a toy with its own worries and fears and desires to be loved and useful and fun.  But there’s this central concept in this story about being Real, and I struggle so hard with what that actually means.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a book loaned me by Interpreter, who has had me read it twice and I’ve read it a third time trying to understand what on earth is so important about it.  My first response is yay, that’s adorable, what a delightful snippet of childhood.  I remember having that one toy as a child that was not a toy but my best friend. It knew my secrets, it shared my adventures, it understood the days that I needed to not talk at all but simply be there together. Giving that toy a voice, a heart, a love for its owner and a desire to be Real—what a fantastic concept!

But I still didn’t really get what “Real” actually meant, which kind of drove me nuts because this book seems to mean a lot to people and I didn’t know why.  So I read it, and re-read it, and mulled it over, and thought about it when that one important page popped up on Facebook pages:

And I still didn’t get it.

Anyone who’s ever taught anything knows that you understand something so much better when you have to explain it to someone else.  I was out to lunch with Discretion the other day and somehow she and I got onto appearance.  I’m not beautiful by American societal standards, and in some ways neither is she.  This is a hard thing because we are taught to want to be beautiful—but that’s another conversation.  In this conversation, I was talking about how it’s okay that I’m not beautiful because my friends like her don’t actually look at me, not my physical self; they see the me who is their friend, the conglomerate of all the memories that we have together.

And I actually stopped mid-sentence because that is what it is to be Real.

I have the feeling there’s more to it than the physical appearance thing—I don’t pretend to have totally figured this book out.  But I am Real to God:  no matter whether my ears have lost their pinkness or my nose has fallen off or my fur has been rubbed to dullness, I am Real to God.  No matter whether I don’t have real hind legs and can’t actually hop, I am Real to God.  No matter whether I have totally fucked up the life I was given and the body I was given and am not at all like the human I was supposed to be, I am Real to God because God sees past all of that.  God loves me enough that I am Real.

Because I am Real to God, and because God teaches us to see other creations as Real, I am also Real to some other people.  I am Real to Discretion, and probably to Watchful, Hopeful, Magister, and Interpreter.  They don’t see the unkempt body or the mismatched sins; they see me, their friend whom they love.  And they are Real to me because I see them as the people I love with whom I have shared many adventures and long conversations and moments of holding tightly when I was afraid.

This is tough stuff.  The Skin Horse (who has been Real for a very long time and is quite wise) says, “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”  Either I am not Real all the time or the Skin Horse got that one wrong, because I very much mind being hurt.  This is perhaps why I get super stuck at the Rabbit’s conclusion when he’s been thrown away with all the other scarlet-fever-infested toys:

Of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this?  (33)

I’m still there, to be honest, because I am still velveteen and I want very much to stay in what I know.  My family loves me and I have to leave them, and that sucks, Reader.  That sucks a lot and I am in a lot of conversation with God about what that’s going to look like because what use was all that relationship-building if it’s to end like this?

The hope, perhaps, that it does not end like this.  The Rabbit meets a fairy and the story goes on; some day, some far off day, I will meet a Savior and the story will go on.  In the meantime will change, and there will be many other meetings in between now and then, and I may be altered by the next pieces of my life such that one of my current friends may see me and not quite recognize me but think, “That woman looks just like a friend I used to have…”

But I will never stop being Real because one you become Real, you can’t become unreal again.  God made me Real long before I had any idea what that meant because God really loved me—loves me still.  So to God, and to some of my friends, I cannot be ugly—in spirit or physicality—because they understand.

At least, I think that’s what it means.  The things we write for children are often hardest for us adults to grasp.

 

 

Rating:  4/5 stars  5ac3e-1056599-golden-four-star-rating-border-poster-art-print

People of the Books: Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger

I read this as part of a year-long look at how we do church and I must admit, it wasn’t my favorite of the nine or so books I had to read.  The concept of this book—take a good hard look at your church in the light of Clarity, Movement, Alignment (to mission), and Focus—is solid. This would have been a really great blog post or even a short series. It would make a wonderful diagram to hang in places of meeting, colorful yet stark. The message of getting rid of things that clutter your organization is useful for things that aren’t church; this encourages you to really be aware of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you’re using the resources you have to do that thing.

