Books To Be Quarantined With

Books | greatlywondering.com

I stole this idea from Seth Lewis’s Blog, because I really like this idea of books to be quarantined with. It’s kind of like books to be stranded on a deserted island with. Haven’t we all kind of been involuntarily sent to the deserted island of our homes? Anyway, it got me thinking of what books I would recommend. So, instead of binging on Netflix or playing marathon sessions of Animal Crossing, check out some of these books.

Fiction

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart—What could be more appropriate; yet, I have a feeling that a lot of people don’t even know about this book. A mysterious disease wipes out the vast majority of the human race. The book doesn’t really go into any details of the disease or how it happens, but instead focuses on how people go on—first, with one man who seems to be have been immune and then, gradually, with the other survivors he meets.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens—This is the epitome of Dickensian novels. It’s long, but remember, you have a lot of extra time on your hands. Even though it has a lot of pages, it doesn’t feel long. It was released in installments. Read it leisurely. Don’t be discouraged by the title. It’s full of great characters. There’s mystery, drama, and social commentary. You will be transported to another time and place.

Peace Like A River by Leif Enger—This is a classic, but I bet you haven’t read it, have you? I’m a sucker for stories of journey-filled quests. A little brother travels cross-country with his father and sister to find his outlaw big brother. There’s humor, tears, and miracles. You can’t help but love these characters, and the prose is beautiful.

NonFiction

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer—Yep, another really appropriate choice, because we’ve essentially been forced to clear our calendars and slow down. However, this book will give you some practices to help you slow down for good and improve your spiritual life, instead of just using the free time to gorge on entertainment. Ultimately, the practices will help improve your life in general. I review this one at length here.

Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson—Feeling like you should be creative and productive during this isolation? Adorning the Dark will inspire you. This is part memoir and part book about creativity. It reads like a conversation with a good friend who happens to be a songwriter, recording artist, poet, and author. I also review this one in depth here.

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman—This was an eye opening book that completely changed how I viewed culture. It was written in 1985, but it’s eerie how relevant it is now. Just look at this quote: “Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.” Prophetic?

Graphic Novels

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud—This category may be new to some, so this is a great place to start. “Graphic novel” is just a pretentious way of saying long comics, but they typically deal with more topics than just superheroes. There’s a certain amount of magic that drives the image and text on the page to your brain, which brings it to life. This is another eye opening book.

Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman—(content & language warning) This is a classic in the graphic novel category and a perfect example of how comics can deal with poignant topics. This is a holocaust story. I think what really makes Maus interesting is how Spielgelman weaves together his father’s Auschwitz narrative, his own difficult relationship with his father, and Spiegelman’s struggle to make sense of it all by writing the book.

Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire—(content & language warning) This one is actually in several volumes, because it was a comic series. I’m also a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories, and this one includes a quest and cross-country journey. So, it’s one of my favorites. The thing about post-apocalyptic stories is they almost always include glimmers of hope. Gus is a character you will empathize with. I didn’t want to put this one down.

Keep in mind Amazon is not shipping most books right now. You may want to opt for digital versions or find them from other retailers. I’ve seen several smaller booksellers running great deals with free shipping. Spend your quarantine wisely and enjoy.

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry – John Mark Comer

Greatlywondering.com - Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer is a combination of a book on slowing down and a book on the spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines or practices have been in vogue lately, but Comer’s book is the real deal. Of course, the spiritual disciplines force us to slow down, so the combination works well.

Western culture in particular loves the idea that the secret to life is ambition, assertiveness, busyness, multitasking, and constant hustling. There’s no time to sleep or rest. Rise and grind is the motto of the day. However, the truth is we live in a culture of low-grade exhaustion and anxiety. Something is missing, and no matter how hard we hustle, we can’t quite grasp that elusive happiness hustling and grinding promises. That’s where the spiritual practices come in. Comer calls them “the way of Jesus.”

What’s the secret?

Comer bases his premise on Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30.

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Jesus calls the weary and burdened to himself and promises them rest. How do they get it? Take up His yoke and learn from Him. Comer writes:

What if the secret to a happy life—and it is a secret, an open one but a secret nonetheless; how else do so few people know it?—what if the secret isn’t “out there” but much closer to home? What if all you had to do was slow down long enough for the merry-go-round blur of life to come into focus? What if the secret to the life we crave is actually easy?

