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The Year Of Living Biblically June 8, 2012



I have a friend who, concerning the word “biblical,” has stated “Oh my gosh, I hate that word!”
She’s a very astute young woman.
It’s a word that’s tossed about, misused, and frankly has come to mean little more than saying “God is on my side.  You loose.”
If, however, the word has ever been used correctly, A. J. Jacobs has done so in his book “The Year Of Living Biblically.  One man’s humble quest to follow the Bible as literally as possible.”

Here’s a blurb from Mr. Jacob’s website:

“The Year of Living Biblically answers the question: What if a modern-day American followed every single rule in the Bible as literally as possible. Not just the famous rules – the Ten Commandments and Love Thy Neighbor (though certainly those). But the hundreds of oft-ignored ones: don’t wear clothes of mixed fibers. Grow your beard. Stone adulterers. A.J. Jacobs’ experiment is surprising, informative, timely and funny. It is both irreverent and reverent. It seeks to discover what’s good in the Bible and what is maybe not so relevant to 21st century life. And it will make you see the Good Book with new eyes.
Thou shalt not put it down.”

This book was recommended to me.  Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have read it.
Had I not, I would have missed out on an entertaining, fun, poignant, and quite strange journey.

Officially, Mr. Jacobs is Jewish.  He is, though, in his own words:
“Jewish like the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant.  Which is to say, not very.”

Having never been a very religious man, A.J. wanted to explore religion and the Bible for himself.
There are many things he discovered that were not surprising.
For example, the fact that no one, absolutely no one, follows all of the Bible literally.
Everyone “picks and chooses.”
He finds, as expected, that, passage to passage, there are many contradictions within the pages of scripture.
He also marvels at how “these ethically advanced rules and these bizarre decrees  [can] be found in the same book.”
“It’s not like the Bible has a section called ‘And Now for some Crazy Laws.'”

There were also some results the author did not expect.

He began to enjoy prayer:
“Prayer can be a sacred ritual. There is something transcendent, beyond the everyday.”

He became a more thankful person:
“I’m actually muttering to myself, ‘Thank you. . .thank you. . . thank you.’ It’s an odd way to live. But also kind of great and powerful. I’ve never before been so aware of the thousands of little good things, the thousands of things that go right every day.”

And he experienced a new-found power in forgiveness:
“There’s a beauty to forgiveness, especially forgiveness that goes beyond rationality. Unconditional love is an illogical notion, but such a great & powerful one.”

A.J. spends his biblical year going through the Bible front to back.  Thus, he doesn’t get to “New Testament living” until the last 3rd or last quarter of the book (month 9 in his year).  When he makes the transition he faces a question many still find confusing.  “Should I continue to follow all the rules of the Hebrew Bible?”
Unfortunately, he didn’t ask me. 😉

In this portion, he looks at many brands of Christianity (There are reportedly almost forty-THOUSAND  Christian denominations), including “The Pat Robertson-Jerry Falwell- style,” of conservative fundamentalists, and the “Red Letter Christians” who focus on social justice, poverty, and the environment.  Both camps use the Bible, “but they come out with radically different agendas.”

Through the old and the new, A.J. Jacobs’ year-long adventure is anything but dull.  He lets his beard grow (which his wife is not terribly fond of), he wears all white. He visits and consults all manner of bible-based religious groups from the Jewish cultures to the Amish to the Catholic and many many others.
One of the best parts is when he actually “stones” an adulterer.

This is a fun and very different type of memoir.
Where ever you are in your journey of life, I think you’ll find great pleasure in letting Mr. Jacobs share his journey with you.

– df

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

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Some Quotes:

– More and more, I feel it’s important to look at the Bible with an open heart.

– I’ve rarely said the word “Lord,” unless it’s followed by “of the Rings.”

– The problem with a lot of religion…is that people have interpreted the Gospel so much, we’ve started to believe the interpretations instead of what Jesus said.

– Your behavior shapes your beliefs. If you act like a good person, you eventually become a better person. I wasn’t allowed to gossip, so eventually I started to have fewer petty thoughts to gossip about. I had to help the less fortunate, so I started to become less self-absorbed. I am not Gandhi or Angelina Jolie, but I made some progress.

– Falwell’s version of Christianity bears practically no relation to Jesus’s message.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

– The whole bible is the working out of the relationship between God and man. God is not a dictator barking out orders and demanding silent obedience. Were it so, there would be no relationship at all. No real relationship goes just one way. There are always two active parties. We must have reverence and awe for God, and honor for the chain of tradition. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use new information to help us read the holy texts in new ways.

– Polygamy was, if not the norm, completely accepted. The Bible doesn’t forbid polygamy.

– It comes back to the old question: How can the Bible be so wise in some places and so barbaric in others? And why should we put any faith in a book that includes such brutality?
[This is where, due to an unhealthy view of scripture, many Christians say something stupid like “It’s all about balance.”  Sorry.  Wrong answer.  Some things just can’t be balanced.]

– My reading list grows exponentially. Every time I read a book, it’ll mention three other books I feel I have to read. It’s like a particularly relentless series of pop-up ads.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

– The flood is such a tragic story — the drowning of millions of people and animals — and how strange it is that it’s always made into cute kids’ toys.

– Dr. Ralph Blair is a hardcore Christian evangelical. Ralph Blair is gay. And out-of-the-closet gay.

– Who are we to say that the Bible contained all the wisdom? You can commit idolatry on the Bible itself.

– Ancient Israelites didn’t have the clearly formed concept of immortality of the soul, as we do now.

– There is no scandal in supposing that Jesus married and had children. It is very doubtful historically, but not troubling theologically.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

– There are thousands of fundamentalists who want to set up a biblical government. They are the American Taliban.

