Easier to Take the Ocean

In his book The Jesus Prayer: A Cry for Mercy, a Path of Renewal, John Michael Talbot tells this story:

Bishop Augustine was preaching his series of homilies on the Trinity in the cathedral of Hippo. Between services he would walk to the seashore to meditate and rest his mind. He saw a boy on the shore digging a hole and then filling the hole with a bucket of seawater. He did this repeatedly. Finally Augustine walked over to the boy and asked, “Son, what are you doing?” The boy replied, “I am going to take that big ocean and put it in this little hole.” The wise and fatherly Augustine said kindly to the boy, “My son, the ocean is too big to place in that little hole.” The boy looked up at the bishop and said, “Easier for me to take that big ocean and put it in this little hole than for you to take the big Trinity and put it in your little mind, Bishop Augustine!” At that the boy disappeared. He was an angel sent by God to remind Augustine that sublime as his teaching might be, he could never fully understand or express the divine mysteries of the Trinity (or the incarnation, for that matter).

The words we utter about God should always be spoken with humility, for the reality is far greater than that which the human mind could ever comprehend or behold. And yet, on this night, Christian people proclaim that this God came in the form of a child, in the person of Jesus, and in and through him, delivered salvation to the world.

2019: My Year in Reading

I’ve been logging my books since 2010. Yep! The list can be found here. Scroll down far enough and you’ll see that in 2010, the first year I began keeping a list, I read The Hunger Games trilogy, After Virtue, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and more. Since I began keeping track I’ve read over 800 books. Public and university library systems have helped me along the way, as have used bookstores. Leaders are readers.

Please note: all links to Amazon are affiliate links. Clicks and purchases kickback to me. Support the blog and my reading habit. It is Christmas. You are freshly flush with Amazon credits. If a book in this post interests you and you plan to make a purchase, follow the hyperlink from this page.

How Many Books Did I Read This Year?

My goal this year was to read 65 books. That is exactly how many I read, finishing my 65th book, Holly Beer’s A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman just last night. This doesn’t count comics. I followed along with Detective Comics: BatmanGuardians of the GalaxyMiles Morales: Spider-ManX-MenThe Avengers, and a couple of short-run Wolverine series.

Here is the link to the list of books I read this year once again.

One of our kids really loves graphic novels, and both enjoy reading the comics on Sunday mornings. Molly and I had a conversation about this, particularly when one of our children highly preferred the graphic novel to chapter books. We concluded that reading is reading, and that so long as our children were enjoying the exercise, we’d encourage their interests, cheer them on, and then challenge them when we had opportunity. Graphic novels do tell stories, not only with words but with pictures, and as I’ve come to love art more and more, I want my kids to love it, too. Exposing them to the work of good illustrators is a step in the right direction.

I also kept up my habit of reading the local paper and logging the movies and television series I’ve watched. I read a portion of the Bible almost everyday. Among the movies I enjoyed: Once Upon a Time in the WestGet ShortyTrue Grit (2010, and one of my all-time faves), and the AC/DC: Live at Donington special.  The movie I hated most: The House with a Clock in Its Walls starring Eli Roth, Jack Black and Cate Blanchett. Horrible.

What Were My Favorite Books This Year?

The most important book, I read this year was Madison, Jay, and Hamilton’s The Federalist Papers, which I began reading in 2018 and finished early this spring. Following the 2016 election I wanted to read the ideas that went into the American founding for myself, not only so that I could have a better understanding of the American experiment, but so that I could measure how we were doing as a country. While I think that there are challenges before us, I think we are doing well–better than we’re led to believe. We need stronger leadership in the Congress, we need to cease viewing the Chief Executive as a messiah (Obama and Trump have both been lauded as saviors), and we need a stronger moral vision if we wish to preserve American ideals of liberty and freedom. But we’re not coming apart. Sensationalism sells papers, gets clicks, holds eyeballs. There are problems. But there is a whole heap of good here.

