Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Disappearance of Childhood Reading




I was in Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago with all three of my kids. We usually begin by getting a drink or treat, then heading back to the books/trains area and lounging and reading and playing for an hour or so. We shuffled around the edges of the coffee counter after ordering, each child anticipating the delivery of their chosen delicacy. As I poured cream into a steaming cup of joe, the man in line behind me said, "You sure are lucky your kids will come here with you." I half-heartedly mumbled, "Yeah, they love to read." With that he said in a state of semi-shock, "Boy you are lucky they love to read." I'd had enough of the 'luck' talk at this point. I felt like shouting but decide to just say louder and flatter than normal, "It's not luck." And what does he do? He says it again! "You sure are lucky." Oh no he didn't. You want to throw down the gauntlet with me? A primordial response took over: "IT'S NOT LUCK! I'VE WORKED HARD AT TEACHING THEM TO LOVE READING!"

I think it's the first time I've pseudo-shouted inside of Barnes and Noble, other than when Morris's final volume on Teddy Roosevelt came out, and who can blame me for that? ALL CAPS felt good to type - but it overstates my reaction. I know the guy at B&N didn't feel it. Nor did he understand to what I was really reacting.

Kids rarely "luck" into productive behavior. It has to be fostered. They need to be led to things that will make their life better. Leonard Sax, in his book The Collapse of Parenting, says it this way: "Part of the task of the parent is, and always has been, educating desire: teaching your child to desire and enjoy things that are higher and better than cotton candy."

Man we've worked hard to make reading something they have come to not just tolerate, but to desire, to love. And I've had three simple strategies toward this end:
1. Eliminate distractions.
2. Put good books in front of them.
3. Bribe them.
Yes, I used the word "bribe." And I'm still a Christian. Of these three, bribing is by far the easiest. I "bribe" them to go to a bookstore with me by buying drinks or a cookie. I bribe sometimes by paying to read a specific book. This summer I paid my oldest to read a book (I'll get into that later). Call it bribe, call it 'incentivize', 'motivate', or whatever makes you feel better. But the point is to use the means you have to make reading appealing. I don't pay often (I'd go broke!) but when I do, it works.

The hardest is definitely #1, Eliminating distractions. But here's how we do it. We don't allow video games in the house except on rare occasions. We don't own a video game system. There are no computers, TVs, iPads, or phones in anyone's room without permission. I don't play games. Not in front of the kids, and not by myself. I don't sit around fiddling with my phone when I should be hanging out with them. I turn it off and/or hide it till they are in bed. And honestly, even then, I wish I looked at it a whole lot less on my own. 

Why avoid video games with such rabid ferocity? I'll quote Sax's book again (emphasis mine):
If a boy starts playing video games when he was nine or 12 or 14 years old, those games may "imprint" on his brain in a way that they won't if he starts playing at 18. Before puberty is complete, the brain is a enormously plastic... That's both good and bad. The plasticity of the brain before and during puberty allows it to change in fundamental ways as circumstances require. But the areas of the brain responsible for judgment and perspective aren't mature.  Once the process of puberty is fully complete – once the boy becomes a man or the girl becomes a woman – the areas of the brain responsible for anticipating consequences and thinking ahead are stronger.
It's a long way of saying what he said before - train their appetites while they are in your home, and when they are old they might hang on to them. You don't serve a Cruller with Cauliflower. Because only one of those is getting eaten. You keep bad things away from them and put good things in front of them.

Some will say this is over the top. But I just feel like it's one of the wisest things we can do. It's hard work, not luck, but it is so worth it. All of this creates an environment where the kids must turn to other things to entertain themselves. And books are a great source of entertainment.

Sergeant Chowder Bringing the Powder
Which leads to #2 on our list of three strategies for helping our kids learn to love reading. What's one of the best ways to get good books in front of them and around the house? Read them yourself. Read good books and leave them lying around. What was your favorite book when you were a kid? Buy those and read them to your kids. The nostalgia will help you read Drummer Hoff Fired it Off for the 437th time this month. Your kids will inevitably pick them up if they are not distracted by other things and if they have some measure of leisure time.