– Never blame a text from the Bible for your behavior. It’s irresponsible.

– The idea that we can work with God to evolve the Bible’s meaning — it’s a thrilling idea.

– I need something specific…Beauty is a general thing. It’s abstract. I need to see a rose. When I see that Jesus embraced lepers, that’s a reason for me to embrace those with AIDS. If He embraced Samaritans, that’s a reason for me to fight racism.

– The year showed me beyond a doubt that everyone practices cafeteria religion. It’s not just the moderates. Fundamentalists do it to. But the more important lesson was this: There’s nothing wrong with choosing. Cafeterias aren’t bad per se. The key is choosing the right dishes.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.




 

A Million Miles In A Thousand Years May 2, 2010

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My review of Donald Miller’s
“A Million Miles In A Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life”

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This is the 4th book I’ve read by Mr. Miller. I’ve learned from all of his books. I found his latest by far his best work since his huge best seller “Blue Like Jazz.”

This book was birthed out of his interaction with Steve Taylor and Ben Pierson, after they approached him about making a movie based on BLJ. Steve and Ben are in much of the book, but there are also many other stories and life experiences.

This book takes a look at what goes into a good story. It looks at what it takes to make an interesting movie. It looks at what it takes to write a interesting book. It looks at what it takes to live an interesting life. Don asks us to look at the story we are in. He asks if we’re living the best stories we can live. He shares many events that are a part of his life, all the while seeing what in those events makes his story, his life, worth sharing. Sharing in a way that will interest others.

Through this process, we’re given many great insights into life. Insights into how our story affects the stories of others. Insights into how our stories are just a small part of the greater story. Of how life isn’t just about “our” story. “I’m just one tree in a story about a forest.” At the same time, each tree matters.

I found this book a very easy read, especially compared to much of the kind of reading I enjoy. But, easy doesn’t mean superficial. It certainly doesn’t mean shallow. There is some deep stuff here. This book is one I recommend. I recommend it for fans of “Blue Like Jazz.” If you’ve never read that one, check it out first. But, this book is also for fans of good story. It’s for fans of learning a little more of what life is all about. And, of course, it’s for fans of Steve Taylor.

To buy the book, or read more about it, Click HERE.
Buy the KINDLE version. Click HERE.
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Some quotes from the book:

“Life has a peculiar feel when you look back on it that it does not have when you’re living it.”

“If you use this dishwashing liquid, people will want to have sex with you.”
(NOTE: You’ll have to read the book for the context.)

“We get robbed of the glory of live because we aren’t capable of remembering how we got here…
you could easily believe life isn’t that big of a deal, that life isn’t staggering…
I think life is staggering and we’re just used to it. We all are like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we’re given–it’s just another sunset, just another rainstorm…just another child being born, just another funeral.”

“But fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living boring lives.”

“She wondered why it mattered if Jesus hung on a cross and died. Since the world went crazy anyway…
‘See,’ she prayed, ‘you created us only to let us march around in our misery. You’re supposed to be good. What are you good for?'”

“You get a feeling when you look back on life that…all God really wants from us [is] to live inside a body he made and enjoy the story and bond with us through the experience.”

“Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller.”

“Life itself may be designed to change us, so that we evolve from one kind of person to another.
…humans are alive for the purpose of journey…
the point wasn’t the search but the transformation the search creates.
…we’re designed to live through something rather than to attain something, and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us.”

To buy the book, or read more about it, Click HERE.
Buy the KINDLE version. Click HERE.
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My review of “Searching For God Knows What.” June 30, 2009

This is the second Donald Miller book I’ve read, the first being “Blue Like Jazz.”  BLJ seemed more autobiographical.  Still, this work is, I think, every bit as good.  It is somewhat more dense, in that it seems to cover more theological ground per page.

This book is about the failure of formulas to properly explain or experience the Gospel of Jesus.  You won’t find a book or chapter of the Bible titled “The Four Spiritual Laws.”  You will not find the phrase “ask Jesus to come into your heart,” or “accept the Lord as your personal Savior.”  This approach to Christian spirituality is in line with what Bono calls “bumper sticker reductionism.”  I guess people like that sort of thing for the same reason many Christians prefer law to grace:  It’s easier.  Lists are easy.  Relationships are hard.

And that, in a reductionist sort of way, is, at least in part, what Donald addresses in this book.  Chapters cover such things as “A whole message to a whole human being,” “How to kill your neighbor (Lifeboat Theory),” “Morality,” “Religion,” and “Why William Shakespeare Was a Prophet.”  I really enjoyed his insights on the book of Job.

Mr. Miller believes that “Biblically, you are hard-pressed to find theological ideas divorced from their relational context.”  Jesus didn’t preach formulas.  He told stories.  He told lots of stories.  Not steps.  Not bullet points.  Stories.
We want to take three years of relational stories, (as well as human history) and boil it all down to 4 easy payments…
I mean steps.
It should be painfully obvious of the inability to do so.  But in case it isn’t, Donald Miller helps point that out.  He does so in his usual style.  A style which caused Blue Like Jazz to be rejected by publishers, until, of course, it started selling like hotcakes.  (Much the same story with “The Shack.”  Don’t these publisher types EVER learn?!?!  They must be very religious people.)

There is a chapter somewhere near the beginning, I forget which one, that seemed out of place.  It felt “phoned in.”  It was almost like someone else wrote it.  It was a bit hard to get through, and made me start to wonder if I would finish the book.  I’m glad I stuck it out, because the book did pick back up, and became a great read.

Anyway, I do highly recommend this book, but only AFTER you read Blue Like Jazz.

[You can read some excerpts on other posts on this blog, including the previous one about “Morality.”
You can order the book from the Life Walk Store link in the right column.]

 

 
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