Well, as I said, I am not a book reviewer, or even an avid reader. However, in preparation for the time when the lights, CD players, computers, and other electronic artifacts become superfluous luxury items for working stiffs such as myself, I have been putting my head in books more often, and getting more from them than I usually expected. I find myself purchasing books in twos and threes, sometimes just on the fly, a new phenom that is more remarkable than the way I used to buy CDs. I walk into a store now, and go out $50 poorer, barely even knowing what I walked out with! I flock to non fiction as a rule; stuff that fascinates me usually covers matters of our present world mess (9/11, peak oil, corporate funny business), cultural renewal, liberal and progressive looks at religion, humanities, and stuff.
One such book is one by a Franciscan priest and genuinely amazing Christian human being named Brennan Manning. The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus is one of the books I just got and have been digging into it with glee. In defiance to all the discriminatory and egotistical bullshit that seems to be eminating from so-called Christian circles today (Pat Robertson makes me wish for some decidedly UN-Xtian things, you know), TRTOJ just strips all that shit away and deals with the core message that seems too easily forgotten: Jesus was here to tell us we are loved, and no matter what, that won't change, and most importantly, that we are all welcome to the table. All we have to do is accept that we are welcome and worthy, and to live accordingly, in thanks for the gift. Forget the system of merit. We are granted a gift. Period. A gift that only needs to be honored by living in thankfulness.
Gandhi spoke for a lot of us when he commented, 'I like your Christ but I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.' And so we have had that image. And, for people like me who would like to see that observation lose its validity (I won't challenge the man, he was right in a lot of cases, and would be equally so right now), we need all we can get to remind us of what really is at the heart of the faith. The sad fact of the matter is that Xtianity early on got warped. Jesus wasn't out to make people worship him as much as he was out to model the ultimate in complete human living. So the church, as it institutionalized, became more about Jesus worship, damn the business of doing all the nice things he did for people. It explains well enough our current gross misunderstanding and misappropriation of Christianity.
Manning himself seems to be the real article. His bio blurb at the end of the book says he's done some hard missionary work in different parts of the world, living among the poor and destitute. He even volunteered (!) to be a prison inmate in a Swiss jail, this scheme only known to the staff. I got the idea that the man maybe had spent his life being a real disciple, so his words really just resonated with me, especially when I read a few chapters aloud to my wife, who herself is a seminary student and is immersed in all sorts of theological literature and history now. She gave it a wild thumbs up for just cutting to the core of what it's all about. I found myself overwhelmed at a lot of it. Sometimes a ray of light shines into our jail cells we call life, you know?
For a guy like me who is keen on peak oil as a reality, it's hard to not get drawn into all the crookedness and outright evil that has a stranglehold on things in the geopolitical realm, or just the sheer enormity of the peak oil issue. I am often depressed about it, so I rely on messages like this book has in it to just remind me that maybe the complicated life is not all its cracked up to be. It helps ease me into understanding that maybe collapse is necessary and possibly desirable.
Tonight I transcribed a sermon from church that was given three years ago on thankgiving weekend. I didn't need to do it; I just did it because I needed that kind of stuff in my head. In the case of this sermon and the Manning book, I needed to know it was alright to be poor. I needed to hear that even in Auschwitz, prisoners could still be thankful for a crust of bread and community. Or that in parts of Latin America, the destitute can still have thanksgiving celebrations that stand in defiance of oppression and hatred, fear and poverty. What can drive a person to be thankful in the face of all this? Well, grace. Being thankful for anything we have I guess can lessen the sting of losing or not having something at all. We thank because we are all given a gift. Either we can be arrogant about it and run off with it, or we can reflect and acknowledge. In the age of peak oil and decline, with fortunes on the wane, populations in decline, and what promises to be a likely "four horsemen" scenario for the civilized western world, a lot of hearts are going to be broken. Will we remember that we still have life, and will we celebrate it? Or are we dead as soon as the market crashes, and the cars stop running?
I've been allowing myself to separate from certain values commonly held by my generation, or letting older ones creep into my life. Kelli and I say grace at meals (more and more—we still forget too often), I actually take Sundays off work (to the irritation of my company). I eschew TV, video games, and a lot of other things so I can be more dedicated to things that are just more important to me. I know I try not to take things for granted as much as before. I still drive an 11 year old truck that I have not washed in over a year. I curse having to buy new tires for it, given that they might do little good for me but to keep me safe for another rainy season. There are a lot of things that I want to get out of the habit of doing, partly because I anticipate that these habits will HAVE to be broken, but also because when one stops to think of what is really important, a lot of things we do every day just don't seem to matter any more.
I find materialism frustrating as hell now. I am bracing for possibly having to lose most of my material possessions either to sale abandonment, or theft. All my precious music gear sits in a room at my dad's house, unused for over two months there alone, and another month or so before I moved. I am contemplating selling it all, but it's a gut wrenching decision. But then I feel bad that I should be so attached to such things, given the enormity of life today. I find myself buying tools instead of music gear. Books instead of CDs. Clothing instead of gasoline. Broccoli instead of cookies.
I find myself appreciating clear speech instead of sarcasm and faux irony. I find the company of my wife to be far more satisfying than anything I commonly do. I prefer darkness in the house. I find my time at work spent thinking of how much I hate it, and how much I wish I could run off and check out of society for a few weeks at a time and do some things that would better prepare me for a post carbon life. Others want to go to Vegas, Hawaii, or the desert to race ATVs. I want to go to learn how to live without oil or easy transportation, or just to be outside of life for a bit so I can find myself again. I read about Manning's time doing hard labor in poor nations, and find myself inadequate but interested. I reason that I shouldn't go off and do that now because soon enough my own nation will be living out of garbage pits, and maybe I could just prepare for that and not bother to learn a new language. The crisis will come to me soon enough. Manning says that poverty is not so bad. Being willfully poor is easier than having it heaped upon oneself. It's sort of a turning-the-other-cheek thing. Or giving thanks for a crust of bread in the concentration camp. It is meant to diffuse the oppression and indignity of it all. It's a notion of mastery on one's own terms.
You may not be a subscriber to the peak oil and global energy crisis school of thought, but if the world has you down and you are hip to what Christianity is supposed to be about, check out this book. It's $13 well spent, as far as I care.