Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Surprised by Re-Reading

I rarely re-read books. In general I try to power through whatever is in hand  (except for the Bible, of course) and move on to something new. But I noticed this year that I had re-read a number of books, and many of them have had a significant influence on my life over the years.

Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis - I remember the spot where I was sitting in the hotel lobby when I closed the cover on this book, New Year's even of 1999, (y2k anyone?) and just sat in wonder at God's unique work in Lewis' life. It brought great comfort to realize God had wired him for a specific purpose, and to know God had done the same for me. Picked it up again this year for a piece I was writing for the forth-coming Passport2Identity. Tried skimming through it to find a specific passage, but ended up not being able to put it down. Yes it slowed down the writing, but the re-reading was a great delight.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry -  I want to be like Jayber in so many ways when I grow up. You should read this to learn about selfless love, connections to a place and a people, and a vision of community. I tossed the audio book in the car this summer. Often lingered in the parking lot before entering the office as a result.

What are People for? Re-read this last year for at least the 4th time. Can't get enough Wendell Berry. A good reminder that people are more important than institutions.



Fahrenheit 451 - For many years it was hard for me to consider reading this book again. It made me rather uncomfortable. but this book also caused me to fall more in love with books and ideas and the preservation of thought. I will likely re-read it annually (though when I've said this before I've not followed through...)

A Brief History of Thought by Luc Ferry- Read this at the recommendation of a friend who quoted Keller saying this was the most important book on culture one could read. Re-read it and discussed it with a group of bros on my back porch a few nights this fall.

The Story of Christianity Church History volumes - read both of these in seminary. Re-read them this year with a group of guys at the office. Most stuck with it. All agreed that the books are tremendous. A recent quote by Churchill reminded me of the importance of reading church history: "The farther one looks into the past, the more distant one can see into the future."

How Should We Then Live by Francis Schaeffer - I've read this once on my own and discussed at least two times with others. Now gearing up to work through it this spring with a group of guys at the office. A great overview of the history of western thought and the influences that have shaped the way we think today.

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy- Wow. What a book. Read through it a couple of years ago, and listened through it this year, some parts twice. Inspired me to read Gone With the Wind, which was better than I imagined, but not nearly as epic to me as it was to Pat Conroy's mother. His chapter on the bookstore in Atlanta made me long for an experience like that. His chapter on the influence of his english teacher made me want to quit everything and teach english. I've got a work by Thomas Wolfe on my nightstand because of him. His chapter on writing in Paris made me want to write a lot more, though not in Paris. Great writing and story telling.







Monday, January 25, 2016

C.S. Lewis Recommends Books to a Seeker



I've been reading through a collection of C.S. Lewis' letters and recently ran across a section where he recommends a number of books to a woman, a former student of his, who was exploring Christianity. Lewis wrote the following to his brother about the exchange:
This week I received a letter from my former pupil Mrs. Neylan... who is trembling on the verge of Christianity — admits that the issue 'can no longer be avoided' — and asks what to read and (more difficult still) who to see. I felt almost overwhelmed by the responsibility of my reply, and naturally the more because the two other people whose conversion had something to do with me became Papists!.... The letter's gone now. I suppose if God intends to have Mrs Neylan it won't make much difference what I've written! — yet that is a dangerous argument which would lead to its not mattering what you did in any circumstances.
Here's what he recommended for her to read:
On this whole aspect of the subject I should go on (since you've read his Orthodoxy) to Chesterton's The Everlasting Man. You might also find Mauriac's Life of Jesus useful... By the way, if childish associations are too intrusive in reading the New Testament, it's a good idea to try it in some other language, or in Moffatt's modern translation. 
As for theology proper: a good many misunderstandings are cleared away by Edwyn Bevan's Symbolism and Belief. A book of composite authorship and of varying merits, but on the whole good is Essays Catholic and Critical ed. E.G. Selwyn S.P.C.K. Gore's The Philosophy of the Good Life is rather wordy but taught me a lot. If you can stand serious faults of style (and if you can get them, they are long out of print) George Macdonald's 3 vols. of Unspoken Sermons go to the very heart of the matter. I think you would also find it most illuminating to re-read now many things you once read in 'English Lit' without knowing their real importance — Herbert, Traherne, Religio Medici.
Mary Neylan wrote an article about her friendship with Lewis, published in The Chesterton Review in 1991 (available to purchase here). Of the books he recommended, one still widely read today is Chesterton's Orthodoxy. My son is now reading the Space Trilogy for the first time, which reminds me that I need to re-read it, having not read it since college.

