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Review: Heaven is for Real

Heaven is for Real, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent, approx 150 pgs

The subtitle for this book reads, “A little boy’s astounding story of his trip to heaven and back.”

That’s not really accurate, though. This book is really the story of two parents dealing with their son’s–and their own–ineffable experience.

In short, during a medical crisis at the age of 4, the parents (a pastor and his wife) later discover that their son apparently made a three-minute trip to heaven, where he interacted with deceased relatives, and also Jesus.

The book is an extremely quick read, with short chapters and approachable language. Most people who borrowed my copy of the book read it in a single day.

Upon completing it, my question simply is: so what? Or, now what? Having read the account of this family’s journey of trying to understand the indescribable, what do we do with this experience that we have had in reading it?

Definitively determining the veracity of this account is impossible. It may seem credible enough: a pastor, a young boy–neither of which seem to have a strong motivation to perpetuate an elaborate hoax. The pastor regularly works to reconcile his son’s account with the words of the Bible.

It seems to me that if we have to determine whether or not this story is true before we allow it to impact us, we might as well not have read it to begin with. As with most movies and novels, they are not strict depictions of reality, and yet they impact us nonetheless, inspiring thought, contemplation, reflection.

The author’s own aim is simply this: “The best we can do is tell you what happened to us, and hope that you find it encouraging…” (p.149). Talking with one person who read the book, and asking her about its effect on her, she said simply, “It gives you something to look forward to.”

Of course, the Bible itself mentions heaven and describes a few features of it, but the Bible is often accused of being written for another people, of another time, and as a result, it can be hard to connect it with the lives we live today.

And so perhaps this book meets a need, forming a bridge between our modern experience and eternal truth. Sadly, reading the Bible does not always prompt us to contemplate and consider the things of eternity. Unfortunately, we don’t always invest the time and energy to connect ourselves personally with the stories and truth that are portraited in Scripture. And so we need a little help.

Perhaps this book is an opportunity for us to consider what we often overlook. Perhaps it is a chance to find a personal connection to revelation which feels ancient and mystical. Heaven is for Real certainly isn’t a replacement for the Bible, but it may be a chance to think about the things of the Bible–the questions of what happens when we die and who God is and what His love means. In that respect, whether you accept the Bible or not, Heaven is for Real may be a helpful read. The few short minutes necessary to flip through its pages will easily yield the chance for some worthwhile personal reflection.

So, whether this little boy had an experience or not, whether he was able to accurately describe it or not, whether his parents were accurately able to interpret it and capture it or not, Heaven is for Real is a chance for us to approach the themes of eternity in a way that seems a little more familiar, a little more relevant. Hopefully, it will turn us to consider the things that are universal and ancient as well, and in that regard, at least it’s a start.

 

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2012 in Reviews, Theology

 

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Review: The Shack

Looking Back at The Shack (a review originally written February 22, 2011)

It was unexpected. I cannot recall the last time I read a work of fiction that was less than a hundred years old. My sense is that there are too many stories told, and one way to judge between them is to see which ones have lasted. A story reprinted for a century or more has surely left its mark on the world, and likely is breathed of a degree of quality that would make it worthwhile to read. Any recent novel has not had the opportunity to such chronological review.

So I approached The Shack with uncertainty: a work of fiction, Christian fiction, with readily apparent theological overtones. I knew only this of the book’s content: God is a black woman. I was surprised to find, not only a nicely flowing narrative—a true achievement given that much of the book is rather deep conversation between the protagonist and the persons of God—but well-articulated pointings and imagings of the nature of reality, the nature of God: that is to say, theology.

The various after materials in my edition reveal that there is a strong expectation that reading this book will impact thinking and evoke a response. As I have concluded the initial read, what do I do next? Have I thus finished a journey, or have I just completed looking at the map for a journey which is to come, one step in preparation to go somewhere farther, deeper?

Is it time now (or later?) to go back through, to focus on the assertions and propositions, to weigh them, digest them, attempt to own them? Surely, my limited literary retention prevents me from doing so by memory: although it was only last night that I turned the last page, already the events and notions are hazy and unclear to me. It is the experience of Mack after a profound weekend, except that for me each new day is apparently begun with a car wreck that obliterates much of my recall concerning what happened.

