There’s no wrong way to be a lizard in the sun

 

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Image source.

 

I love November. It’s the summer month par excellence for me. Early mornings, days stretching to their apogee, their afternoons often swallowed up by thunderstorms and rain that beats the smell of ozone from the earth. November is full of the dance of some old thing we’ve mostly lost to the advent of 24-hour living. Novembers are simply magical.

November isn’t hugely productive as a rule. Combined with the mischievous wink of summer and sun and the approach of Christmas (tacky, seasonally inappropriate decorations seemed to go up at the stroke of midnight on the 31st of October) and the beckon of the schools closing for the year, November is about as circumspect as a toddler presented with a bowl of candy. It’s an odd time to be thinking about the Advent season and the new year, when so many things seem to be telling you to stop thinking, to turn your face to the sun and the season and to just breathe it all in.

I wonder whether God isn’t asking the same thing with prayer. Glancing through my prayer list, much of it is busywork: me trying to press my case or impose my will (masquerading as God’s will of course) or otherwise labouring at my idea of what a faithful life looks like. Sometimes that labour is necessary – if I didn’t go against my natural urges, how often would I get up early on a Sunday morning to go to church, for instance – but maybe like the month of November, sometimes prayer isn’t a job to do or an item to tick off or a solemn request to make, but a turning to the “sun” of God in our lives.

For the last few weeks, whenever I go outside it’s to a scatter of small lizards streaking in all directions, startled by my appearance. If basking in the sun were a religious practice, lizards out-holy us all. They go to the sun with nothing but the need to be warmed, and nothing but the expectation that they will be warmed. There’s no wrong way to be a lizard in the sun, other than not seeking the sun, of course. There’s no wrong way to seek God, other than not seeking him.

Work and necessity will play tug-o’-war with November for our heart. Even Advent will push its own agenda. But I think the month of November is itself a kind of prayer. All the while, whatever the season, God is there, trying to lure us from the shadows of tradition and busywork and our own limitations into the warm sun of his light, love, grace and mercy; back into relationship with him, friendship with him, communion with him.

Sometimes that communion is bread and wine in a church building. Sometimes it’s the rustle of Bible pages at the end of a long day. Sometimes it’s a hurried, muttered prayer in the mornings. But sometimes, other times, it’s a shady, grassy spot under a big tree with the wind whispering through the leaves.

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Book review: The President’s Keepers by Jacques Pauw

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It’s not often that an author can say the very agency they decry in their book helped rocket it past its initial print run of 20 000 copies. But that’s exactly what South Africa’s State Security Agency did when they served Jacques Pauw and his publishers with a cease and desist notice for sharing “sensitive information” about the state. Pauw’s book, launched at the start of November, was suddenly all anyone could talk about. The print copies quickly sold out at some of South Africa’s biggest booksellers, and the ebook version climbed to number 15 on Amazon’s international charts. A pirated pdf version of the book spread like wildfire across WhatsApp and other social media sites, ensuring that many South Africans previously uninterested in the book read it.

To his credit, Pauw’s book is absolutely worth all the fuss. Pauw is a retired journalist for whom the temptation of a story about the people keeping the hopelessly corrupt South African president Jacob Zuma in power proved too tempting. He chronicles the way Zuma and his henchmen gutted and crippled South African state organs, like the State Security Agency (SSA) and the South African Revenue Service (SARS). The extent of the rot is staggering, and the lengths to which Zuma and his cronies went to keep themselves paid and in power is astounding.

Despite its contents, the book was a pleasure to read. Pauw writes knowledgeably and knows how to keep his reader interested. The sheer amount of information the book conveys would have been off-putting in someone else’s hands, but Pauw handles it well. It’s a page-turner.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The President’s Keepers
Author: Jacques Pauw
Publisher: Tafelberg (2017).
Rating: 5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.67/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s a compelling, well-researched read.
The worst feature of the book: Some of Pauw’s “old guard” shines through at times.
Trigger warnings: Nothing that I’m aware of.
You’ll like this if… You like nonfiction or political exposes.

Book review: Questions of Life by Nicky Gumbel

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Chances are that if you’re of the Protestant persuasion you’ve come across Alpha. Alpha is a course refined by attorney turned pastor Nicky Gumbel as an introduction to the basics of Christian faith. It’s presented through weekly workshops structured around small groups, Bible study and video lectures.

I’ve never attended Alpha myself so when I got a chance to read Gumbel’s primer on it I thought why not? It’s a dense, inexpensive book, aimed at those already considering or involved in Christianity rather than trying to win over unbelievers. As far as introductions go it does a good job: it covers all the basics, though inevitably some people will take issue with its slightly charismatic slant. Gumbel’s train of thought is easy to follow and he refers back to Scripture often. The book is peppered with his own experiences as he went from atheist to believer, which lends it some credence.

