Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Writer's Relief: the Laughable Complexity of Legalism

Year of Living Biblically

Steve Martin. A good Bill Bryson book. Craver or Dave. The words of my younger daughter on any given day.

These are the places I generally expect amusement. Morality, on the other hand, particularly legalistic morality, well... that wouldn't be the first place I'd go for a laugh. That is, until I opened up Alan J. Jacobs. Wow, that guy can really rollick with Leviticus.

If you don't know who Jacobs is, then you probably haven't read The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. I highly recommend it to anyone needing laughter therapy. In fact, I purposely read it on a regular basis, for comic relief in my writing life (which tends to get far too serious).

My favorite part of Jacobs' book isn't the pictures... he morphs from clean cut collegiate-looking secular Jewish guy to hairy hippie-looking bible-following guy. (Though this in itself is worth taking the book from the library.) Nor is my favorite part the obvious dedication and research he undertook (any writer could totally admire the incredible work involved in such a project). Nope. My favorite part of Jacobs' book is what I'm affectionately calling his encounter with the laughable complexity of legalism.

For instance, writer that Jacobs is, he logs onto his computer but then thinks,

But wait— am I even allowed to use the computer? The Bible, as you might have guessed, doesn't address the issue specifically, so I give it a tentative yes. Maybe sometime down the road I could try stone tablets.

And then I stumble. Within a half hour of waking, I check the Amazon.com sales ranking of my last book. How many sins does that comprise? Pride? Envy? Greed? I can't even count.


Then Jacobs really heats up, and I must take the liberty to type this long excerpt. He writes...

I don't do much better on my errand to Mail Boxes Etc. I want to xerox a half dozen copies of the Ten Commandments so I can Scotch tape them up all over the apartment, figuring it'd be a good memory aid.

The Bible says, those with good sense are 'slow to anger' (Proverbs 19:11). So when I get there at the same time as this wiry fortyish woman and she practically sprints to the counter to beat me in line, I try not to be annoyed.

And when she tells the Mail Boxes Etc. employee to copy something on the one and only functioning Xerox machine, I try to shrug it off. And when she pulls out a stack of pages that looks like the collected works of J.K. Rowling and plunks it on the counter, I say to myself, 'Slow to anger, slow to anger.'

After which she asks come complicated question involving paper stock...

I remind myself: Remember what happened when the Israelites were waiting for Moses while he was up on the mountaintop for forty days? They got impatient, lost faith, and were struck with the plague.

Oh, and she pays by check. And asks for a receipt. And asks to get the receipt initialed. The Proverbs— a collection of wisdom in the Old Testament— say that smiling makes you happy. Which is actually backed up by psychological studies. So I stand there with a flight attendant-like grin frozen on my face. But inside, I am full of wrath.

I don't have time for this. I have a seventy-two-page-list of other biblical tasks to do.

I finally make it to the counter and give the cashier a dollar. She scoops my thirty-eight cents of change from the register and holds it out for me to take.

'Could you, uh, put the change on the counter?' I ask.

She glares at me. I'm not supposed to touch women— more on that later— so I am simply trying to avoid unnecessary finger-to-finger contact.

'I have a cold,' I say. 'I don't want to give it to you.'

A complete lie. In trying to avoid one sin, I committed another.


And that is why I recommend Alan J Jacobs for Writer's Relief. Just typing this, I've been laughing once again about the laughable complexity of legalism— dished up A. J. Jacobs style.


Year of Living Biblically photo, by L.L. Barkat.


JUST BECAUSE:

Erica's Poetry Friday

Scot McKnight's Poetry and Kathleen Norris

On a more serious note, this helpful article on Network Search Helps Readers Find Your Blog, from High Calling Blogs

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21 Comments:

Anonymous heather said...

That's hilarious. I had no idea that book's comedic.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Dave is being funny? Oh... now I get it. Yessss, it's all very clear now. I thought he was... you know... just eccentric.

Kidding of course. I love that guy! He is forever saying stuff that I wish I had thought of myself.

Speaking of being "eccentric," how does a guy go through a whole year living biblically -to the letter, and not end up in a rubber room?

My favorite part was when he asked her to place the change on the counter to avoid touching.

2:50 PM  
Blogger David A. Zimmerman said...

Rubber isn't kosher.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Wow. Just wow.

3:16 PM  
Blogger RissaRoo said...

