The Taser's Edge


Book Haul!

That is, Birthday Haul! (Don’t feel the need to make yourself watch the entire awful thing):

For Bridge Day, the day which falls between Holly’s and my birthday, we headed to Chapel Hill for lunch and to hit a couple stores.  I rarely buy a book.  That is, they come by the many.

From the excellent The Bookshop (and thanks to my excellent Mom, who got me a gift certificate there)

  • The Angry Christian by Andrew LesterI’ve heard good things about this book for a long time, and one of my chaplain supervisors at Duke knew the author while living in Dallas
  • The Lord by Romano Guardini–Ratzinger/Benedict XVI likes Guardini a lot (Ratzinger’s Spirit of the Liturgy is titled in an homage to Guardini’s book of the same name), and this looked fantastic
  • Practicing Theology: Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life, edited by Miroslav Volf and Dorothy C. Bass–I’ve been looking for this book for several years, both because of everything, and because one of my favorite (now former) Duke profs, Tammy Williams, submitted a chapter
  • Zen and the Birds of Appetite by Thomas Merton–From late in Merton’s life, continuing inter-religious dialogues with the East

And from the excellent resale shop connected to an even better cause, Pennies for Change:

  • An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski–I’ve been interested in the book for a long time out of curiosity, then out of practical questions of the connections between preaching and performing, then because performance and Christian ethics is now a hot topic (including Stanislavski)
  • The Challenges of the Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex & Power by Richard J. FosterYou would think that I should read Celebration of Discipline first, but no
  • The Crosswicks Journal, Book 3: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle–I have yet to read much of her non-fiction
  • The Confusions of Young Törless by Robert Musil–from the back of the book, “Like his contemporary and rival Sigmund Freud, Robert Musil boldly explored the dark, irrational undercurrents beneath the calm surface of bourgeois life…”
  • Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain–Not normally my genre for reading, but a new movie version is out as an HBO series starring Kate Winslet and directed by Todd Haynes
  • The Myth of the Eternal Return, or, Cosmos and History by Mircea Eliade–Who’s not interested in the eternal return?
  • The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays by E.P. Thompson–Thompson’s most famous book is The Making of the English Working Class (not well-regarded by at least once Wesley historian at Duke), and his second may be this
  • Virgin Time: In Search of the Contemplative Life by Patricia Hampl–Interesting-looking book by a well-respected author?  Yes, please.


Tuesday Reading Roundup

1. I Married You by Walter Trobisch–Walter goes to Africa (yes, this is a true story) to give a series of marriage lectures at a church to which he has been invited.  Along the way he gets drawn into a number of different stories of local relationships, and then even has to deal with problems in his own marriage.  Decent.  Okay, I didn’t really finish it.

2. Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle–The fourth book in the Wrinkle in Time series, although it takes place third.  Definitely the weakest of the four, although I think I would have enjoyed it more had it not been connected to those other marvelous works.

3. Christians Among the Virtues by Stanley Hauerwas and Charles R. Pinches–At some point in this semester, I seem to have bought into the Hauerwas project.  Habituation as sanctification, etc.  It really was not a conscious thing at all.

4. Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics by Sam Wells–The final book for Hauerwas’ Virtue, Happiness, and the Life of Friendship course, as this is the final week of that class.  I think I’ll get through it, although I remember very little of the first couple chapters.



Tuesday Reading Roundup 12: Anything but School, Please Edition

1. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller–Finished it off.  Kind of like Superman finished off Batman in that brutal fight.  You’ll have to read it to believe it.  And you knew they would have to fight some time, so no whining about spoilers.  Bruce Wayne has gotten vengeful in his old age, and that just goes plumb against the American Way (at least when that vengeance is carried out by a masked vigilante).

2. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle–The series continues as Charles Wallace saves the world from nuclear annihilation by traveling through time (via unicorn, of course, which flies on the wind, which goes where it pleases), aided by Meg, married and pregnant, kything with him the whole way.  Such good imagination at work.  Favorite scene at this moment’s recollection: seeing a baby unicorn hatch and get its first taste of moonbeams.

3. Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle–Now the Murry twins, Sandy and Dennys, are thrown back into the time of Noah by an experiment they happen to walk into while searching for the Dutch cocoa in their mother’s lab.  Ever wondered what nephilim (see Gen. 6:1-4) were?  You are not alone, and Madeleine L’Engle has a better imagination than most of us.  Even as the wonderful imagery is still here, it seems like some of the writing is of lesser quality than the first three books.  (Although I would still be happy to claim authorship.  Well, authorship of at least some parts.)

4. Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue by Edwin H. Friedman–You know I am next-to-incapable of giving my energies to schoolwork if I can’t read this amazing and raveworthy book.  The most insightful teacher since fill-in-the-blank, and I am having to force myself through its pages.  It’s just not right.

5. On the Genealogy of Morals by Frederich Nietzsche–We only read a couple chapters for my Hauerwas class, but I think I might be in love.  Such a lively writer, and he doesn’t take himself so seriously that he can’t have fun.  (Refreshing, especially after Kant.)  My take-away: here is an atheist who really seems to understand the interior of Christianity and then reject it on its own terms.  I can respect that, truly.  While I admit I haven’t read the most recent crop of atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, et al.), I think they would have a hard time keeping up with Nietzsche.  His strength is that he takes Christianity seriously; from my admittedly little contact with videos of more recent atheists, they fail to do so, and so fail to move the conversation forward.  One more thing: no matter how badly misread or misused by the Nazi agenda, it is hard to read this philosopher on this side of the Third Reich (and the horrors of the 20th century in general) without at least wondering what part his ideas, and ideas like his, played.



Tuesday Reading Roundup 10: Madeleine L’Engle Edition

1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle–Already read it way back when.  Read it again, and it is fabulous.  Far better than Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass/His Dark Materials series.  I think I’m going to have some kids just so I can read it with/to them.  I have mixed feelings about the fact that it seems unfilmable (despite the existence of at least one cinematic attempt).  Disappointed, because more people would get to know L’Engle’s creation.  Kind of glad, though, because I can pretend it’s my little secret, despite the fact that it won the Newbery Medal, sold millions of copies, and is read in classrooms across America.  Also, check out this 3-d image of a 5-d tesseract (those of you in the know know):

2. A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle–So I’m hooked and also already read this one, too.  Three cheers for kything and farondalae!  But I have to wonder at the lack of tesseraction.

3. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle–Third in the series, it is in my sights this week.  For some reason, while the first two books are shelved in the children’s section at Durham Downtown Library, this one is in the Young Adult section.  I assume it must have frank, sexual discussion or a teenage angst-filled Charles Wallace.  (Holden Caulfield plus telepathy: a deadly cocktail.)  Maybe after I read all the Madeleine L’Engle that exists, I’ll return to Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain as well.

4. Great Lent by Alexander Schmemann–I think you’ve heard of it by now.  I couldn’t swear to having read a single page last week.

5. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank MillerIn my three years as a graduate student at Duke, I have only requested that Duke buy two books.  (You know Duke has some serious money, since this is an option, despite the fact that most books people want are at least available through Inter-Library Loan.)  And the two books are…<drum pum pum pum roll>…this one and Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore, the two comics most responsible for the Heath Ledger version of the Joker in The Dark Knight.  At least I know that a collections librarian is one person on this earth who has no room to judge me for my nerdiness.  Then there’s the fact that I only thought about requesting that Duke buy it after my friend Dave successfully requested that Duke buy the second half of the third season of Entourage (which, I will admit, is a darn good show by that point in its run).

6. Helping People Forgive by David W. Augsburger–Haven’t started it yet, but the title sounds descriptive.  The readings for Acolatse’s Marriage and Family class are amazing this week.  Christian healing and forgiveness, non-violent communication of anger, getting the local church to start talking/dealing with sexual abuse.  Terrific articles.