Here, let me help you understand this book:

…the healthiest churches in America tended to have a simple process for making disciples.  They had clarity about the process.  They moved Christians intentionally through the process.  They were focused on the elements of the process.  And they aligned their entire congregations to this process.  (ix)

There.  Ignore that this completely focuses on the American church and doesn’t give any thought process to the global Church.  Ta-dah!  You literally now know the entire book; the rest of it is just data and stories to flesh out these four ideas.


But then it tries to be more than that diagram and kind of shoots itself in the foot. For starters, it’s hilarious that a book about being simple is 276 pages long (although part of that is because the font is hella big; seriously, it’s not even the large print version and yet has to be 16 point, which is just unnecessary). What’s worse is that this is trying to be an almost scientific study; much of the text length is taken up with bar graphs of their research to come up with this model. Bully for them for doing a survey and tabulating the results, but once you look at their data versus their conclusions, it’s not all that scientific. Take, for example, their graph for respondents’ level of agreement with the idea that their church limits special events (p. 217). Ignore for a second the fact that they bias their data immediately by comparing “vibrant” and “comparison” churches, which is one step short of “good” and “crap” churches and those are absolutely qualified terms with inherent connotations. Then look at the accompanying textual breakdown where they laud the “vibrant” churches for their 25% agreeing strongly compared to 6% of the “comparison.”

I’m not terribly much a scientist, but in terms of social constructs 1/4 isn’t usually overwhelming support. Also, the very next step down (“agree”) is equal between the two respondent types. What? Okay, that’s a way to say that yes, the “vibrant” churches lean more toward saying yes to this concept, but it’s not overwhelming and it’s not undeniable evidence.  This presents results with way more strength than they actually have and discusses this theory as though it’s obvious and entirely correct. It’s a model for how to consider the structure of one’s church (even though it says on page 3 that “[t]his book is not about another church model”), and I’m a little too much of an academic to accept their celebration over mostly average data (especially when they present it with simplified explanations to support their theory rather than acknowledging the complexity of their own responses).

It also gets really repetitive, as in “okay, now that you understand movement, here’s alignment.  Alignment comes after movement.  Movement was this, and alignment continues that with…” and on and on.  I promise, guys, I can keep themes and ideas in my head for several chapters at a time.  Although perhaps their target audience couldn’t—I was never entirely sure who their target audience, was, actually, since they were talking about being vibrant and aware and using very savvy churches as the good examples but then using completely outdated technological references.  (In two separate places [pp. 11, 173] Rainer and Geiger explain that a blog is a web log or online journal; this book was published in 2011, so hopefully someone bothering to read a how-to-be-relevant church book is at least aware of blogs and also by that time blogs were so much more than the diaries of the MySpace days anyway.)  And there were some bizarrely sexist moments that popped up, like this disclaimer about what Mary and Martha must have been like:  “At least, that is what our wives tell us.  We don’t claim to know about Martha firsthand.”  (p. 12)  And your wives do?  Do all women have an ESP link that I’ve missed?

There was a jarring mix of self-righteousness and apology from the authors; they laud themselves for this hilarious prank they pulled (during the freaking recession, mind you, when folks would have done an awful lot for a job) posting a fake church job that asked for people to hold conflicting theological styles of leadership.  The authors mock the people who applied for it, saying that they were obviously not committed to being true leaders for Christ.  What?  A) That’s a dick move, which I realize is scandalously strong language but I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hate pranks and there were certainly better ways these guys could have proved their point without lambasting unsuspecting people.  B)  Turning around and putting that in their book, making money off of the idea that they somehow have a better understanding of what it is to be a focused Christian, is just annoying.  You don’t get the Jesus prize for holding to your ideological tenets, sorry.

But up against that is an almost constant apology for being academic in the way they do their research.  Christians aren’t stupid, guys, and if you’re going to make sweeping assumptions about what church should look like, then I want all the data you can give me.  Own your work.  I’ll skim what I need to.

I appreciate the examination of a lot of business models to stress the efficacy of simplicity (Apple, Gap, and Google are all mentioned) but that’s a double-edged sword—the Church isn’t actually a business, and if you’re saying it should be then we have an entirely different conversation we need to have.  And even in the comparisons there was a lot of vagueness (who is “we?” what is “growth” for you?  How do you understand that particular anecdote in relation to your main point? When you talk about “this word translates,” from which language do you mean?).

Good to skim.  Definitely good to take with a large grain of salt.  Stick with the opening infographic.

