Thursday, December 15, 2005

Books Read in 2005

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography
by Kathleen Norris

This is a book to be savoured slowly. It starts out kind of like a geography lesson/travelogue but meanders and transforms to an account of a spiritual journey. Kathleen grew up all over but had family roots in South Dakota. She and her husband were writers in the the writers' center of the universe, New York City, when she inherited a house back in Dakota. They did not intend to stay in that small town but they did. We receive a most interesting account of the people who live there and how the land affects who they are and how they feel about themselves and how they live. Her religious/spiritual orientation changes are described where she goes through various stages beginning with childhood to a secular period in the 70's to becoming, rather reluctantly, a minister. Interesting how she handles the influences of her background. This included a fundamentalist grandmother and a devout but less, shall we say, intense grandmother. She weaves into the story lessons and activities involving monasteries and the brothers there with whom she becomes spiritually intimate. This is a book I'll be going back to.

The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity by Carl A. Raschke

I used to think postmodernists were purely irrational. I came by that opinion honestly because of my occupation as an R&D applied physicist, my background in the Churches of Christ, a place where common sense reasonong is ostensibly given the highest role in establishing normative religion, and because of my innate personality (I'm a geek oblivious to things you more normal folks perceive). Given that, during my adult life up until recently, I perceived there are two alternatives: Fundamentalism or Modernism. Not much of a choice. With fundamentalism and conservative Christianity, you make a mistake and fry on the griddle forever. With modernism, the world is a mechanism and when you die, you are gone forever. But works like the above by Raschke and the one by Nancey Murphey below, show us, intellectually at least, the way to move beyond this.

It is a friendly universe after all!

Anglo-American Postmodernity: Philosophical Perspective on Science, Religion, and Ethics by Nancey Murphy

Am understanding a fraction of this. Am particularly interested in the phenomenon of emergence. The origin of consciousness and free will must have something to do with this.

Big Bang: The Origin Of The Universe
by Simon Singh

My son loaned me this. It is a great account of the history of astronomy and the folks who made the discoveries leading up to and including the big bang. Amazing to me and I think instructive is the recognition that up until about the time of Galileo, the earth-centered view of our cosmos actually had as much data and sound reasoning behind it as the sun-centered. That should inspire some humility on my part. I had learned much of the information in this book from various sources through the years but this brought it all together so that I now have a much clearer concept of what the Big Bang is and how, for today, it is the best explanation for the mechanism of the origin of the universe.

This Hebrew Lord by John Shelby Spong

Say, this is a pretty good book.

Conversations of Goethe
by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Johann Peter Eckermann, J. K. Moorhead, Havelock Ellis (Introduction), John Oxenford (Translator)

Hard going but worth the effort.

The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea
by Arthur Oncken Lovejoy

This one was hard. I bought it because of reference to it in Ken Wilbur's The Marriage of Sense and Soul, a marvelous book. Lovejoy is a philosopher and characteristically takes a long time to say things. Will try again a few years from now.

The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory
by Brian Greene

I learned a lot about string theory in the first half but got bogged down after that.

Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind
by Arthur Zajonc

Here's what I said earlier this year.

"Just finished reading this book by Arthur Zajonc. It is great. I posted this at Travis Stanley's Blog.

I would like to recommend a book I've just read. It has all the things I like in a book: ancient history, science, religion, poetry, great prose ... It is "Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind" by Arthur Zajonc. It is a kind of history of how we humans have perceived the nature of light since the time of the Greeks and it has nearly always been at that juncture between what we conceive of as the divine and the material. It is full of metaphor and unexpected turns of thought. I'll give one example of something interesting. He discusses how several poets and artist types were depressed (my word) by Newton's reduction of the phenomenon of the rainbow to a mere scientific explanation. He quotes a poem by a Thomas Campbell (not the RM one) that captures their attitude

"When Science from Creation's face
Enchantment's veil withdraws,
What lovely visions yield their place
To cold material laws"

And John Keats wrote also

"...In the dull catalogue of common things,
Philosophy will clip an angel's wing's,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, the gnomed mine ...
Unweave a rainbow..."

It struck me as I read this that it may bear a relation to why so many American's have such a resistance to what science has learned about our origins. We love mystery, we desire wonder, we do not want to believe in what many perceive to be a cold, remote and random process based material law. Comfort is sought in the miraculous.

But there may be a third way and books like this one help illumine the path to it."

The Way of Discovery: An Introduction to the Thought of Michael Polanyi
by Richard Gelwick

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
by Donald Miller

Now this is the type of Christian writing that anyone can respect. The scene of the confessional was one of the most creative acts I have ever heard of in my entire half century life. Simply Beautiful.

Out of the Question...Into the Mystery : Getting Lost in the GodLife Relationship
by Leonard Sweet

These emerging types are gonna get to me yet with all their talk about relationship. I just might get it...someday.

The Last Word and the Word after That : A Tale of Faith, Doubt, and a New Kind of Christianity
by Brian D. McLaren

Excellent. Even though I have attended the churches of Christ all my life, I have been a universalist throughout adulthood. Brian, in the course of his narrative, give's reasons that evangelicals should be able to live with. I think Origen's apocatastasis idea is worth thinking about.

The Empiricists : Locke: Concerning Human Understanding; Berkeley: Principles of Human Knowledge & 3 Dialogues; Hume: Concerning Human Understanding & Concerning Natural Religion
by John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume


A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey
by Brian D. McLaren

Read it for the third time.

Cosmopolis : The Hidden Agenda of Modernity
by Stephen Toulmin

Background for understanding enlightenment and postmodernism.

The Last Juror by John Gresham

This was lots of fun. I identified with it cause I'm from small town Arkansas just across the river from Gresham's fictional Mississippi place. There are a couple of reference to the Church of Christ. Always interested in that. His main character, a newspaper man, attended all the churches in town. He mentions the CofC two times. Of course he brings out our most salient feature, the lack of musical instruments. The other characteristic that he mentioned was the lack of emotion.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

What it is like to walk the Appalachian Trail. You will fee like you are there.

Jesus Through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan

I'm gonna read this one again and then comment. Some of it is still soaking in. I tried Mary Through the Centuries : Her Place in the... as well but couldn't get into it.

The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire

An apologetic from one of the evangelical perspectives. It is an introduction to other philosophical approaches than his and necessarily is an abbreviation of them.

There's more to be added later.

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