Ex Libris Kirkland

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Subtitle Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense
First Written 2013
Genre Theology
Origin UK
Publisher HarperOne
ISBN-10 0062300458
ISBN-13 978-0062300454
My Copy library copy
First Read December 28, 2013


This book is kind of amazing. I became a fan of Spufford after reading this biography-in-books, The Child that Books Built, but I had no idea that he did this kind of Christian Writing.

Unapologetic does just what it says on the tin; it's not a defense or explanation of Christianity, just an account of what Christian experience can feel like, and why that story feels true and right. It's really very, very good. It's easy to read, had colloquial language (including some very 21st century swearing), and if you're a Christian you'll have that wonderful feeling of someone accurately describing the inside of your brain.

The big picture here is that Spufford is trying to explain what it feels like to be a Christian, and how no matter what you believe is true about the claims of the church, that emotional experience is a comprehensible thing, no matter where you're standing.

Noted on January 11, 2014

He does a chapter on the life of Jesus, and it is freaking amazing. It's worth the cost of the book.

Noted on January 11, 2014

A good example: Spufford knows that the concept of sin, or and awareness of it in your life, is almost totally foreign and old-fashioned. So he casts aside the antique term, and describes instead what it feels like to know you've Fucked Up, that you will Fuck Up in the future, that you have a General Propensity to Fuck Things Up. It's a great move, right? We can all identify with this, and we can take this seriously, but he can discuss how this feels without dragging the cultural baggage of the S-word into the description. It's great.

Noted on January 11, 2014

The moral scandal of evolution is not that it contradicts some sweet old myth about God knitting the coats for the little lambkins: it’s that it works by, works through, would not work without, continuous suffering. Suffering is not incidental to evolution. Suffering is the method. The world wobbles onward, you might say, on a trackway paved with little bones.

Quoted on January 13, 2014

So you don’t keep digging the relationship up to see how its roots are doing. You may have crises of faith but you don’t, on the whole, ask it to account for itself philosophically from first principles every morning, any more than you subject your relations with your human significant other to daily cost-benefit analysis. You accept it as one of the givens of your life. You learn from it the slow rewards of fidelity. You watch as the repetition of Christmases and Easters, births and deaths and resurrections, scratches on the linear time of your life a rough little model of His permanence. You discover that repetition itself, curiously, is not the enemy of spontaneity, but maybe even its enabler. Saying the same prayers again and again, pacing your body again and again through the set movements of faith, somehow helps keep the door ajar through which He may come. The words may strike you as ecclesiastical blah nine times in ten, or ninety-nine times in a hundred, and then be transformed, and then have the huge fresh wind blowing through them into your little closed room. And meanwhile you make faith your vantage point, your habitual place to stand. And you get used to the way the human landscape looks from there: re-oriented, re-organised, different.

Quoted on January 11, 2014

We’re supposed to see God’s willingness to mend, to forgive, to absorb and remove guilt, as oceanic; a sea of love without limit, beating ceaselessly on the shores of our tiny island of caution and justice, always inviting us to look beyond, to begin again, to dare a larger and wilder and freer life. But it is possible to shrink it instead into something like a Get Out of Jail Free card, to be played by God only very occasionally in a game otherwise dominated by the same old rewards and punishments, human justice writ large all over the cosmos.

Quoted on January 11, 2014

Christianity maintains no register of clean and unclean. It doesn’t believe in the possibility of clean, just as it doesn’t believe that laws can ever be fully adequate, or that goodness can reliably be achieved by following an instruction book.

Quoted on January 11, 2014

Christianity does something different. It makes frankly impossible demands. Instead of asking for specific actions, it offers general but lunatic principles. It thinks you should give your possessions away, refuse to defend yourself, love strangers as much as your family, behave as if there’s no tomorrow.

These principles do not amount to a sustainable program. They deliberately ignore the question of how they could possibly be maintained. They ask you to manifest in your ordinary life a drastically uncalculating, unprotected generosity.

And that’s not all. Christianity also makes what you mean by your behavior all-important. You could pauperize yourself, get slapped silly without fighting back, care for lepers and laugh all day long in the face of futures markets, and it still wouldn’t count, if you did it for the wrong reasons. Not only is Christianity insanely perfectionist in its few positive recommendations, it’s also insanely perfectionist about motive. It won’t accept generosity performed for the sake of self-interest as generosity. It says that unless altruism is altruism all the way down, it doesn’t count as altruism at all.

Quoted on January 11, 2014

Ex Libris Kirkland is a super-self-absorbed reading journal made by Matt Kirkland. Copyright © 2001 - .
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