In the letter he also recommend two of his own works (at her request), The Pilgrims Regress and Out of the Silent Planet. In an interview Eric Metaxas, Walter Hooper said Lewis told him That Hideous Strength was his favorite book of all he had written (or, as he made the distinction, the "one he liked best"). One would think he would have recommended Mere Christianity to her, but the letter was written in 1940, a few years before he gave the lectures upon which the book would be based. Who knows, maybe this conversation helped him see the importance of writing such a book?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

How Proust Can Change Your Life - [Book Notes]

Not my high school photo
I've heard the name Marcel Proust many times, have heard his work spoken well of, and have often thought I should be reading him. Alas, I have never picked up one of his works. But after listening to an interview with Alain de Botton, I read his book called How Proust Can Change Your Life. Of course the title is probably a bit of an overstatement, yet the book is worth reading, if only for the chapter on learning how Proust dealt with a life of sickness, how he even saw it an advantage to help him focus on writing.

I would not have understood how this could even be possible until recently going through a season of sickness myself. And though there was much about that I did not like, I can now see how it focuses the mind and the body on the essentials and crowds out distractions. Proust  seemed to take greater delight in the very mundane things of life as a result. The whole book is worth the chapter on how to suffer well, but his insights on friendship, and thoughts on reading books make it a valuable read. 

What follows below are my notes from Alain's book. And who knows, I might even read some Proust now.

See all caps for major themes.


36 - The more an account is compressed, the more it seems that it deserves no more space than it has been allocated. How easy to imagine that nothing at all has happened today, to forget the 50,000 war dead, sigh, toss the paper to one side, and experience a mild wave of melancholy at the tedium of daily routine.

ON HOW THE MUNDANE GENERATES THE CREATIVE
44- a similar spirit appears to have guided Proust in his reading matter. His friend Maurice Duplay tells us that what Marcel most liked reading when he couldn't get to sleep was a train timetable. The document was not consulted for practical advice; the departure time of the Saint Lazare train was of no immediate importance to a man who found no reason to leave Paris. Rather, this timetable was read and enjoyed as though it were a gripping novel about country life, because the mere names of provincial train stations provided Proust's imagination with enough material to elaborate entire worlds, to picture domestic dramas in rural villages, shenanigans in local governments, and life out in the fields.

Proust argued that enjoyment of such wayward reading matter was typical of a writer, someone who could be counted on to develop enthusiasms for things that were apparently out of line with great art, a person for whom "a terrible musical production in a provincial theater, or a ball which people of taste find ridiculous, will either evoke memories or else be linked to an order of reveries and preoccupations, far more then some admirable performance at the Opera or an ultra smart soiree in the Faubourg Saint Germain. The names of Northern Railway stations in a timetable, where he would like to imagine himself stepping from the train on an autumn evening, when the trees are already bare and smelling strongly in the Keen Air, an insipid publication for people of taste, full of names he has not heard since childhood, may have far greater value for him then fine volumes of philosophy, and the people of taste to say that for a man of talent, he has very stupid tastes."  Or at least, unconventional tastes. This often became apparent to people who met Proust for the first time and were quizzed on aspects of their life which they had previously considered with all the meager spiritual attention usually paid to ads for household goods and timetables from Paris to Le Have.

ON COMPARISON TO HIS BROTHER
64- Robert Proust, two years younger than he, the surgeon like his father ( the author of an acclaimed study of the surgery of the female genitalia), and built like an ox. Whereas Marcel could be killed by a draft, Robert was indestructible. When he was 19, he was riding a tandem bicycle in Henryville, a village on the Seine few miles north of Paris. At a busy junction, he fell from his tandem and slipped under the wheels of an approaching five-ton pull wagon. The wagon rolled over him, he was rushed to the hospital, his mother hurried from Paris in a panic, but her son made a rapid and remarkable recovery, suffering none of the permanent damage the doctors had feared. When the First World War broke out, the Ox, now a grown-up surgeon, was posted to a field hospital... where he lived in a tent and worked in exhausting and unsanitary conditions. One day, a shell landed on the hospital, and shrapnel scattered around the table where Robert was operating on a German soldier. Though hurt himself, Dr. Proust single handedly moved his patient to a nearby dormitory and continued the operation on a stretcher. A few years later, he suffered a grave car accident when his driver fell asleep and the vehicle collided with an ambulance. Robert was thrown against a wooden partition and fractured his skull, but almost before his family had had time to be informed and grow alarmed, he was back on the road to recovery and active life.

