Book Review: “Let Us Keep The Feast: living the Church year at home (Holy Week & Easter)”

Doulos Resources recently released a series of short books outlining seasons of the Christian liturgical year. Guides for Advent & Christmas and Lent & Epiphany are currently available for purchase, and future editions will be released later this year. I just finished Holy Week & Easter, which is available for pre-order.

Let Us Keep The Feast: living the Church Year at home (Holy Week & Easter) postures itself as a beginner’s guide to the (Western) liturgical year and traditions surrounding these seasons. Starting with a general introduction by editor Jessica Snell, the book is divided into two main chapters: “Holy Week” (written by Jennifer Snell) and “Easter” (written by Lindsay Marshall). In addition to outlining historical and global traditions as well as ways to involve children and community members in the season, the authors include Resources sections at the end of each chapter, listing various readings, music, and prayers related to Holy Week and Easter. These lists are a lovely taste of how these seasons have been celebrated over time, functioning both as a sort of educational survey of seasonal expression and as a suggestion for materials that can supplement the celebration of Holy Week and Easter in one’s church.

The authors highlight some important truths about Holy Week and Easter, as well as Christian tradition in general. Jennifer Snell, in her chapter on Holy Week, speaks of the need to slow our busy schedules in order to fully experience these seasons. In her introduction, Jessica Snell says that “Christians developed seasonal devotional practices that helped remind God’s people of God’s mercies,” affirming the importance of being mindful of these seasons’ significance to the Christian history and faith and how traditions and rituals aid such mindfulness. The authors rightly emphasize active participation in liturgical seasons, particularly within the context of one’s church. Jennifer Snell says it well in the quotation that sticks with me most: “No private devotion can substitute for the corporate journey to Easter in the company of your church.” Easter is more than a single Sunday service in the year; it is, as the authors continually point out, a season that is the focal point of the Church year, just as Christ’s resurrection is the focal point of the Christian faith.

I am by no means an expert on church history and tradition, but based on some research into topics I was less familiar with (and after running a few things by my seminarian husband), the book’s historicity seems to generally hold up (but again, I can’t make any truly authoritative statements in this regard). For other non-experts like myself, the book seems to be a good starting point for learning about various aspects of Western Christian tradition and a potentially good jumping-off point into conducting further research, if readers should desire to do so. The book’s success in this regard could have been even greater if the authors had included more citations of church history texts. It’s possible the authors (understandably) wanted to avoid an overly academic tone, but more prolific historical citations would have enhanced the authors’ credibility and provided additional historical resources for readers to explore. The Bibliography does include some historical works, but most are only directly referenced once or twice; even including a more comprehensive list of historical “Works Consulted,” or something similar, would have bolstered the book in this area.

I came away from the book feeling that the authors should have more clearly stated (even in the form of merely one or two sentences) that their focus is on Western Christian traditions and practices; while some Eastern church practices are mentioned briefly, the book primarily presents Holy Week, Easter, and the cycles of the church year through the lens of Western Christianity (that is, Roman Catholicism and denominations derived from it, such as Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and Presbyterianism). This is implicit in the text, which, as one example, often references the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, but readers who are unfamiliar with church history or any sort of liturgical tradition may not make that inference.

Unfortunately, the book contains some typographical errors; nothing egregious, but enough to be noticeable. For example, the title of a book cited, The Origins of the Liturgical Year by Thomas J. Talley, is printed correctly on the Bibliography page but incorrectly when referenced in the text itself. Even the name of the book, as printed on the cover, does not match the book’s name as printed on the title page or front matter page: on the cover, it’s “living the Church Year at home,” while on the other pages it’s “celebrating the Church Year at home.”

Beyond these critiques, the book offers important insight into the history of celebrating the seasons of Holy Week and Easter, and it also provides inspiration for how and why Christians of all backgrounds should work to internalize and cultivate in their daily lives an active participation in the liturgical seasons.

Loving Your Enemies in Ender’s Game

Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. How can we love them if we don’t understand them, if we don’t take the time to know them? In the novel Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Ender Wiggin unintentionally learns the best way to love one’s enemies, and he never forgets it. Though just a child deprived of a family’s love and friendship, Ender does what most adults can never do – he loves those that society tells him he’s supposed to hate.

