Thursday, August 27, 2015

Maria Popova on Being Interesting

I've recently become a addicted to the site BrainPickings. It's a fascinating mixture of reflections from mostly older books, philosophical ponderings on the meaning of life, and ideas for 'being' rather than 'doing.' Note: not everything on the site is something I support or align with. That should become quickly evident if you read a few posts.
 
But much more interesting to me than the site itself is the person behind it, Maria Popova. What I most appreciate is her vigilance to keep the site design and function something she would personally find interesting and rewarding. And it sure has worked for her. She has around 5-7 million readers a month. The site has no advertisements and is totally supported by donations. These last two conventions are decidedly unconventional.

I've heard a few interviews with her and found a couple of statements from a recent podcast to be especially interesting. What follows are excerpts from her interview with Krista Tippet from the show "On Being." You can listen to this uncut version on Soundcloud. Warning: there are some seriously loaded statements here that will likely require significant reflection to mentally unpack. It's amazing to listen to her deliver them smoothly like they were rehearsed. But it's clear they flow from who she is. If you're short on time - take 1:23 (i timed it) to read the quotes in bold below.

NOTE: What follows are not exact quotes, but a 95% approximate. If you want word for word (i.e. including 'uhms' and 'ahs' and stops and starts) check out the audio.

NOTES AND COMMENTS

ON CULTURE
12:09- "We have a fetish of disruption in media and Journalism. [But] culture needs stewardship, not disruption. [Yes] we have forsaken stewardship. But we need both. We need a backdrop of stewardship against which the new can be built."

REFLECTIONS ON WORK
14:44- "For many of us the work we do is a hedge against our own worst fears for ourselves.... as a culture we seem bored with thinking. We want to instantly know. And [yet] knowing is the cessation of thinking. But we have an epidemic of 'listicles" - [so] why think about what constitutes a great work of art when you can skim the 'twenty most expensive paintings in history?' And I'm guided by this desire to counter that in myself...."

16:00-  "The reason we are consistently intolerant of long articles and even short videos - we skip forward even on those - is we've been infected with a pathological impatience that makes us want to have knowledge but not to have to do the work of claiming it."

16:38- "People will say 'I haven't been asked to think about big hard ideas like that since college...' in this culture we do all of our thinking in formal educational settings and then move on to a world of work." [this quote is a combo from Maria and the interviewer]

ON TRIVIA, KNOWLEDGE, and MEANING.
18:13 "Knowledge lives in a relational understanding [i.e. the relationship between ideas and bits of information]. The reason we call disjointed bits of encyclopedic information trivia [is that] the true material of knowledge is meaning, and the meaningful is the opposite of the trivial. The only thing that we glean by skimming and skipping forward is trivia. The only way to gain knowledge is contemplation and the road to that is time. There's nothing else, it's just time. There is no shortcut to the conquest of meaning and ultimately it is meaning that we seek to give to our lives."
Holy cow that was a loaded quote

19:40 - "I use Thoreau's journals as a 'spiritual text' to help me re-center... There's this beautiful passage where he talks about hard work... that the person who works hard doesn't exert themselves all day but has this leisure around accomplishing the task.  [for example] The hen lays just one egg and the rest of the time she feeds on things that feed the next egg. Today we wear this badge of honor of hard work of productivity as this halmark of purpose but in many ways it is the opposite because Thoreau's point was that the more we busy ourselves with just the drudgery of work, the more we accomplish. Parker Palmer said 'the more efficient our task, the smaller things we can imagine accomplishing.'"

ON IDENTITY
27:00- "I think identity for all of us is this perpetual process and it's somewhat like constantly clearing out and rearranging an attic. And it's as much about throwing out all the furniture and trinkets that no longer serve us as it is about bringing in new ones. The process of continuing to define who we are is the process of continually eliminating what we are not."

THE UNIFYING PHILOSOPHY OF HER WORK
29:15- "I think a lot about this relationship between cynicism and hope. Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. But hope without critical thinking is naiveté. And I try to live in this place between the two and build a life there. Because finding fault and feeling hopeless about improving our situation produces resignation of which cynicism is a symptom and against which it is a sort of futile self protection mechanism. [man that's a loaded sentence!] But on the other hand, believing blindly that everything will 'turn out just fine' also produces a kind of resignation because you have no motive to apply yourselves toward making things better. ...in order to survive both as individuals and a civilization but especially in order to thrive, we need to bridge critical thinking with hope. A plant needs the right amount of water to thrive. too much it rots. too little, it dries up. So if there is any unifying philosophy to the work I do it is this constant act of getting the water just right."  

