June 25, 2012
By William McKenzie
Let's take a break from the world of religious surveys, topical headlines and public policy and do something different this week. And that is share with Texas Faith followers what you are reading this summer and why you are reading it.
For a number of reasons, summer is known as a time of reading. That could be because of so many summer books coming out. It could be that we all have more time to read on vacation. Or it could be that summer is less stressful.
Whatever the reason, here is the question for this week:
What are you reading this summer? And why?...
MATTHEW WILSON, Associate Professor of Political Science, Southern Methodist University
One is tempted, in response to a question like this, to mention some erudite tome offering a novel and provocative theory about the nature of man and society, or a spiritual reflection meant to build character and virtue and deepen our understanding of The Divine.
I do, of course, often read books like this (Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth, which I have mentioned on this blog before, is one that I would especially recommend), but the question asks what we are reading right now, this summer, so I will answer with complete candor.
I am just now finishing George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons, the fifth volume of the series on which the popular HBO show Game of Thrones is based, and am enjoying it enormously.
Before I explain what I like so much about this series, a few caveats are in order. Prospective readers should know that the books are full of brutal violence, and are liberally laced with profanity and sex (though not as much so as the TV version -- HBO seems to have intentionally exaggerated these elements to satisfy the audience's prurient interest).
The take on religion offered in the books is pretty cynical, as has become the cliched norm in modern fiction -- all clergy are either venal sots or dangerous fanatics, and few interesting, sympathetic characters are deeply pious. I do not read or recommend the books because I wholly agree with Martin's worldview, at least as it is revealed in the pages of his fiction. What the books offer, though, is an exceptionally well told, engaging story with fascinating, complex characters set in a richly imagined world.
They also raise really provocative questions about the roots of legitimate kingship, the proper scope and function of government, and the interplay of the scientific and the supernatural. Without giving away any of the plot, I can say that this is the rare fantasy series where it's not even clear what it would mean for "good" to prevail. It's good summer reading for those who want some food for thought along with a great, entertaining story....
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
I am currently reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. Initially, I chose the book because I was eager to learn more about his visionary leadership in creating Apple. I also wanted to understand how a person with such an enormous impact could have succeeded in so many ways while failing so remarkably in others.
What I am discovering through the book is that his professional success and his personal flaws were a lot more stunning than I had ever imagined. While he managed to sustain some decent relationship with his adoptive parents, his behavior with most people was atrocious. He was mostly uninterested in his oldest child. He manipulated and verbally abused many of the people who worked with him or for him. He ran his businesses on instinct rather than respect for people or procedures.
As I move toward the latter chapters of the book, I am fascinated to discover whether his confrontation with a terminal illness had any impact on his personality, his priorities, or his professional practices. And I am trying to discern whether the idiosyncrasies of his approach were what made him both a creative genius and a dreadful boor.
Along the way, I am perplexed about a matter of religious faith and practice. I wonder if Steve Jobs was a dabbler in Buddhism who failed to find the peace that he sought because he never took it seriously enough. And I wonder if his story illustrates that practitioners of any religious tradition have to surrender themselves to its values if they hope to find refuge from their personal demons.