10 Minutes to Knowing . . .

Genre is a bookstore problem, not a literary problem. — Rick Moody

It’s amazing what you can learn in a matter of minutes simply browsing through a bookstore. I should probably point out that there aren’t all that many bookstores left out there, so if you’re interested in doing a little research on your own, you may want to hurry.

As a for-instance along those amazing-learning lines, I saw a book called 10 Minutes to Knowing the Men and Women of the Bible. Seriously, ten minutes! Imagine the years and years of time people have spent going to church when, in ten minutes, they could have known the men and women of the Bible. They must really feel like they’ve got egg on their faces now, don’t you think? Not only that, the author, Jim George, seems to have cornered the market on the Bible – at least the ten-minute corner. There’s also The Bare Bones Bible Handbook, The Bare Bones Bible Bios, The Bare Bones Bible Facts, The Bare Bones Bible Handbook for Teens, Guia de Biografias Biblicas: Conozca A los Hombres y las Mujeres de la Biblia en 10 Minutos,and the list goes on. Who knew you could learn so much in ten minutes? Now, to be fair, reading all these books would probably add up to at least an hour, but imagine the time savings versus being in church for a lifetime. It simply boggles the mind. Admittedly, you’d probably expend well over an hour if you were to read the Spanish version and didn’t first know how to read Spanish, but the time savings would still be simply astounding.

Allow me to explain that I don’t know this Jim George, haven’t read his books, have nothing against him. He’s probably a nice guy. Apparently, Jim holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy from the University of Oklahoma, and a Master of Divinity and Master of Theology from Talbot School of Theology. Hmm, pharmaceuticals and church. That’s an interesting mix, don’t you think? I feel I should point out here that Mr. George has sold over a million copies of his books. I, on the other hand, have not. I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

Of course, I also ran across a book called The Good Girl’s Guide to Bad Girl Sex, but I’m not sure it quite fits into this little story. Really, is this something good girls want to learn? It’s a very confusing world – has been ever since I was just a very short model for Encyclopedia Britannica [see author’s blog photo]. I mean when I was growing up, good girls were good, right? And bad girls were, well, they had dates. I should probably write about double standards sometimes.

But, back to the bookstore. Did you know there are over 1,800 titles in the Dummies series? Are we really that stupid? Or, are we merely that gullible? Did you know you can pick up The Bible for Dummies for only $11.98 at Barnes & Noble? Couldn’t we just read Jim George’s books? I mean, I know the Dummies books have big type and lots of white space all around the page, but I’m pretty sure you can’t get through them in ten minutes!

I notice that one of the biggest sections in the bookstores these days is the Christian section. I’m not sure who determines that all these books are actually Christian and I’m not even sure a lot of Christians read all that much any more, but a lot of titles end up there nevertheless. Some of them have titles that seem a little frightening, like Die Young: Burying Your Self in Christ; Satan, You Can’t Have My Children: The Spiritual Warfare Guide for Every Parent; 10 Minutes to Powerful Prayer (okay, I only thought George had the corner on that 10-minute market); and 101 Frequently Asked Questions about Homosexuality. Wow, and I thought I asked a lot of questions! It seems I was wrong. After all, there’s also 101 Things You Should Do Before Going to Heaven; 101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged; 101 Things to Do During a Dull Sermon: A Survival Guide for Sermon Victims; 150 Need-To-Know Bible Facts: Key Truths for Better Living. There’s even a book with 201 Great Questions. Don’t know if these questions have anything to do with Christianity but, apparently they’re great questions.

Bet you’re missing those Dummies books already, aren’t you?

Have you ever noticed that some Christians use the image of war a lot? Spiritual warfare. Now there’s an odd combo. Seem like awfully violent terms to attribute to a peaceful man. Remember the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers”?

Marching as to war. With the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; forward into battle see his banners go!

See his banners go! Funny, I seem to remember something about turning the other cheek. I seem to remember something about the least among us. I seem to remember a ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Maybe the songwriter was talking about one of the disciples? Some of them were looking for a warrior king. They were looking for someone to crush their enemies. I don’t recall Jesus doing that – reprimanded the disciples, in fact. Perhaps I just don’t remember correctly. Perhaps I need to consult my copy of The Bible for Dummies.

Do you really think people frequently ask 101 questions about homosexuality? I can think of two, three tops and I’m done. 101 things to do during a dull sermon? How about one – don’t show up! If you really need to think up things to distract yourself from church while you’re in church, you are most assuredly in the wrong church. And even I can’t imagine there could really be 101 things I need to do before going to heaven. And I have a pretty good imagination! I can think of two: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Admittedly, fulfilling that command involves a lot on my part – things, however, that don’t seem to be covered in a lot of these books.

Of course, simplifying the teachings of Jesus wouldn’t sell a lot of books, now would it? But am I the only one who thinks a lot of Christians make being Christian far more difficult than it needs to be?

I usually go to church in a jacket and tie. Not because I’m supposed to, not because I think I look pretty good dressed that way (though, well, I do), and not because it’s part of some Holy Writ. I think they’d still let me through the door without the tie. No, I’m pretty sure Jesus never once wore a tie – he was smarter than that. I dress the way I do because it feels right to me. From the time I was old enough to walk, I wore some sort of dress-up clothes to church. And, a little like a leach, that idea attached itself and has stayed with me. So, there I am at church in a tie. It’s because it’s a part of who I am, the way I feel right. Simple.