Ender’s Game takes place in a distant future, when our world had been almost destroyed in two invasions by an alien race called the buggers. In the second invasion, the humans were able to force the buggers to retreat, though at great cost. They’ve had peace for about 70 years now but have been expecting another attack from the buggers. In preparation for this third invasion, the leaders of different countries created the International Fleet – an army that trains children to fight battles in zero gravity on a spaceship. All children on Earth are closely monitored to see if they are eligible for this Battle School. At age six, Ender, the youngest of three young geniuses, is chosen to leave his family and train to save his world, and the book details his life through training to the end of the war.

Ender always looks at life by thinking three steps ahead, even at age six. His brilliance flourishes in the Battle School, and he quickly advances, accomplishing many feats that children twice his age can’t do. This, of course, causes the other children to be jealous and Ender to feel isolated. The adults in command of the school keep Ender busy with training and mock battles, manipulating and controlling his life so that he has no close friends. They don’t want anything to distract him from his training, not even love, because he is their last hope to destroy the buggers. With the fate of the world on his little shoulders, Ender becomes the best commander the adults have ever seen – a quick thinker, a strategist, a hard worker, and, what they wanted most, a killer.

Ender, however, hates himself for this trait. He is terrified of becoming just like his brilliant but cruel older brother, Peter, who tormented him before Ender left for Battle School. He tries to be compassionate, but what he doesn’t realize is that this is exactly what sets him apart from Peter. Ender doesn’t want to hurt people. Several boys bully him at different points in the novel, but because Ender knows how the other boys think and what is motivating them, Ender defeats the bullies, strategically and systematically. Afterwards, though, he always feels guilty. Ender defeats his enemies because otherwise his enemies would have hurt or killed him; but at the moment that Ender defeats them, he loves them. He feels compassion for them. He understands how to love his enemies and doesn’t want to destroy them. He tells his sister, Valentine:

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them…I destroy them” (page 238).

Ender’s greatest quality, the thing that makes him different from all the other children, is not his ability to wipe out his enemy completely but his ability to learn about and understand people, even his enemies. He’s the only one who takes the time to understand them, to know their past and the reasons for their actions. And it’s only when he understands his enemies that he loves them and wants to live at peace. There are two ways to destroy an enemy. One is to defeat through harm. The other way is by turning him into a friend. Ender does not want to destroy his enemies; he would rather befriend them and love them.

Not only does Ender love his human enemies, but he even learns to love the alien enemies, those who almost destroyed his world. Though not instructed to by any adults, Ender spends hours and hours trying to understand the buggers, how they think, why they attacked Earth, and how they live. When he does finally understand them, he doesn’t want to destroy them; he wants to live in peace with them. The adults want him to defeat the buggers and completely wipe them out, but Ender wants to forgive them and be friends. The one person who is able to defeat the buggers is the only human who loves the buggers. I don’t know what the movie version of Ender’s Game teaches, but if there’s one thing you learn from the book, though there is much to learn from it, I hope you learn how to better love those you’re “supposed” to hate.

Review of “Buyer Beware,” by Janet Parshall

Buyer Beware: Finding Truth in the Marketplace of Ideas was not the book I thought it was going to be. I don’t know what, exactly, I thought it was going to be: I just know that I had not expected the Introduction as well as the first several pages of the book proper to be dedicated to John Bunyan and his book The Pilgrim’s Progress, and the surprises continued from that point on. My experience with this book was a mishmash of positive and negative, and so I suppose my review will be the same. Continue reading Review of “Buyer Beware,” by Janet Parshall

The Luke 10 Manual by Steve and Marylin Hill: Additional Thoughts

This is part two of my engagement with The Luke 10 Manual by Steve and Marylin Hill. In this post, I will summarize the conclusions that I presently hold after thinking more about the book. The danger of reading any single book is that you will mistake it for the final word in a conversation composed of books. To save yourself from imbalanced reading, you condemn yourself to a life of reading — but I digress. I want to deal with this in five questions. Unfortunately, to keep this post to a readable length, I will have to make a variety of wild and unproven assertions. The only thing I really insist upon right now is the conclusion. Enjoy. Continue reading The Luke 10 Manual by Steve and Marylin Hill: Additional Thoughts

