Friday, July 07, 2017

The Benedict Option

by Rod Dreher

So the last few months the phrase "Benedict Option" kept popping up in various blog posts and podcasts I've been consuming. The impression I got was that "The Benedict Option" was a theory that, a) religious conservatives have lost the culture war in America, and b) they should stop trying looking for a political solution and instead just go to ground and nurture their faith in their families and communities. That intrigued me. I was reminded of Harlan Ellison's introduction to Stalking the Nightmare, where the protagonist hides out from an oppressive government and secretly tells stories to pass on his ideals to the next generation. It was a image that's stuck with me through the years, so I figured I'd get in line at the library and check it out to see what exactly Mr. Dreher had in mind.

He starts by laying out the problem: In the U.S., government has become secularly nihilist and the culture has turned against traditional Christians. As a whole, the church in the America is kind of clueless regarding how to respond. Many of us grew up with popular culture telling us we were the good guys. What do we do now that it's telling us the opposite?

Cue The Benedict Option. The Benedict Option is not some new, Purpose DrivenĀ® plan compete with its own merchandise. It's rather a way of life based on the Rule of St. Benedict, started 1500 years ago after the fall of Rome. Mr. Dreher recommends that Christians put their own house in order, to stop being driven by the dominant culture but instead building our lives around things like prayer, work, community, and hospitality. By infusing ourselves and our lives with such values, Christians can at the very least preserve the truly important things in our culture for ourselves and our future generations. Mr. Dreher then goes on to show how the Benedict Option plays out in the areas of politics, the church, the community, education, and our labor. He then calls the reader to "think radically different about the two most powerful forces shaping and driving modern life: sex and technology."

My response to The Benedict Option is mixed. I pretty much agree with Mr. Dreher's assessment of our modern culture and the need to be apart from it. When it comes to the details, some of the ideas he suggests, like homeschooling, I've done for years. Others, however, I have to question. For me, one of the biggest flaws of the book is its dedication to Western Culture. At one point, while speaking on education, he uses the phrase "the canonical Western texts". That raised a red flag for me. I want to live out and preserve Christian values, and I see those coming from the Bible, not some larger collection of Western literature. Certainly, Western Europe has produced many great teachers and theologians that are worth studying. But I wonder if one couldn't also build up a solid Christian community within some other cultural tradition. Would, say, a Confucian Christendom be any less valuable than the Greco-Roman Christendom of our heritage?

My other beef with the book, ironically, was that it didn't seem religious enough. Mr. Dreher speaks a lot about things people can do, things people should do, but not so much about what God is doing. I found chapter 3, where he speaks of the Benedictine Rule and the spirituality of the monastery Norcia, to be delightful and uplifting. But then in chapter 4, "A New Kind of Christian Politics", it's like he changed gears and is all about trying to regain some control in our communities. It's funny--at one point he says, "The deeper our roots in the past, the more secure our anchor against the swift currents of liquid modernity." It occurred to me that of all the stories in the Bible involving boats, I could only think of one that mentioned anchors. And in that tale, Acts chapter 27, they ended up cutting free of them.

I suppose in the end, I was expecting The Benedict Option to be words from a theological perspective but instead found words from a political one. Oh, well. I can't deny they are words worth reading and ideas worth wrestling with.

LibraryThing link

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Blue Shoes and Happiness

by Alexander McCall Smith

Another book in the series--number seven, to be specific. There are only a few cases in this volume. Mma Ramotswe looks into food theft, blackmail, and unspoken dread at the Mokolodi Game Reserve. The rest of the book is filled up with the relationship issues between various characters. All in all it makes for amusing waiting room material.

LibraryThing link

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Rise Up!

by Linda Katz

I'm afraid I'm incapable of not liking this book, a collection of anecdotes from a volunteer in a first grade classroom. First off, Ms. Linda, as the kids call her, is married to a friend of ours. Second, my daughter is a second grade teacher in a similar socio-economic community, so I am extremely sympathetic with grade school teachers and their young students. Third, the school is located in the quadrant of Seattle where I also live, so I feel quite neighborly towards the students and their families. Of course, there is also the fact that Ms. Linda writes well and has some heartwarming stories to share.

Rise Up! is set in Hawthorne Elementary School, located in one of Seattle's less prestigious zip codes. Ms. Linda describes her experiences as a classroom volunteer, introducing us to a lovely collection of young'uns. (The stories you're about to read are true, but details have been changed to protect the innocent.) She takes us on a journey throughout the school year, sharing in the joys, sorrows, and struggles of these little scholars. At the end, she vents a bit about what's wrong with the education system and offers ideas for improvement, all with an eye on helping our kids.