I’ll admit as I read The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry I thought to myself, “This is all great stuff, but I’m really not that busy. Life is pretty relaxed.” Funny how God works. Almost immediately after finishing the book I was asked to teach two classes, coach my son’s team which practices 4 days a week, and take care of the lines on the team’s field, all in addition to my full time job. My schedule is now full. I have this impending sense of not having enough time to get it all done. I keep coming back to Comer’s book and the spiritual practices he lays out for our hyper world.

The Great Enemy of Spiritual Life

Comer starts with a great chapter titled, “Hurry: The Great Enemy of Spiritual Life.” He basis the chapter, and really the title of the book, on a conversation he had with his mentor, John Ortberg. Over lunch, Ortberg told John Mark about a phone conversation Ortberg had with Dallas Willard. Ortberg asked Willard, “What do I need to do to become the me I want to be?” Willard told him he had to eliminate hurry from his life.

Ortberg made note of that and asked, “What else?’ There was a long silence. Willard replied, ““There is nothing else. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Comer immediately resonated with that, and he asks how would you answer the question, “What do I need to do to become the me I want to be?” More than likely your default answer isn’t going to be eliminate hurry. Comer writes:

But read the Bible: Satan doesn’t show up as a demon with a pitchfork and gravelly smoker voice or as Will Ferrell with an electric guitar and fire on Saturday Night Live. He’s far more intelligent than we give him credit for. Today, you’re far more likely to run into the enemy in the form of an alert on your phone while you’re reading your Bible or a multiday Netflix binge or a full-on dopamine addiction to Instagram or a Saturday morning at the office or another soccer game on a Sunday or commitment after commitment after commitment—in a life of speed.

Love is Incompatible with Hurry

Comer goes on to point out the old adage, “If the devil can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy.” I know so many people who would greatly object to that. They tend to think their busyness is a form of righteousness, but think about it. Comer writes, “Both sin and busyness have the exact same effect—they cut off your connection to God, to other people, and even to your own soul.”

Now, Comer admits there is a healthy kind of busyness. If your life is full of things that matter—God, relationships, serving—that’s healthy. Jesus had a full life. Having a lot to do is not the problem. We all have to work to survive. The problem is having too much to do and most of it being trivial and meaningless. That’s the kind of busyness that leads to anxiety and exhaustion.

What did Jesus say is the greatest commandment? “To love…” Comer writes:

Hurry and love are incompatible. All of my worst moments as a father, a husband, a pastor, even as a human being are when I’m in a hurry—late for an appointment, behind on my unrealistic to-do list, trying to cram too much into my day. I ooze anger, tension, a critical nagging—the antitheses of love.

A Way of Life

Part 1 of the Ruthless Elimination of Hurry describes the problem. Comer goes into the history of how we got this way. He writes, “the modern world is a virtual conspiracy against the interior life.” These chapters include a wealth of research and excellent quotes, if you’re not convinced yet. He even includes a list of symptoms to examine yourself against.

Part 2 of the book lays out the solutions. Obviously, the Sunday School answer is “follow Jesus.” Thankfully, Comer shows us what that might look like. He writes:

Put simply, it’s to organize your entire life around three goals:
1. Be with Jesus
2. Become like Jesus
3. Do what he would do if he were you

The whole point of apprenticeship is to model all of your life after Jesus. And in doing so, to recover your soul.

Unhurry Your Life

Part 3 of The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry dives into the spiritual disciplines or practices, which help lead to goals 1-3 listed above. I have always been interested in the spiritual disciplines ever since my pastor gave me a copy of Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. So, I enjoy reading different people’s takes on the disciplines, probably because I still struggle to practice them.

Comer focuses on the following disciplines: Silence & Solitude, Sabbath, Simplicity, and Slowing. I’m pretty sure he’s not Southern Baptist, but he did a good job with the alliteration.

Comer pastors a church of primarily young people in Portland, so his approach to many of these disciplines is very modern, fresh, and practical. I especially appreciated his chapters on the practice of sabbath and simplicity.

A Quiet Life

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry clearly lays out our modern problem using a variety of sources. The quotes alone are brilliant and pointed me to great sources for additional reading. The book lays the groundwork for the solution based on the way of Jesus, and then offers four practices to help unhurry your life. Comer’s writing is smart and engaging. He says he wants you to feel like you’re having a conversation with him over coffee. I think he succeeds. I highly recommend this one.  You can pick up a copy here.

John Mark Comer also cohosts the This Cultural Moment podcast, which is very smart and helpful. Check it out.