The Virtues of Capitalism – Book Review

As a quick primer, The Virtues of Capitalism: The Moral Case for Free Markets by Scott Rae and Austin Hill does an excellent job of hitting the talking points and fleshing out some of the back-story of the world’s most powerful economic system.  However, this book only offers a thin analysis of capitalism’s most profound moral and philosophical underpinnings.

Continue reading The Virtues of Capitalism – Book Review

Review: Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point is a studied explanation of “how little things can make a big difference.” Gladwell combines whimsy with scholarship and story with study to create a powerful page-turner that will leave the reader full, but wanting more. Perhaps the most compelling feature of this book is its ability to draw readers in and naturally connect with the ideas and arguments contained in its all too brief 280 pages.

Gladwell opens his book with a brief case study of Hush Puppies, the beloved shoe company that ruled the American scene for several years in the mid 90’s. He introduces his readers to what he deems “the tipping point,” the point where a culmination of factors ignites the sudden and rapid spread of ideas or trends. In addition to helping his readers understand tipping points, Gladwell also examines the rapid growth process that follows tipping points.

So why do tipping points and growth processes matter? Gladwell hooks his readers with this pithy summary of his project: “The Tipping Point is the biography of an idea, and the idea is very simple. It is that the best way to understand the emergence of fashion trends, the ebb and flow of crime waves… or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.”

Gladwell challenges readers to understand that the epidemic growth of products, trends, or ideas is the result of three key factors: The Law of the Few, 2) The Stickiness Factor, and 3) the Power of Context.

The Law of the Few states that three kinds of people are critical to generating social epidemics: “salespeople,” individuals who woo people into buying ideas, trends, etc; “connectors,” individuals with vast social networks able to make valuable connections across networks; and “mavens,” individuals who enjoy research and have deep knowledge about their areas of study.

The Stickiness Factor states that messages must be memorable; in fact they must be so memorable that they must inspire people to action. The point may sound obvious, but Gladwell believes that typical marketing solutions for stickiness, are not practical for people with small budgets. A small company, for example, may not be equipped to follow the maxim that messages must be repeated six or more times. He helps these organizations by offering case studies which present creative ideas for making messages sticky.

Finally, the Power of Context states that “epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.” Like the Stickiness Factor, the Power of Context may seem obvious; after all, big business has been doing market research for years and any successful communicator can give you a demographic profile of their target market. However, Gladwell’s point extends beyond “know thy customer”; Gladwell desires his readers to understand that people are “exquisitely sensitive” to changes in context and that the “kinds of contextual changes that are capable of tipping an epidemic are very different than we might ordinarily suspect.”

Critics of Tipping Point believe that Gladwell goes too far in comparing social epidemics to the spread of viruses and they accuse him of dressing up common sense with science. Alan Wolfe wrote, “Gladwell’s rules of epidemic behavior are common sense dressed up as science. We do not need to know about how a virus spreads to know that networking is important, that good salesmen move products or that most ad campaigns fail.” Writing for The Nation in her missive against Gladwell, Maureen Tkacik believes that, “What made The Tipping Point remarkable was not the diagrams or axioms or anything it includes but rather what it left out: that is, any discussion of the real risks of business at a moment when its sexiest sector, technology, was increasingly uncertain about how it was going to survive once it had burned through its remaining seed money.” Tkacik believes Gladwell to be little more than a clever speaker whose obvious ideas sell themselves similarly to self-fulfilling prophecies.

Readers who read Gladwell and think that he is saying nothing new have missed insight for marketing in the internet age. Most striking about Gladwell’s Tipping Point is the idea that social epidemics are collaborative efforts that occur largely outside the control of the people or companies originating the idea or product. A friend who manages digital media for a major broadcasting company shared that his team’s work has very little to do with causing social epidemics. Instead, he and his team try to fuel social epidemics with content as they are exploding; they are operating collaboratively with the market. For any individual or organization operating under an “old media” mentality where marketing philosophies revolve around the premise that brands and messages can be managed, this new way of doing marketing is deadly.

