In 1992, Rich Mullins explained his secret formula for finding happiness
1. Forget about finding happiness. Happiness is not worthy of your search.
2. Bake a cake—a really rich cake, preferably from scratch (and especially if you are an inexperienced baker or a tested, tried & notoriously awful cook). The value is in the baking more than in the cake.
3. Call up some enemy of yours and invite that enemy to eat the cake with you. If the cake is good you may lose an enemy and gain a friend. If the cake is bad, at least vengeance is sweet.
4. If you can’t think of a single enemy, then call up a friend. Invite your friend over to eat the cake with you. If the cake is good the favor may be returned. If the cake is awful your friend may go buy one from a bakery for you. If you are without any enemies or friends, take your cake to an old folks’ home. Eat it with them! If the cake is good you will no longer be without friends. If the cake is terrible you will no longer be without enemies.
5. Memorize Isaiah 40 or the first Psalm or Psalm 91. Read the closing chapters of the Book of Job. Meditate on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). Write out one of the Prison Epistles (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians) and send them to some other unhappy person. All of this may not make you happy but it will tell you how to be holy. Once you tie that knot you may find yourself in a position to be made happy.
6. Work hard. Clean something. Find new and more space-efficient ways of folding your clothes. Rake someone else’s yard for them. If you are unhappy maybe you can help someone else be less so.
7. Go back to the 3rd chapter of Lamentations and then repeat after me:
“It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence for the Lord has laid it on him.”
8. Reread the 23rd Psalm and remember that if the Lord is your shepherd, then you are in a lush pasture. You are by a still stream. If it seems otherwise to you, it may be because you would rather be happy than be God’s. If this is so, then you have more reason to be happy than anyone. God has chosen you—ungrateful, decadent you—and being His is a joy and a happiness that goes beyond anything else you may seek, and in your folly settle for. God will (in His mercy) make you discontent with anything less than Him. So, we have only one step left…
My goal is to read 40 books a year in addition to journals, articles, and commentaries. Here is my 5-star rating for the books I read in 2018. Other than giving a ranking, the books are not listed in any further order. Mostly, within the categories they’re listed in the order that I finished them. Click on the title to find it online. At the end of this post, you can find a list of “Books Read” posts for previous years.
The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. This has been turned into a TV mini-series which I didn’t think was very good at all. Don’t let the poor TV adaptation make you bypass the book. It’s a fascinating look at what led to 9/11.
The Monk of Mokha, by Dave Eggers. Entertaining read about a young man attempting to restore the coffee trade in war-torn Yemen, where coffee as a beverage began. As well as a good story, it gave me a much better appreciation of all the hands my coffee beans have to pass through before making it into my grinder.
The Coming Storm, by Michael Lewis. Available only as an audiobook from Audible. It’s about the people who make weather forecasts accessible to everyone–and how commercial interests and neglect by politicians endangers this access.
What Happened to Sophie Wilder? by Christopher R. Beha. Excerpt here. I asked Karen Swallow Prior and her Twitter followers to recommend books that have a Christian conversion as a main character development. The list included Sophie Wilder as well as the next two titles below. (Two other titles were recommended, but I’ll have to read Moll Flanders and The Robe in 2019.)
Leave Her to Heaven, by Ben Ames Williams. Written in the early 1940s, a study of jealousy and its consequences. Irrelevant observation on my part, being a new fly fisherman: Given that the characters pull up a lot of trout in the outdoor scenes in this book, the author must not have known about fly fishing or there must have been many more trout in upstate New York waters in the 1930s and 40s.
Goodbye to a River by John Graves. Observations from a solo canoe trip Graves took in the 1960s on the upper Brazos before all the dams were built. The book is regarded as Graves’s legacy, and though it’s definitely worth a read, I liked From a Limestone Ledge better,
Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. I started Morris’s trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt a decade ago. Finally got around to finishing the third book in the series.
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. An interesting premise: Gods from various mythologies trying to make a life in the twenty-first century United States.
The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, by Frances FitzGerald. This is a pretty good review of evangelicalism, though it’s limited to white political involvement in America. White, political, and American is way too narrow to sufficiently understand the evangelical tribe of Christianity.
A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. You should really get in the audio format so you can hear the recordings of the actual sermons instead of just reading a transcript. I was intrigued by all the sermons, though disappointed with his most confessional sermon, “Unfulfilled Dreams.” He hinted at moral regrets but knew that God would judge his heart was in the right place. This is simply not the gospel. However, his prophetic calls for the nation to deal with racism is stirring, and his criticism of the futility of the nation’s continued involvement in the Vietnam War proved prescient.
The Meanest Man in Texas, by Don Umphrey. The true story of Clyde Thompson of Eastland, Texas, a murderer whom everyone had regarded as unredeemable. A Bible–and the Savior–turned him around. This is an old book, and someone should update the story.