Most summers I've done a "reading challenge" with my oldest son. This summer we didn't set it up, since we were traveling about a total of 8 weeks. Our schedule was fairly relaxed, but less conducive to a reading program. But I kept putting books in front of him to see if he'd read them or not. And here's what he ended up reading:
The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
Tribe by Sebastian Junger - A War corespondent's perspective on what draws people together into groups.
The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax - parenting book addressing the issue of the transfer of authority from parents to children. Very compelling.
Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard - Story of a young Churchill's escape from a war prison in South Africa.
The Giver by Louis Lowry
Lillian Trasher - Biography of a woman missionary who established orphanages in Egypt in the 1920s.
This doesn't include a number of fiction books he read on his own like, the Blood of Olympus and a couple of Harry Potter books.

Upon reflection I realize this is a more challenging list than most adults will read this year, let alone this summer.

A couple of comments on this list: I did pay him to read The Reason for God - and he had been nibbling on it since before the summer. Also, we read about half of Lillian Trasher aloud in the car during our summer road trips - but he finished it off on his own with zero encouragement from us. The Giver was for school, though he had read it a few times prior to this summer. All the others he read because he was bored and came to me and asked, "Do you have anything good to read?" The Collapse of Parenting was the most surprising - as both he and Julie fought me for it once they read the first chapter. And it is definitely worth reading.

The fight is worth it. It's not easy, but it's worth it to be different. This summer I read the book The Disappearance of Childhood by Neal Postman. What a book. His final two paragraphs of the book are worth repeating here as an apologetic for why one should push kids to read and think and avoid excessive mind numbing media devices. Postman begins with the question, "Is the individual powerless to resist what is happening?" The bold sentence in the second paragraph (emphasis mine) is what really stood out to me.
The answer to this, in my opinion, is "no." But, as with all resistance, there is a price to pay. Specifically, resistance entails conceiving of parenting as an act of rebellion against American culture. For example, for parents merely to remain married is itself an act of disobedience and an insult to the spirit of a throw-away culture in which continuity has little value... Similarly, to insist that one's children learn the discipline of delayed gratification, or modesty in their sexuality, or self-restraint and manners, language, and style is to place oneself in opposition to almost every social trend. Even further, to ensure that one's children work hard at becoming literate is extraordinarily time-consuming and even expensive. But most rebellious of all is the attempt to control the media's access to one's children. There are, in fact, two ways to do this. The first is to limit the amount of exposure children have to media. The second is to monitor carefully what they are exposed to, and to provide them with a continuously running critique of the themes and values of the media content. Both are very difficult to do and require a level of attention that most parents are not prepared to give to child rearing.
Nonetheless, there are parents who are committed to doing all of these things, who are in effect defying the directives of their culture. Such parents are not only helping their children to have a childhood but are, at the same time, creating a sort of intellectual elite. Certainly in the short run the children who grow up in such homes will, as adults, be much favored by business, the professions, and the media themselves. What can we say in the long run? Only this: Those parents who resist the spirit of the age will contribute to what might be called the Monastery Effect, for they will help to keep alive a humane tradition. It is not conceivable that our culture will forget that it needs children. But it is halfway toward forgetting that children need childhood. Those who insist on remembering shall perform a noble service.
Keep in mind this was written in 1982.

Pushing your child toward more virtuous affections will not be popular. Not with your child, not with your friends, maybe not even with their teachers at school, but it is worth it. I'll end with this thought from The Collapse of Parenting:
If you are doing your job as a parent, then sometimes you will have to do things that will upset your child. If you are concerned that your child won't love you anymore, that concern may keep you from doing your job. 
Do your job.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Two things that are guaranteed to radically change your marriage




There are two things you can start doing right now that are guaranteed to radically change your marriage. Sound too good to be true? They really do work. Doesn't mean they're easy, but you will see immediate results.

Step One

First, think of marriage from an eternal perspective. I've know this to be true for a long time. But the hard part is putting it into practical terms. How do you imagine marriage in light of something that is infinite and eternal? It's like trying to comprehend the size of a galaxy. Our minds are not big enough to gain that kind of perspective. 