7. Random stuff from Kant, specifically his discussion of virtue.

Truly I’m back from Spring Break.  And truly I am checked out even more than ever.  Addicted to graphic novels, children’s novels, and computer games from my childhood.  My friend Samara told me today that we have 5 weeks of classes left.  Let’s see, on my schedule that makes…15 days of classes left.  Not going to help me stay involved.  I just need to divert my energy toward constructivity around the house instead of toward my ancient English civilization (which is now building railroads in 400AD, while destroying the Aztec and American civilizations simultaneously).

And then there’s my Application for Holy Orders.  It’s less fun than it sounds.



Spring Break Report

I. Projects and Procrastination

I’m never all that good with breaks.  In terms I’ve used to voice the problem to many people many times, “Without enough to do, my brain starts to eat itself.”  There is also a different problem going on inside me, and it is my particular brand of procrastination.  The more I need to do something, the more I don’t want to do it.  What’s worse, when I am encouraged or reminded to do that something which I need to do, I become all the more stubborn that I won’t do it.  (I wanted to use ‘recalcitrant’ just then, but ‘stubborn’ is easier to use in a sentence.)  I’ve woken up every day this week and not wanted to get out of bed for fear of messing up the day.  And each night, I’ve not wanted to go to bed, because that late in the day I can let myself off the hook for wasting time.  I’m telling you because I know it’s unhealthy, by the way.

This week, the project was writing a sermon for tomorrow morning.  It is done.  (I’m thinking about posting it tomorrow.)  It was mostly done yesterday, and I even started it on Monday.  That is not to say, however, that it didn’t stress me out.  The other project which would have been great to finish would have been my Application for Holy Orders for the AMiA, and also all the kind official letters to official people in the UMC, telling them what they already know, that I have left them.

II. Reading and Reading

Other business.  As I look over several recent posts, it seems like so much of what I write is about books.  To make it official, you should know that Holly invented a quiz for us both to take: “What is your favorite thing to do?”  Her answer: laughing.  My answer: reading.  The real question is therefore not why I write so much about reading, but why she writes so little about laughing.

And this break, I have indeed read.  Almost all graphic novels, a Christian leadership book, and then Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  That book is so amazing.  I think I read it when I was too young.  Or I might have claimed to have read it in imitation of my idolized older brother.  The same thing happened with The Lord of the Rings; I know I read at least the first couple of those, but I don’t remember anything at all that wasn’t also covered in the movie.  Among other things in which I aped Zack: asking Jesus into my heart at the kitchen table two weeks after Zack had done the same; reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; claiming as a toddler that I had somehow had the exact same dream as he had had the night before, a claim which mysteriously only came up after he had described his own dream to Mom.  The weird thing is that I actually remembered having that dream for myself for a long time, and only later realized that it was probably impossible, and that I had most likely given myself a fake memory.

To return to reading, I am very disappointed in Duke and the Durham Downtown Library that neither has the full Wrinkle in Time series, but I was able to request A Wind in the Door from one of the branches.  I am disappointed in Duke alone for failing to carry the 2008 sequel (and second volume) to one of the best books of 2006, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, but Durham Library is vindicated on this count, and the book is in my sweaty-with-anticipation grasp.  If I haven’t yet told you to read it (yes, Wen, this is the one I told you to read) and you fancy yourself an interesting and interested person, you must read at least the first volume by M.T. Anderson.  I don’t really believe in the concept of an instant classic, but that first volume is one.  Synopsis of volume 1: The beginnings of the Revolutionary War as told by an African slave who doesn’t realize he is an African slave because he is raised by Enlightenment Christian philosopher/scientists as an experiment to see if an African can receive a classical education as well as a European.

And, again following the path of my older brother, Zack (as well as my own interest in David Lynch, Kyle MacLachlan, and speculative/science fiction, and I don’t even know if he’s read these particular books), I also checked out Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Frank Herbert’s Dune.  As you can see, I don’t read much in the way of stuff that’s not well-known, (or at least that’s not well-known in its own particular circle).  But I do try to read widely.  My recent philosophy of reading has tried to give up on lifetime reading plans.  As long as my reading setting is stuck on “Voracious,” and as long as I continue to follow my random interests, I think I’ll probably be fine.