 

Rating:  2.5/5 stars     

People of the Books: Tale of the Heike trans. by Helen Craig McCullough

This doesn’t so much count as a religious book, but then it does, but then it doesn’t, but then it does…

Here’s the thing—The Tale of the Heike (or Heike monogatari) is a history.  Specifically, it’s the epic of the downfall of the Taira clan in medieval Japan, mostly because of the arrogance (in the West it would likely be hubris) of the clan leader, Taira no Kiyomori.  Kiyomori is a fool who challenges the universe to defy his awesomeness.

Spoiler alert:  it does.

The religious aspect of it is so part and parcel that the epic won’t stand without it.  Medieval Japan was Buddhist (in case you didn’t know), and this whole poem (it is a poem, although this particular translation is in prose, which is kind of great because I heart poetry but not for 430 pages) hinges on the Buddhist theme of impermanence.  In fact, the opening lines about impermanence are super famous:

The sound of the Gion Shōja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sāla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline.  The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.  (23)

There’s a pretty solid overview of the poem here, if you’re interested.  It is pretty neat to see how medieval Japanese civil wars have made their way into poetry, but then, I’m a medievalist.  Warning:  The Tale of the Heike is really long.  It just is.  It covers nearly one hundred years of happenings as the Taira and Minamoto clans battle for supremacy in the Japanese government, and there are SO MANY moments of dramatic irony that it hurts.  Lots of yelling at the TV screen, if there were a TV, not to walk down that hallway.  And Westerners will have a rough time of it because there are a ton of name changes and little side stories that don’t connect to an overarching narrative (in any direct way, at least), but the annotations and footnotes of this edition are actually really helpful. Also, I found it make my life easier to have a post-it note for each book with a one-sentence summary of each section; that way, when someone would pop up after having been absent for 56 pages, I could go back and remind myself why that guy was important.

Along the way, there are great stories of love, horror, battle, song, beauty, an awful lot of people taking up the religious life, and poems galore. I appreciate that McCullough kept the Japanese with the poems, even though I don’t understand a lick of Japanese, because so much of the importance of poetry here is borrowing and punning and sound pattern, which gets lost in translation.  All in all, this is a solid translation of this, and I do recommend it.

The way it qualifies as a religious book (beyond that freaking everyone becomes a monk at some point, I feel) is the underlying theme of pushing against that arrogance/hubris.  The gods are the gods and we are most decidedly not, and it’s Kiyomori’s decision that he can play on their scale that crashes the whole dynasty.

This is a tale of the effects of karma.  Karma, or (業)Gō, is where past deeds affect current ones; it relies on the idea that death happens, but it’s a temporary thing.  So Taira no Kiyomori, who becomes a tyrant under the illustrious desire for power, started as a Buddhist teacher uncomprehending of the nature of evil.  He figured it out, and it devours him as his actions for himself overwhelm his actions for others and the gods.

As everywhere, religion is not detached from ordinary lives and political struggles. Warrior monks are wily players in this ongoing struggle, often competing in very earthly struggles for allegiance and manipulating events by using their monk statuses.  So this is also a tale about how religion can be a tool like everything else and that following faith doesn’t necessarily make you untouchably pious.

This book is a huge deal in Japanese culture; parts of it have been adapted to Noh plays and various performances.  It’s kind of the Japanese Iliad in its applicability and staying power.  It has some beautiful little stories within the larger narrative.  For certain, this is tragedy and wonder and poetry and nature appreciation and totally worth the read.  It’s sort of like Ecclesiastes; depressing as all get out, but beautiful in its own sad and inevitable way.

 

Rating:  5ac3e-1056599-golden-four-star-rating-border-poster-art-print  4/5 stars

People of the Books: The LOLCat Bible by Martin Grondin

I have far too much anger to deal with the shooting yesterday in Oregon, Reader.  My opinions of a few weeks ago are still true, and I totally agree with President Obama’s assertion that we are getting used to this and that ought to scare us into actually doing something about the violence in our country.  (I also agree with the snarky frustration of this article about why “doing something” isn’t as impossible as we make it.)

