Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Teaching... Part 2

Well, I finally took up the mantel two years ago, and stepped into the classroom as the homeroom teacher in a small Christian school. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what teaching was. I had spent years actually watching and studying the things that teachers did, how they did it, what they didn’t do. I thought that I was ready.

Fortunately, I was wrong. Fortunately, I was wrong here, at this school, or I might have spent many years striking out without realizing it. I might have just kept on offering information and testing instead of trying to educate. I still feel the occasional pangs of guilt for having to learn such lessons at the expense of my class, but I suppose that teachers have to learn on someone.

You see, here at the Garden School, the concept of education we ascribe to is a more holistic approach. Sure, a student needs to know basic information… geography, math, spelling, etc… but we also value integrity, goodness, truth, faith, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines. We recognize that raising up leaders takes mentoring… not just information. We want to be a part of sculpting beautiful souls, and not just beautiful minds.

As teachers, we seek to impart a piece of our lives to our students… give of ourselves… something that might echo across generations. Class time might consist of a lecture, or a poignant story, or open discussion or a sermon-et… but it is always a lesson that holds some value… something that I hope will leave an impression on a young leader’s heart.

For me, this is inspired teaching. I am not sure that “teaching” is even the appropriate word for this… but it is the word we’ve got. In fact, maybe the word doesn’t matter and neither does a carefully parsed definition. This is a lifestyle; a heavy burden and a deep privilege. And it feels so, so good… to teach like this.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Teaching... Part 1

What is teaching? What does it mean “to teach?”

In some fashion, I have spent more than 20 years of my life trying to answer just these questions. That is, SO FAR, I have spent more than 20 years trying to figure this out.

The irony is that I have carried this burden since before I really, actually had any inkling of what was involved. When I was probably about 8 or 9, I began to feel that I wanted to be a teacher. Sure, I was a public school kid, and I had already experienced the classroom with several different teachers. However, this wasn’t just the feeling that “Gee, teachers sure are nice! That’s what I wanna be!”

Instead, as much as I can remember, it was natural. It just seemed like a shoe that fit. It was a sort of confident assumption, something that could not be reasoned but was surely true.

Years passed, many people in many ways reinforced this. Sometimes, I told them I wanted to be a teacher and they would say something like, “That fits you. I’ll bet you’ll be a good one.” Or at other times, people would listen to me or talk with me, and then suggest, “You know, you should be a teacher.”

My gifting and interests also reinforced this vocation. I have a quick mind, and I read well, with a strong memory. I am naturally confident in front of a group (or at least I can appear that way), and I can usually explain pretty complex things in a way most folks can chew on. It seems like the stuff of teaching, no?

So, yes, I am pretty sure that I am a teacher at heart. But this still doesn’t exactly answer our question… namely, what is teaching?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Good Walk Ruined? Part 3

The game itself… caught me unawares.

I had all sorts of notions of what it would be like. I mean, I had seen the movies where guys wearing really ugly pants cursed violently and threw their clubs. Some guys grabbed their clubs and snapped them in fury across their knees. You know, the frustration, the anger… agony or ecstasy riding on every shot… that “ruined walk” we were talking about. However, what I came to understand about the game, was so much more than that. What I came to realize about the game is so simply said… and holds so much weight…

The next shot is all that matters. This was a very, very profound realization for me. Sure, you have to be practiced and you have to understand the rules. You have to have technique. You have to be equipped with a full range of the proper gear. You need to have some knowledge of the course. All of that is so very true.

However, when you stand over that ball… when your body and mind are cocked and loaded, all that matters is hitting the ball right then and there. The last shot is in the books. It is history. You make adjustments. You learn from your mistakes. You play the ball where it lies.

When I began to understand this, the game just sort of… opened up. It took on a transcendent quality. It became a metaphor for life. When I realized this, when this clicked, the game became more than a walk in ugly pants. I realized that I could really grow to love this game… that it was becoming more the “game of kings” that I had heard about.

You see, in life, we all have a past. All of us. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have things which bring them pleasure when they recollect them, and those things they might wish they could forget; experiences we would ache to re-create, and those shots we would like to have back.

