Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd : a non-reviewer's review

I wish I could write good reviews.  I can never give a good book it's proper due.  I stumble over my words, hovering so where between "it's an honest read" and "I laughed 'til it hurt" most of the time.  It will help if I keep this short.

I would consider myself a pacifist.  I don't like violence.  I shy away from conflict.  I'm not into guns or hunting.  I have no desire to kill anything.  In fact, I eat meat mostly out of how inconvenient being a vegetarian is and because of the fact that I am a somewhat lazy person.  

A Farewell to Mars isn't just a book about nonviolence, it's a book about active peace.  It opens up to the ways of Jesus, the peacemaker himself, and shows that he had a new way of doing things here on Earth.  All these years later and it's still a new way because we are slow and stubborn people who like to see people pay.

This book sheds light on the person of Jesus having a lot to say about how people, individually as well as communally, should live in this violent world.  War and violence saturates our history, and Jesus came not to slay our enemies once and for all but to put to death the very idea of redemptive violence.  

I really appreciated Brian Zahnd's stories as this, too, is "an honest read.";). He opens up on his past failures as a pastor, revealing his honesty in changing his mind about something he had felt so right about all along.

The bare basics of this work is that we are to understand this Jesus as being the peacemaker.  He came to break apart the endless cycle of war.  Yet Christians continue to take sides, continuing to battle with flesh and a whole lot of blood.  This book proposes we do what we can to stop the cycle of violence.

I've read through this book twice now and I think it is a great read that helps quiet the soul.  Meditating on the path of Jesus is something we all need to do from time to time.  Thinking of the crowds and authorities that stood against him and his selfless reaction to it all is so otherworldly that we can't help but forget it the moment after we're reminded of it.  This book is a reminder of peace that would be helpful to read regularly.

Thanks!





Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Michael's Loved Ones

There was once a man named Michael.  He was a good man.  Everyone thought of him as a good man, and more so, he was a good man even when no one was looking.

One day he fell in love and got married to a beautiful woman.  Their love was so deep and strong.  They enjoyed their lives together so much so that they needed to have children to share their love with.

They ended up having 4 children.  Michael never knew what life truly was until he had children.  Those kids were the stars in the sky for Michael.  His love for them blossomed deep within his heart each time his wife told him that they would be having a child.  With each new addition his love grew.

His kids were fairly close together in age.  Michael rearranged his life once his first child was born.  They were his priority.

Michael awoke early each morning to spend time with his kids.  Lucy loved her Lego.  Michael would spend hours with her; creating space ships and building fortresses for the little yellow people to defend.  Michael put his best work into those projects, and often times he would be quite amazed at what his little Lucy could inspire out of him.  But most importantly, Michael loved to sneak a peek at the look in Lucy's eyes when she would see his creations come to life.  Her eyes would glow with anticipation and shine the brightest when he handed the project over to her to inspect.  Her warmth melted his soul.  She had it in the palms of her hands like a puddle of warm rain.

It was like this with all of the children. They all woke up with sparks; thumping out of their beds, onto the floor and out to their treasured toys.  Davey drew pictures for his mom.  Big hearts encircling a stick-person mom and stick-person Davey holding stick hands.  Davey was in love with his mother just like most little boys are.  Michael enjoyed this so much.

With Lego and crayons littered about,  Michael would adventure with his children all the while giving his wife, Maggie, a chance to catch up on her sleep.  Every morning Michael would wake up with almost as much anticipation as the kids.  He never questioned where he had gotten the energy from.  They gave it to him!  He went to bed earlier so that he could get up early and enjoy every moment he could with his kids.

Michael would drop what he was doing at any moment of the day to play catch with his boy.  He brushed Sarah's hair for her every night.  Greg enjoyed science, and along with his dad pulled off many all nighters together to get his projects just right.  Just right.

Later on, the kids grew older, yet Michael was the kind of dad all of the other kids at school wish they had.  He picked them up from school and they all walked home together.  Later on, when Lucy was old enough to date, Michael would let her walk home with her boyfriend.  Later in those evenings there would always be time to catch up with dad.  She would tell him all about her day, even about her boyfriend.  As her Dad, Michael would give Lucy just enough advice to keep her safe and not too much to scare or drive her away.

It was a perfect balance.

Luce and Mike were buds.

They all grew up.  Lucy got married.  The other kids went off to college.  Sarah drove her little, red Corolla back and forth from her school every other weekend to spend time with mom and dad.  Michael would drive down to watch her soccer games and catch up on all the exciting things that were happening on campus.

Sarah confided that one of her Professors had most likely been treating her unfairly, though she was determined to come up with a way to talk to her to try to straighten things out.
Michael was startled with the joy he felt; realizing that his little girl had grown up to be such a lovely woman of honour.  He was amazed that he could have such an incredible kid.  Amazed that he had something to do with it.

Life moved on.

Some of Michael's kids lived farther away than he would have liked, but there was always a way to work out regular visits.  Greg lived close by, the only one of Michael's children to not marry.  They had coffee every Tuesday at the cafe down the road from where Greg worked as the manager of the grocery store.  They laughed together like old friends.  Greg would share book and music suggestions with his old man, who openly and honestly had never had the time to keep up on all of the good material out there.  He trusted Greg's suggestions, which more often than not were spot on with what he was into.

Michael grew older, and has time passed by his children maintained the focal centre of his life.  Michael worked in a successful career all the way into his 70's, so one would never be able to say that Michael neglected any responsibilities for the sake of his children.  Michael was responsible, and his life unfolded with all of the peaks and valleys that many other people would go through.  It was not a perfect life.  Yet, to Michael, it really seemed to be because of the joy that his children gave him.

