Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of books from the library. I love it; I’ve sold most of the books that I don’t read/haven’t read that I’ve purchased, and with the library card, I now have access to thousands of books which I can read at my own leisure. Surprisingly, I’ve been reading a lot more than when I’ve been buying books. I have a theory that the library puts a huge risk on not reading (you have to return it soon), but at the same time dampens the risk of not reading (you got it for free anyway). This makes reading a lot more fun and relaxed, as opposed to shamefully averting my gaze every time I make eye contact with the stack of books I purchased six months ago but haven’t cracked open yet. Oh, the shame!
The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity by Martin Palmer:
I was really apprehensive when I picked this up. It sounded interesting, but I’m not a fan of speculative archaeology/anthropology. Too often these kinds of books devolve into a 2012 apocalyptic New Age kind of thing and I hate those. But it sounded interesting enough and connected not only my love of learning more about Christianity, my faith, but also my love of learning more about my Asian heritage. Win-win!
This book certainly was a win. Martin Palmer has done his research. He details the discovery of a highly advanced Christian church established long before most people thought Christianity even reached China through Catholic missions. The texts revealed a mission keenly aware of the different traditions they found themselves in and their attempt to reconcile common Eastern beliefs within a Christian context. It’s a wonderful example of how flexible Christianity can be as a religion and some fascinating history as well. Along with the actual text of the Jesus Sutras, Palmer explains carefully the background of the Christian texts discovered within China. He describes the different schisms within Christianity in its early years, the turbulent history of Taoism, Confucianism, shamanism, and Buddhism within Chinese history, and the possible explanations for various fusions of the two vastly different traditions. The texts themselves are interesting to read, especially as it describes basic Christian doctrines with a very Eastern tone, detailing things such as the resurrection/reincarnation tension, as well as how Christ might work within the context and knowledge of the Tao. In the end, I found whole new branches I was previously unfamiliar with (the Thomarist church in India and the Nestorian churches of the East, for example) which I now have a newfound zeal in learning more about. Overall, the book was highly enjoyable, and despite selling most of my books and trying to pare down my actual physical library, this book I might go out and purchase, since it has high re-readability.
Ecofaith: Creating & Sustaining Green Congregations by Charlene A. Hosenfeld:
This book was kind of a hit and miss. The bulk of the book involves an extensive list of different ecological projects your church can engage in, from the really cool (have a community garden and compost bin on the church grounds) to the somewhat ridiculous (have the congregation sign an “eco-pledge”) to the downright insensitive (during a baby blessing or baptism, try to work in an environmental message). A large part of the usefulness lies in the appendix, where Hosenfeld, a psychologist, details some of the psychology behind mobilizing a group of people towards a common goal, and why people don’t do ecologically friendly activities even though they deeply care about the environment and the health of their families. The appendix also details strong theological reasons for Christian involvement within the environmental movement. All in all, an interesting book, but I found the bibliography a far more fascinating aspect of the book and a great stepping stone for finding interesting things to read about this subject.
Zen in 10 Simple Lessons by Anthony Man-Tu Lee:
I thought this book would be a very superficial skim over the basic principles of Zen. I’m already familiar with most of the basic precepts; one of my favorite teachers in high school was a practicing Zen Buddhist, and he taught my comparative religion class. We had many interesting conversations about the topic and I learned much from him (I almost ran away from home and joined a Buddhist monastery, so enraptured was I with their philosophy. Ultimately, I decided against it, but sometimes, I wonder).
This book actually goes in depth and covers many Zen concepts at length. I was definitely pleasantly surprised; a lot of the principles I studied in this book now govern some of the zazen techniques my wife and I have been practicing the past couple of days. It goes into the basics of zazen and meditation, the source of suffering, how to achieve satori, koans, and how Zen mixes with daily life. It also devotes a chapter to Zen aesthetics, debunking a lot of myths perpetuated by Western minimalists about what “Zen design” is supposed to be. If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating philosophy, I highly suggest this book as an excellent primer.