The past is the past, though, and all we have is this moment… today. Yesterday might have been a heartbreaker, maybe this morning was off in the rough, you might have blown it even just an hour ago, but each interaction, each decision brings opportunity for redemption. You have to allow your experience to color your choices, but you have to live in the here and now. You have to focus and take THIS shot. You have to play life how it lies.

And this is the way in which I think golf becomes the “game of kings.” I used to have that dismissive, cynical attitude about this phrase, too, because I associated golf with pomp and the stereotypical, condescending upper classes. So naturally, the self-inflated royalty would gravitate to this kind of game, wouldn’t they? They of the exclusive, racist, sexist golf culture! Pompous jerks! Ha!

I was wrong primarily because I did not understand how profound the game is, and the corresponding nature of true leadership. A leader is not perfect, and all of his decisions are not perfect, but a great leader is not held hostage by his past. He must make the best decision that he can, every time, with the skills, wisdom, discipline, experience, and resources at his disposal. The situations that he finds himself confronted with are rarely simple, but mostly complex and difficult. The point is, though, that the leader still has to lead… he still has to take the next shot…

And it is these insights... these realizations… about the game that make me think it is worth playing. Golf can be overdone, it can be all of those negative things we sometimes envision about it, BUT it can also be a reflection of something larger and even noble. It is these attributes that make we want to get on the driving range, and onto the fairway.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Good Walk Ruined? Part 2

As the tournament drew near, I had to deal with the reality that I had to play with a group of guys with much more experience than I. I was worried over whether my team was going to consist of ultra-competitive guys who would grow quickly frustrated with the inept new guy. I was worried with even being able to hit the ball off the T… much less working from the fairway and putting… I was really a wreck worrying over this.

When I finally arrived, with my rented clubs and my company shirt, the team was a fun, positive, very gregarious group of guys. They were thrilled to offer tips and see me show improvement through the day. We played a type of game in which our score is a team score (not scored individually). So, if I were to hit a bad shot, it would not effect the score of the team. This also proved to be of great relief to me.

Once the anxiety was set aside, I began to experience the game. It is funny how much more we experience in life if we let go of anxiety, isn’t it? Another blog for another time!!

But as I began to breathe the morning air… smell the course… drink in the vibrant fairways… feel the spongy greens under my feet… not just as an observer, but a participant… it was more than I would have expected. It was more than a game, but an experience.

So in this way, I was getting a feel for this “walk ruined.” It was so, so far from that. I could begin to see how, in some way, these courses could hold the same therapeutic value you find in Japanese meditative gardens. The crafted greenery… the beautiful scenery… all of it. But really, this is only about the environment, or the playing field, and not the game itself.

The game itself, though, is something different altogether…

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Something I Can Never Have"

“I still recall the taste of your tears…..”

The words quietly ring out…. stark… full of aching desperation…

This version is especially poignant and real. Stripped down from the studio track, bare, just like the lyrics… which is why I chose this to share. Just a handful of notes… and a voice…

How can you NOT listen to a song that starts with a line like that? Doesn’t that draw you, in some primal way, by its’ honesty? Maybe for me, as I try to cultivate a writer’s eye… try to understand myself… I seek out things like this that are so… real… so that I might take something from it.

I might catch a certain mood, and dwell in it for a while… trying to step outside myself to think about my own thoughts. I might try to empathize with the song… trying to picture such a figure… trying to write about this person… seeing if I can capture in words what is being communicated in the song…

Other times, it may just suit my mood. It may also give me a vessel to emote feelings that I know are festering, and unexpressed. It might give me an opportunity to cry, or laugh, or feed the flames of burning determination… to lift up my soul to higher things in the midst of the mundane. It gives me an outlet for something within me… another conduit for expression... using someone else's words.

Coming back to this NIN clip. Though Reznor is not an overly positive, uplifting songwriter, I am drawn to his honesty. Sometimes, life is not interested in lifting you up, or making you feel like a million bucks. It isn’t ALL storm clouds, but it is certainly not ALL sunny skies, either. Since life is multi-faceted, I want to share a similar selection of music and thoughts.