ON INFORMATION CURATION
32:27- She discusses an essay she wrote discussing Vannevar Bush's article, "As We May Think" which deals with information overload. He says, “There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record.” Her comments: "So much of what I do is an attempt to make sense of humanity's common record." 

ON HER WORKLOAD
35:45 "It's not about productivity or 'how much' a person get's done. For me it feels very purposeful. it's not a matter of how much to fill the day with 'doing' but to fill the day with 'being.' It just so happens that what I do is very aligned with the way I would like to be and the way I am being in the world. It's not done out of this compulsive productivity thing."

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF BUILDING POCKETS OF STILLNESS IN YOUR LIFE
38:29 - The interviewer quoted an article where Maria said, "Be as religious and disciplined about your sleep as you are about anything else." Maria reflected further on the importance of this and building other pockets of rest into your life:
"I used to marvel at why my best ideas and insights on the human experience came to me at the gym or in the shower on the bike. And I used to have these elaborate theories about the movement of the body sparking a deeper consciousness... but I've really come to realize the kind of obvious thing which is that these are simply the most unburdened spaces in my life. The moments when I have the greatest uninterrupted intimacy with my own mind and my own experience. It's a kind of ordinary magic available to all of us if only we make that deliberate choice to invite it in."

38:58 - "Presence is far more intricate and rewarding and art than productivity.... and i've come to believe this the hard way [because] I too suffer from our civilizational malady of busying ourselves with the feeling of being productive so we don't have to deal with the psychic pressure of feeling purposeful or to mask the absence of that feeling. George Elliot said 'People may have in them some kind of vocation that's not quite clear to themselves. And they may seem idle and weak because they're really growing... we should be very patient with each other.' And I think we are so impatient with ourselves [as well] in our quest to find ourselves. Productivity becomes an expression of that impatience. Because to sit with that uncertainty is quite hard and we all have different strategies of avoiding that. " 

ON THE PROBLEM OF "NEWS"
43ish- Interviewer: "You often talk about that one of the things you're looking for in content is Something that contains both timeliness and timelessness." Maria Comments on 'the problem of newsy-ness': "Journalism has concentric circles. We've come to conflate journalism with news. So much of that culture deals with the urgent and not the important. There's a sort of time bias that happens in part because of the way the internet is structured. The most recent always floats to the top. That is conditioning us to believe the most recent is most important. The older matters less and exists less to the point where we really come to believe that if it's not on google, then it didn't happen...."

ON THE COMMERCIALIZATION OF MEDIA
"the beauty of the internet is that it's a self perfecting organism. But as long as it is an add supported medium, the motive will be to perfect commercial interest, to perfect the art of the 'listical,' the endless slide-show, the infinitely paginated article, and not to perfect the human spirit of the reader or the writer." . 

46:35 - E.B. White said, "The role of the writer is to lift people up not to lower them down. And so much of what passes for journalism today lowers."

I could have captured much more, as the interview goes on for another 30 minutes, but this enough for now....







Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Couple of Articles

The following articles are now up on FamilyLife's website. One was written by myself, and one buy a guy that serves with me at Familylife.

Even Toddlers Can Memorize Scripture

Books to Read to Your Kids

A few more are coming in the next couple of weeks. I'll make sure to post them here.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? [Book Notes]

After reading a book I often try to capture some of the notes made on the back page for later here for more about my system). Strength coach Charles Paloquin said in an interview, when asked how he can remember so much of what he reads, that his system is primarily to credit, which is as follows: he highlights as he reads (primarily on Kindle), after finishing a book he re-reads the highlights (according to him this increases retention by 75%). And finally at the end of the week he will re-read his highlights from all his books (increasing retention by 95%). Though he does have a strong memory, he also places a great importance on his method. Capturing book notes is part of my method for remembering what I have read.

Below are my notes from Kevin DeYoung's book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality. You can listen to a three part interview with KD on the book here.

