Category: general reading


Ruth

We have been looking at Ruth recently on Sunday mornings and three over-arching themes continually speak to me.

The first theme is grace.

We know that Elimelech led his family to Moab because of a famine.  It seems reasonable to think that he was trying to ensure their survival but if we speculate about his reasoning and impute motive beyond that, we risk becoming judgemental over issues about which the text is silent.  What we do see is the clear, overwhelming, all-defying grace with which God treats Naomi and Ruth.  How he works all their experiences together for good.  How He provides for them.  He provides food, family and a future for them.  He gives them gifts of amazing grace and through them, He eventually gives us Jesus.

The second theme is social justice.

The book of Ruth reminds us that God loves the poor and the marginalised.  Boaz is a man who lives out the righteous requirements of the law, who enacts justice and loves mercy.  God’s law provides for the needs of the poor and the foreigner.  Boaz welcomes Naomi and Ruth, he ensures that they are protected and provided for.  His actions model for us what it means to live righteously.  They speak to the pressing social needs of our society and to the plight of refugees and asylum seekers that fill the pages of newspapers, television and social media screens.  Boaz models the life that God intends for us to live – as individuals and as His church.

The third theme is redemption.

Boaz redeems Ruth and Jesus redeems us.  Our inheritance has been ensured – our righteous standing with God, our Spirit-filled kingdom life, in His presence, part of His family, partakers of His divine nature.  Crucified, buried, resurrected and ascended with Jesus, seated with Him in heavenly realms, we have become children of God.  Not because we have earned or deserved it, not because we have achieved it, but because Jesus paid the price of redemption for us, shed his blood and died for us.  We were bought at a price.

Out of His endless grace, because He loved us when we had nothing, God redeems us in Jesus.

What a wonderful book Ruth is.

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true grit

Another book that I’ve read recently is True Grit by Charles Portis.

True Grit tells the story of 14-year-old Mattie Ross as she seeks revenge for the murder of her father.  Mattie is uncomplicated and incredibly brave.  Her voice is clear and authentic and she wins over even the hardest of men with her clarity of mind and her unwavering determination.

“You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.”

The book naturally and beautifully re-creates the world of its time.  The danger and thrill of the American adventure.  The world of the native American, the outlaws, the marshalls and the ordinary families trying to make their honest way.  The dignity and the utter cruelty of men.  The longing for justice.  The love of a daughter.

It is one of those stories that I expect to revisit very soon.  Immensely enjoyable.

shantaram

I have recently read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.  The book is based on his life and tells the story of his escape from an Australian prison and flight to Bombay.  He falls in love with the city, runs a free health clinic in the slum he chooses to live in, becomes involved in the Bombay mafia, works in Bollywood and fights with the mujaheddin in Afghanistan.

But more than the (incredible) story of what he does, Shantaram is a story of the (incredible) relationships that he builds.  There is the immensely friendly Prabaker, the beautiful Karla, the trustworthy Abdullah and the father figure of the mafia, Abdul Khader Khan.  It is this relationship which most struck me.

“I also felt a sudden rush of affection for him, an affection that seemed to proceed from and depend upon the inequalities between us.  It was vassal-love, one of the strongest and most mysterious human emotions.”

This love leads Roberts to commit crimes for the Khan, to help run his mafia and ultimately to fight his war in Afghanistan.  There is a point in this relationship when Roberts sees the cost of this love.  The Khan has used him, manipulated situations to his harm – even allowing him to experience the dreadful conditions and torture of a Bombay prison – and his relationships.  Abdul Khader Khan also allowed a close friend and ally to be brutally murdered to serve his own ends.  His own vainglorious war in Afghanistan.

But Roberts, and the men around him, still love the Khan.

It is an emotion that I have both seen and experienced.  A love built around inequality that allows you knowingly to be used for someone else’s purposes to your own cost.  Strong and mysterious indeed.  And when you stand outside that relationship, as to some extent we are forced to in reading an account of someone else’s life, it becomes inexplicable.

Roberts’ search for an approving father figure costs him dearly.  And yet, at the end of the book, you suspect that he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The Jews and the nation of Israel.  I don’t know about you but most of my conversations about modern Israel have been in the context of theology – particularly eschatology.  What does the bible tell us about the Jewish nation in the end times?  This week I realised that I have never considered the issues thoroughly enough. 

Because this week I have been confronted with a Palestinian perspective.

I have just read Mornings in Jenin – a really powerful, passionate debut novel by Susan Abulhawa that tells the story of the conflict through six decades of a Palestinian family’s history.  It stands alongside Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns for its impact.  It is simply stunning.

And suddenly the issues are not abstract becasue they involve real people’s experiences, tragic and horrific and unjust experiences.  The suffering of tens of thousands of people and the brutality of the settlements and the refugee camps.  The forced removal of people from a way of life they had known and loved for hundreds of years.

Abulhawa, herself the daughter of Palestinian refugees, writes with a truly authentic voice.  Of Jerusalem her heroine says, “It sparks an inherent sense of familiarity in me – that doubtless, irrefutable Palestinian certainty that I belong to this land.  It possesses me, no matter who conquers it, because its soil is the keeper of my roots, of the bones of my ancestors.  Because it knows the private lust that flamed the beds of all my foremothers.  Because I am the natural seed of its passionate, tempestuous past.  I am a daughter of the land, and Jerusalem reassures me of this inalienable title, far more than the yellowed property deeds, the Ottoman land registries, the iron keys to our stolen homes, or UN resolutions and decrees of superpowers could ever do.”

Then Abulhawa employs a stunning literary device – she quotes actual news reports and historical works to demonstrate the force of her case.  And having detailed the graphic horror of the slaughter of refugees in their camps in 1982 she simply asks the question, “How does an Israeli soldier, a Jewish man, watch a refugee camp being transformed into an abattoir?”

It is a question without answer. 

I’m not suddenly pro-Palestinian and I’m certainly not anti-Semitic.  I simply abhor violence in all its forms and whoever its perpetrator is.  What has changed this week is my perspective of this conflict.  The anonymous news on my TV screen has become personalised and I am changed because of it. 

I highly recommend this book to you.

Rebus

I’ve just finished reading Knots and Crosses – the first Rebus book by Ian Rankin.  It’s excellent. 

To be fair, my mate’s been raving about Rebus for years but I’m a bit of a literary snob and don’t often read crime fiction.  Then just before the summer I saw a collection of Rankin novels going for a good price and I bought ten of them for my holiday.  I read them all.  Just gripping.

In a documentary on Rankin I heard someone suggest that he was a proper novelist who just happened to  have chosen this genre.  So, pride intact, I’m loving them.  Rebus is simply a superbly drawn character who ages in real-time.  He is complex and admirable, he blurs the lines and boundaries of right and wrong and yet as a reader I never lose my connection with him.

Actually, Rankin does this in a number of his novels.  I end up rooting for the hero even when they are not the traditional good guy.  Life is often complicated and Rankin is happy to exploit the uncertainties of morality in the pressure of difficult situations.  It’s a challenge to retain a moral compass when you get caught up in the lives of the characters and actually, that sometimes happens in life too. 

If you haven’t discovered Ian Rankin yet – he writes a cracking book.  I haven’t read one yet that I didn’t enjoy.

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