Tag Archives: Leif Enger

Are Books About to Become Extinct?

By Eugene C. Scott

I have thousands of good friends. Friends not just acquaintances. People who have spoken into my deepest fears and hopes, people I have shared untold hours with. They have asked and answered questions, frustrated me, left me yearning for more, angered me, comforted me, challenged, and have always been only an arms length away. None of these unusual friends have ever met me, however, nor I them. Still they have walked with me down every path of my life.

I’m not talking about my covey of life-long friends, who are thicker than blood, who also fit the above description. And no, I’m not referring to my Facebook friend count nor people in church, though they are friends too. These are friends some would not count or–possibly–even notice in their own lives. But they are there. And they have so much to say.

One of these friends, one of my best gave me great pleasure–and insight into my own family of origin–by telling me a story about a 1960s tragedy—a murder—that rocked a Minnesota family and brought one brother to his knees and the other to an understanding about the true nature of faith. Through that story, I was transported back to my childhood and warm memories of my family, before it was broken, and how my own loss started me on a journey of faith.

Another less poetic friend shared theology with me that challenged (oh how I prefer avoiding challenges to my beliefs) me and gave me a refreshed relationship with Jesus and a new view of heaven and earth.

An older friend mesmerized me with a series of jokes, puns, and one-liners retelling his life story. I laughed so hard my cheeks hurt and I found myself wishing I didn’t take life so seriously; and for a moment I didn’t.

I also had a young friend who shared with me his struggles and victories while growing up without a father. I saw my own struggle in his–my father died when I was eleven. He too had fantasy father figures. His were Bill Cosby from “The Cosby Show” and an older hippy kid who befriended him. Mine was my older sister’s boyfriend. We arrived at a school father/son event in his souped-up GTO. I knew I was the coolest kid there until I realized this guy was not my dad no matter how hard I wished he was. My friend’s story defined my story. Though many men could influence, help, mentor, and love us fatherless kids, no one could replace our real fathers, except maybe God.

There are many more of these friends I could share with you. Strangely none I have seen face to face, however.

As you may have guessed, these friends are all books. The Minnesota family is Leif Enger’s invention in his outstanding novel, Peace Like a River. Enger’s storytelling and prose were so simple and beautiful I have read this novel half a dozen times.

Dallas Willard wrote one of the freshest, most challenging, accessible theologies called The Divine Conspiracy. It describes God’s desire, God’s conspiracy to let us know him and to live life beyond our human constraints. I go back to it again and again and discover new layers each time.

The next friend mentioned above is I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This! an autobiography by my favorite comedian, Bob Newhart. I read it in two days and still retell his jokes to whoever will listen.

Next Donald Miller’s delightful books are each funny and light, true, and flawed, real, yet able to slip under the skin and pierce one’s heart. Miller’s fourth book To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father is a slim book—197 pages—each page of which showed me my past and future vistas through viewing Miller’s life.

Some suggest my friends, books, should be placed on the endangered species list. Reading is declining, ebooks may bury books with bindings. Movies and TV have also dug the grave deeper. These good friends of mine are on life support. Or are they?

I look at my library of friends, lined neatly on the shelves, or not, so diverse and beautiful, and full of life and wisdom–and even foolishness–and I grieve. Their loss, if it comes, will be great. To me people who do not read books (or God forbid, cannot!) are like people who have seldom or never tasted chocolate or ice cream. They are missing something delicious.

Or more accurately they are missing a rich interaction no other medium can offer, daily conversations with people from all over the world and all through time that will comfort and challenge while also delivering them on great flights of fancy. I have read a piece of one book or another daily, missing only a few under duress, for nearly twenty-eight years. I can’t imagine life without books.

In 1953 Ray Bradbury wrote a science fiction titled Fahrenheit 451 in which the government begins to burn books because they deem them dangerous. But like most other beautiful, important things in our lives, nothing so drastic or romantic will spell the demise of books. If books die it will be while we are not looking. Their loss will come at the hands of inattention.

There is hope. Brabury’s novel recounts a secret society that covenants to save their favorite books. Each person participates by memorizing a book and in essence becoming the book. The book through its host, so to speak, comes to life. Bradbury’s idea is not far-fetched because story–factual or fictional–is the life blood we readers share with books. Story is a part of most–if not all–of our lives. Our very lives are stories, unbound, living books. Therefore, the soul of a book, story will live on, as it did before books and as it will after.