40 - "Holy" or "holiness" occurs 87x in Leviticus
41 - "That Lev 18 spends so much time carefully delineating which sexual relationships are sinfully too 'close' and therefore incestuous (vv.6-17) suggests that no such parsing is necessary with respect to homsexuality because the condemnation is absolute."
"the key consideration (really the only one mentioned in the text) is the gender of those engaged in sexual activity. Whether the participants were willing or of age does not come into play."
43 - "There's no indication in the NT that Lev. should be treated as particularly obscure or peripheral. Quite the contrary. Jesus referred to Leviticus 19:18 ('Love your neighbor as yourself.') more than any other verse in the OT, and the NT refers to it 10 times."
44 - BOOK Robert A. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2001).
45 - "All the sexual sins in Lev 18 are lumped together under the term 'abominations,' but only male-with-male sex is singled out by itself as an abomination. In fact, it is the only forbidden act given this label in the entire Holiness Code."
46 - "Ritual impurity and moral impurity are two analogous yet distinct categories. Cleanness still matters in the NT, but it becomes an exclusively moral category instead of a ritual one."
52 - "In Pauls mind, same-sex sexual intimacy is an especially clear illustrion of the idolatrous human impusl to turn away from God's order and design."
53 - "Romans 1:27 does not speak to the state of our desires, but to the state of our design."
54 - BOOK: Thomas K Hubbard, ed., Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A sourcebook of Basic Documents (Berkely, CA: University of California Press, 2003).
72 - "The reason the Bible says comparatively little about homosexuality is because it was a comparatively uncontroversial sin among ancient Jews and Christians."
74 - Bible is never indifferent about sexual sin: "It cannot be overstated how seriously the Bible treats the sin of sexual immorality. Sexual sin is never considered adiaphora, a matter of indifference, an agree-to-disagree issue like food laws or holy days (Rom 14:1-15:7). To the contrary, sexual immortality is precisely the sort of sin that characterizes those who will not enter the kingdom of heaven.".... "You will be hard-pressed to find a sin more frequently, more uniformly, and more seriously condemned in the NT than sexual sin."
75 - Jesus condemned the sin of Porneai: Mark 7:21, a "broad word encompassing every kind of sexual sin." - "Jesus didn't have to give a special sermon on homsexuality because all of his listeners understood that same-sex behavior was prohibited in the Pentateuch and reckoned as one of the many expressions of sexual sin (porneia) off limits for the Jews."
"He [Jesus] affirmed the abiding authority of the OT (Matt 5:17-18)."
76 - "...shouldn't we keep talking to each other? Talking is not the problem. The problem is when incessant talking becomes a cover for indecision or even cowardice... It's death by dialogue."
77 - "Scripture often warns us - and in the severest terms-against finding our sexual identity apart from Christ and against pursuing sexual practice inconsistent with being in Christ... The same is not true when it comes to sorting out the millennium or deciding which instruments to use in worship."
scholars of note on page: Hubbard, William Loader, Bernadette Brooten.
85 - NT Wright on Plato's Symposium, "I have to say that... it seems to me they knew just as much about [homosexuality] as we do... they knew a great deal about what people today would regard as longer-term, reasonably stable relations between two people of the same gender."
90 - [a response to the question of "what about gluttony and divorce?"] "Do we really want to suggest that one sin is no big deal because we've been lax about a different sin? If Christians are wrongly tolerant of unrepentant gluttony, this is a matter of extreme importance."
91 - "The Catholic catechism does not call them seven 'Deadly sins,' but 'capital sins,' because they engender other sings and other vices."
94 - "there are important differences between divorce and homosexuality. For starters, the biblical prohibition against divorce explicitly allow for exceptions; the prohibition against homosexuality does not."
98 - "If we preach a 'gospel' with no call to repentance, we are preaching something other than the apostolic gospel."
99 - Regret is common; repentance is rare. Metanoia means a change of mind that results in a change of life:
  • You change your mind about yourself: "I am not fundamentally a good person deep down. I am not the center of the universe. I am not the king of the world or even my life."
  • You change your mind about sin. "I am responsible for my actions. My past hurts do not excuse my present failings. My offenses against God and against others are not trivial. I do not live or think or feel as I should."
  • You change your mind about God: "He is trustworthy. His word is sure. He is able to forgive and to save. I believe in his Son, Jesus Christ. I owe him my life and my allegiance. he is my King and my Sovereign, and he wants what is best for me. I will follow him no matter the cost."
  • And then you change as God works in you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13).
100 - D.Bonhoeffer quote: Free Grace is Not Cheap: "[Cheap grace is] the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."(from Cost of Discipleship, p.47).