Spiritual warfare guide for parents? How about showing them from an early age that you are a loving person who actually cares about others. How about living up to what Christ asked instead of trying to scare them into submission? Try putting down the cell phone long enough to remember the children exist. I’m back in church and I go to a church where I see children who actually want to be there. Will they make mistakes as they grow up? We’d better hope so. It’s the only way any of us seem to learn anything. I hate that about life. I’d much rather have everything handed to me on a silver platter but it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t even work that way for kids who have everything handed to them on a silver platter. All you end up with is a lost, selfish, self-centered human being who drags around a silver platter behind him. I believe we already have enough of those.

I try to read books that encourage me to do something positive. I don’t deliberately pick up a book that screams Judgment!, You’re Not Good Enough! I’ve been judged plenty over the years by people who should know better if, in fact, they practiced what they preach in their churches. I walked away from church because it seemed they made it simply too difficult to stay. Their God had too many requirements. I see now that God’s requirements are small. God’s requirements are simple. Boil it down to those two little things I mentioned earlier and you’re well on your way to a good and useful life. Anything beyond that is either icing on a beautiful, non-fat cake or a truly serious hindrance. It’s up to us to decide which is which.

So, next time you’re tempted to pick up that copy of Are You Going Broke With Jesus? – you may want to resist the temptation. Seriously, that’s another book I don’t plan to read, nor will it end up on my reading list. If your interest in Jesus is primarily how he can make you rich, clear up your skin, and make you irresistible to the opposite sex, it is my personal opinion that you’ve missed the mark. I also won’t be adding any of the books out there that promise you a better job, more money, a big house in Beverly Hills, a better sex life, you name it – through Jesus. In the end, it’s simply not all about you. It’s about, uh, Jesus, right?

I spent 40 years away from church for a number of reasons. I returned despite the fact that much of this country has made Jesus into just another fad – another marketing tool. You find plenty of people ready to spout Bible verses that say very little when taken out of context, but are used instead to push the agenda du jour. Lost in all the hype, all the Jesus trinkets, all the trivialization of Jesus’ teaching is, of course, Jesus.

So, I encourage you to stroll into a bookstore sometime despite the obvious dangers lurking there. With a little time and a little common sense, you’re likely to find something there that encourages you to be a better person – a giving person as opposed to a “me” person. If you really want a good read, we have books on the back of the pew at my church. We refer to the book as the “pew Bible,” though I think that’s only because it sits in a little pocket on the back of the pew. It’s no Bible for Dummies, but I believe it’s still a Bible. It’s a rather riveting mystery, that book. You may want to read it in the company of others who understand that it’s a vision of God by people over thousands of years. Read it too literally and I’m afraid you’ll walk away with an awful, violent vision of the world. Read it in the context of the time of the stories and you’ll find a fascinating tale of people in search of God.

I know a lot of people still searching for God. What they (we) don’t always seem to remember is that God found us long ago. All we’re trying to do is catch up.

4 thoughts on “10 Minutes to Knowing . . .

  1. Wow, Ben. You’ve done it again — humor and enjoyment leading right to the punch line. Guess that’s why “Amazing Grace” is so powerful, comforting, universal and eternal — we realize we’re found.

    What tie did you pick for today? 🙂

    • Sandy, you got to see the tie. I know there was some brown in it, some green, also. I think there were even diamond shapes.

      Wouldn’t it be great if we all shared a little more grace with each other?

  2. I love both the photo and the tie. I, too, adore wandering into book stores and searching the shelves. I recently want to Raven Books in Boston, well, recent as in a year ago, with my book who had his list of used books he was looking for on his iphone. “Why not just got to Abebooks or one of those fantastic online book search engines?” I asked.

    “Nah,” he said, “that takes all the fun out of it, it’s the quest that’s more than half the fun.”

    And so we dove into the shelves, me finding used books by Hannah Arendt for $7.99 each I didn’t even know existed, including an amazing one on her Jewish Writings. One of the challenges of reading her work is that she has Greek and Latin words in the text, written in those languages, and while I do have Google translate, I haven’t yet taken the extra step to put them in, although honestly, with my Mac computer, I can do it — I mean, I do have the Hebrew keyboard I can easily switch to, so why limit myself?

    And truth be told, you look damned good in a tie, both then and now. I remember with delight how your Dad always showed up for work in a proper suit and tie, and I remember one lunch date we went on where he and his second wife wore matching Sunday outfits — they were so cute, I wanted to take their picture!

    Ah, bookstores, I do whatever I can to support my local independent book stores. And I remember reading statistics recently that Christian books were still one of the best-selling genres. Which makes me wonder if I should perhaps market my new little book, “There’s Jews in Texas?” on the Christian book store circuit…? I mean, after all, wasn’t Jesus Jewish?

    • Give the little woman in the front row a stuffed giraffe! Yes, Devorah, I just do believe Jesus WAS a Jew. But, now you’re giving away the plot of one of my upcoming blogs. Well, that’s okay, no one reads this stuff, right?

      Dad’s second wife is now my beloved step-mother, Charlene. And I can absolutely believe they showed up in matching Sunday outfits. In fact, I can picture it even as I type. I wish you had taken a picture. I got to see Charlene in Waco today. I had on a lovely tie and I was told that Charlene and I were coordinated today. Everyone there knows, of course, that I don’t dress myself. It’s just too frightening to think what I’d show up in without help.

      I am also picturing you in the middle of Mardel’s reading from “There’s Jews In Texas?” The reactions would be priceless.

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