Here's a book I suggest reading like a member of the bomb squad approaching a ticking suitcase. The Beauty of Modesty, by David and Diane Vaughan, offers one more reason to scratch your head and go "Where DO these people live?!" Stuff about how wearing blue jeans to church is inappropriate. Hmm. I recall reading something about that somewhere in my Bible... no, guess not. Mainly the book riffs on women; showing too much, looking too good, exciting male libidos. How predictable. How irritating. How sexist. Reminds me of some of the medieval church fathers' projection of their own lust onto women... sigh. I could do a riff on male immodesty, but the riff would turn into a four-part symphony. I'll give you a taste: What men do with their eyes is more immodest than what ninety-eight percent of women do with their bodies. And Lord, if women knew what we did with our minds!
How about an old, good, and unsettling book? George Orwell (author of Animal Farm and 1984), wrote essays as well. His Shooting an Elephant is a stunner; ponderings on Tolstoy's ravaging of Shakespeare stand side by side with grim first-hand accounts of seeing a man killed ("The Hanging") and Orwell's understandable horror of hospitals ("How the Poor Die"). The essay of the title's name is alone worth the book's price. Orwell tells a story layered with moral ambiguity. He is a member of the British occupation in Burma; an elephant has gotten free of its owners and refuses to be captured. Orwell's job demands he deal with the mess. He is faced with whether or not to shoot the elephant, and relentless dissects his own moral universe in explaining why and what happened next. The story is laced with the tension between European snobbery and Indian anger, but goes even beyond that to the simple issue of the elephant as an innocent victim of Orwell's own cowardice... And what does he fear?
"A white man mustn't be frightened in front of 'natives'; and so, in general, he isn't frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do.... I shoved the cartridges into the magazine..."
Well, something a bit more uplifting?
C. S. Lewis is so interwoven with evangelical thought, and so omnipresent in Christian bookstores, one can easily fall victim to the old saw: "Familiarity breeds contempt." The fact that Disney is preparing to launch a movie ("The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe") based on his Narnia children's series doesn't necessarily help. What might, though, are two very different writers with unique takes on Lewis' spirituality. Both, I believe, may help new generations of believers rediscover Lewis, not merely for abstract apologetics but instead for his deeply felt and experienced spiritual life.
Lyle Dorsett's Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C. S. Lewis continues in the rich, thoroughly evangelical vein of Lewisian interpretation in which Dorsett excels. (His A Love Observed is still, to me, the most moving of all writings on the brief love and marriage--before her death--of Lewis to Joy Davidman.) Here, Dorsett reveals Lewis as pastor, confidant, and self-confessed sinner, while also painting his very evangelical zeal in matters of aiding others in discovering his Jesus.
Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C. S. Lewis, by David Downing, brings the double delight of reading an excellent, deep writer about a seldom-explored side of Lewis. His links to mystics across the spectrum are explored, as is his admiration, mixed with discernment. I was very impressed with the chapter on Lewis' "Space Trilogy," where Downing among other things shows how Lewis borrowed from Dante's wonderful descriptions of heaven. If you buy just one book this year on Lewis, make it this one. I think emergent folk will love the mystical emphasis, and those who view Lewis solely as an apologist need this emphasis!
Alright, the way this book tag thing works, I have to "tag" five more victims. So here goes:
Chris Rice (one of my best friends, he heads up Cornerstone Press)
Curt Mortimer (poetry-lover and author of "Dinosaur Journal")
Glenn Kaiser (best male friend; musician, pastor, and fellow Linux-lover)
Carol Trott (my best thing, to quote Toni Morrison. She's gonna kill me for tagging her; she doesn't write much)
Mike Hertenstein (he flies below the radar except for "Flickerings" at Cornerstone Festival; I'm gonna try to draw him out, or at least irritate him, which is the next best thing!)