So who would one wish to be, Robert or Marcel? The advantages of being the former can be briefly summed up: immense physical energy, aptitude for tennis and canoeing, surgical skills (Robert was celebrated for his prostatectomies, an operation henceforth known in French medical circles as proustatectomies), financial success, father of a beautiful daughter, Suzy (who uncle Marcell adored and spoilt, nearly buying her a flamingo when she expressed a passing desire for one as a child). And Marcel? No physical energy, couldn't play tennis or canoe, made no money, had no children, enjoyed no respect until late in life, then felt too sick to derive any pleasure from it (a lover of analogies drawn from illness, he compared himself to a man afflicted with too high a fever to enjoy a perfect souffle).


However, an area in which Robert appeared to trail his brother was in the ability to notice things. Robert did not show much reaction when there there was a window open on a pollen rich day or 5 tons of coal had run over him; he could have traveled from Everest to Jericho and taken little note of an altitude change, or slept on 5 tins of peas without suspecting that there was anything unusual under the mattress.

Though such sensory bindness is often rather welcome, particularly when one is performing an operation during a shell barrage in the First World War, it is worth pointing out that feeling things (which usually means feeling them painfully) is at some level linked to the acquisition of knowledge. A sprained ankle quickly teaches us about the bodies weight distribution; hiccups force us to notice and adjust to hitherto unknown aspects of the respiratory system; being jilted by a lover is a perfect introduction to the mechanisms of emotional dependency.

ON PAIN AS A TEACHER
In fact, in Prousts's view, we don't really learn anything properly until there is a problem, until we are in pain, until something fails to go as we had hoped.

"Infirmity alone makes us take notice and learn, and enables us to analyze processes which we would otherwise know nothing about. A man who falls straight into bed every night, and ceases to live until the moment when he wakes and rises, will surely never dream of making, not necessarily great discoveries, but even minor observations about sleep. He scarcely knows that he is asleep. A little insomnia is not without its value in making us appreciate sleep, and throwing a ray of light upon that darkness. An unfailing memory is not a very powerful incentive to study the phenomena of memory."

ON GRIEF AS A TEACHER
68- "happiness is good for the body" Proust tells us, "but it is grief which develops the strengths of the mind."

These griefs put us through a form of mental gymnastics which we would have avoided in happier times. Indeed, if a genuine priority is the development of our mental capacities, the implication is that we would be better off being unhappy than content, better off pursuing tormented love affairs than reading Plato or Spinoza.

It is perhaps only normal if we remain ignorant when things are blissful. When a car is working well, what incentive is there to learn of its complex internal functioning? When a beloved pledges loyalty, why should we dwell on the dynamics of human treachery? What could encourage us to investigate the humiliation of social life when all we encounter is respect? Only when plunged into grief do we have the Proustian incentive to confront a difficult truth, as we will under the bedclothes, like branches in the autumn wind.

ON HOW TO GAIN KNOWLEDGE AND MAKE THE MOST OF SUFFERING
76- psychoanalytic literature tales of a woman who felt faint whenever she sat in a library. Surrounded by books, she would develop nausea and could gain release only by leaving their vicinity. It was not, as might be supposed, that she was averse to books, but rather that she wanted them and the knowledge they contained far too badly, that she felt her lack of knowledge far too strongly and wanted to have read everything on the shelves at once - and because she could not, needed to flee her unbearable ignorance by surrounding herself with a less knowledge laden environment.

A Precondition of becoming knowledgeable maybe a resignation and accommodation to the extent of one's ignorance, an accommodation which requires a sense that this ignorance need not be permanent, or indeed need not be taken personally, as a reflection of one's inherent capacities.

