Friday, January 16, 2015

Review and Commentary on "We Will be Landing Shortly", by Mike Hamel

This book was a good and easy read. Not easy in the sense of its topic matter being 'light and fluffy', but easy in the sense of it being broken down into easily managed chapters, each being somewhere between 3-5 pages long.

What I also enjoyed was that - although there is an overarching theme - each chapter felt like Mike Hamel's mental meanderings; his thoughts, musings, and experiences of life. Ultimately, his wisdom.

"In the end I would be content if what was said of Solomon... could be said of me:
"Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people... The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. (Ecclesiastes 12:9-10)", pg 143

I believe - at least to this humble reader - he accomplished this goal.

As for the subject matter itself, it is anything but light or fluffy.
Mike Hamel approaches difficult, challenging, and potentially faith-breaking issues humbly, openly, honestly, and unassumingly. There is no agenda to sell. There is no argument to win, nor position to defend.
A man after my own heart, he is simply seeking out answers, and possibly even to learn to ask the correct questions!

He ponders upon horrifically difficult and unpleasant issues such as our own interpretations of God's handiwork, and an All Powerful and Loving God that will fail in His attempts at universal salvation, or a God who is self-serving and vindictive enough to need eternal conscious torment.

He ponders fundamentalists and the fundamentalist mindset.
He believes theology reveals more about its authors then its subject.
He struggles with whether we each have a specific and detailed purpose.
What Christianity would look like and function without a Heaven of the Afterlife (an issue I've referred to as Christian Spiritual Hedonism), and questions why the God of the Old Testament and New Testament don't look alike. (Yet another issue I've struggled with and come to terms with) - again, what if these stories tell us more about the people writing them rather than God himself - progressive revelation - and why evangelicals are so challenged by this answer.

He is bothered by the genocide of Canaan (and correctly labels it as such) and the unspoken implication of Abraham so dedicately willing to murder his son, Isaac, for God's approval.

He identifies the strength and value, as well as the limitations of metaphor and anthropomorphism in Scripture.
These are only some of the topics questioned and pondered about.

I think - for the majority - there are only two responses or reactions to the brutally difficult issues and challenges brought to light in this book.

To some, they choose to remain comfortable in their denial; refusing to accept these numerous inconsistencies and contradictions even exist.

To many others, they feel they must abandon their faith altogether, resorting to Agnosticism or Atheism.

But woven throughout this book is a 'way', a method, a worldview - if I were to be so bold - that refuses either of these extremes.

Cleverly woven throughout this book, his wisdom paints a picture - not of what we should or should not believe, but about a good, healthy, and reliable methodology we might employ on this journey.

Understanding that metaphors are culture-centric and flexible.
"Only the minting of new metaphors can keep theology from being reduced to archaeology" pg. 160
Understanding and accepting that imagination and make-believe are two different things.
"God is the ultimate imaginary friend. This doesn't mean he is unreal, only that we have to use our imaginations to picture him since he is immaterial". pg. 188
There are also a few great lessons regarding better understanding our own beliefs - regardless of what they are.
"Are [star] constellations real?" Stars are real; constellations are simply the names we assign to patterns of celestial luminaries. Constellations have "implied" not "intrinsic" reality. They are not native to the universe but exist only in the human mind. However, when enough people see the same shapes in the night sky, the constellations enter the collective consciousness and become as established as the stars themselves."The same thing happens in the firmament of divine revelations. Individual verses are linked in connect-the-dot fashion to form doctrines, which are then coerced into systematic theologies. A way of seeing truth becomes the truth itself." pg. 161

"Arranging information into comprehensible form is what the human mind does. The essence of intelligence is to discern patterns and to extrapolate their effects upon us. The error comes in assuming our mental picture is the truth rather than a metaphor for what lies beyond our reach" pg 162

"Remember doing connect-the-dots pictures as a kid? Think of facts as the dots, faith as the lines drawn to connect them and the completed image as a worldview.
What happens when human knowledge explodes and new facts come to light?  You can ignore them because they don't fit into your current picture or you can expand your paradigm accordingly. You don't necessarily have to give up your core to increase your circumference.
Of course if you're convinced all truth is square you will reject the facts that are beyond your boxs regardless of whether they're real or not. But what is real? "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away". pg 194-195
I think there is a simple yet profound wisdom here. Not just for biblical interpretation and not just for Christians, but for all people.
We all have a Belief-System we follow and adhere to (Regardless whether you can name or label it).
Atheists, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Scientists. Our choices, our beliefs are the lines that connect-the-dots. The dots might be facts, but the lines we choose to connect them with are not necessarily, and we would do wise to remember that.

Many practicing Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals, and Christian Fundamentalists might balk at Mike Hamel and relegate him into the inconsequential realms of the fallen faith or a spiritual seeker.
So who does this book speak to?

He answers this question early on in his book by saying:
"Some of my experiences and observations may help you with your journey. On the other hand, my queries and quibbling have been known to trip people up, so be careful. My aim isn't to confuse but to face confusion and grapple with things that don't make sense... 
""In the act of tearing something apart, you lose its meaning". But deconstruction life can also lead to a clearer perspective of it. The slippery slope of questioning assumptions and dogmas doesn't only run downwards.
"To a cautious hiker, the thrill of getting close to the cliff may not seem worth the peril. To a compulsive climber like me, the challenge is irresistible" pg. 2
I believe our society is in a spiritual flux, a segue of sorts; in the middle of a transition. With the numbers in traditional institutional religions dropping; with the decline of institutional religion, you can't believe what the pessimists say.

Yes, it may mean the death of religion (is that really such a bad thing?), but I believe there is a rise in non-institutional spirituality; not a shift towards Scientism/Atheism. A move away from what ultimately must be man-made religiosity, and towards the more all-encompassing and compassionate solace of spirituality.

By its very nature it is difficult to define and clearly categorize, but it is alive and well. I think it is to these  people - and to those who are transitioning away from the more ridged institutional religions - that this book reaches out and speaks to.

I think "We Will be Landing Shortly" inadvertently sends a message:
"You are not alone".

He is a voice for a large number of people (and growing larger). He does not struggle and questions alone. He has a great amount of company "out there", in what many institutional religions might call a 'spiritual wilderness'.

Mike Hamel has rekindled my faith in faith, and my belief in a God without boundaries!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

1 comment:

Mike Hamel said...

Seph, thanks for taking time to read and write about my book. And for taking the extra time to add the photos, nice touch. I think you caught a lot of what I'm trying to say. Much appreciated.

Blessings on your own journey.

A fellow pilgrim