Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

40 Days to Thinner Theology

I started listening to Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life today while I was driving to Charlotte. It's one of those critical-mass books, something that you wind up reading because everyone else is reading it. I couldn't work in the "help-people-find-their-purpose" business without having read it. (Yes, I suppose I could use a little help in that line myself, but my expectations were fairly low.)

I liked how Warren sets up the book as a forty-day spiritual journey. It makes sense to not only write the book, but tell the readers how you want them to read it. It takes a mere book and structures it as an experience. I was nodding right along until I got a gentle pitch for my Purpose-Driven notebook, and my Purpose-Driven card deck of Bible verses. For a moment there, I almost forgot I was partaking of a franchise.

Still, I feel this moral obligation to respect the author's intent; I always feel like an author deserves a chance to pull off whatever effect they're going for, and I feel like I might ruin it for myself if I don't surrender to the work and let it do what it wants to do to me. That's why I hate abridgements and never skip ahead in a book unless I've lost all respect for it. So I will play along with the chapter-a-day thing and see what happens. I had done essentially the same thing with Thich Nhat Hanh's Old Path, White Clouds and found it to be very effective.

I liked how Warren cuts to the chase: "It's not about you." He cuts through a lot of self-help pablum very quickly by emphasizing that self-centeredness is doomed when it comes to finding meaning, and just for that I think he's a good healthy dose of perspective for our society.

I was also somewhat startled to hear an essentially fundamentalist Protestant talk so freely about the virtues and limitations of various translations of the Bible. When I was growing up in a Southern Baptist tradition, talking about translations was a serious faux pas; you never did anything to suggest that what we were reading was anything other than the unadulterated Word of God. It's a little refreshing for someone to say, "Gee, I think this translation says this idea a little better than that one," without it being an argument about "poetry" or a stylistic matter of taste. It's nice, in other words, for someone to take the ideas of the Bible seriously, rather than merely cleaving to some knuckle-headed literalism.

I was also somewhat surprised at how smart someone can sound when they make naked appeals to Biblical authority. "Philosophy? Mere guesswork! Self-inquiry? Useless navel-gazing! Want to know God's purpose for you? Just ask God!" After years and years of taking it for granted that finding meaning was a difficult and uncetain process, I had forgotten how seductive it can be for someone to say, "I have the answer, right here." No wonder he sells so many books.

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