In the end, Michael had 9 grandchildren.  The kids would take turns having sleep overs at grandma and grandpa's house.  Each small child couldn't wait their turn.  Sometimes Grandpa and Grandma would take them mini-golfing, a skill that Grandpa Mike had took great pride in every since he started taking his little ones there many years earlier.

Michael was handy with woodwork, as he was a carpenter by trade, and spent many hours teaching his little grand kids the ways of the craft.  By the end of their visits, often lasting 3 or 4 sleeps, the kids would go home with a new craft that they created with Grandpa; a wooden box that opened like a puzzle, or a car with real working wheels.  The grand kids loved their Grandpa and Grandma.

One day, it was Christmas time, and Michael had the entire family over for dinner.  They had all gathered into the kitchen, with the kids sprawled out on the rug in the living room.  The kids would spill juice on the rug from time to time, but Michael wouldn't care at all.  They were more comfortable lounging around on the floor and Michael loved to watch them all together slicing into turkey and crunching on dill pickles together.

It was that evening, in a moment where the room moved around him, that Michael found silence.  And in that silence Michael experienced what the peace of 75 years of love feels like.

His family laughing and sharing together.

His wife wiping away tears that had appeared after enjoying a story that Greg had been telling.

The rest of the kids resting after a satisfying meal, leaning back with their arms around their loved ones.  Sarah absentmindedly stroking the back of her husband's neck.  The adults all seeming to be embracing each other and the table in between them.  It was joy.  Pure and real.  Michael never thought he could feel so content.  So appreciative for life.

10 years later.

Michael found himself at the end.  He was lucky enough to be in his own bed at home, surrounded by them all.  Actually, there were too many of them to fit into his room at one time, so they took turns visiting with him and Maggie, who sat in a chair next to the bed pouring water for those that came in to sit for a while.

Michael was in a good amount of pain, but there were drugs that he took to keep it from being a distraction.  He was able to talk in short spurts.  The kids would lean in close to hear him.  There was even a moment where he told one of Greg's old jokes, suddenly startling the somber room into a rumble of joyous laughter.

Eyes being wiped while Maggie shifted the pillows bellow Michael's damp hair.

The time came to say goodbye.  There were a lot of tears.  This man meant the world to them.  It was a life filled to the brim and pouring over.  They were glad to have shared such a wonderful life with him.

One by one, two by two, and 3 or four at a time, the room and the house slowly emptied until it was just Michael and Maggie.  They sat together for a while, listening to music that Greg had once suggested Michael try out a long time ago.

With what little energy he had left, Michael began to sob.  Maggie comforted her loved one of 63 years and sobbed together with him.

It was only a matter of time now.  Michael's breath began to sound more and more laboured.  Maggie sat with him, holding his hand, her face damp and red.

Michael kissed his wife and told her that he loved her so much.  With his last breathes Michael had these few words to say:

"My only regret is that I... if only I had spent more time with the children."

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God by Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer is an interesting fellow.  I first took notice of him when I watched Kevin Miller's film Hellbound?.  Frank gave some really nice insight in that movie, and articulated his thoughts in ways that really resonated with me.

Since then I have followed Frank and his writing, speaking, and even browsed through some of his recent paintings.  In all of these art forms, Frank is very honest.  Honest about himself, his life, his mistakes, his triumphs, and most noticeably, his thoughts about God and how they've changed from his early days as a Christian Right leader.

Let's just say that he has many thoughts about that:)

Frank has been self-publishing his recent books, so he's reached out to his readers for help.  I reviewed his last book, And God said, "Billy!", and you can read that review here.

I enjoyed that whole experience so much that I asked for a digital copy of his most recent book Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God.  How's that for a title?!

The subtitle for the book is How to Give Love, Create Beauty, and Find Peace.  I must be honest that from the first time I heard Frank say that phrase, I have been daily repeating it over and over in my head.  I have thought about those words a lot and how I might be able to inject them into the lifeless days that I often catch myself mindlessly trying to just get through, like a grey Walker hobbling my way down the highways of Georgia.

This subtitle became my mantra, or my prayer if you don't like the word mantra.

The refreshing thing about this book is that it's all honesty.  Frank tells stories about his life, and the people that are most important to him and then wrestles with the reasons for why and how they are in his life and impact him in the way that they do.

The title makes sense the further you read.  What seems like a paradox is actually just a way of saying Frank is living in between the tensions of belief and doubt.  Show me a Christian that says he has never doubted and I will show you a bald faced liar.  Show me a doubter who has never seen beauty and wondered if maybe it just might have been put there on purpose and I will... well, you get the idea.

Things I learned from reading this book:

- God is most real in Jesus.  The Bible is where we learn about a lot of different things, but let us not worship a book.

It this way I would say that "Love others as you love yourself" is more true and important than what Leviticus has to say about cubits and cloth mixing.

- Theology is messy.  Enjoying the simple things in life is a way to bring out the bright colours.  The things that give us joy helps others see the light and salt in us.

- I don't have all of the answers and I don't need to pretend that I do in order to have a rich and full life of loving God and others.

- It could be God speaking to me through the sunset or the twinkle in my son's eyes when he looks at me, or it could be some sort of scientific phenomenon.  I'm going to choose that it's both!


I will say that I really appreciated this book.  It's not humorous, as that was not it's purpose.  What I appreciated about it was that it was honest and real.

The honesty comes  through in that it's relatable.  I see myself with my own kids, playing street hockey out front, watching my kids dream the same dreams I once did not long ago, taking it all in and concluding that these moments are gifts.

These moments are what life is all about whether you believe in God or not... or perhaps if find yourself somewhere in the middle.

In the meantime...

create beauty, give love and find peace.