The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I read this book mostly because I wanted to before I saw the movie, but also because I wanted to know a little more about what the high schoolers at church were talking about.
It is a touching story about a teenager fighting lung cancer. She falls in love another teenager who has been touched by cancer in a variety of ways. For a short time, they explore the world together, and do their best to make sense of the world, life, and death.
I blubbered through the last third (or so) of the book, laughed out loud (sometimes through tears), and finished in two days (it was hard to put it down when it was time to go to work or sleep).
But on top of being a compelling, well-written story, the various religious/spiritual beliefs that were given voice the characters struck me. It was yet another interesting instance of the integration of theology & pop culture.
Here are some of the quotes that struck me (and my thoughts on them):
“…to return to the moment before the Big Bang, in the beginning when there was the Word, and to live in that vacuous uncreated space along with the Word.” (p.106) For a character/narrator that is the most vocal about not believing in God, I find it brilliant how she merges “Big Bang Evolution” with “Johannine Creation.” This is often how I think about the merge of faith and science, that they are not mutually exclusive, but instead work together to give us the full picture. It also strikes me that it is with the Word that she finds comfort when suffering from a terrible headache (due to lack of oxygen). Every piece of stimuli makes it worse, and so thinking about what was back before creation began is where she finds comfort.
“‘Afterlife?’ […] ‘Yes, absolutely. Not like a heaven where you ride unicorns, play harps, and live in a mansion made of clouds. But yes, I believe in Something with a capital S. Always have.’ ‘Really?’ [Hazel] asked. I was surprised. I’d always associated belief in heaven with, frankly, a kind of intellectual disengagement. But Gus wasn’t dumb.” (p.168) Yes! I really struggle in my ministry when people are seeking concrete answers about Heaven. I don’t have them, and I’m okay with that, but most people are not content with that answer. I could care less about imagining what it will look like, sound like, smell like, what activities will be available, etc. The concrete is not nearly as important as the promise. That is what we can know for sure. That is what I hold on to. The rest I leave up to God. But most of the time, I can’t convince anyone else to be okay with that…they must get there on their own (and maybe a little help from the Holy Spirit).
“I silently resolved to remember and pray for the four Aron Franks as long as I was around. (Maybe some people need to believe in a proper and omnipotent God to pray, but I don’t.)” (p.201) This is not how I personally think about prayer, but it is a good reminder that there is not only one way to believe, one set of words to use, one mode of religious/spiritual belief/expression. This is not how all “nones” would articulate prayer, etc, but it is one possibility…one I need to hear…one I need to respect…one I can learn from.
I look forward to seeing the movie, and am particularly interested to see how much of the profound ongoing religious conversation is included. I’m pessimistic on that front, and in general, but we shall see. However, no matter how much the movie botches the book, the enjoyment of reading cannot be overshadowed!