August 17th, 2008

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Book review; The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren

[From The Religious Language Newsletter for May/June 2004]

The Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For?, by Rick Warren [Zondervan 2002]; ISBN 0-310-20571-9.

In the March/April 2004 issue of this newsletter I said "Until I've read The Purpose Driven Life myself, I'll hold my peace about it." I've read it now, and I'm glad I did; I was impressed. Not because I always agreed with its theology; I didn't. I'm not an Evangelical, and I had the usual disagreements, plus there were a few things that actually startled me. But this is a good and useful book that fills a real need, for once (in spite of the fact that it has sold nearly 14 million copies and become an industry, which is usually a bad sign) and I recommend it. I've rarely seen a book so well designed, in cognitive terms.

In my experience the major problem people have -- the problem that stands most stubbornly between them and a good life -- isn't that they're wicked. Usually the Big Barrier is that they're totally disorganized. They flounder around, getting nowhere, and the years go by, and they panic. This book, even when the reader doesn't always agree with the religious doctrine presented, will go a long way toward fixing that. It will put a floor under the flounderer.

Warren doesn't write down to people [although I kept wishing that he (or perhaps his editors) would stop hewing to the Evangelical Punctuation Line and throwing in gratuitous exclamation points!!!], and he doesn't drift off into rambling anecdotes and pontifications. He just shows you one way you could get your act together. It's amazing. He defines his terms. He structures his lessons (one a day for 40 days) beautifully. When he says he's going to do something, he does it. It's obvious even to a casual reader that this is a book based on a lifetime of experience helping disorganized people get their acts together. Here's a sample to show you the style, from page 42:

"Your unspoken life metaphor influences your life more than you realize. .... [I]f you think life is a party, your primary value in life will be having fun. If you see life as a race, you will value speed and will probably be in a hurry much of the time. ... If you see life as a battle or a game, winning will be very important to you. What is your view of life? You may be basing your life on a faulty life metaphor." (And he goes on to recommend three choices from the Bible -- life is a test; life is a trust; life is a temporary assignment -- and to discuss each one.)

Closing note: It's not fair for me to say that I found some startling bits and not provide at least one example; I won't do that. I was startled by this sentence on page 286: "What we do know for sure is this: Jesus will not return until everyone God wants to hear the Good News has heard it." Followed up, shortly, by "If you want Jesus to come back sooner, focus on fulfilling your mission, not figuring out prophecy."

[Update in 2008: Looking at that brief review now, out of its context, it seems to me that there's one thing I need to clarify. What startled me wasn't the content of the sentence I quoted from page 286; it was the source. That is, given what I knew and what I had been reading about Rick Warren at the time, it wasn't something that I would have expected him to say.]
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Eldering; unfinished business...

The older you get, the more you are aware of the long list of Unfinished Business -- the things it's really important for you to do while you're still alive -- and still able -- to do them. [What brought this to my mind, circuitously, was an article by Abigail Zuger MD titled "For the Very Old, a Dose of 'Slow Medicine'," at . It reminded me of where and when I am.]

My list has on it a lot of the usual things. Making sure that my lawyer and my doctor and everybody in my family know, in no uncertain terms, that I don't want anybody doing medical "heroics" to keep me alive. Making sure my will is up to date. Making sure my kids know where to find the various crucial papers and keys and so on. The usual things. And then there there are the less usual things, which worry me more, and which I'm not making adequate progress getting done. For example, these four...

Learning to drive again

When we moved out here in what was then the very isolated country, almost wilderness, my mother gave me some excellent advice: "Be sure," she said, "that you don't let your driving skills go downhill." I should have taken that advice; she was absolutely right. But I had always hated driving -- hadn't learned how until I was past 30 -- my husband loved driving and considered it his territory, and in the 28 years we've lived out here I've driven maybe half a dozen times, and only down our driveway to my kids' place. Which means that now, if George were to break an ankle, or if -- as is certainly possible -- he were to die before me, I couldn't even drive into town to buy groceries. This is so unutterably stupid of me that it defies description. Every week I decide that this will be the week I explain the problem to George and have him get in the car with me as a passenger while I drive into town and start the re-learning process .... and every week I don't do that. I have lots of excuses, and none of them are good enough. Please: Take warning by me, and don't make this mistake.

Cleaning up this house and property

This one is heavy-duty. The thought of what my kids and grandkids would face if George and I should both die in a wreck on the road at the same time is a horror story. The mess things are in .... you can't imagine. But because I've put this one off so long, I've let it go till the task is genuinely something I'm not physically able to do now. I am so sorry about this... and that will be no help at all to anybody who has to deal with the consequences.

Writing a new teaching grammar for Láadan

I have to do this. Not because there's a market for it, and not because I could publish it to scholarly acclaim, and not because I don't have more than enough other work to do -- but because I have to. For at least four reasons. (1) The existing grammar is way too hard for beginners; there needs to be a traditional "schoolroom" grammar. (2) There has been a great deal of development in the language since the existing grammar appeared, and almost none of it has been written up except in hasty scribbles. (3) I'm the only person who's qualified to write the kind of grammar that's needed. (4) I'm not immortal.

Writing a novel that's an alternative to the third book of the Native Tongue trilogy

I have to do this. Not because there's a market for it, and not because I could publish it to popular acclaim, and not because I don't have more than enough other work to do. But when I wrote Native Tongue III: Earthsong I did something unforgivable. I was so caught up in my "literary" processes ... so caught up in making the book fit the metaphor my perceptions were trapped in ... that I wrote the wrong book entirely. It should have been a book that carried on the story arc in the first two books and brought that story arc to a plausible resolution. It should not have been the book I did write, which dragged the real nonfictional world into the story arc kicking and screaming. People who read that novel [and not many people did, since they were warned not to in a heck of a hurry] felt cheated, and rightly so. I need to fix that, and the only way I know to fix it is to write -- now -- the book I should have written.

Eep. Enough, for now....

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