The best and most practical book on Christian spirituality I read was Ken Shigematsu’s God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God. This book is part of our course curriculum at Truett, and its basic premise is that the ancient wisdom of a “rule of life” has applicability for today. I recommend it. Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness and Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain were important reads for me (Oh, how I wish I could write about faith like Thomas Merton!), as was James Montgomery Boice’s Foundations of the Christian Faith.  I also read George Herbert’s poems and writings.

I read a few beautifully written novels by Toni Morrison following her death, a book by Kinky Friedman written around the time he ran for Governor of Texas, and a well reported account of the Brett Kavanaugh trial. I read a few books on financial management and a couple on marriage. But the best book I read this year was the first one I read: Andrew Delbanco’s The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War.

Did You Hate Anything?

Not really. The book I least enjoyed, but endured until the end, was Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape Our Future. Kelly’s vision for where we’re going, and how we’ll interface with technology, is not exciting to me. Not remotely.

What Are You Reading Right Now?

I’m reading an Advent devotional called Rejoice! by John Stott and Christopher Wright, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics I.1, Kimlyn Bender’s Reading Karl Barth for the Church, and Stephen Harrigan’s Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas.

I have a lot of books stacked near my desk, and I’ll probably have a few more new books to read after tomorrow. Among those I’m reading now, Harrigan’s tale of Texas has captured my heart most. I’m a Texan, and I love this place.

What Did I Learn from My Experience Reading This Year?

A few of the books I read this year were for courses, so I was reading alongside others, discussing what I found, and interrogating the material differently than I have when reading books alone in years past. In other words, being part of a reading community makes a difference.

I also learned that I continue to wish I had more time to spend with my books. I could’ve have done this in 2019 by watching fewer movies, I guess.

What are you reading, and what should I add to my list?

Satan’s Work

You see, I believe the Internet is the work of Satan.

– Kinky Friedman, Texas Hold’em: How I Was Born in a Manger, Died in the Saddle, and Came Back as a Horny Toad, 115

Kinky published these words, in this book, in 2005. He added, “If you require information on a certain subject, go to one of those places, I forget what you call them, with a lot of books inside and two lions out front. Pick a title, sit on the steps, and read between the lions.”

Sound backwards? Kinky knew you’d think so. “This may seem a little like a rather Neanderthal method of education, but at least you won’t be tempted to pretend to be someone you’re not and you won’t get carpal tunnel syndrome. In fact, the only things you’re liable to get are a little bit of knowledge and some pigeon droppings on your coat–which most people will tell you, and most computers won’t–means good luck.”

Twitter was founded on March 21, 2006.

Kinky also argued that “computers contribute to the homogenization of everyone’s brain. The technological revolution is not bringing us closer together–it’s merely making us more the same.”

That was prescient.

And I fully embrace the ironic fact that I’m relaying these thoughts via a computer, on the internet.

Kinky’s Texas-Style Decalogue

  1. Thou shalt hold no other state or country above Texas.
  2. Thou shalt worship the shape of the Lone Star State and thou shalt make everything in its image, from Texas-shaped pasta to Texas-shaped swimming pools.
  3. Thou shalt have no other sport but football and no other professional team but the Cowboys.
  4. Thou shalt own as many guns as thou dog hast fleas.
  5. Honor thy styling gel, for it shall bring you great big hair.
  6. Thou shalt say the word “Texas” as much as thee can, even when it is redundant to do so. For example, Austin should be said, “Austin, Texas,” even if thee standeth on the Capital steps beneath a sign that says, “Austin, Texas.” Fear not overuse of the word “Texas” for such a thing is not possible.
  7. Thou shalt keep Friday night sacred for that is when thy high school football team playest. Schedule not births, weddings, funerals, or baptisms on this holy day, for Friday nights are reserved to paint thy face in team colors and feast on roasted turkey legs during halftime.
  8. Honor thy dog, for he will be loyal unto thee even when the oil wells dry up and the last beer is consumed.
  9. Thou shalt consume no other carbonated beverage but Dr Pepper.
  10. Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s mud flaps.

– Kinky Friedman, “If the Ten Commandments were Written by a Texan…”, Texas Hold’em: How I Was Born in a Manger, Died in the Saddle, and Came Back as a Horny Toad, 119-120

I was doing fine until number ten. Then, I was toast.