Friday, April 11, 2008

God Laughs and Plays

"At university you study books that can be deconstructed, not books that can change your life...this kind of book you always have to discover on your own." -Russel Banks

My mom sent me "God Laughs and Plays" by David James Duncan, author of a "The River Why" and also "The Brothers K". Its a collection of essays defending his "churchless faith". Raised in a strict Seventh Day Adventist home, Duncan has often talked about how he felt repelled from the fundamentalist church early on, but inescapably drawn to the spirit he felt in nature, especially in rivers while fly fishing.

If Duncan gets unapologetically political here (he is no fan of the Bush administration, its environmental policies or the war in Iraq) his underlying message is one of love, tolerance and the profound hope that comes from both.

Duncan's essays create a dizzying synergy with the works by Karen Armstrong and Joseph Campbell that I've been reading lately. I'm still reeling a bit actually from discovering these life altering books. And the best part is the way one book leads to another, creating a private, illuminated trail just for me.

Duncan talks extensively about the examples that Jesus gave us. This was not a man who preached obedience to the letter of the law. Instead, he urged his followers to absorb the spirit of his teachings which were about love, love, love. Time and time again, Jesus condemned people using religion to elevate themselves in the eyes of others. He preached compassion to prostitutes, beggars and tax collectors. When we take a two thousand year old document like the Bible literally, we are bound to make huge mistakes. Another quote:

"The way I see it, a mystic takes a peek at God and then does her best to show the rest of us what she saw...She doesn't ditch tradition so much as take it for its word and peer inside its cavernous shell. There must still be something worth saying, worth pointing too." - Jessie Harriman

How post modern is that? But its the idea of hope and a way forward that are so appealing to me. Compassion is the key to living like Christ and to unlocking the potentials of the human heart. That is challenge enough for me, (I have to start fresh every day!) and I think I'll leave behind the rest and join Mr. Duncan in the river instead.

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