The Year of Living . . . with a Beard

After reading A.J. Jacob’s book,?The Year of Living Biblically, I decided to follow a friend’s recommendation and read Ed Dobson’s book The Year of Living Like Jesus. The two books are quite different. Jacobs was raised as a secular Jew, and his book feels a bit like a stunt, a follow-up to spending a year living with the Encyclopedia. After all, what other book is really important to American culture? Right, the Bible. His writing is humorous and the book is easy to read. He ended his year without having come to faith in God.

In contrast, Ed Dobson is an evangelical pastor with ALS, who, inspired by Jacob’s book, embarked on a year of living like Jesus. Dobson’s approach is more spiritually grounded, with an emphasis on reading the gospels and practicing different kinds of prayer.

Perhaps the biggest commonality between the authors is their fixation on growing their beards. Jacobs opens his book with a description of his beard, and Dobson puts a picture of his on the cover of the book. Perhaps as a woman I fail to fully appreciate what it’s like to live with a beard. (Actually, I dislike beards!)

While I respect Dobson’s spiritual focus, I must admit that, for me, his evangelical Christianity is an uneasy starting point. For one thing, Dobson was good friends with the late Jerry Falwell, who has never seemed like a real person to me, representing instead a virulently “God hates gays” stance that I find to be very unChristian. For another thing, I have a hard time understanding the insistence of evangelical Christians that abortion is purely evil, and is indeed the greatest evil facing our planet. Like most women who speak openly with other women about their reproductive lives, I’m aware that the issue of abortion is not a simple matter. Certainly it is not so open-and-shut as to become the poster child for the life of faith. I believe there are many issues that revolve around the issue of “Life” — war, economic injustice, racism, human trafficking, unequal access to medical care, hunger. I believe Christians should be deeply involved in these causes.

Still, I was willing to read the book. Dobson seems like a straightforward kind of fella. He is exceedingly plain spoken. In fact, I found the simplicity of his sentence structure rather repetitive. Also, I became tired of his tendency to lapse into sermonic material, rather than sticking to his own experiences. Although he was quite willing to explore personal material, such as his struggle with ALS. Also — and this was the most interesting part of the book to me — he describes how he was moved to vote for then Senator Obama, despite Obama’s pro-choice stance. After trying to live like Jesus for a year, Dobson felt that Obama’s policies were most in accord with Jesus’ mandates to love the poor and work for justice. I recognize that Dobson paid a certain price in evangelical circles because of this stance. (but it probably did increase his book sales!)

Hmm, I suppose one book idea for me is to figure out a way to grow a beard for a year . . .


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