“Assumption Two: God only cares about spiritual things. To be honest, I don’t even know what this means, but those elusive spiritual things have been helping Christians cop out of true holiness for centuries. We are all like accountants with wizard-like abilities, funneling our choices and goals and actions through shell corporations and off-shore banks of unrighteousness. God only cares about spiritual things? His kingdom is a spiritual kingdom? Are you kidding me? God only cares how we emote at Him? That’s part of it, sure, but I was pretty sure that He made physical animals and a physical man and gave him a physical job. I was pretty sure that He made a physical tree with physical fruit and told that physical man not to physically eat it or he would physically die. He physically ate it anyway and now we physically go into the physical ground, physically rot, and become physical plant and physical worm food. And because of this incredibly physical problem, He made things even more clear when His own Son took on physical flesh to lead a physical life that lead to a physical cross where He physically absorbed our curse, was physically tortured, and bought you and bought me and bought this whole physical world with His physical blood. If He’d wanted a spiritual kingdom, He could have saved Himself a huge amount of trouble (to say nothing of making the Greek philosophers and medieval gnostics a lot happier), by just skipping Christmas and the Crucifixion.
When men have an urge to physically do something they shouldn’t, God suddenly has primary jurisdiction over ‘spiritual’ things, which, when one really takes a thorough academic look at the question, means something foggy about our fellow man.
When the younger set would like to go along with a godless (but inevitably self-righteous) crowd, they encounter certain physical requirements. Welcome to dietary indignation, resentment of private property, the anathema of soda, and pious affirmations of a woman’s right to kill (so long as she isn’t killing polar bears with unholy diesel). Luckily – wipe brow here – God doesn’t care about any of those things. Close one, right? I know. Phew.
Ink your skin and pierce your nipples. Get yourself a steady IV drip of guiltless self-affirmation. Serve dark urges and call them lovely. Demand that others feed the poor. After all, one can be a member of a spiritual kingdom and a totally different physical kingdom without any conflict of interest.
But whenever your physical urges fail you, when death and pain arrive, discover the problem of evil and wield it widely. How could God allow you to feel physical hurt and physical pain?
Shrug. His is a spiritual kingdom, isn’t it?”
– N.D. Wilson, Death by Living (pp. 75-77)
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.
“Lord, we flail. Forgive the lies we tell from purple thrones on TBN. Forgive the lies we tell in shrines. Forgive our every attempt at self-redemption, the holy efforts we call our own, all the clawing we call resurrection. Bury us. Take us to helpless dust. Make us all Lazarus.”
– N.D. Wilson, Death by Living (p. 125)
Death by Living by N.D. Wilson
I have laughed, I have cried, I have cheered – and I’m barely fifty pages in. This is a beautiful, beautiful book. “Stories mean trouble. Stories mean hardship. The fall of man did not introduce evil; it placed us on the wrong side of it, under its rule, needing rescue. And God is not an aura of ruling auras. His Son is flesh even now. You have flesh. This story is concrete, it is for real, and it is played for keeps.” (I’ll be participating the official Death by Living blog tour later this month; look for my review on the 30th.)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
My third time through. McCarthy is my favorite contemporary novelist, and perhaps my favorite novelist period – but as much as I love and admire the rest of his work, The Road has been, is, and always will be his magnum opus as far as I’m concerned. Seldom is literature more haunting, more gut-wrenching, more powerful than this.
Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg
I’ve followed Goldberg’s writing on the web for some time, but this is the first book I’ve read by him. It hasn’t disappointed. In fact, the next time I hear a liberal throw the word “fascist” around as an insult to his conservative opponents, I may just hand him a copy of this book – a stinging reminder that the original fascists were actually on the left, not the right. Talk about taking the wind out of someone’s sails.
The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield
A biography of the beer that changed the world. Halfway through and enjoying it immensely. I like Douglas Wilson’s endorsement the best: “Pour this book into a frosted glass and enjoy.” While you’re at it, I’d also advise wearing your favorite Guinness t-shirt. Y’know, just because.
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
A remarkable debut effort – chilling, intelligent, and very well-written: “When war hero Leo Stepanovich Demidov, a rising star in the MGB, the State Security force, is assigned to look into the death of a child, Leo is annoyed, first because this takes him away from a more important case, but, more importantly, because the parents insist the child was murdered. In Stalinist Russia, there’s no such thing as murder; the only criminals are those who are enemies of the state.”
The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon
Oh, how I love this book. It’s a culinary reflection, a cookbook, and a theological treatise baked into one single tasty volume, garnished with enough joie de vivre to make the sourest food cynic smile. Delicious stuff. Here’s a taste for the hungry and the curious.
What’s on your bookshelf right now?