Tipping Point is worth reading because it makes sense of the seemingly irrational. Explosive social epidemics occur for a reason; simultaneously, to ignite a social epidemic requires a faith in human nature that is not often shared by designers of large, bureaucratic systems. Consider, for example, current efforts to motivate “green” living and prevent climate change. Global Warming believers should desire nothing less than a global, social epidemic of green living. Instead of listening to Gladwell and understanding that such change is possible if it makes sense to specific people in a specific context when framed in a specific way that Gladwell identifies, global warming believers attempt to force people into compliance through legislation and highly controversial treaties.

But we the people are rational; each of us knows what it takes to get us to subscribe to an idea or product. Each of us knows a maven, a connector, and a salesperson and we know how they influence us to subscribe to ideas or products. Each of us knows how acutely aware of our own “context” we are and how our context often sets both our understanding of the world and our personal priorities. Finally, each of us knows what makes a thing “stick,” and often times it is not the sort of method taught in marketing textbooks.

That’s the power of Gladwell’s Tipping Point; it provides real clarity for those with eyes to see. ‘

A Million Miles…To Where?

If Donald Miller does something well, it is the provocative marketing of storytelling. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years displays Miller’s roundabout style of making insights by emphasizing the power of personal narratives.  Both punchy and meandering, the book demonstrates that which it demands of the reader: the cultivation of a life that tells a story. Using basic narrative theory as an organizational structure, Miller recounts his own journey from a near-fatalism/nihilism to a place of understanding life’s meaning; he establishes a foundation of meaning in the human capacity to make stories, to bring forth, in some small way, something where there was previously nothing.

There is nothing new in Miller’s opinions about story-telling, nor in his application of storytelling techniques to make sense of life. What makes A Million Miles so popular is Miller’s sexy use of language. His brilliance is in his ability to talk about an idea in a way that makes us say, “Huh, why had I never thought of it like that before?” When we really sit and think about it, Miller’s ideas are rudimentary. Anyone who has allowed an adventure, a romance, or a story to actively change their lives has practiced Miller’s program. A Million Miles is successful because it employs a personal story, essentially an extended anecdote, to prescribe what we are already practicing on some level. Far from undermining the merits of the book, the ability speak plainly is a difficult task, and Miller’s capacity for straight-talk is a credit to him as a writer. His straitght-forward prose provokes us, in an accessible manner, to focus on parts of our own life-story that sometimes get relegated to our peripheral vision.

Yet not all is well in Miller-Land. Despite the auspices of being a personal narrative, Miller’s observations take on wider implications as they indict the everyday Christian’s lifestyle by diagnosing boredom as a prime cause of unhappiness. Given the wild popularity of Miller’s book, I suppose there is some truth to his claims. The danger, however, is in the romance of extremism that seeps from the pages. Miller appeals to a benevolent escapism, a type of leaving behind your boring, typical life. Some things should be left behind, but in Miller’s narrative we find a character who bounces back and forth between extremes in attempts to find himself. The actual finding of himself (which comes very late into the book) is surprisingly peripheral; rather, it is in the process of finding himself that Miller locates meaning.  Miller even makes a point of saying that the beginning and the end of a story are not nearly as important as the middle, the phase of transformation. This is the root of his romance of extremism: Miller employs disproportional fluctuation to escape unfulfillment. In narrative, resolution is about synthesizing extremes, so it is unclear how a person in such a state of flux can avoid merely jumping back and forth between them.

Herein lays the danger of A Million Miles: It is an incomplete version of Catcher in the Rye with a Christian veneer on it, wielding narrative tools to get people to change their lives. Miller exhorts us to move from boredom to excitement, but the lack of a comprehensive idea of what either of these terms means opens the door for even more dissatisfaction, as people bounce back and forth between abstractions.  Let’s be very clear: the process of transformation described in Miller’s book is not a bad thing. Story depends on it. Our growth as human beings depends in part on the changes that occur in our lives. Miller’s book becomes dangerous where it favors flux over resolution. It borders on being change for its own sake, which is an open door to the destabilization of personal identity. In short, Miller’s prescription risks a side-effect that may be worse than the original condition: one may go from being unfulfilled to being personally unrecognizable.