So instead, I’m going to tell you about cats, which is what a friend of mine insisted to me this week the Internet is made for.  Specifically, I’m going to tell you about pretty much my favorite thing ever, which is the mashing together of Internet cats and the Bible.
Roundabouts a decade ago, some folks came together and decided that captioning animals—specifically cats—could lead to hilarious things.  It would be even funnier, they figured, if the voices of said cats were typed in terrible grammar and spelling, and lo, I Can Has Cheezburger was born.  A few years later, somebody decided it would be funnier still if these cats “translated” the Bible for themselves, and lo, the LOLCat Bible was born.

Srsly.  People have gotten together to “translate” the whole of the Bible into poorly-written Internet-speak.  And it’s awesome.  For starters, the whole concept just makes me nerd out like whoa; this kind of crowd-sourcing is becoming commonplace, but to take Internet surfers and unleash them on a holy text?  Why yes, I do have two or three papers in my head that I want to write about that.

Then this book came out, which is not the whole Bible but excerpts, which is roughly like the old Middle English pageants and yes, that’s a whole other paper I want to write.  The thing about this book is that it’s a lot of in-jokes geared toward people who are familiar with the I Can Has Cheezburger world, taking Biblical stories and using them to reference things like the LOLrus and his bukkit as well as renaming the Trinity Ceiling Cat, Happy Cat, and Hover Cat.  The book version assumes you’ll be able to roll with the language, but the online version does offer a tutorial.

Here’s what I love about this book (besides the fact that it’s silly as all get-out):  it really truly engages the text.  In Genesis 37 when Joseph’s brothers are super angry that Joseph is telling them about his dreams in which they serve him (and what sibling wouldn’t be?), the LOLcats say it like this:

“WTF yu ben smokin?  Yu think yu be king or sumthin?  Yu thinkz yu is teh bosscat ov us?”

And the oh-so-iconic 23rd Psalm?

Ceiling Cat is mai sheperd.  He gif me evrithing Iz need.  He letz me sleeps in teh sunni spot an has liek nice watterz ovar thar.  He maek mai soul happeh an maek sure Iz go teh riet wai for him.  Liek thru teh cat flap insted of owt teh open windo, LOL.  Iz in teh vally of dogz, fearin no pooch, becuz Ceiling Cat iz besied me rubbin mah ears, an it maek me so kumfy.  He letz me sit at teh tabul evun wen peepul who no liek me iz watchin.  He gifs me a flea baff an so much gooshy fud it runz out ov mai bowl, LOL.  Niec tings an luck wil chase me evriday an Iz will liv in teh Ceiling Cats howse forevur.

That’s pretty accurate, really.  And the book includes the Crucifixion (“Teh Death ov Happy Cat”) as well as several of Christ’s parables, which is pretty impressive.

It’s not a theological tome, it’s not even really theologically sound, but that’s not the point.  We look so often at the Bible and see The Bible, this crazy untouchable book we can’t mess with.  But it was never that; it’s a living document written by a bunch of common men over a long period of time in pursuit of telling a story that mattered so incredibly much.  This engagement with that, this gentle prodding at the ideas of this text and how it phrases things is such a fascinating thing to me.  It gets even better with the fact that there’s a “translation” of the Lord’s Prayer, Amazing Grace, and even Pascal’s Wager in the back of this (with more things like the Apostles’ Creed on the site).  I mean, check this out:

Teh Ceiling Cat of us, whu haz cheezeburger, yu be spechul.  Yu ordered cheezburgerz, Wut yu want, yu gets, srsly.  In ceiling and on teh flor.

Giv us dis day our dalee cheezburger.  And furgiv us for makin yu a cookie, but eateding it.  And we furgiv kittehs who be steelin our bukkits.

An do not let us leed into teh showa, but deliver us from teh wawter.  Ceiling Cat pwns all. He pwns teh ceiling and teh floor and walls too.  Forevur and evuhr. Amen. 

It doesn’t hurt that it’s also super entertaining, especially since the book includes color photos of some of the verses captioned onto various cats.

 

 

 

 

Rating:  5/5 stars  Five out of five stars

People of the Books: The John G. Lake Sermons on Dominion over Demons, Disease, and Death ed. by Gordon Lindsay

I found this odd duck in a neighborhood garage sale last summer and, surprising even myself, decided I definitely needed a book of sermons for a quarter.  The purchase was partly to start expanding my understanding of sermons; I know medieval sermons and 21st century sermons, but not much in between.