Twelve Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. I wanted to know what was generating such interest in Peterson. The book was an interesting enough read, with mostly obvious advice (though I guess that’s an indictment on contemporary culture that obvious advice seems so fresh to many). I thought his Jungian take on Christianity was silly.
Civilwarland in Bad Decline, by George Saunders. I loved Tenth of December and Lincoln in the Bardo, so I checked this collection of his earliest short stories. I should give this Four Stars, but I didn’t like the last story, and the longest, so here it sits on the Three Stars list.
Oil Field Fury, by Boyce House. Life for a newspaper editor in Eastland County in the early 1900s.
“It’s like Graham Greene or something. I mean, who converts anymore? Unless they’re converting away.”
This is what the publicist says in hopes of putting the best spin on the oddity of Sophie Wilder, the critically acclaimed young writer, converting to Christianity, in Christopher Beha’s novel, What Happened to Sophie Wilder?
It’s intriguing to see a recent novel take conversion seriously, like Graham Greene or something. Here is the description of Sophie’s turn to God:
It is in the nature of what happened next that it can’t be conveyed in words. The few times Sophie tried to explain it later, even to herself, she fell back on cliche: something came over her; she walked out changed. It got closest to it to say that she was, for a time, occupied. After all her reading in the week leading up to that day, she thought of that occupying force as the Holy Spirit. But mostly she knew that it was something outside of herself, something real, not an idea or a conceit or a metaphor. Once it passed on, she knew that her very outline had been reshaped by it, that this reshaping had been long awaited though she hadn’t recognized as much. More than that, she knew that she wanted the feeling back. She would chase it forever if need be. Everything later followed from that. That was the part she couldn’t explain to others. It couldn’t be explained. It didn’t come from books; it didn’t allow itself to be argued for or against.
The author does have a passing moment on one page where he refers to Sophie not knowing that such a sensation was quite independent of any particular religion. That’s the only interruption of the flow; the author’s bias otherwise seems to stay off the stage and Sophie is allowed to be a real character who processes her conversion to (Catholic) Christianity intellectually and emotionally.
There are plenty of observations throughout the book on how the Christian message is regarded in our day, such as this one:
“It’s funny,” he said. “After all this time, people still can’t do without God. I never would have guessed that He’d survive to your generation. Even the atheists are militant. They can’t quite get over Him.”
“Most of my friends don’t think one way or another about it,” Sophie told him. “They’re not for it or against it; they’re just beyond it.”
“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe. The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
“You’ve got a real way with words,” she said.
The book was recommended when I posted on social media a request for recommendations of books, preferably recent books, that included a Christian conversion of one of the characters as part of the plot.
People regard David as the ideal king. Thus they easily forget the tumult he faced in securing the throne, uniting the tribes, and subduing the surrounding forces. Many of his prayers recorded in the Bible deal with his enemies (internal and external).
Lifeway’s Biblical Illustrator magazine asked me to write an article about all the enemies David had to deal with–enemies he often prayed against in the Psalms. You can find it here:
(Click the little box with an arrow and you’ll get a large enough image to read the print)
He would deliver a sermon unlike any he had delivered before.
“Do you think that because we have learned that the sun does not go down, that in fact we are going around it at a dizzying speed, the sun is not the only star in the heavens, do you think this means we are any less important than we thought we were? Oh, we are far less important than we thought we were, and we are far, far more important than we think we are. Do you imagine that the scientist and the poet are not united? Do you assume you can answer the question of who we are and why we are here by rational thought alone? It is your job, your honor, your birthright, to bear the burden of this mystery, and it is your job to ask in every thought, word, and deed, ‘How can love best be served?’ God is not served when you speak with relish about those who are poor in spirit and cannot be defended. God is not served when you ignore the poverty of spirit within yourselves.”
The sky was growing light by the time he put his pencil down. Reading the pages over, he discovered that he had broken a cardinal rule of homiletics. He had used the word ‘you’ instead of ‘we.’
He sat for a long time wondering about this, then he washed his face and fell asleep on the couch.
From Abide with Me, Elizabeth Strout’s novel about a minister and his congregation in late 1950s Maine. Link to the paperback is here, and the ebook is $3 for a time.
Tom Goodman is a graduate of Baylor University and Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, and he holds a doctorate from New Orleans Seminary. He has served as pastor in Louisiana, north Texas, and overseas in Grand Cayman before becoming the pastor of Hillcrest Church in Austin, Texas. Diane and Tom have been married since their days at Baylor University, and they have two sons, Michael and Stephen. Tom enjoys scuba diving, watching the latest Netflix DVD with Diane, and chasing mis-hit golf balls.