Something that has stayed with me these years, even when I have not listened to NIN, is the desperate power, the longing of his words that somehow resonate within me. The voice. The tone. The words. You might feel that, as well, when you hear it. It might be haunting. It might create an ache in you. You might find yourself “experiencing” the music in some way… at least, that is what I think the artist would expect.

So, give it a listen… and feel free to share what you think about it….

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Good Walk Ruined? Part 1




Yes, Golfing.



I went Golfing today.



So, what does that make you think of when I say it? What is your reaction to this declaration?

Well, I can tell you that over these years, the way that I would have responded has changed.

Back in the day, if someone were to mention golf in a positive way, I would have scoffed. I probably would have dismissed the game outright. You know, to quote Twain, something about a “good walk ruined.”

As time passed, my flippant attitude softened a bit. Maybe age was a factor. When you are young, it is so easy to divide the world into two camps: namely, awesome and stupid. Age brings with it shades grey, and the world does not seem “quite” so polarized.

As time passed, I also began to read a little more about the game… began to learn about it… read essays and stories written by those who love it. Catching a glimpse of someone else’s love might have helped to soften my resolve a bit. It’s never that easy to be calloused when confronting someone else’s passion. Funny how that works…

As time passed, I spent a handful of hours on the driving range, and rode along for a few rounds with others who were playing. I could begin to see the appeal, the skill involved, and the enormous challenge of it. Since I have none of the gear for golfing, though, I still stayed an arm’s length away and did not try to actually play a game of my own.

Then, a few months ago, I was put in a position where I HAD to play a full 18 holes. You see, I am a sales rep, and our company sponsored several teams in a key local tournament. Without debate, I was expected to be an active participant on one of those teams…

As a salesperson, I am not usually a big fan of making a fool out of myself in front of potential clients, so the thought of playing my first game with them was not an attractive one. However, there I was, and there was no way out of it.

(Look for part 2)

I Go To Extremes

I like this song.

Ironically, those who know me probably won’t be surprised.

This is a song by Billy Joel entitled “I Go To Extremes” from his “Storm Front” album. This album is one of my favorites, and has been since it was first released. In the Billy Joel discography, it takes a back seat to the “Innocent Man” album, but I digress. The point is that Billy Joel is an extremely talented musician who has developed amazing staying power through 30 years in the oh-so-fickle music business.

His song writing is really marvelous. He philosophically dives into topics like relationships, America, people, changing culture, celebrity, and more. Using this insight, he couples it with a narrative writing style, and vivid word pictures. In fact, I would put him into the songwriters’ pantheon along with Bernie Taupin, and Bob Dylan.

Well, when it comes to this song, I listen to it, and I feel like I could have written it (if I had such talent, anyhow). It talks about that need… that compulsion… that obsession that just can’t be suppressed, nor fully understood. It is that irresistible thing inside that makes a person like me tick… it can be frightening in its’ disregard for self-preservation. It does not care if it leaves its’ host drained, exhausted…

So the song admits over and over, “I don’t know why I go to extremes.” It talks about sleepless nights, and dancing on the edge of losing it. And as with so many favorite songs, I sing along in my agreement. It is funny that some songs take on even deeper personal meaning as the years pass….

Here is the link to the music video… yes, back from when MTV actually played music videos!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Hurt" LIve

I would imagine that this will be a surprising post for some people to see here........

Well, there was a dark time in my life where I was quite the NIN fan. This song was one of my favorites back in those days, as it grabbed me with its' visceral emotionalism. To be honest, it also laid bare my own pain and hurts... so listening and singing along was almost a therapy for me... You know, singing a song in the first person, pretending that it isn't really about you, just a song...?

While I am not in that dark place anymore, I still feel the power, the stark honesty of this song. It echoes of feelings and doubts that I am not sure I would be brave enough to sing out to others... even now. In fact, the intensity and mood sound like a lament Psalm in their way... at least, how I imagine those old Psalms...