But there is a practical step you can take to get there. In the book You and Me Forever, Francis Chan shares how he approaches this. He tries to imagine himself standing before God for the first time. What would it feel like? How would he respond?
Oddly, I meet very few people who think about that moment. Is it because we don't really believe it's going to happen? We think about upcoming vacations and imagine how much fun we will have. We think about upcoming trials and worry about how difficult they will be. Why don't we think about seeing God for the first time? I'll try to think about it often because it keeps me centered. This is also why I imagine Lisa [his wife] seeing God for the first time. I love her, so I want her to be ready for it. (p.24)
What are the benefits of doing this? 
Eternal-mindendness keeps us from silly arguments. There's no time to fight. We have better things to pursue than our interest. Too much is at stake! God created us for a purpose. We can't afford to waste our lives. We can't afford to waste our marriage by merely pursuing our own happiness. (p.11)
A strange thing happened when [we] started living with an eternal lens: it caused us to enjoy the here and now! Many people will tell you to focus on your marriage, to focus on each other; but we discovered that focusing on God's mission made our marriage amazing. This caused us to experience Jesus deeply—what could be better?
Not easy at all - but I think you'll find if you begin to employ the intentional practice of considering your marriage in light of eternity, it will have a profound affect on the way you live and love each other now.

Step Two

The second is one I've heard Dennis Rainey talk about time and again: Praying Together. Again, the Chans offer these thoughts on why this is so critical to the health of your marriage:
Remember that there is an enemy who is seeking to destroy your marriage. Our battle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), so we can't safeguard our marriages through more date nights, more vacations, or more counseling. Those things are not bad, but we have to see that there is more going on. Sincere and concentrated prayer will do infinitely more than any human strategy for a happy marriage. "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working" (James 5:16). (p.29)
It's hard to believe that these two things can make such a difference in marriage, but they really can. 

Try a one week experiment with a morning and evening approach:

In the mornings, do step one. Here's how you can approach it: Take 3 minutes and imagine yourself standing before God. Imagine how it feels, what you would hear, what you would see. Then take 3 minutes and imagine your spouse standing before God. Also imagine what he or she would feel, see, hear. Also imagine what they would look like to you in that moment. Then take 3 minutes and pray about how this vision affects your marriage today.

Next, in the evening, take 3 minutes to pray with your spouse. Simply pray for the things that came to mind in the morning. Or pray for your kids together and the biggest challenges facing your family. Make sure to begin by giving thanks for all the things that are going well in your marriage and family.

Try it for a week and see what happens.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Imitation of Christ - on humility




Of grace concealed by humility:

"It is seldom the case that they who are self-wise endure humbly to be governed by others. Better it is to have a small portion of good sense with humility, and a slender understanding, then great treasures of many sciences with vain self- pleasing. Better it is for thee to have little, then much of that which may make thee proud."

From The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis

Friday, February 10, 2017

Disciplines of a Godly Man: How one book made me read more better books


Further up and further in - a Narnian like experience

In college I read the book Disciplines of a Godly Man with two friends. One of the other guys happened upon it and thought we should check it out. Yet since I hadn't heard of it, I was skeptical (how arrogant... which was pretty par for the course at the time). The book had a tremendous influence on my life and cemented a life-long friendship with both of those guys.

There were two parts of the book that have stuck with me the longest: the Bible reading plan and the reading survey.

The Bible reading plan was the first chronological version I had seen. It's not really all that special, but for some reason it stuck with me and lead to many years of reading through the entire Bible over the course of the year.

But the reading survey was what really blew my mind. Here's a brief explanation: The author (R. Kent Hughes) surveyed a number of influential Christian teachers, pastors, and authors, and asked the following questions:
  1. What are five books, secular or sacred, which have influenced you the most?
  2. Of those books, which is your favorite?
  3. What is your favorite novel?
  4. What is your favorite biography?
Some of whom he interviewed were James M. Boice,  Bryan Chappell, Chuck Colson, Jim Dobson, Elisabeth Elliot, Howard Hendricks, Carl F. Henry, Jerry Jenkins, Harold Lindsell, Robertson McQuilkin, J.I. Packer, Pagie Patterson, Eugene Peterson, Haddon Robinson, R.C. Sproul, Chuck Swindoll, and Warren Wiersbe.