LOL...boy, could I use a laugh this week! I'm going to have to read that, it looks great. My family loves to harass me about Levitical law, because I once worked in a synagogue and had to do everything Kosher (bacon cheeseburgers for dinner, mom...NOT kosher!). It was a great experience, seeing how Levitical law evolved into kosher law and how very, very careful one had to be just doing every-day things...for example, I could bring my morning cup of coffee to work if it was from Starbucks, prepared AT Starbucks and in a Starbucks paper cup. Black, with no milk. Otherwise, no outside coffee...you never know what might have been brewed in your coffee pot at home! My kids love to go to great lengths to think of animals that are kosher but not normally consumed...Musk-ox? Auks? Those weird beetles crawling on the side of the house? Yes, Leviticus CAN be a lot of fun...I'm looking forward to reading the book!

4:15 PM  
Blogger elaine @ peace for the journey said...

From law to grace...a laughable leap if there ever was one!

Thank God for his mysterious unwrapping of them both.

peace~elaine

6:12 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Heather... and this isn't even the funny part. :)

Craver... ha! I think it was definitely a hard experiment. And comedy aside, he also makes some very profound observations about the beauty of the Law.

Dave... : ) too funny.

Sarah... yes.

Erica... That's really interesting, about where you worked. I worked in an Orthodox school and it's definitely eye opening to see the dedication it takes to live under the Law. Though Jacobs has fun with it, I think he also recognizes the depth of what he set out to do.

Elaine... I like how you put that. It's the important balance to this post. I know I highlighted the comedic aspects, well, because Jacobs does that so marvelously. But of course the Law has a foundational beauty. Still, since it is so hard to uphold, grace is a sure relief.

7:18 PM  
Blogger NaNcY said...

sounds interestng

i think i will give it a shot

thanks

9:17 PM  
Blogger kirsten said...

that does indeed sound rather hilarious!! i could use a little humor ... ;o)

9:36 PM  
Blogger Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I never heard of that book. Having narrowly survived a legalistic upbringing, I may have to check this writer out.

9:47 PM  
Blogger Lynet said...

The funny thing is, I first learned about that book on Friendly Atheist. I suppose 'Friendly Atheist' does like the slightly amusing stories that both sides can laugh at.

2:31 AM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Funny. I can just imagine more. Looks like a good laugh read. I really like to take a look at the humor books when we go to the bookstores, and I'm better for it. This is one of those books I'll be looking for.

5:48 AM  
Blogger Billy Coffey said...

I'm on my third copy of this book (the first two I gave to friends), and it's dog-eared and worn to the point where I may have to purchase number four. It's a great, great read.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

The absurdity of a bunch of fallen humans trying to uphold the standard of a holy God.
They say that if you don't laugh, you'll cry.

I for one, am breathing a huge sigh of relief that I live under grace.

12:32 PM  
Blogger GratefulinGA said...

'that guy can really rollick with Leviticus.' LOL!! okay, that endorsement alone makes this a muct read!

oh and of course a good gift giving choice.

thanks for taking the time to time out those excerpts, very funny stuff!

1:39 PM  
Blogger sojourner said...

I will have to look for the book the next time I sojourn in the country. Legalism makes me sad. Yet, it has a way of causing transformations. Laughable legalism would provide the kind of transformation I need.

1:54 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Nancy... it's just plain fun. And yet, I find myself thinking deep thoughts with it too.

Kirsten... humor is good for body and soul. :)

Ruth... narrowly survived. I smiled at how you put that.

Lynet... good humor... that may just be a universal attraction!

Ted... oh, yes, there's much more. Enjoy.

Billy... you make a great advertisement! :)

Erin... the relief of grace. Yes.

Tammy... good gift, yes. But only for those with a flexible sense of humor. :)

Sojourner... spirituality with a touch of humor... that's a sort of grace of its own.

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Ann Kroeker said...

I just leafed through that book while standing in the Wheaton College bookstore and giggled numerous times.

I also went, "Hmmmmm."

2:05 PM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...

I discovered Jacobs and the book through the Ted Talks site. There is a video of him sharing his experience of spending a year "living biblically".

If you haven't seen it, you might want to check it out

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/a_j_jacobs_year_of_living_biblically.html

3:37 PM  
Blogger Talkin' Texan said...

Thanks for the post. I'll have to add this one to my list of "want to read."

4:28 PM  
Blogger Anna M Blanch said...

Wow, I don't know what to say. This takes the WWJD craze in a whole different direction. As a woman who lives by herself and teaches young man daily without covering my head I am not sure where I would even start...no, the boggles and it doesn't even bear thinking about.

What a great review, and I love the upside book photo - that definitely classifies as a new work of art.

12:57 AM  

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