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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Our Family Tree

Jacobs discovers his heritage as he studies the Bible.  "These are no longer meanigless names.  These are men I'd spent my year with.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.  This was a chain that- if [you] continued spouting names for several hours- would presumably include...A.J.Jacobs. {and you} Who am I to break thousands of years of tradition?  Circumcision is a crazy, irrational ritual.  But here's the thing: It's my crazy, irrational ritual.  So maybe I shouldn't dismiss it."  (p.321)

Do you think of the Bible as your family story?

What rituals do you have in your family?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

You Gotta Have Faith

Welcome to our last section of Book Club!  We will be discussing the end of the book for the next few days.

Jacobs points out an interesting thing about faith.  "The emphasis on faith is a key difference between Judaism and modern evangelical Christianity.  Judaism has a slogan: deed over creed.  There's an emphasis on behavior.  But evangelical Christianity says you must first believe in Jesus, then the good works will naturally follow." (p. 257)

What do you think?

Which does your faith community emphasize?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Rest Awhile

Tomorrow will begin our discussion on the last section of the book and thus conclude our first Book Club.

But for today we focus on rest.  Jacobs found resting to be one of the most difficult mandates to follow.  He says, "resting is, paradoxically, difficult.  The writer Judith Shulevitz talks about how avoiding business requires much effort.  She's right.  You can't talk about work, you can't even think about work." (p. 251)

Do you struggle with this as well?
What is most difficult about choosing not to work?
How has modern technology helped or hurt your effort?

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Passover Lamb

Jacobs spends some time explaining the significance of the Passover lamb in the Old Testament.  "The lamb at that first Passover was key,  because it provided the blood that saved a nation.  God ordered the Israelites to paint the lamb's blood on the doorposts- the secret sign so that the Angel of Death would know to skip over their houses and not slay their firstborn." (p.235)

How does this relate to Jesus in the New Testament? (This is a slam dunk for any of you that completed Jeff Cavins' Timeline study with me last year)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Holy Land

Jacobs describes his trip to Israel.  He makes some interesting observations about this little country.

"On the good side, it can humble you.  Even physically it humbles you.  The vastness of the desert...the height of the Western Wall...the echoing interior of the Church...and the history.  All those millions of seekers who have walked the exact same cobblestone streets asking the exact same questions." (p.227)

Have you been to Israel?  Tell us about it.

Would you like to Israel someday?  Why or Why not?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Are You A Groupie?

Jacobs makes an interesting observation on p. 253.  He points out "the people of the Bible were 'groupies.' You did what the group did, you observed the customs of your group.  Only the crazy Europeans came up with the idea of individualism.  So what you are doing is a modern phenomenon."

This struck me.  It is true that most ancient religions practice as a group.  As a Catholic, I find this to be true.  But I never really thought about the pursuit of individual faith as a new concept.  Any quick scan of the Acts of the Apostles shows that the Apostles and early Christians worked as a group.  So what happened?  Is it for the better?  What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Jacobs discusses the significance of shepherds in the Bible.  He tells about how easily the sheep are managed. "A loud 'Hey!' or a tossed stone, and the sheep fall right into place."(p 212)  He further explains how Moses was prepared to lead the people out of Egypt because he was a shepherd in his former career.

Jesus said to Peter, "feed my sheep" meaning us.

Are we like sheep?  Or have we lost that sheepish feeling?  What difference does it make?

I'd love to know your thoughts.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Self, I Need Help

Is the Bible really meant to just help us improve ourselves?  Or is there more to it?  Check back tomorrow as we continue our discussion on the next 70 pages of the book. (up to pg. 280)  We'd love to hear your thoughts on the following question:

Jacobs is told to stop looking at the Bible as a self-help book.  “Religion is more than that.  It’s about serving God.” (p.208)  Explain the difference.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Care For Your Elders

In God's wisdom, He commanded the Israelites to care for the elderly.  This was necessary because they were a wandering people and it would be tempting to leave the older people behind.  Jacobs points this out in the book.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

The Bible commands people to care for the elderly.  The Israelites wandered all over the place and old people could be seen as a liability.  Compare this to our treatment of the elderly in modern society.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rules, Rules, Rules

We in modern society do not like having too many rules placed on us.  We often feel that it takes away our individual freedom.  Jacobs gives us a different take.  What are your thoughts?