103 - The phrase, 'you're on the wrong side of history,' seeks to win an argument by not having one.
104-105 - [section titles] the phrase assumes a progressive view of history that is empirically false and as a methodology has ben thoroughly discredited.
The phrase... also forgets that progressive ideas can prove just as disastrous as traditional ones.
The phrase... usually perpetuates half-truths and misinformation about Christian history. (i.e. Every educated person in Columbus's day one the earth was round.)
106 - "the view that the sun revolved around the earth was not the product of theological and moral reflection."
107 - "To make it sound like the word of God is plainly for slavery in the same way it is plainly against homosexual practice is biblically indefensible."
111 - logic: "If the 'is-ness' of personal experience and desire determines the 'ought-ness' of embracing these desires and acting upon them, there is no logical reason why other sexual 'orientations' (say, toward children, or animals, or promiscuity, or bisexuality, or multiple partners) should be stigmatized."
112 - "No matter how we think we might have been born one way, Christ insists that we must be born again a different way (John 3:3-7; Eph. 2:1-10).
114 - "Resisting sexual desire is a part of discipleship for every Christian, no matter our marital status... Intense longing does not turn sinful wrongs into civil rights."
"if chastity is too much to ask of the person with same-sex sexual desires, then it is too much to ask of the person with heterosexual desires. What about the single Christian woman who never finds a husband?"
117 - "We must base our ethical decision on something more than our subjective sense of what feels right."
122 - "God is love... but God is light (I John 1:5), Spirit (John 4:24), and a 'consuming fire' (heb. 12:29).
"no halfway responsible parent would ever think that loving her child means affirming his every desire and finding ways to fulfill whatever wishes he deems important."
123 - In revelation, to thyatira, jesus says, "you're lving in many ways, but your tolerance is not love. It's unfaithfulness."
126 - Bereans, Acts 17:11
127 - "The God we worship is indeed a God of love. Which does not, according to any verse in the Bible, make sexual sin acceptable."
131 - STATS - "According to one study by a sociologist at the University of Texas, churchgoing Christians who support same-sex marriage were much more likely than churchgoing Christians who oppose same-sex marriage to agree or strongly agree that viewing pornography is OK (33.4% to 4.6%), that premarital cohabitation is good (37.2% to 10.9%), that no-strings attached sex is OK (33.0% to 5.1%), and that it's OK for three or more adults to live in a sexual relationship (15.5% to 1.2%). Those in favor of same-sex marriage were also more likely to support abortion rights (39.1% to 6.5%). And each of these percentages was even higher when polling those who self-identify as gay and lesbian Christians-57% thought viewing pornography was permissible, 49.7% agreed that cohabitation before marriage was good, 49.0% believed no-stirngs-attached sex was OK, 31.9% were fine with polyamorous relationships, and 57.5% support abortion rights (Mark Regnerus, "Tracking Christian Morality in a Same-Sex Marriage Future, Public Discourse, August 11, 2014"
132 - Two important (but sad) QUOTES
Luke Timothy Johnson "A well respected NT scholar who supports homosexual behavior, speaks to the issue with refreshing candor....
I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.
[footnote at bottom of page...]
"Similarly, Diarmaid MacCulloch, a decorated historian and gay man wo left the church over the issue of homosexuality, has written: "This is an issue of biblical authority. Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity, let alone having any conception of a homosexual identity. The only alternatives are either to try to cleave to patterns of life and assumptions set out in the Bible, or to say that in this, as in much else, the Bible is simply wrong." (The Reformation: A History [New York: Penguin, 2003], 705)."
133 - "The path which leads to the affirmation of homosexual behavior is a journey which inevitably leaves behind a clear, inerrant Bible, and picks up from liberalism a number of assumptions about the importance of individual authority and cultural credibility."
134 - "The support for homosexual behavior almost always goes hand in hand with the diluting of robust, 100-proof orthodoxy, either as the cause or the effect."
139 - "Marriage... is a pre political institution.... It is a sad irony that those who support same-sex marriage on libertarian grounds are actually ceding to the state a vast amount of heretofore unknown power.... Now the state defines marriage and authorizes its existence (rather than recognizing marriage)."
140-141 "Having the right to marry is not the same as having a right to the state's validation that each and every sexual relationship is marriage.... the Pacifist has a right to join the army, but he does not have the right to inist tha the army create a nonviolent branch of the military for him to join."
actually, he can request/insist if he wants. Doesn't mean the army has to comply.
"Same-sex unions cannot be accepted as marriage without devaluing all marriages, because the only way to embrace same-sex partnerships as marriage is by chaining what marriage means altogether."
-cultural defn of marriage: "a demonstration of commitment sexually expressed."