Some heavy hitters!

Other than the Bible, here's a list of the books that were mentioned more than once:
Mere Christianity (10)
Calvin's Institutes (8)
The Pursuit of God by Tozer (6)
My Utmost for His Highest (5)
Brothers Karamazov (5)
Anna Karenina (5)
Pilgrim's Progress (5)
Shadow of the Almighty (4)
Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret (3)
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis (3)
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (2)
American Caesar by William Manchester (bio) (2)
The Last Lion by Manchester (Churchill bio) (2)
Moby Dick (2)
War and Peace (2)
Confessions by Augustine (2)
Loving God by Colson (2)
Knowing God by Packer (2)
Through the Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot (2)
NOTE: I think the list in the updated version of the book is different from the original. So I kept some on this list that do not appear in the most recent version.

The list was a revelation to me - like a wardrobe door into a strange and wonderful world I never knew existed. What were these books that so many adored? I must get to know them!

I have since read most all the books on this list (minus an unabridged version of Moby Dick, American Caesar, and I'm currently working on Through the Gates of Splendor). And I've been amazed by how much these works have shaped my life. In a future post I'll write my own answers to these questions. And I'd love to hear your answers as well.

But for now I'll offer some thought on a few of the books from the above list.

Mere Christianity
Other than the Bible, there's been no book that's had as much influence on shaping my life as this one. Reading it in college started a life long love of Lewis' works. Every Christian should read this multiple times. When I read Tim Keller I often think he seems like a modern C.S. Lewis, tackling the questions to Christianity the culture raises.

Calvin's Institutes
Didn't read this till after seminary, but I was utterly shocked by how accessible and relevant to everyday life Calvin's writing was. I've heard amazing things about this volume in particular. It's shorter than many of the versions offered today, but not because it's a modern abridgment. It is one of the earlier versions Calvin published, before some of the expanded material was added (I think something like 5 different editions were published in Calvin's lifetime). I'd encourage every Christian to eventually read through it. Maybe break it up into segments and tackle it over a few years.

My Utmost for His Highest
Growing up it seemed that many people in my church kept this volume next to their Bible and their copy of Experiencing God. It was a standard daily devotional, a notch above My Daily Bread. I first started working through it as a Sophomore in college, but found it over my head. I took a step back, worked through a Swindoll devo, and when I returned to it, my heart was ready to absorb the depths it offered. Definitely worth picking up, and its beauty is in its brevity, at one small page and one verse per day.

Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
Teddy Roosevelt read this while floating down a half-frozen river in South Dakota, in hot pursuit of a boat thief. I read it sitting in a comfortable chair at home. But the story was riveting. Especially the character development contrasts between the Anna and Levin. Some say Tolstoy infused himself in the character of Levin. Definitely worth reading, especially as a warning against the deception of following your heart.

Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot
Incredible story of how God worked through Jim Elliot and other young missionaries to reach a remote people group in Ecuador. Their martyrdom by those very people they tried to reach was a great tragedy, yet also launched a powerful missions movement. It definitely stirred me to consider what God had in store for my future.

Hudson Taylor's Spiritual SecretAmazing story, but what stood out was how Taylor, as a young man in America, totally focused his life, every aspect of it, around preparing for the hardships of the mission field in remote China. He created difficult living conditions for himself (like sleeping on the floor) and began learning Chinese by comparing an English Bible to a Chinese Bible. It's rare to run across someone that has such focus and clarity of purpose at such a young age.

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis 
Still working through this but find it a rich well of spiritual encouragement. I nibble on a short section at a time. Works great as a follow up to My Utmost for His Highest. It's amazing how often this work is mentioned by other spiritual giants, like C.S. Lewis. No coincidence since it is the most widely read Christian work ever written, besides the Bible.

The Great Divorce by C.S. LewisThis book blew my mind. Especially his depiction of those that are in hell and why they are there. The imagery of the lizard locked onto the shoulder of one of the characters reminded me of Eustace (i.e. Narnia) and his own lizard skin predicament. I left the book praying that I would be able to get my eyes off myself and avoid endless empty-prattle and self-delusionment modeled by many on the bus.