Check it out!
LibraryThing link

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Turn Coat

by Jim Butcher

In the world of The Dresden Files, Harry Dresden is not a popular fellow. At least among the wizarding community, that is. The White Council of Wizards seek to protect the world from dark magic--setting specific rules for magic's use. It strictly enforces those rules, enforced by the Wardens, threatening harsh penalties for those who would violate them. Harry, unfortunately, was orphaned and was originally mentored by a dark wizard. He narrowly missed being executed for his upbringing and although pardoned, has been held in suspicion ever since. A number of wardens watch him carefully, waiting to pounce the moment he screws up. Harry, of course, holds the strict enforcement of the laws in disdain and often dances on the line in his pursuit of true justice. And then one day, one of the veteran Wardens, Morgan, Harry's arch nemesis on the White Council, shows up asking for help. It seems he's been falsely accused of murdering one of the senior members of the Council...

My practice in reading The Dresden Files has been to pick up the next volume ever few months or so. Rather than getting a list and shopping for that novel, I've been snagging a copy at the used book store or at library sales. I usually consult whatever novel is on the shelf to find out the title of the book I want. As a result, I read the book jacket description for this one years ago. I've been looking forward to reading it. At first I was underwhelmed. Even the best series fall into formula after a few novels and Turn Coat was proving that. But as I got further into the book, I began to enjoy it more and more. As much as Harry Dresden is an outcast in his world, he has, over the series, accumulated a diverse group of friends and allies. It was enjoyable seeing some of these come together, one by one, to help out on the case. I don't know if Mr. Butcher has some overall message that he's trying to share in the series, but this spirit of "family" is definitely one of the core themes in the saga. Even in a mere sequel, it was enjoyable to see that played out.

Check it out!
LibraryThing link

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Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Who I Am

by Pete Townshend

My friend Dave introduced me to many concepts back in high school. One was the concept of going to the library and reading up on an entertainer or show that you enjoy. Another was the band The Who. So I dedicate this review of Pete Townshend's biography (which I, of course, borrowed from the library) to Dave.

Who I Am is the autobiography of Pete Townshend, guitarist and principal songwriter for The Who. It was enjoyable to read, as many such life stories are. What struck me most was not the quality of the book but the revelation of my preconceptions as I read it. My connection with Pete Townshend has always been his work with The Who. Even his solo albums, to me, were just a side interest--a hobby as opposed to his real calling. Of course, for Pete Townshend, the Who was just one part of his life and his career as an artist. His autobiography is filled with so many other things that he felt and experienced. So I got a bit of a mini "culture shock" as I read about his marriage, his writing, his musical interests and the breadth of his work. It removed the image of Pete Townshend the rock idol in my mind and replaced it with the image of Pete Townshend the human being.

Check it out!
LibraryThing link

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Beezus and Ramona

by Beverly Cleary

I don't review every book I read--some small tomes I'll just run through to kill time, or sate my curiosity, and then never give them a second thought. This was going to be one of those books, until I laughed out loud. What had happened was that I was killing time in my daughter's second grade classroom. (She's a teacher, by the way, not a student.) I noticed this book in the classroom library, and since I had fond memories of reading Ramona the Pest when I was a kid, I figured I'd read a bit of this instead of the book I had in my backpack. Anyway, Beezus and Ramona is about Beezus Quimby, a nine year old girl in 1950s Oregon, and the troubles she has with her four year old sister Ramona. At first I enjoyed reading a book written in the 1950s--a different world in many ways. Soon enough, my enjoyment was garnished with chuckles over Ramona's antics. She is the chaos bringer, the one who manages to see and act in the world in a way that is different from the average person and who is quite disconcerting to those, like Beezus, who expect a certain order to their lives. Anyway, a few chapters in I got to the laugh out loud joke--an incident which revealed to me that not only is Ms. Cleary able to write about crazy shenanigans, but she has a clever wit in her tool kit as well. So from that point, I knew that I wanted to finish reading the book (easily done) and tell you all to check it out.

LibraryThing link

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Friday, May 19, 2017

The Brothers Karamazov

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I've enjoyed many authors from the 19th Century. It's good to shift gears, to read at a different pace, and to experience a different world that those authors offer. Over the years, I've enjoyed authors from America, England and France. One thing I hadn't tackled, however, is any of the 19th Century authors from Russia. I'd heard that the classic Russian authors have a dense, dark style all their own and was slightly hesitant to just grab a volume and start reading. But eventually I put trepidation aside and decided to tackle some Dostoevsky.

I can't really say that I found The Brothers Karamazov to be dense. But I did get a sense that I missed a lot of content as I tried to tune my brain to the flow of the narrative. It's the tale of the three sons of Fyodor Karamazov, a cantankerous old man who managed to amass a tidy estate and raise a dysfunctional family. The book revolves around the brothers and their relationships with their father, each other, and their friends and neighbors. Like I said, I think I missed a lot that Mr. Dostoevsky was trying to say, but I found it an interesting tale. I especially like his musings on God and religion, which are woven throughout the narrative. I'll definitely have to check it out again in the future to see if a second reading would let me delve deeper.

LibraryThing link

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