Is this book to be so influential? Is it to spark further contemplation and growth? Is an investment of going through it again, slowly, reflectively, evaluatively—with a hope of transformation—a worthwhile exercise? There are yet so many books that I’ve not even had an initial exposure to; can I justify a double-dose of this one? I have thought in the past that perhaps I should commit to reading fewer works, but read (or re-read) each one more deeply, so that rather than skimming (though in truth it is not, but my level of retention equates it so) a variety of works, I may truly delve into a few, and hope for greater impact, ownership, experience.

Is this to be the first book for such an attempt, this novel which has not yet even achieved its own adolescence in the chronicles of publishing? Do I risk–by approaching this book differently than I do my reading and study of the Holy Scriptures–showing greater intensity, curiosity, a willingness to re-digest, and a desire to retain?

I cannot claim to have a great sadness pervading my life, which led Mack to so profound an interlude. Without this, can I rightly expect to yet be impacted in my relationships through this tale? Can my thinking and perspective be shaped in real ways, can my considerations be affected, and can I contemplate my affections in a significant way as a result of reading this work?

These questions cannot be answered unless I try. The question is: will I?

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Reviews

 

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I Can’t Read

I can’t read.

I can write (somewhat), but I feel like I’m really not so good at reading.

I truly enjoy the act of reading. I’m especially fond of 19th century classic literature. Right now, I’m reading a book on medieval history (see sidebar “Recent Reads”). It’s fun. I enjoy books that have a nice feel to them; the right paper, the right cover. And a comfy, well-lit place to sit.

I’ve been through one and a half masters programs–and certainly have done plenty of reading along the way. I’ve got boxes of books (which used to be on bookshelves)–testimony to the reams of course syllabi that I have completed.

I’m working on a plan to read through the Bible in a year; it’s going well (and no, I didn’t just begin it on Jan 1st–I’m 6 months through it).

Enjoying reading, being motivated to read, is not a problem for me.

Remembering what I read is.

This title pretty well captures it. And it's a pretty good book--from what I can remember.

Time and again, I find myself finishing a book–or even a reading session–and realizing that I am walking away with rather little new information stuck in my mind. Sometimes I finish a classic novel and the next day I’m unable to remember exactly how the story ended.

I can remember that I read a particular book, but am usually hazy on the details and main points.

I’ve tried various strategies for trying to improve my retention: journaling, writing reflection papers, composing blog reviews, attempting to insert the book’s ideas into conversation with others.

But all of these methods seem to ultimately be without impact. I have a vast collection of books that I’ve read. And a vastly empty experience of having read them.

The one thing I haven’t tried much of is rereading an entire book, but based on my reading of the Bible (which I have read more than once), it’s going to take an awful lot of re-readings to really get it. And how many books (other than the Bible) are worth that kind of investment?

I’m starting to worry about myself. I’m wondering if my problem is not one of memory, but of teachability.

Maybe I’m just really not very receptive to new ideas. Maybe my mind is just not malleable enough to receive new thoughts. Now, somehow I’m able to get information in there, because I’ve done very well on heaps of exams and term papers, but in the long run, I’m not so sure about what I have to show for all the investment I’ve made in reading.

Is there some deep-seeded obstinance or blockage which is preventing me from receiving the total benefit of what I read? Is there some arrogance or ignorance which ultimately causes the words that pass over my eyes to exit from me completely undigested?

You’d think by now that I would’ve figured this out. Apparently, I’m surviving, but I can’t help but feel like a poor steward of all the time and energy I invest in reading. I enjoy the experience, but it seems like I could be reaping so much more benefit, carrying with me new ideas and information to incorporate into life and to pass along to others.

In any case, I’m open to suggestions. How do you read? What works for you? What expectations should I have for my investment in reading? I suppose that in the case of reading for leisure it’s okay if I don’t walk away with much. But I look at others and wish that I could retain as they do.

Perhaps this is just an inherent limitation in me, given to me to help me from becoming too prideful or arrogant, preventing me from wielding my retained knowledge like a weapon for the chastisement of the less well-equipped.

The challenge, I suppose, is to keep myself from coveting the reading ability of others, and also to ensure that I don’t give up on reading altogether (not likely).

In the meantime, the list of books that I desire to read continues to grow, ever haunted by the spectre of reality that I’m just going to forget it all anyway.

 

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2012 in Life

 

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