Miller’s book functions in its ability to reveal a latent beauty in our lives. Even so, everyday Christians should take caution against readily adding Miller’s method to their own life stories. Although there is a sort of sexiness to those ideas which are edgy, forthcoming, or in the common parlance, authentic, there is a perilous instability to these ideas. This does not mean that Miller’s book should not be read, only that it must be read with a careful eye for subtle messages and the maturity to entertain these ideas without immediately applying them.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years exhorts us to a life of simple beauty, and a quiet peril.

Classics for the Contemporary Christian: Freud’s Non-Libidinal Rub

What do you want, purpose or happiness?

If you don’t think the two pursuits are exclusive, take it up with Freud, who says as much in his treatise Civilization and its Discontents.

“The idea of life having a purpose stands and falls with the religious system,” he said. “We will therefore turn to the less ambitious question of what men themselves show…to be the purpose and intention of their lives…happiness.” Freud asserts that religion’s goal of objective purpose is an illusion; reality demonstrates that everyone pursues happiness.

[Religion] is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life. It is still more humiliating to discover how a large number of people living today, who cannot but see that this religion is not tenable, nevertheless try to defend it piece by piece in a series of pitiful rearguard actions.

This is Freud’s first critique of religion, leading into the next: religion is not only wrong, it imposes ‘wrongness’ on everyone else.

Freud thinks there is not a universal route to happiness (i.e. pleasure). The paths are subjective, and they are all legitimate. For example, concerning sex, homosexually or heterosexuality are valued equally: if it brings pleasure, it is legitimately pursued. Even aggression towards others, such as the desire to murder, is not ‘wrong’. Civilization, for its own sustainability, has to suppress these instincts.

However, only instincts that threaten civilization should be suppressed–the ‘harmless’ ones like incest or polygamy, Freud says, are suppressed only because of religious imposition.

Examining moral standards, such as ones against heterosexuality, promiscuity or incest, Freud tasted ‘arbitrary!’ in his mouth. Still, Freud never claims that these arbitrary religious rules, in their pursuit of purpose, directly contradict pursuing happiness. Religion “spar[es] many people an individual neurosis” and, in that, could possibly bring an individual some level of happiness.

He doubts it will last long: if a believer is ever slapped awake from religion’s “mass-delusion,” he will see that “all that is left to him as a last possible consolation and source of pleasure in his suffering is an unconditional submission.” In other words, a splash of cold water, and the faithful will collapse into a nihilism.

Freud’s charge against religion is not that it does not bring happiness—he can no more say that to believers than believers can say that to incestuous polygamists. His accusation is that believers do say such things–they impose their ideals of purpose and happiness on non-Christians, culturally repressing what Freud considers natural expression of libido, (for example, incest or polygamy).

Because religion seeks ‘purpose’ over ‘happiness’, bigheaded religious disciples, thinking they’ve stumbled into the truth, feel justified in stripping away “sinful” means of pleasure. In doing this, the “lullaby about Heaven” diffuses the libido, the source of love and hate (which are essentially ‘lust’ and ‘aggression’), ending the life-creating struggle between love and hate. Expressions of love and hate suppressed, civilized humans cave in on themselves and become their own means of unhappiness through guilt and misanthropy.

To summarize: Freud thinks that religion’s illusion of morality leads to guilt over natural pleasure-drives, which leads to humans hating themselves.

What happens if Freud is arraigned in his own courthouse—does he escape Felixocentrism? (Yes, I made that word up—don’t impose on my happiness.)

Maybe the answer is up to us. If we read Freud and ignore him, he escapes his critique. But, unfortunately for Freud, if we actually fill his prescription, he’ll falls into one of two contradictions.

One contradiction is this: if Freud is right that our primary and legitimate aim is pleasure, than believers must derive pleasure from imposing their beliefs. Freud, by condemning the imposition, is imposing on what he simultaneously calls legitimate behavior.  His theory could theoretically stand, but he has broken his own rule.

