Reforesting Faith: Are trees essential to every Christian’s understanding of God? (5/100)

I had never heard of Dr. Matthew Sleeth before he visited my church.  One of the Sunday school classes was reading his book The Gospel According to the Earth. I will confess that I was skeptical of the title and the subject for a variety of reasons I won’t go into at the moment (complicated subject), but when he came to speak I found him quirky and interesting so picked up two of his books: Reforesting Faith and 24/6.

I started reading Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach Us About the Nature of God and His Love for Us almost immediately and it was the fourth fifth book I finished in 2020.*

In this groundbreaking walk through Scripture, former physician and carpenter Dr. Matthew Sleeth makes the convincing case why trees are essential to every Christian’s understanding of God.

Yet we’ve mostly missed how God has chosen to tell His story–and ours–through the lens of trees. There’s a tree on the first page of Genesis and the last page of Revelation. The Bible refers to itself as a Tree of Life (Proverbs 3:18).
Every major Biblical character has a tree associated with them. Jesus himself says he is the true vine (John 15:1). A tree was used to kill Jesus–and a tree is the only thing the Messiah ever harmed.

This is no accident. When we subtract trees from Scripture, we miss lessons of faith necessary for our growth.

This is the rare book that connects those who love the Creator with creation, and those who love creation with the Creator. It offers inspirational yet practical ways to express our love for God–and our neighbors–by planting spiritual trees and physical trees in the world.

After reading it in fits and starts, the chapters are pretty short, I found it to be a very earnest, and at times interesting, but too anecdotal devotional of sorts focused on trees.

Dr. Sleeth moves through scripture pointing out the near constant connection between important moments and trees, bushes, seeds, etc. all the while extolling the planting of trees as a spiritual gift to the planet and our neighbors.

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The Nation or Nationalism? A less than helpful Very Short Introduction (4/100)

*I am attempting to read 100 books in 2020 hence the x/100 in the titles of these posts*

In a bout of focus I decided toward the end of last year to read a couple of books on a unified subject: nationalism.  I read Rich Lowry’s The Case for Nationalism, Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism, and semi-related Give Me Liberty by Richard Brookhiser.  More on those books later.

I also decided to read Nationalism: A Very Short Introduction by Steven Grosby in an attempt at putting these books in a larger context.

This book examines the political and moral challenges that face the vast majority of human beings who consider themselves to be members of various nations. It explores nationality through the difficulties and conflicts that have arisen throughout history, and discusses nations and nationalism from social, philosophical, and anthropological perspectives.

In this fascinating Very Short Introduction, Steven Grosby looks at the nation in history, the territorial element in nationality, and the complex ways nationality has co-existed with religion, and shows how closely linked the concept of nationalism is with being human.

I should have read the publisher’s description a little more closely…

This volume turned out to be a much more academic approach than previous works I had read (perhaps understandably so) and thus much harder to get through despite it’s designed shortness.

It is also focused on whether the nation is a modern phenomena or a part of human nature (biological versus sociological, etc.).

The only “review” I could find online with a few minutes on Google is helpful, if also academic, and gets to the main issue:

Grosby takes a strong stance against the argument that the formation of nations is historically novel. He acknowledges the important relationship between the modern nation and the relatively recent developments of democratic conceptions of political participation, the social mobility made possible by industrial capitalism, and the impact of technological advancements on transportation and communication. (57) However, he argues that scholars who base their analyses of the origin of the nation on these factors alone are guilty of being selective in their evidence and of disregarding important earlier developments, such as “the emergence of a national law of the land in medieval England.”

I don’t have the energy to go into the details of this argument as it was not really what I was after.

My impression is that this Very Short Introduction is not for the casual reader nor those looking to get more deeply at nationalism in the sense of the political or cultural phenomenon.

Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell

Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell continues the chronicles of Uhtred of Bebbanburg in the Saxon Tales.

Here is a brief summary of the book from the publisher:

It is a time of political turmoil once more as the fading King Edward begins to lose control over his successors and their supporters. There are two potential heirs—possibly more—and doubt over whether the once separate states of Wessex and Mercia will hold together. Despite attempts at pulling him into the political fray, Uhtred of Bebbanburg cares solely about his beloved Northumbria and its continuing independence from southern control.

