I’ve been meaning to write that post… The one that’ll explain the reasons for my periodic absences from blogging, the one that poignantly describes my ongoing issues with depression without being depressing, the post that will (hopefully) encourage others struggling with the same thing.
But guess what?
It ain’t happening.
Some struggles aren’t blog-worthy. I think this is something we tend to forget in our Instagram-filtered lives, where even people having a tough go of it manage to smile and wave at the camera, perhaps with some witty/self-deprecating/snarky comment. I’m not there, though.
There are good days – treacherously good days. Days that remind you what it’s like to breathe, to exist, to take up space; days you forget to ponder your veins and the slow passage of time and the creep of life. But the bad days? The bad days swallow you whole, and sometimes there’s just no energy to ride it out, much less do something that requires spirit, effort, passion.
So when I’m here…hey, thanks for stopping by. When I’m not… It’s not laziness or apostasy or even busyness, it’s just a temporary inability to function as well as I want to. But like the good days, I’ll be back. It might just take a while.
Seeking a bit of a brain lull after another Jen Wilkin study, our Bible Study group decided to work through Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. It’s a forty-day journey through the five purposes of your life as a Christian, with a daily chapter to read and question to think about. Originally published in 2002, I picked up the ten-year “anniversary” edition of the book for this study. It’s basically the same as the original but with added QR codes linking to video teachings (to appeal to the youth I guess), two extra chapters and a fresh design.
I read the first week or two of The Purpose Driven Life back when I converted in 2010, 2011, and what little I can remember of the book (which I never finished) clashes a lot with my feelings towards it now. To a new Christian, the particular emphases of Warren’s Christianity ring with authority, but as someone who now has a few years of faith under her belt (and not a little dose of scepticism toward anyone who actively tries to be authoritative), it’s a very different experience. I spent the forty days of reading alternating between thoughtful nodding and irritated eye-rolling. Warren churns out a few gems among his more generic, slogan-y advice, but there’s a lot of Evangelical megachurch pastor-ness to sift through to get to them.
The thing that nagged most at me is how confident (and consequently, how narrow) Warren’s Christianity is. At first glance it appears practical and grounded in Scripture; but upon inspection, Warren’s teachings are hopelessly idealistic, ripe for misinterpretation and active exploitation, and his Scriptural pickings slim for their apparent profusion. His book is presented as definitive; but it’s only definitive of one particular view of Christianity: an Evangelical, American one structured around the worship of the institutional church.
This is not to say that it’s a totally worthless book, but it’s one to read with a jaundiced eye, and not really one I’d recommend for newbies.
So, what’s the verdict?
Title: A Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For? Author: Rick Warren Publisher: Zondervan (2012) Rating: 3/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.9/5) The best feature of the book: It’s concise and straightforward. The worst feature of the book: It’s presented as ecumenical but it isn’t really. It’s not a good book for those vulnerable to spiritual (or any other kind of) abuse. It’s often contradictory. It’s bossy. Trigger warnings: It’s very church-centric, very American, very male, very white. You’ll like this if… If you’re not big on religion as a mystery or if you’re looking for a straightforward, practical “how to” for Christian life (or rather, one way of Christian living).
Google having determined that I’d been a Twihard in my younger years (there’s just no escaping your sins, is there?), news that Stephenie Meyer would be adapting Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook for television showed up in my feed. I’m rarely ahead of the various book-to-screen adaptations being churned out these days, so I was quite pleased with myself that I could catch this one before the screen version inevitably sullied the book for me.
Amid a clutter of nonfiction books I’m not making any progress with, The Rook turned out to be an island of escapist relief. Set in modern-day London (and written without the vexing fervour of a native), the book sees its protagonist wake up an amnesiac at a murder scene. The amnesiac soon finds herself in the labyrinthine world of her previous self, Myfanwy Thomas, and her employment at Britain’s supernatural secret service, the Checquy. Tasked with finding out who stole her memories, Thomas must also learn to navigate the consequences of her previous self – all while dealing with various and sundry monsters.
So, what’s the verdict?
Title: The Rook Author: Daniel O’Malley (who I’m assuming is a pseudonym for Meyer herself) Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (2012) Rating: 3.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.12/5) The best feature of the book: It’s an interesting premise: a person figuring out the mystery of themselves in a very literal sense…with added ghouls and nasties. The worst feature of the book: Some of the background information (in the form of letters Thomas left to her amnesiac self [long story]) verge on the dull. And, frankly, the names. Good luck pronouncing either “Myfanwy” or “Checquy” as anything other than mind gibberish unless you’re Welsh or the author. Trigger warnings: General creepiness but nothing that’ll drive you to a Twitter boycott. Also, be prepared for the frankly fascinating possibilities presented by a being like Gestalt. That fan fiction back alley awaits my perusal, I’ll readily admit. You’ll like this if… You want YA fiction that’s not quite so young or if you’re a fan of speculative fiction.