The Last Lion by Manchester
Those who have read much on Churchill often label the Manchester volumes as masterful. Yet they are not easy reads and can be intimidating to some. Friends who know I'm a Churchill fan often ask about a starter book on Churchill. There really is no starter book on Churchill, but two that will do are his own biography about his early life, called (wait for it...), My Early Life. And I just finished an audio book that was an outstanding overview of his life, called Churchill the Prophetic Statesman. Both are good starters. I've also heard great things about the bio by the former Mayor of London. Also have on my reading list for this year a new book by Candice Millard. She wrote one of my favorite books on Teddy Roosevelt, about his journeys up the Amazon, and now she's turned out a volume chronicling Churchill's POW escape in South Africa. I've read Churchill's version of the story in his own bio, but I'm suspecting Millard can bring the tale to life in a new way. So I'll be moving these two works up my list for this year.

War and Peace
Probably my favorite novel of all time. When I closed the cover, it felt like I lost friends. Need to re-read. It's worth carving out the time.

Confessions by AugustineI couldn't believe that such an iconic figure of church history could be so candid about his own struggles. So many will relate to his battle with sin, and it's especially encouraging for those that come to know Christ later in life. It's also noteworthy that he had a mistress and a child out of wedlock before Christ, and yet still was used nightly by God to shape the church.



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Surprising Links Between Lincoln and his Killer



Last year I listened through the book Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly. I was hesitant to listen at first because of my love for Manhunt by James Swanson. Since O'Reilly's book came out after Swanson's book, it appeared O'Reilly was trying to ride the wave of Swanson's work, which felt a bit opportunistic to me. But since there are something like 50 biographies published on Lincoln ever year, let's chalk it up as a timing issue and move on.

O'Reilly's book covers the topic of Lincoln's death more broadly than Swanson, also addressing the events leading up to the end of the war and some of the conspiracy issues surrounding Lincoln's death. So it was enough of a different take to make it interesting and compelling.

But what was especially intriguing was the connection between Lincoln's oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, and John Wilkes Booth. The connection was mainly through two avenues. 

The first is that they both were sweet on the same girl, Lucy Hale. And though Booth was secretly engaged to Hale, yet Robert Lincoln still kept in touch with Hale, even spending the afternoon before his father's assassination with her. And he was not her only suitor. O'Reilly explains: 
Like Booth, she is used to having her way with the opposite sex, attracting beaus with a methodical mix of flattery and teasing.... among those enraptured with Miss Hale is a future Supreme Court justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., now a twenty-four-year-ld Union officer. Also John Hay, one of Lincoln's personal secretaries. And, finally, none other than Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s twenty-one-year-old son, also a Union officer. Despite her engagement to Booth, Lucy still keeps in touch with both Hay and Lincoln, among many others.....
But [by March of 1865]..., their relationship has become strained. They have begun to quarrel. It doesn't help that Booth flies into a jealous rage whenever Lucy so much as looks at another man. One night, in particular, he went mad at the side of her dancing with Robert Lincoln. Whether or not this has anything to do with his pathological hatred for the president will never be determined. (p.28)
The second connection was with John Wilkes Booth's brother Edwin. Like his brother, Edwin was a well-known actor whom Lincoln had seen perform on a number of occasions. But Edwin's value to the President was so much greater than his entertainment value. Again, O'Reilly explains:
During one two-month span in the winter of 1864, [Lincoln] saw Richard IIIThe Merchant of VeniceHamlet, and, of course, Julius Caesar. The actor playing all the lead roles was Edwin booth, John's older brother. In addition to his acting, he did the Lincolns an inadvertent favor by saving the life of their eldest son. When twenty-year-old Union officer Robert Todd Lincoln was shoved from a crowded railway platform into the path of an oncoming train, it was Edwin Booth who snatched him by the collar and pulled him back to safety.
Robert never mentioned the incident to his father, but his commanding officer, Ulysses S. Grant, personally wrote a letter of thanks to the actor. Edwin's brother's reaction to this incident has never been determined – if he knew at all. (p.123)
One Booth saved a Lincoln and another Booth killed a Lincoln. 