Funny how the Bible does not dance around raw emotion. Instead, we see the entire human condition laid bare.. uncomfortably bare. However, we find ourselves being somehow embarrassed or terrified of such pure emotion. At least, I probably feel that way much of the time....

This particular version is especially good, being so stripped down and intimate (although Cash's version is really amazing, too). In fact, I debated about posting Cash's version, but felt like I would let Trent Reznor sing his own song, instead.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

One Foot in Front of the Other

What do you do with passion?

I mean, what if you are an intensely passionate person? No, not just some lusty, physical thing… but an intense, irrational, fundamental personality trait. What can you do with this?

You might say it is akin to the old prophet who was given the Lord’s message. He confessed that if he did not speak it, it threatened to consume him; like venting a flame which could become explosive if contained. This is what it feels like to have such passions, the need to reign it all in, but to risk immolation of it is suppressed too much.

The reasons for reigning it all in vary, some are noble, some are mundane. It may be a matter of keeping your job, not offending people, honoring a vow, keeping your sanity, being a productive member of society, maintaining your integrity, honoring cultural norms, or whatever. But in each case, the expression of this deep passion must be controlled or re-focused into something positive and productive. It must be funneled and fashioned like some kind of raw material.

But how do you do this? Another way of saying it is, how do we do this without falling into madness, as many of the great artists and musicians have fallen? How do you keep such transcendent urges bound within reality? How does one reconcile the vastness of one’s vision and the smallness of reality? How does one wrestle with something that defies measure and, in fact, is a compulsion? How does a person deal with all of the mundane isues of life, stay interested and engaged, when there is so much more…. careening through your mind?

For me, I don’t think that I have this answer yet………… not by a long shot.

So, this is one of those times where I am happy to receive feedback. Remember that this blog is about being real, and really, this is one of those things that I am trying to figure out…. How do we transcend the day to day? How do we functionally put one foot in front of the other in our journey to the eternal, when the present is so… constricting?

And as I come to some conclusions, I will be happy to share them with you...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Garden School Graduation Speech 2010

Yet again, my Seniors asked me to make a speech at their graduation. So, with much trembling and unsettling emotions, I offered up these words. It was an incredibly difficult speech to give, being so weighted with so many hopes and deep passion... I am thankful for my graduates who were so gracious while I struggled to read it.

* * * *

I would like to thank you, graduates, for the opportunity to come and share my thoughts with you one more time. I have been privileged to serve as one of your teachers this year. You have endured many lectures, rants, and off-the-subject stories in my class. So, for you to ask me to come and give one last lecture, means that something I said somewhere must have rung true. That, or we didn’t have money in the budget for a really cool speaker! I am hoping that it was the first option…

Today is special; probably more so than you even realize. This day marks a significant transition in your lives… a point that will grow in significance as time passes and you have the opportunity to reflect on it. I don’t want to say this to talk over your heads, or to treat you as though you are children, but to exhort you to take today seriously. In fact, I beseech you to take everyday seriously…

I know that your hormone-clouded minds are reeling, and you have probably had enough of “serious” in the past couple of months. You have been inundated with well-intentioned people who want to know your plans. “So what are you going to do after you graduate?” “Where are you going to school in the Fall?” “Do you have a job lined up?” “What kind of career do you want to pursue?”

Frankly, right now, I don’t care about that stuff. I couldn’t care less if you drive a dump truck or practice medicine. It doesn’t matter much to me if you go to college or not. I don’t mean to startle any of your families here today, but in the Final Judgment, those things are details. Instead, I ache to see each of you work for the Kingdom, and make your life an offering to your Savior.

It would be unfair of me to leave you with that sentiment by itself. It is a hard thing, to live such a life. It is absurd to attempt this life without having some guideposts… so, these are what I would like to give you. I can’t speak to every circumstance you may ever encounter, but I want to offer up some things that I hope will help you weigh your decisions. Of course, you will recognize many of these lessons from our study of the Scriptures, but the best lessons bear repetition. At least I hope so!