83- The lesson? To respond to the unexpected and hurtful behavior of others with something more than a wipe of the glasses, to see it as a chance to expand our understanding, even if, as Proust warns us, "when we discover the true lives of other people, the real world beneath the world of appearance, we get as many surprises as on visiting a house of plain exterior which inside is full of hidden treasures, torture chambers or skeletons."

Compared to these unfortunate sufferers, Proust's approach to his own grief now seems rather admirable. Though asthma made it life threatening for him to spend time in the countryside, though he turned purple at the sight of a lilac and bloom, he did not peevishly claim that flowers were boring or trumpet the advantages of spending the year in a shuttered room.

The moral? To recognize that our best chance of contentment lies in taking up the wisdom offered to us in coded form through our coughs, allergies, social gaffes, and emotional betrayals, and to avoid the ingratitude of those who blame the peas, the boards, the time, and the weather.

(JCM: note that Proust knew how to make the most of his sickness and do what he could and to take advantage of his constraints.)

85- There may be significant things to learn about people by looking at what annoys them most.

88- The problem with clichés is not that they contain false ideas, but rather that they are superficial articulations of a very good ones

ON FRIENDSHIP AND BEING OTHERS CENTERED
120- Given the effort and strategic intelligence he devoted to friendship, it shouldn't surprise us. For instance it is often assumed, usually by people who don't have many friends, that friendship is a hollow sphere in which what we wish to talk about effortlessly coincides with others' interests. Proust, less optimistic than this, recognized the likelihood of discrepancy, and concluded that he should always be the one to ask questions and address himself to what was on your mind rather than risking boring you with what was on his.

To do anything else would have been bad conversation on manners: "There is a lack of tact in people who in their conversation look not to please others, but to elucidate, egotistically, points that they are interested in."  Conversation required an application of oneself in the name of pleasing companions. "When we chat, it is no longer we who speak... we are fashioning ourselves then in the likeness of other people, and not of a self that differs from them."

ON UNSENT LETTERS AND NOVELS
129- More interesting than the letters we send our friends may be the ones we finish, then decide not to mail after all. Found among his papers after his death was a note Proust had written to Gregh a little before the one he actually sent. It contained a far nastier, far less acceptable, but far truer message. It thanked Gregh for the house of childhood, [a Book Greg had written and asked Proust for feedback on after criticizing one of Proust's works], but then limited itself to praising the quantity, rather than the quality, of this poetic output, and went on to make wounding reference to Gregh's pride, distrustfulness, and childlike soul.

Why didn't he send it? Thought the dominant view of grievances is that they should invariably be discussed with their progenitors, the typically unsatisfactory results of doing so should perhaps urg us to reconsider. Proust might have invited Gregh to a restaurant, offered him the finest grapes on a vine plant, pressed a 500 Frank tip into the waiters hand for good measure, and begin to tell his friend in the gentlest voice that he seemed a little too proud, had some problems with trust, and that his soul was a touch childlike, only to find Gregh turning red in the face, pushing aside the grapes, and walking angrily out of the restaurant, to the surprise of the richly remunerated waiter. What would this have achieved, aside from unnecessarily alienating proud Gregh? And anyway, had Proust really become friends with this character in order to share his palm readers insights with him?

Instead, these awkward thoughts were better entertained elsewhere, in a private space designed for analysis too wounding to be shared with those who had inspired them. A letter that never gets sent is such a place. A novel is another.

130- One way of considering In Search of Lost Time is as an unusually long unsent letter, the antidote to a lifetime of Proustification, the flip side of the Athenas, lavish gifts, and long stemmed chrysanthemums, the place where the unsayable was finally granted expression..

HOW POSSESSION NUMBS APPRECIATION
168- the Duchess fails to appreciate her dresses not because they are less beautiful than other dresses, but because physical possession is so easy, which fools her into thinking that she has acquired everything she wanted, and distracts her from pursuing the only real form of possession that is effective in Proust eyes - namely, imaginative possession (dwelling on the details of the dress, the folds of the material, the delicacy of the thread), an imaginative possession that Albertine already pursues through no conscious choice because it is a natural response to being denied physical contact.