If we look at the rules of the Bible with an open heart, we often find that rules were given for the Israelites protection.  They are a sign of His mercy and compassion. (p.176)  Can you give an example of a rule that seems harsh at first glance but is actually for protection?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Head In The Clouds

Today's question focuses on the effect of faith on our lives.  Does it makes us more level headed?  Or make us look for some pie in the shy answer to life?  Tell us what you think.

“That’s the paradox: I thought religion would make me live with my head in the clouds, but as often as not, it grounds me in this world.” (p.172)  Do you agree or disagree?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

OCD Religion

As a person who has always been part of a ritual-heavy religion, I found this very interesting.  It is one you don't have to read the book to understand.  I'd love to know your thoughts.

“Religion-especially ritual-heavy religions like Judaism and High Church Christianity-have three key OCD traits.  They are repetition, everything in its proper category and a fixation on purity and impurity.”  (p.148)  Discuss your thoughts on this.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Discussion Day

Since we have decided to devote the month of August to Book Club on AGOG, it allows us more time to discuss the many facets of this book.  I encourage you to check each day to see the questions posted.  You can join in the discussion by hitting the comments tab on the bottom of the post.  Some of the questions can be answered even if you aren't reading along this time.  Feel free to join us.  Also join us on Facebook (by clicking the blue f on the home page) as we keep the conversation going there.  Be sure to "like" our Facebook page so you will get the discussion prompts in your newsfeed.  Now let's talk about today's questions!

Mr. Berkowitz says that he enjoys doing what the rabbis tell him because it saves him a lot of thinking.  In your experience can this be said of all religion?  What are the pros and cons to that kind of attitude?

Jacobs says that a theme he is thinking about is freedom from choice.  What do you think he means by that?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Welcome To Our Third Week Of Book Club

We are moving right along!  Tomorrow we will be up to p.210.  For today, here's some food for thought.  What are your thoughts on the following questions?

Jacobs says “the level of sexual imagery in modern life is astounding.” (p. 129)  Do you agree or disagree?  Are we even aware of how much it influences us?

A friend tells Jacobs “that we shouldn’t underestimate people’s ability to hold totally contradictory opinions and be just fine with it.” (p.133)  Do you think this is true?  How can it be?  Why?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Let's Keep The Conversation Going...

Please answer any or all of the following questions:

What did you learn about the “stoning” process?

How does prayer move us past ourselves?

What things are included in the Biblical mandate not to gossip?

“To embrace religion, you have to surrender control.  But what if it’s a slippery slope, and you lose all control” (p. 103)  What are your thoughts on this?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Our Discussions Continue

Our discussion continues today.  Please feel free to answer any or all of the following questions:

The Jewish feasts encourage people “to travel back in time and try to experience the world of the ancient Middle East.” (p.80)  What can that mean for us?

God asks Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?”  What does He mean by this?  How does He illustrate His point?

Jacobs’ goal is to “look beyond the weirdness (of some customs), to what it means.” (p.87).  What things does he discover by doing this?

Sometimes “in the name of truth, you can’t be afraid to take a left turn from polite society and look absurd.” (p. 89)  Give some examples of people who have done this.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book Club Discussions Questions

Please join our conversation.  Feel free to answer one or all of the below questions.  You can also respond to each other using the comment section below.

Jacobs’ friend tells him that observing the Sabbath might even be breaking the rules since it is Jacobs’ job to follow the Bible.  What does he mean by this?

Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses sometimes seen as belonging outside the Christian community? (see page 75)  Why is this an important distinction?

What did you learn about what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe?

What is the point of the Feast of Ingathering, or Sukkoth?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Changing It Up A Bit

Due to the overwhelming positive response to our Book Club, we have decided to showcase it more on the site.  Hopefully this will allow us more time to focus on the book and get some really fruitful discussions going.  Thanks to those of you brave enough to respond last week.  Check back tomorrow for the beginning of our discussions about pp. 70-140.  Also remember to check Facebook for more ways to keep the conversations going.

Today we highlight one of the responses to last week's questions.  Please feel free to respond with your own thoughts.  Just comment below.  It may take some time to have your comment post as they need to be moderated first.  Thanks, Melanie, for getting our new Book Club format going.

Why do you think Jacobs makes the point that he will not pick and choose the rules? 

I agree with Jimmy that this does make a great idea for a book, but also that really following 
the rules, to the letter, is a most difficult task. People tend to want to follow only the rules 
that are easy to follow. Ones that are more difficult often get re-worded or adapted to make 
them easier for individuals to follow. Some rules are just ignored. Being Catholic is hard. It 
takes work and rules. Heaven is not free, but oh what a reward for those who work for it 
and live by the "rules." 

