Good Stuff I’ve Read

We live in an information-saturated world. A lot of what we read is skewed, or unhelpful. But underneath the avalanche of data and detritus, there is good stuff to be found. And when I find good stuff, why should I keep it to myself? Here’s some of what I’ve read recently that I think is worth your time. See if these enlighten/encourage/educate you like they did me:

A 92-year-old Holocaust survivor living in Denver still teaches piano. Did coronavirus stop her? Are you kidding? Not only is she continuing to do lessons online, she recently hosted her students’ spring recital on Zoom.

This week, I finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Albert Einstein. I can honestly say that I don’t really understand physics anymore than when I started. I resonate with Chaim Weizmann, who went with Einstein on his first visit to the U.S. – and who would later go on to become the first president of Israel. About their voyage by ship from Europe to the U.S., Weizmann said, “During the crossing, Einstein explained his theory to me everyday, and by the time we arrived I was fully convinced that he really understands it.”

Though clearly a genius, Einstein was no … Einstein when it came to relationships. He was married twice, and struggled to stay connected to his two sons. Near the end of his life, in a letter to his long-time friend Michele Besso, Einstein marveled at Besso’s lifelong marriage to his wife. Your most admirable personal trait, Einstein wrote to Besso, was living in harmony with a woman – “an undertaking in which I twice failed rather miserably.”

Which leads into another book I’m enjoying: a collection of letters from C.S. Lewis, compiled in the book Yours, Jack. In a 1944 letter to Arthur Greeves, Lewis describes how he would meet his brother, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams at the local pub for regular conversation:

…the fun is often so fast and furious that (others) probably think we’re talking bawdy when in fact we’re very likely talking Theology.

What it would have been like to have a seat at that table! And then, there are these insightful words on love and marriage:

The modern tradition is that the proper reason for marrying is the state described as ‘being in love’. Now I have nothing to say against ‘being in love’: but the idea that this is or ought to be the exclusive reason or that it can ever be by itself an adequate basis seems to me simply moonshine. …Doesn’t the modern emphasis on ‘love’ lead people either into divorce or into misery, because when that emotion dies down they conclude that their marriage is a ‘failure’, though in fact they have just reached the point at which real marriage begins. It would be undesirable, even if it were possible, for people to be ‘in love’ all their lives. What a world it would be if most of the people we met were perpetually in this trance! (C.S. Lewis, letter to Mary Neylan, April 18, 1940)

This week I was on a video call with 3 counselors at a local middle school. When one of them announced that pools would be open May 25, the others whooped and hollered like middle school kids. It’s been that kind of year. This 4-minute video gives you a taste of how these past couple of months have challenged our teachers. If you’re a teacher or school employee, thank you! Now more than ever, we realize how important you are!

Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan’s Friday column, I came across Samuel Pepys’s daily diary – part of which he kept throughout the plague of 1665-66 that killed nearly 1 in 4 Londoners. I’m planning to read his diary, day-by-day – 355 years later, to the day. We’ll see how that goes….

Finally, a reason to smile: this 70-second video of a woman who found a way to hug her mom on Mother’s Day – with necessary coronavirus precautions!


We Weren’t Made to Be Alone

For some folks who contract it, the health effects of Covid-19 can be devastating. Likewise, we owe untold gratitude to those on the frontlines, providing care to those who are sick. The health risks and consequences are real.

But another element that is also affecting us is the isolation of this pandemic. It separates those who are ill from those they love. Even those who treat them have to be so encased in protection that it must be hard to tell who is caring for them.

By its nature, Covid-19 is a disease of separation – pulling people apart. And this is not just true for those who contract the disease – it’s true throughout society. Many of the things that have brought us together are now on hold. So much that we took for granted just 2 months ago has seemingly changed overnight – and who knows which of those things will be forever changed?

This pandemic has reminded us how much we need each other. We are not meant to live in isolation. Extrovert, introvert, or “ambivert,” we need others in our lives – people we can be real and raw with.

This was reinforced for me through a recent podcast conversation between Dr. Curt Thompson & Michael John Cusick. There are good insights throughout, such as: Get outside more than once a day. Anxiety is often about the future, but it impacts our present. We think of it as a state of mind, but it manifests itself in the body. If we can simply take a breath, remember who we are, be present – and be present before Christ – it can help change the equation.

But I was especially struck by Thompsons’s insight that not only is Genesis clear that we are not meant to be alone – it’s also that we are most vulnerable when we are alone. Alone physically, yes; but also emotionally, spiritually, relationally.

I need this truth now more than ever. Spending most of my time at home, I’m more aware of the ways that I need others in my life. I’m working on ways to nurture this during a time of “physical distancing,” but talking over Zoom or texting just isn’t that same as being real with someone, in person.

To that end, I wonder how this pandemic will change the Church. Will we find ourselves relying more on technology? Will we, for at least a short time, be limited in our gatherings? I don’t know, but both seem likely.

Even so, in the midst of these changes & challenges, our need for others will not change. We need – I need – real friends I can be real with in the reality that I’m really living.

So, my hope is that, whatever Church ends up looking like post-corona, it will be more real, more raw, more relational – where all of us come out of quarantine and isolation, less concerned with how well we “do Sunday” – and more concerned with how well we “do life” with each other.