This next section I found to be one of the most helpful parts of the book for helping churches move forward.

149-150: The Church and Homosxuality: Ten Commitments

  1. We will encourage our leaders to preach through the Bible verse by verse and chapter by chapter that they might teach the whole counsel of God (even the unpopular parts) and avoid riding hobby horses (Even popular ones).
  2. We will tell the truth about all sins, including homosexuality, but especially the sins most prevalent in our communities.
  3. We will guard the truth of God's Word, protect God's people from error, and confront the world when it tries to press us into its mold.
  4. We will call all people to faith in christ as the only way to the Father and the only way to have eternal life.
  5. We will speak to all people about the good news that jesus died in our place and rose again so that we might be set free from the curse of the law, saved from the wrath of God, and welcomed into the holy city at the restoration of all rings.
  6. We will treat all Christians as new creations in Christ, reminding each other that our true identity is not based on sexuality or self-expression but on our union with christ.
  7. We will extend God's forgiveness to all those who come in brokenhearted repentance, everyone from homosexual sinners to heterosexual sinners, from the proud to the greedy, from the people pleaser to the self-righteous.
  8. We will ask for forgiveness when we are rude or thoughtless or joke about those who experience same-sex attraction.
  9. We will strive to be a community that welcomes all those who hate their sin and struggle against it, even she that struggle involves failures and setbacks.
  10. We will seek to love all in our midst, regardless of their particle vices or virtues, by preaching the bible, recognizing evidences of God's grace, pointing out behaviors that dishonor the Lord, taking church membership seriously, exercising church discipline, announcing the free offer of the gospel, striving for holiness together, practicing the "one anthers" of Christian discipleship, and exulting in Christ above all things.

Key verses to memorize:
Jude 7
Lev 18:22
Lev 20:13
Matt 5:17-18
Lev 19:18
Rom 1:18-32
Mk 1:15
Lk 3:8
Acts 17:11 (Bereans)
Jn 15:18-25
Job 31:1

Monday, April 20, 2015

Reading List for this Month

Fahrenheit 451 –  Bought this last week for my son to read. I remember it being one of the most terrifying books I read as a young man and have avoided re-reading it as a result. But oh my goodness I'm so glad I reread this this weekend. It is an incredibly important book. It feels to me a bit like the intersection of Brave New World and Amusing Ourselves to Death. Thought written in 1950, it perfectly describes where we are today. I plan to read this more frequently moving forward.

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy - I read this book last year and I'm enjoying it again as an audiobook. I just love to know what a writer reads. I love to hear about the books that shape a person. And this one is chock full of a lot of rich pieces of literature and insight into complicated family. Reading it makes me want to read Gone With the Wind, write literature from a hotel in Paris, and teach English. Read the book and you might feel this way too. It's short - easy read. Grab the audio at your library.

Unbroken (Youth Version) – My son read this one, but wanted to mention it here for parents. Buy a copy and bribe your kids to read it! He couldn't put it down once he started and read it in a couple of day. I read the full version, and the story is powerful. Great great read for young boy. Especially powerful message of forgiveness and redemption.

The Marvelous Land of the Snergs - Picked this up after reading Tolkien's biography. He mentioned this book as on of his favorites to read to his children and as having shaped some of his thinking on The Hobbitt. Been reading a few pages in the evenings to the kids, and they love it. A little slow going at first, but worth the effort. In our home, when I mention reading it, my oldest almost always complains, but then also complains when I stop (he even knows he does it - so we all laugh about it now). The tales are pretty gripping for young kids, but playful and fun throughout. we're about 1/2 way through this one.

Turning Pro - If you haven't read The War of Art, and you do (or aspire to do) any type of creative work, then stop whatever you are doing and order that book right now. Life changing. Turning Pro is an expansion on one of the key themes in The War of Art. Currently a few chapters into it and loving (and hating) it.

The Death of Character - by James Davison Hunter. Been nibbling on this one a few pages at a time over the last year, (since it was given to me by the author after meeting him at a conference), Trying to pick up speed on it now. This weekend, (we were at a Weekend to Remember in Branson, Missouri - great time!) one of the speakers made a big point out of the importance of passing on character to your children. You can only pass on what you have. And one of the main ways children develop character is by watching you. Years ago, my father-in-law gave me the book Winners Never Cheat and it's full of powerful stories of a man who lived out character in his life. I even have my son reading it this week, since he's home from school after stepping on a nail this weekend (ouch!)

LongReads: Not a book, but I've enjoyed getting this weekly email that has a number of long-form online articles featured. I usually find a couple on the list that are really worth reading. Sign up for the email list at the bottom of the main page.

Let me know what books you are reading. I'd love to hear about them!

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Few Books

Here's a quick post on a couple of books I'm reading:

The Happiness of PursuitCall me cheesy, but I have a special affinity for books with titles that rework a well-known phrase, like  The War of Art. Picked this one up because of the author, Chris Guillebeau, whose book The Art of Nonconformity  I read a few years ago and really enjoyed. This book so far has been especially refreshing and worth the read. It's is a series of short stories weaved throughout highlighting people who have pursued what he calls a "life quest." He also weaves in his own story of traveling to every country in the world by the the age of 35.