“Miracles only occur when you jump in” (p.13) Do you agree or disagree? 

I agree! When you jump into something, you don't think it through, make a plan, or strategize.
 Miracles are surprising, welcome events that wouldn't have the element of surprise if you had
thought it all out. Then again, sometimes I laugh at myself when I try to plan it all out. After all,
I really have no control over some things do I?
 So one can say, every day in this world could be
considered some sort of miracle. 

Avoiding women who are unclean is actually out of respect for life. How can this be so? (p. 50)

 I laughed out loud when I read his wife's reaction to this "rule" in the book. How when Jacobs 
was gone from the house, she went and sat in every chair in the house so it was now considered
 "unclean." (Totally something I would have done if my husband had sprung that on me). However,
 I like the idea of it being out of a respect for life even if the "unclean" event would seem to mean
 there was no procreation of life. I am reminded of the women we read about in The Red Tent * 
last summer. How they would be relieved of their "duties" for the 5-7 days that they 
were menstruating. It was their time to rest. I think I would see it as out of respect for the
 women's lives. To allow them time to rejuvenate themselves in the event they were able 
to conceive; an awesome responsibility that was given to us by God. A miracle in itself.

*Last summer, our Book Club read "The Red Tent."  It is one we enjoyed.  The link to buy the 
book will soon be available to this AGOG site if you are interested.

What do you think?  Tell us!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Saturday Reflections

Am I inspired to read? 

What does what I choose to read say about me?

Is my faith relevant?

Do I hide from the world around me?

Do I only hang out with people who think like me?

Do I take myself too seriously?

Am I afraid to engage in the discussions?  Why or Why not?

Have I ordered the book?  Why or Why not?

Do I want to miss all of the fun?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ask Ellen: Can you explain Papal infallibility? As a non Catholic, I never understood this concept. -Ed, PA

Great question, Ed.  This is one of the most misunderstood things of the Catholic faith. (and one we often get a bad rap for).  Catholics believe that Jesus made Peter the head of the Church. (Think you are the rock and on this rock I will build my Church).  The Bible supports this.  If you read Acts of the Apostles carefully, you will see that the other apostles often deferred to Peter in decision making. (see the first Council in Jerusalem).

One of the marks of the Catholic Church is that it is apostolic.  This means that there has been an unbroken chain of command from Peter to Benedict XVI.  The office of the Papacy is unique in this respect.

This unbroken line of succession depends on the power of the Holy Spirit for guidance and that is where papal infallibility comes in.  Catholics believe that in matters concerning doctrine, the Pope doesn’t make mistakes.  This does not mean that Pope Benedict never wears mismatched socks or never misconjugates a verb in the 42000 languages he speaks in.  It means that when a Pope is going to make a huge decision concerning the Church as a whole, the Holy Spirit doesn’t allow him to screw it up. (it is called ex cathedra, meaning from the chair).  In this respect ONLY is the Pope infallible.

Catholics do not believe that the pope is perfect.  In fact, I am sure he struggles with the same things you and I do.  I bet some of those uptight Cardinals drive him crazy at times.  He does not stop being human when the white smoke rises.  We just believe that since Peter the Holy Spirit has been guiding the decisions regarding His Church.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Think Outside The Pew

We covered two of my four reasons for choosing The Year Of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs yesterday.  I’m afraid one of today’s will send me off on the same tangent.  Oh it goes!  The book does not take itself too seriously.  Jacobs does not set about the task of obeying every Biblical rule piously.  He is not preachy or judgmental.  Most books I’ve read that tackle religious themes are out to tell you what they think you should believe.  This book does not do this.  He openly shares his journey and allows the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.  It is meant to be fun.  But it sure does get you thinking.  Isn’t that what our faith should do for others.  I don’t want to tell others that they need to believe what I do.  I hope though, after hanging out for me with awhile, they notice something different about me.  That maybe they see some peace in me, or some kindness and decide that they want that too.  We are called to live lives that witness to our faith.  Not to beat people up with it.

My final reason for choosing this particular book is that it is written by a man.  I have been astounded by how many male readers we have.  This is a book that we can all share.  I want our male readers to be as involved in Book Club.  I encourage married couples to read it together and keep the discussions going over dinner.  Encourage the men in your life to read it with you.

