Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed is prompting his readers to read along and discuss Alan Hirsch’s book The Forgotten Ways and I was moved to join the discussion. Hirsch tells the story of moving a moribund body backwards in time and tradition to a Church in which all participated, all were held to account, and all were so significantly countercultural that their lives became attractional, living invitations to other to follow Christ with them. Our church set out to do this and it has been quite an adventure. As we set forth, some found themselves too attached to the 10/90 model and dropped off. Others challenged the map we were following, slowing the mission but not stopping it. Meeting people where they are rather than demanding that they join us where we want to be is the most spiritually satisfying thing our group has ever done.
How exactly does one develop a taste for a gently singed piece of human flesh? Perhaps it tastes different when washed down with a shell of especially bitter kava. To discover the answer to this pressing question and others (how big can a human foot get when bitten by a centipede) you’ve got to throw your shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops into a backpack and venture to the South Pacific archipelagoes of Vanuatu or Fiji. If that jaunt is not in the cards for the foreseeable future, you can pick up J. Maarten Troost’s Getting Stoned with Savages for a recounting of his burgeoning family’s adventures as they resettle into island life.
While serving as a PSA warning against the obviously addictive qualities of kava, an island intoxicant with mysteriously hallucinatory effects, the humorous story is filled with extended vignettes of South Pacific life. Troost is no stranger to island life, having recounted a previous stay on Tarawa before moving back to city life in the United States in his book The Sex Lives of Cannibals. Even so, the transition from Washington D.C. to Vanuatu serves to deromanticize the island life. This is not a journey into the heart of darkness surrounded by hotel bars, nicely tiled swimming pools, and gently swaying palm trees. Rather, it is the reality of muddy roads, shark filled lagoons that slyly beckon the swimmer in, forays into the village kingdoms of various chiefs, and of course, kava enhanced sunset watching.
Troost has an O’Rourkean twist to his humor, bringing his encounters with people and events to life for the reader without the ugly cynicism of so many who long for the hipster travel-food-entertainment-writer label. He is as likely to befriend the locals as he is to find himself making cultural faux paus that build walls (apparently it is in poor taste to hoist your new baby aloft and claim him as your chief, go figure!) The island nations will not be distributing this book as a vacation advertisement but you and I can travel vicariously through it. Oh, and be discerning on Fiji when proposing a date…
“No good deed goes unpunished”;a quote variously attributed to Oscar Wilde, Andrew Mellon, Dorothy Parker, and Clare Booth Luce but also a proverb applied to the lives of Michael Oher and Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy as they intersected in Memphis, Tennessee. Michael Lewis weaves a complex tale in The Blind Side of the melding of lives as the boy from one side of town begins life anew as a part of a family of rich Evangelicals from the opposite side. Michael Oher is a destitute African-American boy, one among thirteen children born to a crack addicted mother who grows up knowing little pertinent information about himself and whose life is on a trajectory to nowhere. Sean and Leigh Anne Touhy are rich (though tenuously at times), white, Christians living at the other end of town who are deeply involved with their children and the private Christian academy at which they are educated. Michael serendipitously becomes involved with the Touhy’s through the nexus of Briarcrest as he is given an opportunity to be educated there. What follows is the story of Michael becoming integrated into the Tuohy’s family, raising the angle of his trajectory considerably.
If this were the whole of the tale one might be tempted to push the book back onto the shelf and continue scanning but Lewis is not simply telling this family’s history. Paralleling the drama of Michael and the Touhys is the story of the rise of the left tackle in the NFL, the one who guards the quarterback’s blind side. It is a position charged with stopping the oncoming linebacker who is bent on the destruction of the team’s offensive core, the quarterback. Because of the speed and agility of the linebackers in professional football, the position requires a rare combination of size, speed, nimbleness of feet, reach and hand size and a very specific center of gravity. Rare qualities that genetics and development would visit upon Michael Oher.
These intertwining stories make for an engaging book. Lewis’s quality of writing satisfies, whether the reader is primarily interested in the human interest tale or the details of an increasingly critical component of the game of football. Though I have little interest in football, the personalities and details as painted by Lewis’s prose kept me attentive to seeing their development in Michael as the story unfolded. Viewing the domestic saga from a set distance also serves the reader well as the motivation of the Tuohy’s to take in Michael and begin the transformation of his life is questioned.
As Michael’s unique qualities are noticed by those outside of the Memphis football world the inevitable issue of money surfaces and it is these future riches that are used to taint the purity of the Tuohy’s charity. They are accused of salvaging Michael for their own enrichment, an accusation that drives Sean and Leigh Anne into action. The reader is cheered and then pummeled by the ups and downs of the ongoing accusation and acquittal battle in which the Tuohy’s and Michael must engage.
Lewis does not shy away from the difficulty of whipping our emotions about with this book. The reader is led to loathe those who would take advantage of Michael, feel compassion for Michael himself, cheer the Tuohy’s and their 99% pure charity, and perhaps most subtly, fear the oncoming linebacker and the gunshot crack of bone beneath a pile of huge, helmeted men. The Blind Side satisfies on all levels.
You might also enjoy The Parable of Michael and the Briarcrest Saints