The other dilemma for Freud arises from an alternative perspective on the same scenario. Again, Freud says that pleasure-pursuits are all legitimate. Assuming that believers derive pleasure from ‘ethical tyranny’, Freud’s condemnation of religion’s ‘tyranny’ can only escape hypocrisy if his theory is false, and ethical imposition is illegitimate.

Either way, if a Christian changes her ethical standards on Freud’s account, she undermine the authority of Freud himself. And that, I’m afraid, is Freud’s non-libidinal rub. ‘

Classics for the Contemporary Christian: Is Your Identity As You Like It?

If the world is a stage, we like putting on the same shows. The Matrix, The Truman Show, Equilibrium…not original. Even in Shakespeare’s 17th century comedy As You Like It, we confront the suggestion that the world is a sham and humans are the sham’s pawns.

At surface-level, the play is a ball of fluff—a cute comedy where everything ends neatly and everyone gets married. On a closer read, though, we find that Shakespeare juggles weighty questions in this ‘ball of fluff’ like ‘what is it to be human?’ and ‘how do I ‘find myself’?’ The various characters in the play (namely Jaques, Rosalind, and ‘everyone else’) depict three different answers to these questions—beyond that, Shakespeare leaves us to untangle identity’s mysteries.

Corrosive melancholy drips from Jaques’ words. “All the world’s a stage,” he declares, “…And all the men and women merely players.” The woodland existentialist makes his cynicism clear: in using ‘merely’, he implies that our ‘stage’ is meaningless. After all, as his soliloquy continues, every life ends in nothingness—“sans teeth, sans eyes, sans everything.” To ‘What or who am I?’, Jaques responds, ‘You are a pawn. Dust. Puppet of a cosmic stage.’

I can hardly find fault with the cynic when I consider how most of the characters go about finding identity: they don’t. Rather, they seem to say, ‘we simply are what we’re thrown into’. Not exerting any will over their own lives, they trip obliviously through events. To accuse them of being ‘merely players’ is easy: from exile to love to religious conversion, the characters are reflexive, their identities in constant flux because derived from immediate fortunes. In this, they cut themselves off from pursuing human ethics: a typically requirement for ethical behavior is the cognitive choice of action rather than simply responding to externals.

I admit. I commiserate with Jaques acidic misanthropy: malleable people bug me. Even when they have strong desires, the desires are imbibed. In a way, As You Like It echoes the ironic image of a million Americans wearing name-brand shirts that boldly state ‘INDEPENDENT’. I can point at it and say, “I don’t want that. I don’t want my identity to be ‘pawn’.” If my life were entirely dependent on external influence, I think I’d fall into a kind of despair.

But is Jaques the alternative?—the man who detached from society in order to see it ‘objectively’ and became, as a different character notes, “nowhere…like a man”? He doesn’t despair about his life being externally caused; he has a despair of ever having that despair! We look at aloof Jaques, polar opposite of the manipulated majority, and see that while being a puppet of fortune is bad, isolation is worse. True identities are largely dependent on involuntary givens.

As Gandalf says to Frodo, we don’t get to choose where or when we live, but only what we do with the time we’ve been given. The majority of the players in As You Like It don’t impose will on the given—they simply absorb it. Jaques tries to reject all givens, but he ends up isolated. He affects the events of the play so little that Shakespeare could exclude him in the earliest manuscripts without much alteration from the later versions.

Still, Shakespeare doesn’t leaves us directionless in the ‘insanity’, as G.K. Chesterton called it, of “the man who cannot believe his senses, and the man who cannot believe anything else.” A different character provides a satisfying example of embraced identity…Rosalind. While she fully lives in her community, Rosalind also uses her wit and desires to impact her surroundings. She is committed to the given–she engages with life as presented to her–but Rosalind is not addicted to it. She knows herself because she sees the given and accepts it, doing what she can to improve it: she is not tossed blindly by fortune, nor does she pretend she can escape fortune.