We hope you join us in our first of (hopefully) many Book Club selections.  It should be a lot of fun and we may grow some in the process.  I encourage you to engage in the conversation on Tuesdays throughout August.  There are no right or wrong answers.  We are all just trying to think and stretch our thinking.  Please comment on my post on Tuesdays.  Also feel free to engage with one another through the comments section under the post.  It will take some nerve to step out and say that first thing but it is the only way to include yourself in the discussion.

The discussion will continue all month on the AGOG Facebook page.  If you haven’t found us, click the F icon on the home page of the site.  Be sure to “like” the page so you will receive all of the prompts in your newsfeed.

I am looking forward to interacting with you, sharing some laughs and thinking outside of our pews.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Don't Retreat To Your Pew

In last week’s podcast I briefly mentioned the four reasons I selected this book, "The Year Of Living Biblically" by A.J. Jacobs.  I think they deserve a little more attention so that you can make an informed decision about whether to join us or not.

This book is culturally relevant.  This is also a goal of AGOG.  We seek to make your faith relevant to the world you live in.  This is why we look at things like movies and music and now books.  Nothing irritates me more than Christians who isolate themselves in their narrow Christian worlds, surrounded by other like-thinking people.  How does that work?  How do we change and grow if we simply insolate ourselves from anything that challenges us?  How do we impact others with our faith if we only ever hang out with each other?  Did Jesus do that? Did He pick the 12 most like Him and ignore the rest?  NO!!!  He sought out those that didn’t have the same experience as He did..sinners, lame, and broken.  Yet most Christians in America only hang out with each other.  Oh, and we go a step beyond that.  We only hang out with our own brand too, Catholics with Catholics, Baptists with Baptists.  This drives me crazy!

I want others to make me think and challenge what I think I have all figured out.  This book does just that.  It examines what it would be like to be in modern-day Manhatten trying to live a strictly Biblical life.  Following EVERY rule.  It is written by an agnostic.  Oh don’t gasp at me!  There just might be some things we can learn from someone who doesn’t begin to think he has the God thing figured out.

We can learn these things by living IN the world.  Not by hiding from it.  I didn’t say we should agree with everything or become LIKE the world.  But we can have a more effective witness in the midst of it.  Please don’t bother to write to me to tell me the book is too “worldly.”  I already know it and it is why I picked it.  It is relevant and I want us to be too.

Another reason I chose this book is to expose the myth that some of us buy into: that we live and read the Bible literally.  We do not!  It is impossible.  This book shows us this truth with honesty and humor.  We are all guilty of picking and choosing which parts we want to follow.  Jacobs shows us how each sect lives out their own version of the truth.  It is very informative.

So, if you are a Christian who has it all figured out, don’t join us.  If you are a Christian who shuns culture because it doesn’t line up with your beliefs, don’t join us.  If you a Christian who feels that you follow the Bible literally, don’t join us.  You will only get more offended, stop reading the book and retreat to your pew.  But if you aren’t…if you like to have your thinking challenged, if you like to have your mind stretched, if you think our culture can actually help you define your faith, or if you just want to read a good book…join us.  Order your copy today.

Let’s make faith relevant by bringing it into the world, not by isolating ourselves from it!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book Club Day

Please respond to any or all of the following questions concerning the first 70 pages.  Just click on the Comment link below this post and tell us your thoughts.  Check back throughout the week to see what others have said.

Jacobs goal is to follow the Bible as literally as possible.  Can this be done?  Can we live the ultimate Biblical life?

Why do you think Jacobs makes the point that he will not pick and choose the rules?

Jacobs maintains that people pick the parts of the Bible that fit their own agenda.  Do you agree or disagree?

“Miracles only occur when you jump in” (p.13)  Do you agree or disagree?

Jacobs explains that he was so busy obsessing over the rules, he didn’t have time to think.  Explain the danger of this especially in regard to religion.

Jacobs maintains that there is always some level of interpretation concerning rules.  Is that true?  

Jacobs does not believe that he can be debated into believing in God.  If this is true, why do so many people do just that?

“Some say its more crucial to follow the inexplicable ones (rules), because it shows you’re committed, that you have great faith.” (p.25)  Do you agree or disagree?

Jacob struggles with his jealousy of others, relentlessly comparing himself to others.  Why is this a struggle given our culture?

What struck you most about the Amish community Jacobs visited?

Jacobs says, “a lot of religion is about surrendering control and being open to radial change.  Has that been your experience?

Avoiding women who are unclean is actually out of respect for life.  How can this be so? (p. 50)

One of Jacob’s big lessons is: Moderation is a relative term.  Why does he say this?

Monday, August 1, 2011