Lastly, there's one other fascinating story I've heard a number of times but wanted to capture here, as it almost seems unbelievable. The story goes that when it was time for Grant to accept Lee's final surrender, they needed a place to meet near the final battlefield:
Lee sends his aid Colonel Charles Marshall up the road to find a meeting place. Marshall settles on a simple home. By a great twist of fate, the house belongs to a grocery named Wilmer McLean, who moved to Appomattox Court House to escape the war. A cannonball had landed in his fireplace during the first battle of Bull Run, at the very start of the conflict. Fleeing to a quieter corner of Virginia was his way of protecting his family from harm.
But the Civil War once again finds Wilmer McLean. He and his family are asked to leave the house. Soon, Lee marches up the front steps and takes a seat in the parlor. Again, he waits. (p.78)

McLean's timing was uncanny. And yet even more surprising, was the timing of Lincoln's son once again, who also appeared at the surrender. Nor was this the end of his coincidental appearances, being an eye witness to the assassination of another president: James Garfield, and being nearby when William McKinley was shot. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

How a 19th Century Opera House can Change Your Life



I've been rereading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance with a group of guys. It was recommended to me by a Southern Baptist pastor 20 years ago. The book is not for everyone, but it has some fascinating moments. There's one story that will open doors for anyone who has tried to write. In it he describes an interaction with a college student who was struggling just to complete a 500-word essay about the United States.

The task was too overwhelming. The topic was too big. So the author (also her teacher at Montana state) tried to narrow the subject for her. What follows is his account of the exchange:
"Narrow it down to the main street of Bozeman." It was a stroke of insight.
She nodded dutifully and went out. But just before her next class she came back in real distress, tears this time, distressed that had obviously been there for a long time. She still couldn't think of anything to say and couldn't understand why, if she couldn't think of anything about all of Bozeman, she should be able to think of something about just one street.
He was furious. "You're not looking!" He said. A memory came back of his own dismissal from the University for having too much to say. For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses. The more you look the more you see. She really wasn't looking and yet somehow didn't understand this.
He told her angrily, "Narrow it down to the front of one building on the Main Street of Bozeman. The Opera House. Start with the upper left-hand brick."
Her eyes, behind the thick lens glasses, opened wide.
She came in the next class with a puzzled look and handed him a five-thousand-word essay on the front of the Opera House on the Main Street of Bozeman, Montana. "I sat in the hamburger stand across the street," she said, "and started writing about the first brick, and the second brick  and then by the third brick it all started to come and I couldn't stop. They thought I was crazy and they kept kidding me, but here it all is. I don't understand it."
Neither did he, but on long walks through the streets of town he thought about it and concluded she was evidently stopped with the same kind of blockage that had paralyzed him on his first day of teaching. She was blocked because she was trying to repeat, in her writing, things she had already heard, just as on the first day he had tried to repeat things he had already decided to say. She couldn't think of anything to write about Bozeman because she couldn't recall anything she heard worth repeating. She was strangely unaware that she could look and see freshly for herself, as she wrote, without primary regard for what had been said before. The narrowing down to one brick destroyed the blockage because it was so obvious she had to do some original and direct seeing. (191-2)
He gave similar advice to his son who wanted to write a letter to his mother about their motorcycle trip across the west. When he sat down to write, he blocked. He didn't know how to get started or what to say.
Usually, your mind gets stuck when you're trying to do too many things at once. What you have to do is try not to force words to come. That just gets you more stuck. What you have to do now is separate out the things and do them one at a time. You're trying to think of what to say and what to say first at the same time and that's too hard. So separate them out. Just make a list of all the things you want to say in any old order. Then later we'll figure out the right order. (283-4)
Any time I've been stuck this has worked beautifully. What is one thing I can say something about? Even if it's not the first thing? It will get used later, and even if not, it will get me going. So write to specifics and see how your writing will get rolling. And this works for everyone, not just those who are trying to write a book or article, or get published. When it comes to your personal journal - write to specifics! Because writing is thinking on paper, and capturing your thoughts will help strengthen them.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Bonhoeffer On the Ministry of Proclaiming

