This blog is about books I read, and more specifically about the interplay between what I am reading and the life experiences I have accumulated in 70+ years. I usually have lots of thinking and reading time, but this week has made me more like the blog followers who ask “How do you find time to read that much?”
Before the weekend I started another easy quick read – a follow up to my last posting- called “The Last Camel died at Noon”, by Elizabeth Peters, but didn’t finish it till yesterday. Then the Benjamin birthday prep began (not that I did much). And I got an email from a friend who was asking for someone to sew up 80 knitted squares into a blanket to take to Zambia, to a school that she and her husband (and our church) have been supporting, along with knitted school uniform sweaters etc. She leaves this morning, and I finished it in time! The big 4th birthday party filled the house for most of Sunday with family and friends and food and wrapping paper, and lots of plastic dinosaurs to step on barefoot.
Then there was a meeting of the local Progressive Christian group with papers to read or re-read beforehand. The mini book was “First Light: Jesus and the Kingdom of God”, by John Dominic Crossan- one of my favourite writers on the New Testament, so that was a must-read. It covered themes that have become familiar from his other books-especially “God and Empire”, and “The First Paul”, which he co-wrote with Marcus Borg. Their key insights, which will stay with me for the rest of my life, are about the choice to be made between the way of Jesus and the way of empire. To say “Jesus is Lord” is to take over an already existing title of Augustus Caesar, as also are the titles Savior and Son of God. Choose ye this day whom ye will serve – the Lord who is Jesus, or the Lord who is Caesar. Jesus’ way was of absolute non-violence even to his death: no war horse for his entry to Jerusalem but a donkey, and no legions of angels to deliver him. The examination of the meaning of that death is one that has recurred in Crossan’s other books, and has come up in other recent reading- “God and Caesar” by Shirley Williams and “The Underground Church” by Robin Meyers-in recent blog postings. The Substitutionary Atonement theory, God’s demand that Jesus die as punishment for the world’s sins, goes back to Anselm in the eleventh century, (though I think there are things in Augustine but I couldn’t quote them) but here is a New Testament scholar explaining that the idea is not there- sacrifice is, but not the repellent picture of a Father demanding his Son’s torture and death. In a different meeting for worship last week (Fresh Visions), one person, out of something over a dozen, happened to say that she believed that God had to have Jesus die to take our due punishment for sin, and was met with unanimous, vociferous, interrupting objections. It does trouble me that many people, especially a couple of militant and fundamentalist atheists who are well known in England, Richard Dawkins, for example, assume that they know exactly what all Christians believe. There is also an assumption that a list of beliefs/ideas is what it is all about. I like ideas, I like books that make me think, but that is not what life, the universe and everything is all about.
Real life, in the form of interruptions because of real events and real people, interrupted my normal pace of gulping down books. Real life is where the choices we make are to be found too. Priorities. Values. What is important. People. Consumerism. Sharing food. Sharing with people we don’t have much in common with. Sharing with our closest and most loved. Celebrating life and the wonders of creation and growth. Treading lightly on the earth so that all may share the celebrations. It is a never-ending work in this life to hold it together without too much cognitive dissonance, selling out of values, or ignoring of what other realities need our attention. It does help me to have Christian community (not all of it in a local church) and scholars to keep me aware. I would like to be, like the Buddha, “awake” to all my world while trying to be a Follower of the Way – which was the earliest name for Christians.
And this afternoon’s book is probably “Harry and the Dinosaurs have a Happy Birthday”.