Strange Glory: Yet another biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Have about 30 pages left in this one and will try to post some of the  notes from the book , especially given that the notes from the Metaxas bio are still one of the most popular posts I've put up. This book is a good complement to the Metaxas biography and gives greater emphasis to Bonhoeffer's theology and friendships. Though not quite as readable as the Metaxas bio, overall I enjoyed this one more as it seemed to go deeper inside the things that shaped the man Bonhoeffer became.

Daily Rituals: A collection of excerpts and descriptions from famous artists, painters, writers, musicians, describing how they went about their day. Lots to learn, but the big takeaway for me is that three hours of writing a day is about the most one can hope for. But three hours of writing a day can also be extremely fruitful over time (See section on Anthony Trollope). About halfway through this book.

People of God: This book was written by the small groups pastor at Matt Chandler's church. Our church is trying to get our mind around what it means to have an intentional small group strategy that also emphasizes leadership development. Hoping to learn much from this book.

First Hand: Skimming this book because of a product in development at FamilyLife for middle-teens. One of the sessions is all about helping a young person "make your faith your own." And that's really the gist of this book. The authors state inside the front cover, "Only a short time ago, we were so done with the whole Christian thing. What we thought was our faith wasn't ours at all. Not completely. Mostly it belonged to our parents. Some of that belonged to the youth pastor or our friends. Sure, some of it was real for us too. But a lot of it wasn't. If you had given our personal beliefs a close inspection, you might have noticed some flimsy plastic labels hanging on them." They go on to say, "Our goal in writing this book is to help you replace secondhand religion with a faith – and most importantly a relationship – that won't quit on you."

This is also important book because I've observed this happen in a number of churches, and I'm especially interested in helping our church be a place where kids make their faith their own before leaving the home.

The Story of Christianity vol 2: I started reading this with a group of guys at the office and it has
been a great delight. I read volume 1 in seminary and have always wanted to finish volume 2. Discussion groups are a great way to trick yourself into reading something you know you should read but just haven't made the time to do so. Gonzalez is the most readable writer of Christian History that I've run across. Recently both volumes were available for $3.99 via kindle, so keep an eye out.



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Few Videos and links to Encourage and Inspire

Here's a couple of videos that I've found inspiring this week:

This first one I showed to a group of leaders at FamilyLife and it sparked some of the best conversations we've had as a group. I also showed it to my wife and son and all three of us came away from it inspired and wanting to listen to more classical music!



This one I'm particularly fond of because my own love of pencils and writing.



Now for the other theology nerds out there, both of you, enjoy this take on St. Patrick and the Trinity



And if that wasn't enough...




Finally, here's a valuable article on the importance of reading (Sent from my lovely wife):
Stop Cleaning the Kitchen and Read a Book

Monday, March 16, 2015

Man Up and Grab a Diaper: 6 Lessons From a New Dad

My good friend and co-worker Dan Sheaffer wrote a great article not too long ago on some of the lessons he learned as a new dad. Great insights. I especially liked this one:
Part of being a family leader is learning to anticipate needs that are coming before being asked to do them.  When I look to serve Emily—just to purely serve and take some burden off of her—it goes a long way. In Ephesians, Paul calls all men to love their wives as Christ loves the church.  Christ lived so sacrificially for the church that he died for it. 
Check it out here:

Six Lessons From My First 8 Months as a Dad

Friday, March 13, 2015

C.S. Lewis on Temptations

Just finished reading Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill. Great book. So much rich theology relevant to all Christians. Ran across this GREAT quote from C.S. Lewis:

“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is… A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in… Christ, because he was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means - the only complete realist.” (From Mere Christianity)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tolkien: Notes from his Biography

What follows are my notes from an OUTSTANDING biography of J.R.R. Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter. I've interspersed some comments along the way that summarize some parts of the bio. The book is definitely worth reading. I borrowed it from a friend who said he had already read it 3 times and I imagine I'll read it again before long. I've already lined up a number of books he references in the bio to read, many of which heavily influenced Tolkien's thinking and writing, shaping what eventually became Lord of the Rings (LOTR hear after). Page numbers are from the bio. Most of my comments are in Italics (book titles are also in italics).

J.R.R. TOLKIEN - A BIOGRAPHY


ON MALE FRIENDSHIP: 53 - he came to associate male company with much that was good in life.. Started a group called the “Tea club.” Later changed title to the “Barrovian Society.” (name of place they met).