Continuing on with another quote from Bonhoeffer's book Life Together:
The more we learn to allow others to speak the word to us, to accept humbly and gratefully even severe reproaches and admonitions, the more free and objective we will be in speaking ourselves. The person who's touchiness and vanity make him sperm a Brothers Earnest since you cannot speak the truth and humility to others, he's afraid of being rebuffed and of feeling that he has been aggrieved. The touchy person will always become a flatterer and very soon he will come to despise and slander his brother. But the humble person will stick both to truth and to love. He will stick to the word of God and let it lead him to his brother. Because he seeks nothing for himself and has no fears for himself, he can help his brother through the word.
Reproof is unavoidable. God's word demands it when a brother falls into open send. The practice of discipline in the congregation begins in the smallest circles. Where did affection from God's word and Doctrine or life and perils the family fellowship and with it the whole congregation, the word of admonition and rebuke must be ventured. Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that cause a brother back from the path of sin. It is a Ministry of mercy, and ultimate offer a genuine Fellowship, when we allowed nothing but God's word to stand between us, judging and succoring.
I LOVE how the qualities expressed in these quotes have overlapped: The integrated power of listening, confessing, and proclaiming. To proclaim in a way that others will listen requires humility. To feel that it is safe to confess to another, you need to know that the person will listen. To receive a proclamation, one has to be in tune to the Holy Spirit speaking through it, which requires listening and humility. Christlikeness is required in Christian community to experience it at its fullest. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Bonhoeffer on the Ministry of Confession

This quote comes from Bonhoeffer's book Life Together, which is a short work summarizing what he put into practice to foster Christian community in an illegal seminary he led in the early years of World War II.

One important part of community is confession. Yet confession will only occur when one feels there is trust and safety. And that requires listening. Which is why this quote is so important as well. Listening to confession is a supreme act of love toward a fellow Christian. But I have to ask myself the hard question - do others feel that I am trustworthy enough to share their sins with me? Am I approachable? 
"Confess your sins to one another" (James 5:16). He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone... The pious Fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!
In confession the breakthrough to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart. The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sun is openly admitted. But God breaks Gates of brass and bars of iron (Psalm 107:16).
Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of a Christian brother, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders; he gives up all his evil. He gives his heart to God, and he finds the forgiveness of all his sin in The Fellowship of Jesus Christ and his brother.
What happened to us in baptism is bestowed upon us anew in confession. We are delivered out of the darkness into the kingdom of Jesus Christ. That is joyful news. Confession is the renewal of the joy of baptism. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).

From Life Together, p.112-115.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Favorite books of 2016

This was a pretty fun year of reading. I finished some enormous books and read some fun ones, but also some that improved my life and helped me see the world in new ways.

I’ll dive right in here on a light topic. Three books that I didn’t expect to read at the beginning of the year, nor did I expect them to be grouped together on a reading list, but they all challenged my thinking about race. Just Mercy opened my eyes to the tragedies of the justice system. Blood Meridian was probably the most disturbing book I read this year - yet so incredibly well written. The atrocities committed against Native Americans by truly evil people were astounding and horribly gut wrenching. Don’t read this if you are queasy. I can’t imagine how Cormac McCarthy was able to find this voice without slipping into depression. Amazing, disturbing, and yet important. Native Son was the second most disturbing read of the year. Not only because of the graphic violence, but the tragic nature of the downward spiral of the main character. Some parts were tedious, but collectively, the weight of the system he exposed for me was overwhelming. The section on ping-pong tables left me spinning. I’m too quick to offer solutions that make me feel good but might totally misses the root problem. 
 

Power of Community

Two books this year that surprised me were both by the same author and both hit the theme of community: War and Tribe by Sebastian Junger. War wasn’t the typical war reporter book. But it was a snapshot into the inner workings of the relationships of young men on the battle front in Afghanistan. Tribe absolutely blew me away. You can ask anyone who spent time with me the month I was nibbling on it. I must have quoted from it daily. So much great content and stories on the power of community. I’m not saying that he’s right on everything – but it sure was insightful. Every pastor should read it for sure. Short read too.

