Monday, July 25, 2011

Telling the Truth: The Gospel and Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner

On Phillip Yancey's recommendation, I went to search out Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner. It's an amazing book, if you haven't read it, go and find a copy and read it. Buechner is sorely underappreciated.

There's actually nothing much to be said about the book itself, because I think that Phillip Yancey does a good writeup/review of the book in Soul Survivor, but I thought that I can share my thoughts about after reading this book (It's so good, that this post is only for it, although I already finished another book, but more of that tomorrow).

Alright, I used to be suspicious of Bible versions like The Message, because it was so strange, but I see how it, like this book, plays a part in re-awakening the brain and heart to the Bible, that it’s once again fresh and new. And that's important, because the more prevalent Christianity is, the more likely we are to take it for granted.
I think, especially for people like me, who grew up in a Christian environment, we forget how disruptive Christianity was meant to be. Christianity says “you are doomed to sin and go to hell because your ancestor sinned”. Maybe because I’m Chinese, but I have faint memories of being told that what I did/was going to do would shame the family when I was little, so the concept of family shame is there. What happened in the beginning was like that. Because one person sinned, we are all doomed. It’s like a twisted form of blessing, instead of giving us eternal life and happiness we are given eternal sin and suffering in hell. And to make things worse, because of the “family shame”, there’s nothing we can do to get out. We can’t disown this relative, we can’t prove by virtue of our actions that we deserve to get into heaven. Adam’s mistake became our mistakes, even though we were not even conceived when it happened. But Christianity also says “Because I love, you, you get a get-out-of-jail free card.” While we are doomed to sin and destruction, we are suddenly taken out. It’s like a divine pardon. And because of the concept of family, when one is pardon, everyone is pardoned. But there’s no free lunch. We have to accept God’s new terms and conditions, which are simply to believe and follow Christ. And I think we forget how disruptive this message is, that it shakes us out of sin. Sometimes, a familiar thing, no matter how painful, becomes a sort of comfort to us, that we don’t want to leave it. But Christ comes and says “why are you intent on living in the gutter? Come with me, you’ll get away, but beware the process hurts. You won’t always know why, but you have to just trust me.”
This isn't the easiest of things to write or say. Honestly, last night, after I finished the book, I was so inspired that I opened up my computer even though I was half-asleep just to write the above paragraph. And I'm proud of what I wrote. I have heard the gospel in two languages (and one dialect), but I never understood what it meant to so clearly. Yes, I've heard of it, yes, I understand what it means, but I didn't understand the magnitude of it's implications. For someone like me, growing up in a Christian environment and being saved from a young age, it's easy to forget the terrors of living in fear of hell, and the relief of being saved. Can we imagine? We talk about God's love being as wide as the heavens, as deep as the ocean, but how many of us actually understand how big that is? Unless you've been sailing on a boat, where you can't see anything but the ocean for miles and miles, when you comprehend the vastness of it; or when you're in a hot-air balloon or blimp or plane up in the sky, where all you see are layers upon layers of clouds, all this height and wide thing is going to be abstract concepts. You won't know it until you experience it yourself.

So yes, this book is challenging, as challenging books shake you up and get inside your head. Have you ever thought of the role of the preacher? If you have, then you are much more aware than me. But this book opened my mind the things like this. It is, I feel, one of those timely reminders that help you remember not to take the Church for granted.

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