Lord, as we wake up to a week fresh with disaster and rife with -isms of every kind, among so many people and it seems in all corners of the world, we take a moment, tune it out, have a sit down, take a deep breath and (hopefully) have a hot beverage. Lord knows we need this moment to remember that You indeed are in every moment to come this day, this week, this month, this year, and all others; that You’ve been with us thus far and that Your presence continues and persists, a light, a fountain of living water, a vine; that You have never abandoned us and never will.
We acknowledge that in this coming week there’ll be moments this moment of remembrance won’t feel enough. We’ll feel overwhelmed, frustrated, maybe even angry, probably even useless. We’ll forget what at the moment we’re thinking of it feels so unforgettable: You. Oh, Lord, have mercy! Have mercy on our stupid butts where they’re parked in our stupid chairs. Give us the mercy of remembering Your mercy, and grant us the ability to share this mercy with butts stupid like ourselves.
We thank You for another week in the history of our lives. By worldly standards this week may not amount to much, but we pray that every moment would be sufficient for Your work, Your will, and Your grace and that when all these moments have come and gone and we’re facing yet another week, we’ll have another moment like this one: a moment of remembering, and a memorial for the times we didn’t, and hope that we’ll do better this time round.
That you’d save our butts from the hot water of sin and temptation, self-interest and rage tweeting, from honking the horns of our motorcars abusively or saying bad things about our peers’ Facebook pages we pray, Lord, in Your holy name.
Let’s get something straight right off the bat: the Canaanite woman and her situation in Matthew 15 were never the issues; the disciples’ hearts were. In Matthew 15:10-20 Jesus taught them that, unlike the prevailing understanding at the time, being “clean” proceeded from one’s heart, not the religious leaders’ (often ridiculous) external “cleanliness” standards: “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles” (v18). I’m sure the disciples heard this and nodded their heads along thoughtfully (or self-righteously – looking at you, Peter), but when the theoretical met the practical, their continuing ignorance was betrayed.
In Matthew 15:21-28 we read about a Canaanite woman – female and Gentile, a double whammy in the Sucks To Be You In First Century Palestine Sweepstakes – who followed Jesus and his disciples, crying out for help. Not just any old help either, but help with a daughter afflicted with a demon. Perhaps sensing a teaching opportunity for the hapless band of apostles, Jesus ignored her cries. His disciples weren’t well pleased and asked him to dismiss her: this foreign, completely “other” person and her foreign and “other” problem.
The conversation that takes place between Jesus and this unnamed woman in v24-28 is fascinating. I’ve written before about my irritation with this particular passage; Jesus calling the Canaanite woman a racial epithet being a shitty thing to do under most circumstances. But I’ve since come to believe that he was saying what the disciples and probably even the woman herself expected him to: playing up to the self-righteous rabbi image. This image was apparently common enough that his frequent deviation from its model perplexed, offended and popularised him in turn, depending on the audience. In any case, like an actor – a hypocrite, something he was fond of accusing the religious leaders of – he recited some lines to affect his audience: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; it’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (v24, 26).
The woman surprised him with her ready answer: “Even the dogs eat the children’s crumbs that fall from the table” (v27). Isn’t it quite telling that she had such a ready answer and that it played so well into the first-century Jewish elitist sentiment we see so often in Jerusalem’s upper crust? There’s no record of the disciples’ reaction, but look, let’s be honest: they were probably shocked and offended, not being big fans of women breaking moulds and taking names.
Yet (I imagine) to their immense surprise, Jesus, going off-hypocrite-script, praised the Canaanite woman’s faith: “Woman, great is your faith!” This was a compliment Jesus reserved for a rare few. In praising her faith, Jesus also indirectly praised her resistance to the kind of “clean/unclean” mentality that stilted the disciples’ understanding of God. In daring to ask the (Jewish) man she called “Lord” to heal her daughter, she expressed greater faith than the Jewish men following Jesus. An outsider excelled over insiders, and intent triumphed over ritual religiosity. The Canaanite woman understood the parable she had never even heard.
That’s all fine and well, but how do we sermon this story? Preaching is sharing the good news – what’s the good news here? There are probably a few angles we could take. What “pits” (v14) are we falling into headlong because like the first-century disciples, we can’t make head or arse of faith versus works? We could ask who our personal, congregational or communal “Canaanite woman” is: someone crying out for Jesus, only to be chased off or shunned by us (Who do we think of when we think “impure”: prostitutes, criminals, people who are HIV+? Gay people, the poor, the marginalised? Supporters of opposing sports teams? You get the idea.) A specific question to ask would be what’s coming out of our hearts. What “defiles” us?
The central message, though, should be about the fact that neither Gentile nor Jew nor outsider or insider has to make due with “crumbs from the master’s table” (v27). Through our faith in Christ – an internal justification rather than an external reward – we each have full access to the bread of Christ’s body broken for us…and thus to his heart.