Hearts & Minds BookNotes

annotations, blurbs and ruminations

to enlarge the heart & stimulate the mind

and to happily generate mail order business for Hearts & Minds bookstore

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Location: Dallastown, PA

My lovely wife Beth and I own and operate--proprietors makes us sound more classy than we really are--a cluttered, diverse and independent bookstore in Central Pennsylvania. After well over 20 years, we are still not sure what to say when people ask if our shop is a "Christian bookstore." I do a monthly book review column over at our website; we hope that these new blogged bits will afford friends and customers the chance to see other books I happen to be reading, wishing to read, pretending that I read or at least believe that others should, if not read, know about. We have three children, attend a Presbyterian church in York, PA and have no hobbies.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Losing Moses on the Freeway

I spent nearly all day on Sunday moving around the house and yard reading a book that I just could not put down. I had to slap it onto my lap, though, on occasion, to literally catch my breath. And, truth be told, once to stop bawling. (More on that later.) It is an excellent read, a book written by a man I admire who is a strong writer, and, who, I might as well mention up front, is a former Christian, one with what people call baggage. Now a good-hearted if cynical agnostic of some kind, Christopher Hedges is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and the son of a good United Methodist pastor. His journey away from Christian faith has been driven, somewhat, it seems, by the bankruptcy and hypocrisy of the sort of liberal theology he studied at Harvard and his understandable disdain for the right wing, materialistic televangelists. (Why a guy as smart as he doesn’t really grapple with the other forms of orthodox faith is a mystery, a mystery I have been haunted by all day as I read and all day today as I’ve pondered this moving book.)

This new favorite book is called Losing Moses on the Freeway: The Ten Commandments in America (Free Press; $24.00.) Hedges previously wrote the powerful, powerful and very important book called War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning (Anchor; $12.95) which I gave to my Congressman during a meeting talking during the earliest days of the Iraqi War. That book, expertly crafted, powerfully argued, wonderfully written, makes the case that it is dangerous when a nation elevates war to a national cause whereby it provides cohesiveness, camaraderie, values, direction, meaning. He wisely uses Greek literature---Ulysses and The Iliad, especially---to offer a more limited and tragic view of war. No pacifist, he still has grave warnings of war's horrors and the seduction that can occur when a nation makes an idol out of the sadnesses of killing. His decades of front-line warfare reporting in places that we’ve all heard on the evening news---harsh places like El Salvador, Kosovo---has permitted him to see more savagery than most people ever have. His ponderings deserve to be read and we are glad that War Is A Force… has gotten rave reviews (and was a finalist for the prestigious National Book Award.)

His new one, on the ways in which the Torah of the Hebrew Scriptures, and the 10 commandments specifically, can help heal a torn and dysfunctional culture, has a marvelous, if often brutal, story at the heart of each chapter, each illuminating someone who struggled with one of the Ten Commandments, someone who lived into it or, more often, was nearly crushed by it. A few of the chapters are fascinating, a few chilling. All make you think. None are what I might call exegetical—the only serious flaw in the book (if he only would have quoted Bruggemann a time or two to help him look at the text.) In fact, occasionally he issues forth a touching little truism (“the meaning of this commandment is such and such”) and a traditional Jew or Christian might just sigh, and wonder what about the Bible, really, they teach in liberal seminaries.

For instance, he asserts that the meaning of keeping Sabbath is to love your family, to spend time with your kids. Now that may be a very wise suggestion and, in a deep way, submitting to God’s order in the family, rather than speedily pursuing the idol of material success may be a very, very mature insight that is significantly related to this particular command. But to just say that love of family equals Sabbath is just shallow exegesis and ignorant of classic theological reflection. We shouldn’t be surprised, of course, that an agnostic who writes like a tenderhearted and socially prophetic Unitarian doesn’t end up with orthodox, Christ-honoring teaching---I remind you that this is not written by a Christian and it certainly not aimed at the “Christian bookstore” market (but oh how I wish the popular and fine authors known in those circles like Lucado, Swindoll, Elderidge or Warren would read him) What we should not, not, not say is that because Hedges isn’t a solid evangelical, he gets it all wrong. No. In fact, he gets it mostly right; really right. And that is why I want to tell everybody about this rich and provocative book. Why I hope folks check it out of their library or buy it from us, here Like some combination between Jim Wallis and Jonathan Kozol and William Sloane Coffin and Desmond Tutu and Bill Moyers and Abraham Heschel and Anne Lamotte. Okay, skip all that, I’m not helping…

This great book has deep insight, a powerful narrative drive, sharp social analysis and, on nearly ever page, a reminder that God does not abide idolatry--- when we put anything in place of God’s ways, we bring distortion and ruin and heartache to our lives, our relationships and our culture. I can’t wait to tell you more about this moving set of 10 journalistic pieces, each with it’s own lesson. Check back soon, as I’ll share a bit more about Hedge’s excellent, emotionally-charged and wise new book.
I think you will enjoy knowing just a bit more about it. I know I have to tell some one.

Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America Chris Hedges (The Free Press) $24.00