Book Review by George R. Pasley
May 24, 2007
Ketchikan, Alaska - "God Laughs & Plays" is a collection of essays by David James Duncan, a writer known for his love of fly-fishing and for two previous books, "The River Why" (another essay collection) and "The Brothers K" (a novel). This particular collection is subtitled "Churchless sermons in response to the preachments of the Fundamentalist Right". Fear not, though. The book is neither dry theology, nor ranting polemic. Instead, it is indeed exactly as the title says- a discussion of a happy God, and the creation of that same God.
In "God Laughs & Plays" Duncan repeatedly says he is not Christian, but makes it very clear that he loves Jesus. He also displays a tremendous knowledge of the Christian faith, and a greater understanding of the faith than most Christian congregants and many Christian preachers. Duncan was raised by Seventh Day Adventists, with an occasional visit to church with one Presbyterian grandmother (He calls worship there "banal". Ouch!)
Duncan's two main passions are peace- particularly his anger over the war in Iraq- and environmentalism. He is critical of the religious right and the political right, but what makes his writing different (almost uniquely different) is his understanding of the need to love those he criticizes. In a delightful essay titled "What Fundamentalists Need for Their Salvation" he quotes St. John of the Cross: "Have a great love for those who contradict and fail to love you, for in this way love is begotten in a heart that has no love. This is how God acts with us: He loves us that we might by means of the very love that he bears toward us." (p. 49)
Essay number 10, "Romeo Shows Jamey the Door" is actually a short story about a man and the death of his dog. The book is well worth purchasing for this story alone, which has to be one of the finest short stories in the English language. Preachers who want to reach about heaven will find it well worth reading. "He didn't understand now. He just sensed, without understanding, that the darting of Romeo's life out of this world was not the opposite of Lilly's (his daughter) birth, but its twin. Whatever or whoever made Romeo Romeo was no more dead than Lilly was in the moment before her birth." (pp. 160-161)
Readers not attuned to mysticism will find a few of the essays difficult to follow, not because they are highly technical (they are not) but because they are a different type of literature than we are accustomed to reading, but even those essays have gems worth gleaning.
This is sure to become a book
that I read over and over again because Duncan artfully anchors
theology to the earth, and weaves it beautifully into deep solid
relationships with friend and foe alike.