One of the major themes of the book, and I've heard one of the major observations of those who've studied Tolkien's life, was his deep need for male friendship. And anyone who's read LOTR or the Hobbit can see this pretty clearly. More quotes to follow on friendship - especially

ON BOOKS OF INFLUENCE 42, 54 - Beowulf, The Pearl, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Tolkien published his own translations of all three of these works). Volusungasaga (from the Norse) - Wagner’s interpretation of these events  lead to the ring series? (see note on p.77 on the translation).
Curdie’ books of George Macdonald
57 – Kalevala - or “Land of heroes” the collection of poems which is the principal repository of Finland's mythology. WH Kirbys everyman translation.
71 – Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon reader
72 – Crist of Cyenwulf - a group of anglo saxon poems. Two lines struck him forcibly from this:
“Eala Earendel engla beorhtastofer middangeard monnum sended.”
         (note: this is where the LOTR name “earendel” came from).

72– Valuska "prophecy of the seer rest"
77 – William Morris' The life and death of Jason (Morris’s translation of the Volungasaga), and a prose-and-verse romance The House of the Wolfings (both he found fascinating).

A note on these books and his love of languages: that was also another major theme of the bio. In fact, LOTR really flowed out of his love of languages and not the other way around. He also was versed in many ancient languages, mostly related to various forms of old English and nordic languages. He headed up various discussion groups, even with fellow faculty, who would meet to discuss works in the original old english and Ancient Nordic.

83 - ON HOW HE CAME TO WRITE LOTR: "G B Smith, after reading some of Tolkien's stories about Earendel, said that he "liked them but asked what they were really about." Tolkien had replied: "I don't know. I'll try to find out." Not try to invent: try to find out. He did not see himself as an inventor of story but as a discoverer of legend. And this was really due to his private languages.  He had been working for sometime at the language that was influenced by Finnish and by 1915 he had developed it to a degree of some complexity. He felt that it was a "mad hobby", and he scarcely expected to find an audience for it. But he sometimes wrote poems in it, and the more he worked at it the more he felt that it needed a "history" to support.

98 - B - William Morris: The earthly paradise (influenced The Silmarillion.)

107 – ON HIS FACINATION WITH INVENTING LANGUAGES: Not only did he invent languages for fun, he also toyed with it in his own diary: “After starting it in an ordinary hand writing he began instead to use a remarkable alphabet that he had just invented, which looked like a mixture of Hebrew, Greek, and Pittman’s shorthand. He soon decided to involve it with his own mythology, and he named it “The Alphabet of Rumill" after and elvish sage in his stories. His diary entries were all in English but they were now written in this alphabet. The only difficulty was that he could not decide on the final form of it; he kept on altering the letters and changing their use, so that a sign that was used for "r" one week might be used for "L" the next. Nor did he always remember to keep a record of these changes, and after a time he found it difficult to read earlier entries in the diary. Resolutions to stop altering the alphabet and leave it alone were of no avail: a restless perfectionism in this as in so much else made him constantly refine and adjust."

Tolkien's friendships were critical to his creative process. He depended on the men in his life to sharpen him and give him creative energy and feedback. His friendship with Lewis became so important that it even created a bit of jealousy with his wife. This started as a young man, having gathered a close knit literary group in college, a group that was decimated by the ravages of WWI.

147 – ON HIS FRIENDSHIP WITH CS Lewis - ‘Anyone who wants to know something of what Tolkien and Lewis contributed to each other’s lives should read Lewis’s esay on friendship in his book The Four Loves. There it all is, the account of how two companions become friends when they discover a shared insight, how their friendship is not jealous but seeks out the company of others, how such friendships are almost of necessity between men, how the greatest pleasure of all is for a group of friends to come to an inn after a hard days walking: ‘Those are the golden sessions,’ writes Lewis, ‘when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim or responsibility for another, but all are freeman and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life – natural life – has no better gift to give."

159 – ON MARRIAGE AND HONESTY - GREAT QUOTE!!! “Indeed he perceived that his need of male friendship was not entirely compatible with married life. but he believed this was one of the sad facts of a fallen world; and on the whole he thought that a man had a right to male pleasures, and should if necessary insist on them. To a son contemplating marriage he wrote: ‘There are many things that a man feels are legitimate even thought they cause a fuss. Let him not lie about them to his wife or lover! Cut them out - or if worth a fight: just insist. Such matters my arise frequently - the glass of beer, the pipe, the writing of letters, the other friend, etc, etc. If the other side’s claims really are unreasonable (as they are at times between the dearest lovers and most loving married folk) they are much better met by above board refusal and “fuss” than subterfuge.'

Good advice for sure. Every man needs a hobby - needs a productive outlet. Too many guys are bored with their lives. But they also feel the hobby takes time from the family. Make the time! It may actually give you more energy for your family.

165 - Bombadil metaphor: “Tom Bombadil was intended to represent ‘the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside."