We Christians claim to ‘live in the world, but not of it’. Rosalind demonstrates that principle in action. Not fighting suspension between reflexive and rational, Rosalind gains full human identity by embracing both. Unlike Rosalind, though, I hope Christians find better use of time than matchmaking. Unless, of course, the match was made in heaven..then participation is required.

Classics for the Contemporary Christian: The Straits of Orthodoxy

I have a bone to pick with G.K. Chesterton about his book Orthodoxy. It took me a ridiculously long time to read. He just had to go and make every sentence so delicious and profound that I was forced to sit back after every line in order to laugh at his wit or furiously scribble notes.

Think I’m making things up? I’ll open the book to three random sections and write down a sentence from each:

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms: it means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.”

“In that sense [that action desires limitation] every act is an act of self-sacrifice.”

“The mere pursuit of health always leads to something unhealthy.”

Case in point.

Here’s another problem: I read Orthodoxy for the first time less than a year ago, and re-read it this past week, but I could swear Chesterton took it off my shelf and re-wrote it during the interim. I was floored by it then, but I was stunned by the second read with greater potency than the first.

And also, of all of writers, Chesterton would be the one to devise such a prank.

Philip Yancey is spot-on when, in the introduction, he writes that Chesterton “preferred the role of jester.” Chesterton dresses his words in the bright, vivid colors of rollicking wit. This makes it all the more unexpected when, mid chuckle, one realizes that Chesterton just explained a wretchedly abstruse enigma in two sentences…and in a joke, no less!

Chesterton does not tackle the difficult subjects—he blows them over with a hardy “HA!

Orthodoxy is a comedic romance: it recounts the intellectual journey of Chesterton, the self-proclaimed “fool of this story,” through “elephantine adventures in pursuit of the obvious.” The ‘obvious’ is Orthodox Christianity, made “perilous” and “exciting,”, says Chesterton, by a delicate, yet perfect equilibrium between egoism and altruism, materialism and mysticism, determinism and freewill, hate and love, saint and sinner, and so on–all while in pursuit of Christ, the fully Man and fully God.

Orthodoxy is also a book of comparison and contrast. Scientists, Nihilists, Buddhists, Unitarians…none escape Chesterton’s sharp eye and sharper wit.

He brings Orthodoxy against essentially every other possible worldview, faith, and philosophy, only to, with deep respect and good humor, hold them naked to the light of penetrating analysis. He strips pretense from all, demonstrating rationalists to be fantastical and revealing Buddhists as apathetic ‘quietists’. By the close, Chesterton brings his reader to a rich understanding of where he began—Orthodoxy. The perilous, exciting tradition of rational mysticism.

In the second chapter, Chesterton writes:

The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland…If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them…sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.

Orthodoxy has been accused of every excess and every corresponding deficiency. The reason, Chesterton points out, is that Orthodoxy, or “straight doctrine,” has always maintained a constant course between extremes—taking truth from each and holding them in tension. The ironic result is that Orthodoxy is called extreme by both sides.

No matter who the reader is, Orthodoxy can challenge her to look at the world with new wonder. For me, as one prone to rationalism, reading Chesterton caused me to look at a tree and think, “What a bizarre creation! Wood growing out of the ground—how fantastically absurd!”

For one who leans towards skepticism, Chesterton affirms that “reason is itself a matter of faith,” and free thought “exhaust[s] its own freedom” into weary despair.

I particularly enjoyed his response to libertarians who scorn tradition for the sake of free love and pleasure:

Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman. To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once…It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once.

Orthodoxy is a fiercely joyful trek through cold mountaintops and scorching deserts to the Christian faith. It is, at the core, the fairy tale of Chesterton’s journey to Christ. Simultaneously, as he says, it is also a “riddle and its answer…solitary and sincere speculations and then…the startling style in which they were all suddenly satisfied by the Christian Theology.”

Chesterton writes about recognizing Christian truth as if it were akin to waking on the first morning after a long trip and suddenly realizing, “Where am I? Oh, I’m Home!”

In Orthodoxy, he then opens the front door and invites us in for good conversation and a cup of tea, each taken with a good dose of vivacious mirth.