The first and greatest lesson we read is that we are each Created by a God who loves us. Not only that, but each and every human being bears His Image. I don’t know if the impact of these two truths can ever be overstated. It is simple enough for children to learn in Sunday School, but profound enough to make the wise marvel. Do YOU believe that you are Created by God, in His image?

We see a hopeless, childless old man promised a family. He believes Yahweh, and becomes the father of a mighty nation. Faith will not always make sense, but the reward is immeasurable… as the stars in the Heavens… Will YOU have such a faith?

We come to realize that our choices bear dire consequences. As we stand on the plains of Moab, we are confronted with this great distinction… will we choose Life, or will we choose Death? As we anticipate entering into our own Promised Land one day, we all have to realize that these are the ultimate ends of our actions. Will YOU choose life?

We encounter the miraculous. Seas are parted. Walls are felled. The infirm are restored. God acting again and again in ways that shatter our modern assumptions about the world. Do YOU believe that He still works miracles? Do you believe that He can?

Life is characterized by endless choices that we all encounter every day. We see both wisdom and folly calling us to follow them. Thankfully, in the Scriptures we also find True Wisdom to help us make such decisions. As you go out and seek counselors to help you through tough times, be sure to look for God-Fearing men and women to guide you. Will YOU follow True Wisdom? Will YOU live wisely?

By contrast, we find that every activity under the sun will prove fruitless if we act with the wrong motivations. Will YOU chase after the wind and make a name for yourself? Will You seek after a life of hollow pleasures and worthless treasures?

We see the Prophets of old speaking of a mysterious time yet ahead. In That Day, those who have built great temples to house their egos will find their idols destroyed. All who are hard pressed will find comfort. All who know only strife and conflict will find peace. Sin-stained hearts will be cleansed. Death will lose its’ sting. Do YOU look forward to That Day?

I am sure that it is no surprise that I am not offering easy answers here. That would be somehow untrue. I am leaving you with questions that you have to answer, and not just with words, but with your lives.

I have been deeply blessed to have shared this year with you, and I hope so much for each of you. Most of all, though, I hope that when That Day comes… the Day of which those prophets spoke… I will see each of you being richly rewarded for a life lived in His Name. And it is in His Name, the Name above all names, that I pray these things for you.

Thank you again for being such blessings to me, and may the Lord bless each of you as you go.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Suggested Bibliography, Part 3

Well, I warned you that I was probably going to come back to this whole bibliography thing again... I just didn't think it would be this soon. Here goes another couple...

11. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

To say that this book is a war novel is like saying that McDonald's food might not be good for you; both are dramatic understatements. I would go further to say that this book is THE war novel. It is so profound as to make pretty much every war novel since a poor copy of it. Considering the breadth of this genre, that is saying a lot, but when you read All Quiet, you will know I am not exaggerating.

Remarque shows you the hearts and minds of the young men who found themselves charging out of their classrooms into the trenches, in search of honor, glory, reward, true meaning. What they find is something nearly beyond words and altogether different. Though some may have excaped the shells, they were all of them scarred. It describes war in both the graphic, terrible detail, but also in a deeply introspective way which is almost unnaturally clear and free from over-emotionalism. Since Remarque does both, and with such acuity, this novel transcends any one war or period and speaks to all wars. Just read it. Just..... wow.

12. A History of the American People by Paul Johnson

If I listen carefully, I can hear a shriek rise up from my students as they read this one. For those who don't know, this is the history book we utilize at the Garden School for our Humanities class. Nearly without fail, the students groan and moan about how boring it is and how they despise it. However, I have found it to be a remarkable historical study.

Johnson is actually a British man who was a bit put out that in his British education, he learned almost nothing about these peculiar American folks across the pond. As he read more, he fell in love with not only America for what it is, but with Americans for who they are, as well. His scope of study is enormous, as he weighs and considers a huge range of factors, from economics to geography to politics to philosophy to the arts to biographies and then some. The author just put an insane amount of info into these roughly 1,000 pages, and he does it in a human way. It is not really just some kind of steroid-enhanced report, but a carefully woven and warmly written essay about what makes America great.

