Book Review: Death by Living

Death By Living_Book Cover_High ResolutionIn the opening pages of Death by Living, N.D. Wilson warns us that “for me, meditation is a noisy, noisy business. There’s a chance of hard cider, and a likelihood of shouting.”

Yeah. I knew I liked this guy.

Pass the cider, my brothers, and listen up. Life is a story, but between the knowing and the living lies a chasm that has swallowed many a man whole. “My life is a story,” says the latte-swigging hipster, and he doesn’t understand how right he really is. Do you? Do I? Or do we merely pass this idea around “like a cigarette between furtive fourteen-year-olds, the smoke puffing in and out like empty speech”?

Somewhere there is a disconnect – God help us, such a disconnect – and Wilson is ready with the much-needed rebuke: “If you think it, live it. If you don’t live it, you don’t really think it. You are not what you think (or what you think you think). You are not what you say you are. You are what you do.”

So we say it again: Life is a story. Yes. We know this. Now let us live like we know it.

The story spins on – every day, every hour, every minute. We can clutch, we can grab, we can try to horde the moments that slip through our fingers like water; or we can open our hands and give, give till there is nothing left, let ourselves be poured out by others and for others. Our days on this mortal coil are numbered. The only question is: will we live fully and deeply, the way God intended us to live, or will we not?

Drink your wine. Laugh from your gut. Burden your moments with thankfulness. Be as empty as you can be when that clock winds down. Spend your life. And if time is a river, may you leave a wake.

In trying to review a book as beautiful and as brilliant as this, I have a deathly fear of saying the wrong thing; of failing to get even a smidgen of the book’s wonder across to you fairly; of sounding like a nut who can’t be taken too bloody seriously. Therefore: if what I’ve written moves you in any way to go out and buy this book, I will feel that I’ve succeeded.

If not, forget this review completely.

And buy the book anyway.

Oh, one more thing. Eric Metaxes has said that N.D. Wilson reminds him of a young Chesterton. Higher or more accurate praise could hardly be given, I think. And that brings me to what I love best in Wilson’s writing: the joy. His prose is saturated with it, just like Chesterton’s. This joy isn’t the naive optimism of a happiness guru, but the deep, glorious, soul-bursting exultation that finds its roots in the cry of Job: I know that my Redeemer liveth. This is the joy that comes from knowing the Storyteller. This is the joy that comes from knowing how the Story ends.

Flotsam & Jetsam (8/29)

Offensive, Absurd, and Pornographic? On MTV, you say? I Can’t Believe It! – “Today the country is infuriated that a pop star, who made a hit song about being a vulgar, drug addled floozy, had the audacity to go on stage and act like a vulgar, drug addled floozy while performing the song about being a vulgar, drug addled floozy. Damn it, Miley! We just like to LISTEN to young women promote and glorify debauchery and hedonism, we don’t want to SEE it!”

MovieByte Review: The Mortal Instruments – I’m shocked to hear this film stinks. Not.

I Lived – “Really living means that we scrape our knees. We hope against hope. We run farther and jump higher and sing louder than we should. We love so hard that it hurts. And  we laugh when God makes a joke. Even if the joke involves us…. And even it feels like anything but funny.”

Your Child Belongs to Us Already – Chilling.

The Church in The Pilgrim’s Progress – Frankly, I didn’t even know Bunyan’s work was under attack until I read this piece. Huh. You learn something new every day.

50 Years Ago: The Christian Speech – “Malcolm X, an angry young Muslim, asked, ‘Who ever heard of angry revolutionaries swinging their bare feet together with their oppressor in lily pad pools, with gospels and guitars and ‘I have a dream’ speeches?’ That’s true about angry revolutionaries—but the 1950s/1960s civil rights movement succeeded because its leaders spoke in dignified sorrow, not anger.”

Macklemore’s “Same Love” and the Incoherence of Postmodern Morality – THIS.

“Whereas in biblical faith, God Himself oversees and directs all that comes to pass, in the pagan mind the world is largely chaos and the State provides a very visible means of curtailing loose ends.” – Douglas Jones

Jesus Didn’t Call Them Sinners… Wait, What?

1239045_10151514641512820_329804622_nMaybe I should just stop expecting good theology from memes off the Internet. Maybe then I won’t be disappointed when it fails to make an appearance.

Take this one, which recently crossed my path on Facebook: “Jesus didn’t call them sinners. He called them friends.”

Ah, yes. Wisdom from the holy Book of Memes: short and sugary and calculated to make you smile as a warm feeling slides over you like so much syrup over a fluffy pancake.

Meanwhile, the inanity of this statement goes unnoticed; or, if it is noticed, it seems to be regarded as simply “not that important.” Surely whoever wrote this had their heart in the right place, and that’s what matters, so let’s have a group hug, shall we?

Let’s not. This sentiment is the product of Hallmark, not of serious theological reflection. It is a half truth. And like most half-truths, it’s too simple. Accepting it, we trade a hearty, delicious, soul-nourishing biblical paradox for a cup of thin and marshy porridge.

Jesus most definitely did call them sinners, and He most definitely did call them friends, and it is the first fact which makes the second fact so wonderful to consider. “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17)

That Jesus should be a friend of “good people” would not surprise us. That He should hang out with the elite would seem most fitting. That He should die for the deserving would be no scandal. But a friend of sinners? A savior who came for the lost and the hateful? As the old hymn puts it, “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?” 

More Important

We like to talk about courage in the abstract. Here it is enfleshed:

A new government healthcare mandate says that our family business MUST provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance. Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions, which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs. It goes against the Biblical principles on which we have run this company since day one. If we refuse to comply, we could face $1.3 million PER DAY in government fines. Our government threatens to fine job creators in a bad economy. Our government threatens to fine a company that’s raised wages four years running. Our government threatens to fine a family for running its business according to its beliefs. It’s not right. I know people will say we ought to follow the rules; that it’s the same for everybody. But that’s not true. The government has exempted thousands of companies from this mandate, for reasons of convenience or cost. But it won’t exempt them for reasons of religious belief. So, Hobby Lobby and my family are forced to make a choice.

As N.D. Wilson writes in Dandelion Fire: “Sometimes standing against evil is more important than defeating it. The greatest heroes stand because it is right to do so, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives.”