Friday, February 21, 2014

One Year, Five Books, New Insights

Last week while talking about Love Without Boundaries I referred to one individual pursuit that could cause any one of us to reflect on or re-think the truths we know.  Reading. I said:

“The people in this congregation consult their own consciences about the truths they’ve discovered. They hold their experiences up to the light of both reason and hope; looking to find those enduring values that make a life worth living. How many books do you think have been read, and pondered, by people in this congregation in this last year. Do you think it might be five books per person/per year? That mean that our 203 members might have read over 1,000 books. Some of those books will have been novels of note, some of them hastily consumed leisure reading. Some of them will have been books, either fiction or non-fiction, that caused the reader to pause and compare their perceived truths to those reflected in the written word.”

As I spoke, I could see vigorous nods from many areas of the congregation. So, I know other people have encountered authors who’ve challenged and inspired them. Looking back over the last twelve months I found five books worth sharing. 

Lee Hammond’s Big Book of Acrylic Painting made me see that I could learn new tricks when I was feeling very anxious about the tasks I’d set for myself on Sabbatical.

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code (Margalit Fox) tells the story of how the Linear B tablets were deciphered; and the role Alice Kober played in making that discovery with shoeboxes and slips of paper organized on her dining table. Reading this book reminded me that great accomplishments can have humble beginnings, and led me back into an awareness that women are often the unsung heroes toiling in those humble circumstances.

Hurt Machine (Reed Farrell Coleman) is philosophy woven into hard-boiled detective fiction. I entered the series late, so late that Moe Prager has been diagnosed with cancer.  Looking back on his diagnosis he offers this reflection:
“One thing I was proud of: I hadn't 't walked out of the doctor's office asking , Why me? I had since learned not to ask that one. You ask it once and you never stop asking it.  Besides, in a Godless universe, the answer starts fourteen billion years ago as a pinpoint in the void, and I didn't have that kind of time. None of us do. I actually preferred icy randomness to thinking of God as the universal hurt machine.”
No wonder I liked his character immediately, and continued meditating with him on the ways we each have a role in the ‘hurt machine.’

Generosity: An Enhancement (Richard Powers) asks what’s the source of happiness and what will people do to get it? Presenting an imaginary “happiness gene,” Powers encouraged me to reconsider what I believe about the role of happiness in my life.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Katherine Boo) led me into the world of the poorest people living in the shadow of Mumbai, a city of over 20 million people. This book was on my “read it because it’s good for you shelf”...for a long time. I could only imagine that it would be thoroughly depressing. There are hard truths here, but also impetus for an extended meditation on the role hope plays in human lives. 

That’s my list of five books from the past twelve months. What have you read? Have you had time to read five books in the last year? Has one or more of any of the books you’ve read tweaked your perspective, and given you an opportunity to question your perceptions of the world and your place in it? Why not post your own list of books worth sharing? 

Who knows where the truths we discover may lead?

                                                                                                                                                                            Robin Gray, Minister