The Year Of Living Biblically, by A.J. Jacobs
This book was loaned to me by one of my friends at church who has good taste in books , and once I was able to read enough books that I do not have too many waiting for reviews, I decided to tackle it. A.J. Jacobs sounds like someone who is fun to read, largely because he has a great sense of humor and is very willing to embarrass himself (always an endearing subject when reading about someone else). Yet from what he says, and his own particular perspective, it sounds like he might not necessarily be the best person to be around. This because he seems to have the quality of being too able to blend into company of wildly dissimilar character and worldviews while also having a worldview himself that is considerably divergent from my own. Still, he is the sort of writer one can appreciate from afar, especially given the serious nature he tackles seeking to obey all of the laws of the Bible during the course of a year, spending 3/4 of the year on Judaism and the final 1/4 of the year on Christianity.
The account itself is very humorous and madcap, including a drunken Feast of Tabernacles party with some Hasidim, a trip to Israel to visit his ex-uncle who was once a cult leader and has gone Orthodox Jew, a trip to see some snake handlers in Appalachia and some gay evangelicals in New York (where the author resides), besides the more usual family drama of seeking to be observant with a mildly skeptical wife and a somewhat bratty young son. This book has a lot of moments of great humor, including perhaps the most awkward stoning one will have ever read as well as some deeply poignant moments where the author struggles with his prayer life and with showing compassion on a sickly neighbor whose life in the 60’s was as good as it got. By taking a focused approach, we see how the author struggles with lust and greed and anger, all things that most believers will admit are major problems in our own society, and we see as well that there is no escaping from the need to interpret the scriptures, which leave us no choice but to wrestle with the tensions or to see those tensions as contradictions wherein we can bolster our own pet perspectives, as is so often done.
Perhaps the best measure of the value of this book is that the journey of faith taken by the author managed to change his life. During the course of the year, he became more generous, more respectful of elders, better able to relate to those of a different religious worldview he may have originally found particularly offensive (like conservative evangelicals) and even understood the sacred nature of the Sabbath rest and other aspects of biblical living in ways that he did not appreciate before. Additionally, his walk of attempted faith led him to understand that it was worthwhile to pass along to his sons (two of whom were born during the year) a knowledge of their ancestral Hebrew faith, so that they may not be cast adrift in our modern world. Despite the author’s agnostic perspective and obvious political bias, that recognition of the sacred and of the need to struggle with the Word of God itself is a bridge that allows many readers to relate to his quest, especially as it mirrors our own journey of faith in the realms of uncertainty, doubt, and awesome wonder.
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