Tag Archives | books

Bad timing for my new book? I don’t think so

Timing may not be everything in the publishing world – a few other factors are important too – but bad timing is never good for the launch of a new book.

In the forward to my just-published book, How to Become a Multicultural Church, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson points out that most western democracies are having a hard time right about now with multiculturalism, especially with what feels like a rising tide of refugees, immigrants, and others who are, well, different from the rest of us.

In the recent presidential election, Donald Trump successfully tapped into the fears and anxieties that many Continue Reading →

Comments { 7 }

My most embarrassing moment

When I was 10 years old, I won second prize in my school’s annual “prose and poetry” competition and got to read my entry in front of an all-school assembly.

I nearly always use those words in my biography to get a laugh, but the truth is, the prize was for me a life-altering event. Continue Reading →

Comments { 5 }

A dry and desiccated spirit

Something has happened to me over the last several months. I seem to have lost my voice.

The campaign, the election, the painful period between election and inauguration, and now the first stumbling weeks of a new administration – in it all, I seem to have lost my ability to speak. I still preach most Sundays at my church in Zurich, so it’s not that voice that seems to have gone away. It’s something else. Continue Reading →

Comments { 13 }

What Doug’s Reading

Doug's books

I’m not sure anymore when it was that I became a reader, but I think I know how it was that I became a reader.

As unlikely as it might seem, it was competition that first made a reader out of me.

One summer – out of boredom as much as anything – I signed up for the Ottawa Hills Public Library Summer Reading Club.  I forget now how many books I had to read to claim the prize, and I even forget what the prize was.  It was probably a piece of paper with the librarian’s actual signature.

All I know is that I had never before read so many books in such a short period of time.  I rode my bike to the library each week, carefully selected seven or eight weighty volumes (I always caught my limit), and then rode home again, determined to make my way through them all.

I suppose I could have cheated by claiming to have read what I hadn’t, because no one ever quizzed me about the books, but I never did. I loved the reading. Truly, passionately, with everything I had, the same way I played sports.

For most of my childhood I longed to be an athlete, and I certainly had the size.  From birth I was a big kid.  And I certainly had the heart too.  In fact, whatever sport I played, I always had a lot more heart than talent.  I was always the kid on the sideline hoping to catch the eye of the coach.  I must have yelled “Put me in!” a million times, and maybe I did wear him down a couple of times, when we were far ahead – or more likely when we were hopelessly behind.

Somewhere in high school I realized, sadly, that heart could only take me so far in the world of sports, and my athletic career came to an abrupt end.  By the time I was 16, I was pretty much a sports has-been.  But around that time another world opened up – a world of places and ideas and stories and mysteries.  It was a world I came to through reading.  And it’s a world I love.  Even today.

When I travel, which is as often as I can, I like to read about where I’m going.  Some people buy up lots of travel books – Fodor’s, Frommers, Lonely Planet – but I like to read what novelists have written.  Travel books can only tell you so much.  Really, who cares what the local currency is?  Or what weather to expect in August?  Or whether the voltage is 120 or 220?  A novelist will tell you things that you never thought to ask.

When I traveled to Africa a year or so ago, I re-read a few novels about Africa that I had read as a young adult.  What surprised me more than anything was that they all referred in different ways to the smell of the place, the smell of the continent.  Who knew?  Africa has a smell unlike any other continent.  Try finding that in Rick Steve’s latest travel guide.

Which is a long way of saying that I’ve added a new feature to my blog – Doug’s Reading.  If you look at the top of the home page, where you used to see only About Doug, Doug’s Church, Doug’s Books, and so on, you’ll see a new page.  Click on it, and you’ll see what I’m reading (and occasionally what movies I’ve seen).

I can be eclectic in my reading, so be forewarned.  My excuse is that preachers should be eclectic. We’re a lot like sharks, in that way, taking in just about everything in our way.  If you preach every week – and expect to have something interesting to say by, oh, the third week – reading widely is pretty much what you have to do, like it or not.  I like it.

And I hope you do too.

Comments { 6 }

The Historical Jesus

greek on papyrus

My younger daughter says, “What do you think of that new book about Jesus called ‘Zealot’ where Jesus turns out to be nothing more than a political revolutionary?”

Typical family conversation in our home.

I’ve heard of it of course.  I’ve even seen the author interviewed. His name is Reza Aslan, and the book’s title is Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. A FOX News interviewer gave him a hard time for being a Muslim and writing about Jesus, an interview that gave off more heat than light, but was probably great for sales.

“I haven’t read it,” I say.  “I don’t have much use for these searches for the historical Jesus.  They never amount to anything.”

“Really,” she says, genuinely surprised.  “Why don’t you blog about that?”  It had never occurred to me that anyone would be interested.  I thought everyone knew the history.

Peeling back layers of tradition and getting to the person who lived and taught and died in first century Palestine sounds like a noble and worthwhile thing to do – and plenty of scholars over the years have attempted it – but the consensus seems to be that the search doesn’t go anywhere.

But my daughter was right.  Most people don’t know that.  They hear or read about the publication of a book like “Zealot,” and they’re not quite sure what to think.  It’s easy to understand why someone would conclude that it’s nothing more than the work of a Muslim trying to smear Christianity.

I don’t know what Aslan’s intentions are, but his claims to have a Ph.D. in the history of religions and to teach the history of religion are false.  He’s an associate professor in the creative writing program at the University of California, Riverside.  Nowhere in the academic world is he known as a scholar in the history of religion.

That’s all troubling – and tends to undermine the authority of the claims he makes – but what’s really important to know is that all of these searches for the Jesus of history (as opposed to the Christ of faith) have one thing in common.  They make Jesus look a great deal like the person who set out on the search.

Albert Schweitzer famously wrote (in his own Quest for the Historical Jesus, published in 1906) that Jesus “comes to us as One unknown” and that the searches are “often pale reflections of the searchers” themselves.

John Dominic Crossan, who has given the search more than one try himself, finally concluded that most researchers will “do autobiography and call it biography.”

I won’t be reading “Zealot.”

Comments { 6 }