Altogether it’s a solid book. What it lacks in depth it more than compensates for with practicality, and I suspect this has more to do with the book’s target audience than Gumbel’s writing ability or own depth of faith. It’s a great book to be able to give to seeking friends or family members, and one I’m more than a little sad I didn’t have access to myself when I first found Christ. This is not to say that it doesn’t offer something to people who’ve been Christians for a while. Gumbel was the first Christian who convinced me to give “speaking in tongues” a shot, so I really can say that taking a “refresher course” was beneficial for me and my faith.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Questions of Life
Author: Nicky Gumbel
Publisher: Kingsway Communication Ltd (1993).
Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.92/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s down to earth and practical.
The worst feature of the book: It’s a little dense at times.
Trigger warnings: None.
You’ll like this if… If you’re considering going to church, have questions about the Christian faith, if you’re a total newbie to the Christian faith or want to get in touch with your Christian roots.

Looking Lectionary: Proper 27A/Ordinary 32A/Pentecost +23

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A look at the narrative lectionary reading from a prophetic perspective.


Reading: Matthew 25:1-13

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ Matthew 25:9 NIV

“There may not be enough.” We usually read this parable as an indictment of the unprepared virgins. They had more than enough time; they knew the Bridegroom was on his way; and as they hurried off to buy more oil, we see a lack of resources wasn’t to blame for their situation, merely unpreparedness. But Jesus loved telling stories inside of stories, and I think we find a deeper, more complex message here than “just” “you know the day and the hour”. This parable isn’t just about the five unprepared maidens, but about the five “prepared” ones too.

In the months leading up to the 2016 US presidential election, I was “friended” to a popular prophetic account on Facebook. I’d say that 95% of the people on that page were pro-Trump, and one of the reasons they gave was that Trump would be God’s “trumpet” – that he’d herald the beginning of the end, bring on the glory of the Lord and the final judgment. Quite a few of these people seemed to understand that Trump would be a terrible president, but – to their way of thinking – that would only hark on the end of the world all the more quickly.

I’ve never understood this obsession Christians have with the end times. Some people are literally excited that Jesus is coming to judge and cast all unbelievers into fiery damnation. This has got to be the epitome of insider mentality. I mean, whose fault is it that so many people are unsaved? We love to lay all the blame at the door of unbelievers. “We brought enough oil,” we say. But would we still be so excited about the day and the hour if we admitted our culpability in the decline of the Christian religion? If we faced the fact that people leaving the faith or not wanting to join in the first place isn’t God’s fault, or their fault, but ours?

We’re such schmucks, Christians. You just have to cast an eye over the news to see the often viral evidence of our failings, not just as Christians, but as human beings. In the parable of the ten virgins, can we really say that the five “prepared” maidens acted in a Christ-like way? If our salvation is secured (and it is, when we believe); if we are new creations in Christ (which we are, whether it feels like it or not); if we are living in a state of grace, mercy and love (check, check and check) just what are we so afraid of losing if others, lost as we ourselves once were (and often still are) get to experience the saving grace that we do? Why so afraid, Christians?

I do believe that the day and hour will come. I don’t look forward to it, because – graced as I am – I know I’m guilty of others’ loss. But maybe if I’m more willing to share my most undeserved “oil” with others (by giving them the benefit of grace, for instance), on some day, at some moment, someone will share their undeserved “oil” with me in turn, and we can go into the Feast together.

Book review: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #5)

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Much like Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla feels like the wait at a train station between stops. The story reads like filler for the greater series arc; King pausing to recollect his characters and stop some gaps in a tale than in its writing spanned decades. And by this point you’re entangled enough that you indulge him the sandbox town of Calla Bryn Sturgis and its inhabitants and their secrets, because like Thunderclap darkens the Calla’s horizon, the ending of the series draws near…*

The story follows on the heels of Roland and his ka-tet’s confrontation with the wizard in the previous book. As a gunslinger of old, Roland’s aid is theoretically available to anyone who asks and is deemed worthy of assistance. The Calla, with their children being stolen every two decades or so and their husks sent back, ruined, reluctantly ask him for help, and Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake and Oy stay to render assistance in the only way they can: with their guns.

As far as filler goes, it’s not bad. Like I said, at this point you forgive King his dwelling on the town’s inhabitants and their idiosyncrasies. He covers a lot of important ground in a by-the-by sort of way, though, and fans of his will enjoy the return of a character from Salem’s Lot. But if you’re concerned mainly with finishing the series, Wolves of the Calla feels like an unnecessarily long phone call with a slightly delirious uncle: just cut to the chase already!

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Wolves of the Calla
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner (1991, 2003)
Rating: 3/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.17/5)
The best feature of the book: The Dark Tower series’ plot strings start to pull together more discernibly.
The worst feature of the book: It errs on the self-indulgent.
Trigger warnings: Kids with disabilities. A dash of misogyny. The usual, really.
You’ll like this if… If you’re committed to the series you’ll like it, but if you had to start the series with this book you’d likely never get beyond this book.


*Or so you think. You fool.