CS Lewis: a mild obsession

This year was consumed by C.S.Lewis. I’d even call it an obsession. I re-read my favorite of his, Surprised by Joy, and then read a combined 3000 pages of his letters. Volume 2 covered the war years (1931-1949). Volume 3 was everything after that (1950-1963). If you want a huge treat, you should pick up Volume 2. Especially the letters he wrote to his brother during World War II. Epic. Of course, Volume three was amazing because of so many major milestones that occurred in his life (most of his popular works written, death of ‘mother’, marriage, death of wife, his own death). Such an amazing journey. Can’t wait to plow through volume one this year, which, at a paltry 800 pages, should be a breeze in comparison! These two volumes, when combined, were some of the best books I’ve read in my life.

Productivity

Read a whole host of books on Productivity. Read The War of Art for probably the fifth time, and Linchpin the second (both as audio books). Both need to become at least annual reads. Maybe even more often. If you haven’t read either, put them at the top of your list. New ones were Grit, Better than before, Do More Better, and Checklist Manifesto. Each were important for different reasons. I probably liked Better Than Before (how to build habits) best, as it was the most practical and engaging.

Biography


Though I didn’t read a ton of biographies Rebel Yell (on Stonewall Jackson) was hands down the best. It was well written, and made an already fascinating, enigmatic personality even more intriguing. I’ll certainly be re-reading this one in the near future. On another note, the author of Rebel Yell wrote a book I found equally fascinating and have recommended many, many times: The Empire of the Summer Moon. Amazing. After being blown away by these two books, I’ll read anything he writes. Except for a book about a former University of Kentucky football coach. Probably won’t go there…. But everything else.

Fiction and Historical fiction

Went on a Jack London kick this year. As a kid I loved, loved, loved, reading The Call of the Wild. But this year I was introduced to his other long stories and ate up Sea Wolf and Martin of Eden. The first was a contrast in character development. One man blossoms while the other devolves into despair. Yet both learn so much from the other. The second book seemed semi-auto-biographical and though clearly a novel with an engaging plot, folded in a commentary on finding true happiness.

Musashi was a surprising delight of a book. A long form historical fiction work (900-ish pages) on the life of Japan’s most successful Samurai, winning over 60 individual bouts and never losing. There's also a graphic novel version by the title Vagabond. The graphic novels are mostly fine, though I wouldn’t recommend them to the young because of a couple of images in volume one and two. (By the way, I think the two volumes of Vagabond I read are a compilation of some of the over 30 issues of a Japanese comic book series… so I’m not sure how to best direct anyone to track these down. I thought they were compiled into three volumes, but I couldn’t confirm that when I searched on Amazon. Maybe you can find them at your library like I did. If someone who reads this loves Manga and knows the answer – drop it in the comments please). I’m also working through a short biography on Musashi, called The Lone Samurai that has been a good complement to the novel. His burden to simplify life was probably his main driving force, shunning anything that would take him from “The way of the sword.”


Two Others Books 


Extreme Ownership – Not a book on buying lots of things, rather, it's a treatise on taking responsibility for whatever is swirling in your life. I share a story from this book during the men’s session at the Weekends to Remember and each time I’m amazed by how many men mention how powerful the story is to them. It’s probably been the stickiest book I’ve read this year – with the main idea coming to mind over and over again – “OWN IT!” Every man should read this.

End of Sexual Identity I read a ton of books on gender and sexual identity this year to prepare for writing my own book on the topic. One stood out above the rest. I didn’t agree with everything in the book, as the author seemed to underplay the power of the creation account in establishing two distinct sexes, but much of what she had to say about our cultural identities and they way they are formed around our gender was very thoughtful. She really helped drive home the idea that so much of what we believe to be true of gender and sexual identity is heavily influenced by our culture. Again, I don’t agree with everything she writes, but it’s worth reading.

GOODREADS


I’ve been using goodreads to track my books this year. If you want to see what I’m reading, or track your own books – check it out and get signed up. If you sign up with your amazon account, it will give you the option to import any books you’ve purchased from Amazon. You can also find a link on the right side of this blog.