13. LOMBARDI. by John Wiebusch

This one is going to surprise some people, I am sure. It can not be considered a classic in any sense, and I doubt history will make it such. There are only a handful of people who probably even know it exists. For me, though, it holds a special place, and I take it off the shelf and re-read it at least once a year.
The book was originally published in 1971, about a year after Vince Lombardi died of cancer. This book is an oral history; a collection of interviews given by friends, family, bosses, players, competitors, and anyone else who knew Lombardi enough to talk about him. He was a giant among men... at least among coaches, and the Superbowl trophy bears his name as an acknowledgement of what he meant to the NFL. Aside from his achievements as a coach, he was a good man. He stood for goodness and decency and hardwork and integrity and teamwork and discipline... in a way that stands apart from the typical coaches trying to get more points on the scoreboard.

I honestly don't think a typical gal will care much for this book. Frankly, I am not sure how many guys would really care much, either. As a man, however, I find it touching and inspirational as I read about the tremendous impact this man Lombardi had. It goes beyond the simple guy things for me, as I confess that I have have wanted to coach football for more than 15 years now. Crazy? Sure. Can't deny that might be a bit out of character for me. I cannot imagine a coach who I would want to emulate more.

14. Nothing Like it in the World by Stephen Ambrose

This is a book about the construction of the American Transcontinental Railroad. That sounds kind of simple, really, but it is more than that. Ambrose is a polarizing figure among historians, but his books are so readable and yet studied, that they are worth the time. It's not just that he knows a lot about these subjects, but that he enjoys them, as well. In this book especially, you can pick up on the author's enthusiasm over what he is writing about.

You see, there is a part of me that aches to be a part of something historic, or challenging, or nearly impossible. I want to look back and say, with bravado, "yeah, I did that" or "I was a part of ..." Maybe it is climbing Everest, or ridding the world of hunger or working on a crab boat in the Bering Sea or whatever... Well, many of these men who worked on this railroad could hold their heads aloft after its' completion. It was an incredible, unprecedented undertaking that could only happen at that time in America. When you read it, you just marvel at what kind of a challenge it was, and what a triumph it was when it was finished.

15. Is There a Meaning in This Text? by Kevin Vanhoozer

I have probably gone too far into the deep end for most folks with this one... but that is kind of the point. One of my favorite areas of Theology or Philosophy is that of Hermeneutics (the science and art of interpretation), and this book finds itself under that umbrella. It is really pretty heady stuff that has such a broad scope, it is almost dizzying to read.

In a very small nutshell, Vanhoozer is dealing with the effects of deconstructionism on modern Biblical (or literary) interpretation. The guy is ridiculously intelligent and, to be frank, I am not even sure that I understood all of what he was even saying. That is part of why I enjoyed the book as much as I did, and why I want to give it another read or two. It really showed me the limit of what I really understood, and it made me want to step it up another notch to really understand what it is saying.

I preach to my students that you have to have a couple of these books in front of you regularly... to keep you growing. For me, this book is one of those. For many of my students, if they hear that I couldn't get it, they would be scared to even try it. All I can say is that I hope they will never shy away from any book or subject or class if it is something that they really want to learn or understand. Nobody knows it all. Nobody. But you don't have to be a scared know-nothing either.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

My Suggested Bibliography, Part 2

This is the second part of this Bibliography, so be sure to read these in order...

6. Read the Bible for a Change by Ray Lubeck
Now, this book is hardly a classic by any stretch, but I regard it with a deeper affection. You see, I have Ray Lubeck for a teacher in several classes over the course of several years at college. Fellow students seemed to adore him, but at first, I thought him a bit odd. However, after several classes, I found myself impressed by his teaching style and engaged by his enthusiasm. In fact, I feel that much of what my students enjoy about my class is a direct result of Ray's influence in my own life. He helped me understand what good teaching looks like.
That narrative note aside, this book is a very readable guide to Bible study, filled with humorous anecdotes and warmth. Lubeck packs a lot of info and analysis into a neat little package here, and it is only the richer for me, since much of it echoes discussion that we had in classes. His notion of reading the Bible like a BOOK completely changed my way of looking at it. Kind of common sense, huh? Well, I can tell you that it isn't that common, and most treat it like some kind of Spiritual Swiss Army knife. I don't have a corner on correct interpretation, but thanks to Ray, I feel like I am on the right street.