This was originally printed in 1949, so it’s definitely in between.  John G. Lake (of whom I’d never heard anything before picking this up) was a preacher in the U.S. in the 1920s and 30s.  He apparently left quite an impression, considering he has his own ongoing ministry organization, mostly due to his healing ministries.  The editor of this volume himself says he was “dying from ptomaine poisoning” and was cured by reading typed sermons of Dr. Lake (“Dr.” being an honorary rather than degree-bound term).

And that’s the theme of this book—all are sermons of Lake’s describing how it works that we can, via sermon and prayer, heal people like God did, like the apostles did, in miraculous ways.  And Reader, I have no idea what to do with that.

Having come through a country church and known some country church people, I’m not unfamiliar with the concept of faith healing.  I know a woman who believes God made one of her legs grow so that she wouldn’t be off-kilter anymore, and another who had God heal her crippling arthritis.  And yes, I know well the story of the man Jesus told to get up and walk, right alongside the promise that we who follow will do even greater things.

But Reader, I doubt.  Part of it is having grown up with the charlatans that John Oliver so rightly tore apart on his show; part of it is being related to a doctor and a bunch of science types who understand the incredible complexity of the human body.  It doesn’t make sense to me that these kinds of healings are claimed miracles—even the illness of the editor is basically just food poisoning that can mostly be taken care of by being sure to flush your system out with lots of fluids, so who’s to say that’s not what happened rather than some magical sermons?

And that’s the thing that stops me cold—somewhere in the basic layouts of my subconscious, I apparently think of miracles as magic, even though I know that I believe in the concept of miracles and I 100% believe God is at work in our lives every day.  So why not here?  Why can I not attribute this kind of thing to His doing?  Lake himself goes to great pains to tie together belief in God and belief in healing ministries:

Healing is simply the salvation of Jesus Christ, having its divine action in a man’s flesh, the same as it had its divine action in a man’s soul, or in the spirit of man.  (17)

God hates sin and God equally hates sickness, for sickness is incipient death.  (23)

We used to have a little Englishman in our evangelistic party who would say to the people when they were praying, “Now let us stop praying for five minutes and BELIEVE GOD, and see what will happen.”  (28)

About the hardest thing to get hold of is a good old-fashioned Christian who believes God.  (40)

So where is my belief?  Where is my understanding that God can do whatever He wants to do?  Part of it is stopped back in that place of logic when Lake discusses his flat-out ban on medicinal cures as a sign of a lack of faith:

Drugs have always been the unbeliever’s way of healing.  God always was and is the real Christian’s remedy.  (43)

I would argue there are many things that require drugs, but then is that lack of faith?  And what of how to be healed—is it a matter of asking hard enough?  That can’t be, because there are so many who pray so earnestly and have nothing.

Healing is not always obtained by saying prayers.  It is obtained by obeying God.  (46)

“When a man’s spirit and a man’s body are filled with the blessed presence of God, it oozes out of the pores of your flesh and kills the germs.”  (108)

Men have assumed that it is necessary to persuade God to heal them.  This we deny with all emphasis.  God has manifested through Christ, His desire to bless mankind.  (132)

That is the secret of Christ’s salvation; that is the secret of Christ’s healing.  It is not trying to get healed.  It is trusting Him for it, and believing Him when He says He will do it, and the mind relaxes and the soul comes to rest.  (36)

That’s a little contradictory, then, because Lake’s stance is that it’s not about pushing God to do what we want but it is also about being what God wants.  I’m confused, because we can’t earn grace or healing; how then to explain the way some are not healed?  Lake doesn’t really give a final answer on that, and that may be because this is a collection of sermons rather than a full write-up of his understandings.

There are many things Lake says that I totally agree with and appreciate, like the idea that sickness as God’s will is a ridiculous concept:

They came to a man’s bedside and said, “Your sickness is the Will of God.”  Well, it is the work of the devil, and in the ultimate sense every death that ever took place was the work of the devil.  (68)

And that the Church has to broaden whom She lays all of her hats on:

The Modern Church must come to a realization of other ministries in the Church besides preaching.  In the Modern Church the preachers is the soul and center and circumference of his church.  The Primitive Church was a structure of faith composed of men and women, each qualifying in his or her particular ministry.  (127)

But Lake lived in such a different time, a different world.  I was prepared to read this and get rid of it, but I find I may be going over and over it for some time to come as I think about how I balance the rationality of being human and the absolute freedom of God.

 

Rating:  3/5 stars, since it inspired so much thought