And I for one–no matter whether others read or what technology comes–will not easily let go of my many friends.

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Imagination: God’s Greatest Gift

By Eugene C. Scott

My mom was proof that, though humans were cast out and barred from the Garden, we took a piece of Eden with us, like dirt lodged under our fingernails. For nearly twenty-five years my mother lived in an ugly two-story brick apartment building in a part of the city that no longer had much going for it. No parks, few trees–buggy elms–and only the constant rush of cars going elsewhere surrounded her. Surely no garden.

Yet mom transformed that place. She had a wonderful imagination, an artist specializing in raising rose bushes. Every summer on the canvas of dirt between the apartments and where the cars nosed in to park she created a masterpiece of color and beauty. By mid July, red, yellow, white, burgundy, pink, and multicolored roses splashed their colors against the pale brick and rusted iron railing of that old building. Summer after summer people from all over the neighborhood streamed by to see what mom’s horticultural imagination had wrought.

When mom passed away in 2003, the whole neighborhood groaned in grief. For comfort, my family and I imagined mom, now healed of her emphysema, planting a rose garden in heaven, taking God’s best and giving it her own unique twist. Between tears we laughed and smiled at that picture.

Then at the memorial service, mom’s well-meaning and beloved pastor decided it was time to dispel that notion. We don’t know that there is gardening–or are even roses–in heaven, he said. He read a passage about heaven (I don’t remember which one) and told us heaven is not about continuing what we loved doing here but about being forgiven of our sins. He continued, Only what is true, not what is imagined can bring you comfort.

On one level he was right, of course. Even what we imagine heaven or God–or anything really wonderful–to be like will pale in light of God’s reality. My mom may well have gladly chucked her spade upon entering the Pearly Gates.

But . . .

Imagination is one of God’s greatest gifts. Imagine what life would be like without it (sorry).

Just think. Robert Adler imagined not having to get up from the couch to change the television channel. Viola, the remote control.

But seriously, you name it. If it exists, someone imagined it. Leif Enger’s surprising, glorious novel, “Peace Like a River,” “Star Wars,” the Internet, the artificial heart, my mom’s rose garden in the middle of a concrete jungle.

Imagination is also what infuses faith. As a matter of fact, faith would not be possible without God’s gift of imagination. By imagination I don’t mean only dreaming up Easter Bunnies. That’s only the starting place. I mean seeing something real that is not yet there–or is not there on the surface of things.

For example, some see the cross only as so much misused lumber or–today–mere jewelry. But Jesus imagined it as the ultimate instrument of healing. His death and resurrection made it so. Our God-given imaginations then let us see into the past as Jesus hung on that cross and at the same time gaze into the future as Jesus welcomes us back to the Garden.

This is the kind of imagination that thrilled atheist C. S. Lewis and made him see that “Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.” He read books, like George MacDonald’s fantasy, “Phantastes,” and found faith and Christ buried in the poetry and prose. His imagination was the tool God used to dig out those truths. Later, moving from atheism to belief in Christ, Lewis said his new faith came from having his imagination baptized. We know the end of that story. Lewis then used his baptized imagination to write stories that helped thousands believe in a God who came down into a weedy, overgrown garden to bring it back to its original state. Without an imagination Lewis, and you and I, would never believe.

Traditionally Lent is about fasting, giving up for a time what we think we have to help us yearn for and realize what we don’t yet believe we really do have. This Lent let God baptize your imagination. As Crystal Lewis sings, let God give you “beauty for ashes, strength for fear, gladness for mourning, peace for despair.”

God can and will show you the truth that he has planted beautiful roses even among the harsh, concrete reality of day-to-day life. As Paul said, God can do far more than we can hope or imagine.

So, what was that piece of the Garden, stuck under our fingernails, we took with us from Eden that day? Our ability to imagine what it once was and what it one day will be. And no matter what my mom’s pastor said, I can still imagine mom in the Garden–sleeves rolled up, dirt smeared face, smile a mile wide, pruning back a red rose. One day I’ll join her, I imagine.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series titled “Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus” at The Neighborhood Church.  During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See tnc3.org for worship times.

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