But an oath is a strong, almost sacred commitment and such a promise had been exchanged between Uhtred and Aethelstan, his onetime companion in arms and now a potential king. Uhtred was tempted to ignore the demands of the oath and stay in his northern fastness, leaving the quarrelling Anglo-Saxons to sort out their own issues.  But an attack on him by a leading supporter of one of the candidates and an unexpected appeal for help from another, drives Uhtred with a small band of warriors south, into the battle for kingship—and England’s fate.

As with my other reviews of the books in this series, Sword of Kings does not disappoint. Everything from the plot to the character development is great–only difference with this book being that it has a twist for Uhtred. Cornwell shows Uhtred going through a little more adversity than normal – he is humbled. This humbling makes the story that much better.

Not only does Cornwell humble Uhtred, but he also continues to keep Uhtred human (rather than some superhuman that many authors tend to do for their protagonist). Cornwell often has Uhtred doubting his decisions–whether to rescue Queen Eadigfu or to honor his oath to Aethelstan to kill Aethelhelm and his nephew Aelfweard. It is refreshing to have the protagonist be unsure of him or herself.

The battle scenes are as epic as ever, which are visceral with a “down-in-the-trenches” description of men fighting with swords, axes, spears, and shields.

As I read each successive book, I have an increasing sadness knowing that Uhtred is getting older, thus his tale will end at some point in the nearer future.

Jonah Goldberg: The Cult of Unity Is a Poison

I’m taking a break from Twitter and Facebook this month for reasons I may blog about later.  Normally, I would share an article I found interesting on Twitter (I don’t do politics on Facebook) but today I thought I would go old school and blog it here.

Mitt Romney at the US Capitol

Anyone reading this who knows me will know that I am a fan of Jonah Goldberg.  I have been reading him for decades and he got me my start in online opinion writing at National Review Online.  His G-File this week is both classic Goldberg and well worth reading.  If you haven’t signed up for his new project, The Dispatch, I highly recommend it.

Part of the newsletter is a riff based in part on Yuval Levin’s new book A Time To Build, which I have just started and which I also highly recommend.  He notes how celebrity and social media come not from character formation that are the function of institutions but the using of those institutions for our own needs and wants – as a platform:

Once you start looking around, the list of people who use their institutions like cultural ATMs—staking out credibility that isn’t theirs to buy celebrity and authority they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford or deserve—starts to seem infinitely long. Ricky Gervais is now a right-wing hate figure for simply pointing out that Hollywood A-listers use award shows as literal platforms for virtue signaling about causes they often know very little about.

One of Yuval’s most important points is how social media erases formality. We say things to and about strangers we would never say to their faces. The anonymity of social media untethers us from the constraints of institutions and good manners. And even when we’re not anonymous social media allows us to cash in on the reputational capital of our institutions for our own agendas.

This is one of the reasons I am so disconnected and disenchanted about national politics these days.  It is platform building, virtue signaling and tribalism everywhere you look it seems.

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3/100 – The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

FYI, I’m blogging my way through what I hope to be 100 books read in 2020.

I really enjoyed listening to The Night Circus on audiobook so when Erin Morgenstern’s new novel The Starless Sea came out I figured why not go with the same format. My reward?An enchanting, mythical, romantic and adventure filled story about stories. Rich with characters, world building, and storytelling of the highest order.

Publishers Description:

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues—a bee, a key, and a sword—that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth. What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also of those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose—in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

As noted, I started with audiobook, which I listened to in the car, but I had to read it when I wasn’t driving because I was so enthralled with the writing, story and characters. Having read some of the reviews, I will admit I am open to the idea that the audio version is the more engaging one.

After all, it is a story about stories. And what better way to get sucked into a story is to have it told to you complete with characters, voices, and all that modern audiobooks provide? Now, granted not all audiobooks pull you in and hold your attention but great storytelling with audio production values can really work.

Once I was sucked into the story, I quickly found myself reading the Kindle version when I wasn’t in the car. But I listened to the vast majority of the book.

Here is what I wrote about The Night Circus:

Morgenstern builds her world slowly and at first you might be tempted to ask “Where is all this going and what does it mean?” But the details are worth reading even as the world begins to come together.  And even as you know in some important ways what will happen you are carried along increasingly pulled into how it will happen and what the ramifications will be for these future events.  And just as you begin to get a sense of understanding all of the intertwining threads Morgenstern begins to pull at these threads and reveal more in the unraveling.

And there is a sense that the details are more important than the larger picture. If you are looking for intellectual or philosophical depth or coherence I am not sure you will find it. Instead, it works best if you can lose yourself in the details.

I think that is equally true for The Starless Sea.

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