Another theme of the book was his love of trees - and how much his love of trees shaped his writing. The Bombadil metaphor certainly points at this. More on that later.

167ON HIS WRITING FOR HIS CHILDREN: Tolkien would write out an account of recent events at the North Pole in the shaky handwriting of Father Christmas, the rune-like capitals use by the Polar Bear, or the flowing script of Ilbereth. Then he would add drawings, write the address on the envelope… and paint and cut out a highly realistic North Polar postage stamp. and he would deliver the letter in a variety of ways… leave in the fireplaces as if it had been brought down the chimney, and cause strange noises to be heard in the early morning, which together with a snowy footprint on the carpet indicated that Father Christmas himself had called. Later the local postman became an accomplice and used to deliver the letters himself….” HA! Fun idea

same pageChildren’s Lit: G.Macdonald’s Curdie, Andrew Lang’s fairy tale collection, E.A. Wke-Smith’s The Marvellous Land of Snergs. Highly amusing!

168 – Book Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt (and source of the name hobbit?)
171 - read his Arthur poem - “the Fall of Arthur” - colleague said, ‘shows how the Beowulf metre can be used in modern English.'
173 – C.S. Lewis' "ransom" trilogy reread and get a copy!

175 – ON HOW THE HOBBIT STARTED - How the Hobbit started: “On a summer’s day… he was sitting by the window in the study… marking exam papers. Years later he recalled: ‘One of the candidates had mercifully left one of the pages with no writing on it (which is the best thing that can possibly happen to an examiner) and I wrote on it: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Names always generate a story in my mind. Eventually I thought I’d better find out what hobbits were like. But that’s only the beginning.’"

A good reminder that the mundane can lead to the exceptional. Note the "I'd better find out..." line again.

182 – compost heap - “One learns little by raking though a compost heap to see what dead plants originally went into it. Far better to observe its effect on the new and growing plants that it is enriching."
199-200 – procrastination story = "leaf by Nagel in the "brilliant! Also, "The Whitehorse”

ON PROCRASTINATION AND THE ROLE OF TREES IN HIS LIFE:
“He was fifty-one, tired, and fearful that in the end he would achieve nothing. He had already gained a reputation for almost indefinite procrastination in his philological work (i.e. his university work with languages), and this sometime amused him, though it was often saddening to him; but as to never finishing his mythology, that was a dreadful and numbing thought. 

One day at about this time Lady Agnew, who lived opposite in Northmoor Road, told him that she was nervous about a large poplar tree in the road; she said that it cut off the sun from her garden, and she feared for her house it if fell in a gale. Tolkien thought that this was ridiculous. ‘Any wind that could have uprooted it and hurled it on her houses’, he said, ‘would have demolished her and the house without any assistance form the tree.’ But the poplar had already been lopped and mutilated, and though he managed to save it now, Tolkien began to think about it. He was after all ‘anxious about my own internal Tree’, his mythology; and there seemed to be some analogy.

Eearlier in the book he describes an experience with trees as a boy... which I didn't capture here. The cutting of a tree brought great sorrow. This quote continues...

“One morning he woke up with a short story in his head, and scribbled it down. It was the tale of a painter named Niggle, a man who, like Tolkien, ‘niggled’ over details: ‘He used to spend a long time on a single leaf, trying to catch its shape, and its sheen, and the glistening odd dewdrops on its edges. Yet he wanted to paint a huge tree. There was one picture in particular which bothered him. It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and it became a tree; and the tree grew, sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots. Strange birds came and settled on the twigs and had to be attended to. Then all round the tree, and behind it, through the gaps in the leaves and boughs, a country began to open out’

In the story, which he  called Leaf by Niggle, Tolkien expressed his worst fears for his mythological Tree. Like Niggle he sensed that he would be snatched away from his work long before it was finished - if indeed it could ever be finished in this world. For it is in another and brighter place that Niggle finds his Tree finished, and learns that it is indeed a real tree, a true part of creation.

243 – ON LEWIS' DEATH - He felt lonely at the lack of male company. Lewis died…. “so far I have felt the normal feel ins of a man of my age - like an old tree that is losing all its leaves one by one: this feels like an axe-blow near the roots.” He spent many hours pondering over Lewis' last book Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer.

246 – Never a TV, washing machine or dishwasher in the house. Hmmm... 

259 – Best known inklings: Lewis, Charles Williams, Tolkien, also Hugo Dyson. author says to visit their graveyards.

260 – read "leaf by niggle” - excerpt LAST LINES OF BOOK: “Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished. If you could say that of a Tree that was alive, its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt and guessed, and had so often failed to catch. he gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide. ‘It’s a gift!’ he said."