7. "The Dictionary of..." collection published by InterVaristy Press
Each of the books in this series is a collection of articles about a multitude of subjects in a given section of the Bible. For instance, in "The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels," you will find literally hundreds of articles on different topics which relate to these particular Biblical books. It may be interpretive theory, book structure, cultural notes, topical or thematic studies, character studies, geographical notes, or any number of topics. These articles are written by modern recognized authorities in these particular topics, and all are scholarly pieces.
Now, I will admit that these are not usually wildly interesting reading. They are, after all, scholarly introductions to these topics. However, it is good to chew on things like these to help us deepen our understanding and thinking. Just reading this kind of writing will invariably hit you with things you would not have thought of on your own, and may even contain "aha" moments when a new light is shone onto these books. As an added bonus, each article is followed by a brief suggested bibliography for that particular subject! Bonus!

8. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
I am deeply indebted to Dr. G(arry Friesen) who made me read this for his class. It is not a book I might have chosen on my own, but without a doubt it is my favorite Lewis piece. The basic plot is that a busload of damned souls travel to the outskirts of Heaven to decide whether or not they like it enough to stay there forever. Yes, it is a bit of an odd premise, but the underlying themes are too powerful to be dismissed easily. In the end, we see these "ghosts" fall, one by one, away from the "bright country" since they will not relinquish those sins that so tightly bind them.
One of Lewis' gifts is his clear picture of eternal reward and consequences. It shows up in his various writings in various ways, but this work captures it in such a beautiful, fantastical narrative. We find ourselves begging the various ghosts to release themselves from their self-imposed bondage, or maybe we scoff at them for their foolishness: only to catch a glimpse of such shackles within our own hearts.

9. Mere Christianity by CS Lewis
This book is another of his works that is just so marvelous in so many ways. Lewis is, of course, just brilliant. However, he has an equally brilliant way of discussing deep topics in common language. I would say that Lewis has a great "voice" in his writing that makes you feel like you are sitting in a Starbucks with him over coffee... This book is just so... conversational.
In addition to being so enjoyable, the actual topics Lewis wrestles with are utterly profound. This is a kind of Christianity 101, without the preaching. Really, it would be far too difficult to even begin to condense it here, as it tackles a wide range of inter-related topics. It is one of those books that does not waste a sentence, and yet carries you along in the reading. In my mind, it is a masterpiece that deserves a read-through at least once a year.

10. A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin
Now, this is another book that time may decide is not a true "classic" and in another ten years, I may not, either. That said, do not start this book unless you have time to read it straight through. It's nearly 900 pages, and no, I am not kidding. Once you start with it, you will read it every waking hour until it is done. Every person I know who has read it has had exactly this same experience. I bought it on a Sunday afternoon, and even though I had to work Monday and Tuesday, I think I had it completed sometime in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

As a warning, it is not necessarily for kids. While it is not trying to be vulgar in any way (far from it), it is a modern novel which utilizes the modern propensity to describe things in vivid, sometimes blunt detail. This includes topics like hate, love, war, revenge, sex, etc...

However, the story traces the life of a young man who grows into an old man... who fights in a war and sees death, who loves beauty in an almost transcendent way in all its' forms, who barely escapes a military execution by firing squad, who serves time in a marble quarry hand-chiseling enormous slabs from the sheer cliff face, who speed-climbs a mountain in a hail of artillery fire to rescue a friend, who falls deeply in love with women in a way that makes your heart ache to hear him speak to them, on and on the story goes..... and it takes you along for the ride the whole way. It is not a war novel, or a love story, or a drama... it is all of them woven together. It is well written in a way that books of the month can only dream of.

Well, that is enough of a list for now. I may take up the list again in future installments, and I probably will, but that would give a person a good start.