Losing Moses on the Freeway

I spent nearly all day on Sunday moving around the house and yard reading a book that I just could not put down. I had to slap it onto my lap, though, on occasion, to literally catch my breath. And, truth be told, once to stop bawling. (More on that later.) It is an excellent read, a book written by a man I admire who is a strong writer, and, who, I might as well mention up front, is a former Christian, one with what people call baggage. Now a good-hearted if cynical agnostic of some kind, Christopher Hedges is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and the son of a good United Methodist pastor. His journey away from Christian faith has been driven, somewhat, it seems, by the bankruptcy and hypocrisy of the sort of liberal theology he studied at Harvard and his understandable disdain for the right wing, materialistic televangelists. (Why a guy as smart as he doesnÕt really grapple with the other forms of orthodox faith is a mystery, a mystery I have been haunted by all day as I read and all day today as IÕve pondered this moving book.)
This new favorite book is called Losing Moses on the Freeway: The Ten Commandments in America (Free Press; $24.00.) Hedges previously wrote the powerful, powerful and very important book called War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning (Anchor; $12.95) which I gave to my Congressman during a meeting talking during the earliest days of the Iraqi War. That book, expertly crafted, powerfully argued, wonderfully written, makes the case that it is dangerous when a nation elevates war to a national cause whereby it provides cohesiveness, camaraderie, values, direction, meaning. He wisely uses Greek literature—Ulysses and The Iliad, especially—to offer a more limited and tragic view of war. No pacifist, he still has grave warnings of war’s horrors and the seduction that can occur when a nation makes an idol out of the sadnesses of killing. His decades of front-line warfare reporting in places that weÕve all heard on the evening news—harsh places like El Salvador, Kosovo—has permitted him to see more savagery than most people ever have. His ponderings deserve to be read and we are glad that War Is A ForceÉ has gotten rave reviews (and was a finalist for the prestigious National Book Award.)
His new one, on the ways in which the Torah of the Hebrew Scriptures, and the 10 commandments specifically, can help heal a torn and dysfunctional culture, has a marvelous, if often brutal, story at the heart of each chapter, each illuminating someone who struggled with one of the Ten Commandments, someone who lived into it or, more often, was nearly crushed by it. A few of the chapters are fascinating, a few chilling. All make you think. None are what I might call exegeticalÑthe only serious flaw in the book (if he only would have quoted Bruggemann a time or two to help him look at the text.) In fact, occasionally he issues forth a touching little truism (Òthe meaning of this commandment is such and suchÓ) and a traditional Jew or Christian might just sigh, and wonder what about the Bible, really, they teach in liberal seminaries.
For instance, he asserts that the meaning of keeping Sabbath is to love your family, to spend time with your kids. Now that may be a very wise suggestion and, in a deep way, submitting to GodÕs order in the family, rather than speedily pursuing the idol of material success may be a very, very mature insight that is significantly related to this particular command. But to just say that love of family equals Sabbath is just shallow exegesis and ignorant of classic theological reflection. We shouldnÕt be surprised, of course, that an agnostic who writes like a tenderhearted and socially prophetic Unitarian doesnÕt end up with orthodox, Christ-honoring teaching—I remind you that this is not written by a Christian and it certainly not aimed at the Ã’Christian bookstoreÓ market (but oh how I wish the popular and fine authors known in those circles like Lucado, Swindoll, Elderidge or Warren would read him) What we should not, not, not say is that because Hedges isnÕt a solid evangelical, he gets it all wrong. No. In fact, he gets it mostly right; really right. And that is why I want to tell everybody about this rich and provocative book. Why I hope folks check it out of their library or buy it from us, here Like some combination between Jim Wallis and Jonathan Kozol and William Sloane Coffin and Desmond Tutu and Bill Moyers and Abraham Heschel and Anne Lamotte. Okay, skip all that, IÕm not helpingÉ
This great book has deep insight, a powerful narrative drive, sharp social analysis and, on nearly ever page, a reminder that God does not abide idolatry— when we put anything in place of GodÕs ways, we bring distortion and ruin and heartache to our lives, our relationships and our culture. I canÕt wait to tell you more about this moving set of 10 journalistic pieces, each with itÕs own lesson. Check back soon, as IÕll share a bit more about HedgeÕs excellent, emotionally-charged and wise new book.
I think you will enjoy knowing just a bit more about it. I know I have to tell some one.
Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America Chris Hedges (The Free Press) $24.00

3 thoughts on “Losing Moses on the Freeway

  1. Byron,Yes, I’m certainly eager to hear more about this book. I am admittedly disappointed and saddened that he is no longer a Christian. I don’t doubt that he has some insights and, because of his experiences, probably gets a lot of stuff right. But with as intelligent as he sounds to be, I’m curious why he just threw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak. My heart sorta breaks for him.Michele

  2. M: Yes, yes, you are so right. I feel so sorry. He’s got some family issues, it seems, and udnerstandable frustration–that is putting it mildly–with institutional relgion. But why he couldn’t see through that to the real thing. That is one of our most serious evangelistic challanges, I think, working with God-given sensitivities with not just the “unchurched” but the de-churched. Those chased away by foolishness, meanness and aparthy to the world’s serious needs and pains. Hedges is a good man, a deep thinker. Who knows what is in store for him in his further journey. Do you ever pray for authors? I sometimes do and have–amazingly!—gotten notes from some who have seen my reviews, asking me for help or prayer. One highly regarded literary figure apologized for seeming like a stalker, which, of course, never crossed my mind. Through tears I was honored to hear of her pain and carry it just a bit for her, before God. Thanks again for your writing.Byron

  3. Byron,These are important thoughts. You raise a good point: how important it is for us to pray for authors — to be conscious of the fact that the need is there. Thanks for reminding me of this. I’m thankful that you’ve been able to minister to authors the way you have. Your calling and vocation are incredibly important in so many ways, not the least of which is the way you are able to connect with the authors whose books you read. May God continue to use you this way. Looking forward to hearing more about Losing Moses on the Freeway.Peace,Michele

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