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My first post of the new year! Wait… what month is it?

I didn’t intentionally quit or take a break from this site, but it happened nonetheless. Finally I’m getting around to posting for the first time this calendar year. How many more posts there are to come remains to be seen. Hopefully, I’ll post again before 2012.

I love to read, of course, and never seem to have the time to read as much as I want. And I read at a much slower pace that I would like, which doesn’t help. My goal for this year (as it was last) was to read 36 books for the year – 3 books a month. Not surprisingly, I’ve fallen behind. At this point, I should be finishing up my 20th book, probably, and yet I’m about to complete #16 instead. I got off to a slow start this year again, finishing my first book in mid-February. For some reason, January is never a good month for me. Nevertheless, I still have hopes of reaching my goal (last year I only made it to 34.)

Everything I’ve read thus far this year is posted on my GoodReads 2011 bookshelf, but here are my five favorites of the year so far (in the order I read them.)

  • Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution – Ken Miller
    Many Christians often regard science with some suspicion, under the false impression that scientists’ primary intention is to undermine their faith. And, of course, many also believe that evolutionary theory and Christianity must be incompatible. Modern Christian scientists (and theistic evolutionists) such as Ken Miller, however, disagree. He does an excellent job making the case that trust in God and trust in science are not mutually exclusive.

  • The Inescapable Love of God – Thomas Talbott
    Before the Rob Bell “controversy”, I had Talbott on my to-read stack. Some find it difficult to reconcile the concept of a God of love and grace and, even, justice with the traditional view of hell as never-ending torment for those who do not believe. Some of them find the doctrine of universal reconciliation not just more acceptable, but more biblical. Talbott is an evangelical Christian and he does an outstanding job in laying out what universal reconciliation really is and makes a strong, biblical case for it. A great read.

  • Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade – and How We Can Fight It – David Batstone
    If images from the past come to mind when you think of slavery, David Batstone wants you to know that slavery is alive and well in the 21st century, even in the United States. Be it slave labor, sex slavery or child soldiers, both adults and children are being forced to live in slavery all over the world. This is both a difficult and unsettling read as well as a necessary one. Highly recommended.

  • Bossypants – Tina Fey
    If you love Tina Fey (as I do), you will definitely love this book. She discusses her parents and upbringing, her early years in the industry, and her eventual rise to fame via SNL and 30 Rock. It’s part biography, part social commentary, and all hilarious. I laughed out loud many, many times, usually disturbing someone nearby when I did.

  • The Rise & Fall of the Bible – Timothy Beal
    Beal discusses the history of the Bible, how it came to be a “single book” instead of a collection, and how it has been viewed over time, including the relatively recent view as an inerrant divine rule book containing the answers for which humans are searching. And his discussion of the Bible publishing industry is spot on. There were a few places where he seemed to get off track a bit, but overall a very enjoyable read.

My current read is Steven Waldman’s Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty, which has been very interesting and informative thus far. It’s an attempt at a balanced history of the founding fathers, their faith, and their vision of religious liberty for the country and how that liberty came to be. Along the way he dispels many myths often spread by both the right and the left sides in the “culture wars” regarding the founder’s faith and the idea of this country as a “Christian nation.” I’m about 3/4 through this fascinating read.

And, as for the second half of the year, I’m planning to read as many of the Harry Potter books as I can by year end. Remarkably, I’ve never read these books (though I did see the first movie when it was first released, but remember very little about it now). I figured it was long overdue, so I’m going to get on that right away.

Here are a few other titles that I have on my stack and hope to read this year as well, though my “to read” list changes almost weekly, so it may be an entirely different list in a matter of days. But for now:

  • High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and the Untold Story of Tennis’s Fiercest Rivalry – Stephen Tignor
  • Bright’s Passage: A Novel – Josh Ritter
  • The Hole In Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World – Richard Stearns
  • The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball’s Most Improbable Dynasty – Adrian Wojnarowski
  • Jesus for the Non-Religious – John Shelby Spong
  • I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive – Steve Earle
  • Play Their Hearts Out – George Dohrmann
  • Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN – James Andrew Miller & Tom Shales

Next week, I’m going to try to post a music review of sorts, with my favorites of the year so far. We’ll see how soon that actually happens.

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A different perspective

I don’t usually post a “September 11” post, but I just read an article and wanted to share it.

The article is from the New York Times, titled Explaining 9/11 to a Muslim Child by Moina Noor. In it she shares her thoughts and feelings, as a Muslim living in the northeastern U.S., on attempting to answer the question her eight-year-old son Bilal asked: “Mom, what happened on 9/11?”

not okayThe demonization of Muslims in this country has been astonishing over the last eight years. Noor writes about her attempts to explain to others that “we are just like you” and “Islam is peaceful.” I suspect it often fell on deaf ears. I’ve heard and read plenty from those who see all Muslims painted with the same brush as Osama Bin Laden and the 19 that boarded those planes in 2001. Many of them are Christians who, ironically, would distance themselves from extremists in our own camp such as Fred Phelps, Scott Roeder or Steven Anderson. For all of the talk that the Muslim world is full of hate, I’ve heard plenty of it from our own as well.

She writes about her own fears for her child, living in this country at this time:

Since 9/11, I’ve worried how Bilal would feel about his identity as a Muslim living in America. A survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life appeared in 2007 stating that 35 percent of respondents had an unfavorable opinion about Islam. Could one of those 3 in 10 people be Bilal’s teacher or soccer coach?

Over the past eight years I’ve read about Muslims being deported and pulled off airplanes and mosques being vandalized. My sister, a former middle school teacher in Brooklyn, heard kids taunt a Muslim student on the playground, calling him a terrorist. And even though I fear the possibility of discrimination for Bilal, what I fear most of all is that the din of Islamophobia will rob my son of self-respect and confidence.

I’ve heard many express concern about Muslims living in America. I’ve not often heard them express feeling compassion for Muslims living here who are at least just as concerned about living among non-Muslim Americans.

When we moved into our house four years ago, someone visiting our home observed our neighbors, an Indian family, outside in their garden. They jokingly said, “hey, maybe you’re living next to terrorists.” It was a comment I ignored, although I shouldn’t have. Despite the facetious tone of the comment, I know that there was real distrust there. Everyone from “over there” – even if they’re from a country that is largely Hindu, apparently – is to be regarded with suspicion.

September 11th will always have a prominent place in American history. It will always be a day of remembrance, as well it should, and the thoughts of those tragic events and the people involved will be with us forever. Hopefully, someday soon, the fear and cynicism with respect to our neighbors will not. All Christians are not the same. Neither are all Muslims.

I did try and answer Bilal’s question. I relayed the day’s events in broad cartoonish strokes: bad guys attack, buildings collapse. Don’t worry, I assured him, we’ll get the bad guys so they won’t do it again. As I looked at Bilal in the rear view mirror, I explained that good and bad exists in every group, even your own. I think he understands.

As should we all.

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