ON READING
179- it is one of the great and wonderful characteristics of good books (which allows us to see the role at once essential yet limited that reading may play in our spiritual lives) and for the other they may be called "conclusions" but for the reader "incitements." We feel very strongly that our own wisdom begins where that of the author leaves off, and we would like him to provide us with answers when all he is able to do is provide us with desires.... That is the value of reading, and also its inadequacy. To make it into a discipline is to give too larger role to what is only an excitement. Reading is on the threshold of the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Amazing Interview with Walter Hooper



Just listened through an epic six part interview with Walter Hooper, who played a key role in keeping C.S. Lewis' writings popular after his death. Eric Metaxas does the interview on his radio show. Click links below:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and Part Six.

Listening re-invigorated my interest in the volume of C.S. Lewis letters (vol. 2 of 3) I've been nibbling on for a few years now. It also inspired me to pray for Wayne Grudem, who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's, that God would bring someone alongside him, much like Walter Hooper came alongside C.S. Lewis, to assist him with writing. I attended seminary in Phoenix to get time around Dr. Grudem, and it was taking his course on Ethics that inspired me to do so. Since taking the course, I've wished he would put the material in book form, but he has always had other writing projects stacked in front of it. Now he is planning to finish writing an Ethics text in the coming years, so please join me in praying that the Lord gives him energy, help, favor and health!


Friday, January 8, 2016

Top Books of 2015

Some years reading is so-so, just plugging along or not going very deep. This year it seemed there was a greater than average variety of reading and some surprises along the way. Below are my top 9 books of 2015 in no particular order, except the last one was my favorite.

Sea Wolf by Jack London - One of my all time favorite books is Call of Wild, which I probably read the illustrated classic version over 100 times as kid. But I've not read much else by London and hardly any as an adult. Recently Ryan Holiday recommended Sea Wolf, so I picked it up, and I'm glad I did. Not only is it a fun read, but it's surprisingly thoughtful. The development of the two main characters and the criss-crossing arc of their character is both mesmerizing and maddening. It felt like a bit of a mash-up of Hemingway (in its bleakness) and Steinbeck (in its action). Definitely worth reading. And I'll for sure be reading more London this year. My daughter began asking me to read it aloud to her at night by the fire. I was so shocked because the language is not kid friendly. She even became very interested in the fate of Mr. Wolf. Go figure.

The Story of Christianity (Vol. 1 & Vol. 2) - These 2 volumes of church history are the best church history books I've read. Discussed them with a group of guys at the office this year and we had a rollicking good time (yes we did). Worth reading. Note that the Kindle version does not have page numbers. (Why oh why amazon can't you figure this out?)

Preaching by Keller - The beauty of this book is that it's not about how to preach, but how to think about communicating with an audience and connecting to their deeper heart issues. Important for every Christian to read if you want to know more about how the world thinks and how to bridge that gap to the message of Christ.

Junius and Albert's Adventure in the Confederacy - Two Union reporters are captured by the Confederacy after a battle on the Mississippi river. The book is the story of their prison stay, escape, and journey back to Union safety. The byline sums it up well, calling it a "Civil War Odyssey." A fascinating story in and of itself, but I also learned much about the war, especially the complexity of the warring allegiances in the southern states, which grew especially complicated in the mountains of Tennessee, where few slaves were owned due to the lack of plantations. So pro Union factions were fighting pro Confederacy groups, both of which were at odds with the "home guard" seeking to protect Tennessee's interests, and throw in fractured groups that just wanted to protect their isolated mountain freedom. Reminded me a bit of the complex political situation that developed in Italy during WWII, which I learned more about through the amazing novel, The Red Horse. If you like Civil War history, Junius and Albert is a great read. If you like WWII history and good literature, The Red Horse is a must read.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus - A former Muslims describes his journey from the faith of his family to following Christ. It's a powerful illustration of the enduring influence of friendship. It also calls all persons of faith to examine carefully their long held dogma, giving credence to fact over emotion. A great read to learn more about Islam and more about Christianity and the differences between the two.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up - I've always loved to keep things organized. This book gave more of the why behind the importance of keeping your home tidy. Primarily because of the joy it brings. She gives one very helpful pointer to determine if something is worth keeping or not: ask yourself, "Does this bring me joy?" Great read. Revolutionized my sock and T-shirt drawer. If that doesn't excite you, I don't know what will.

The Happiness of Pursuit - Loved the title. Picked it up because of how much I enjoyed the author's previous book, The Art of Non-Conformity. This book talks about having big goals in life (he traveled to every country in the world over a 10 year span) and how to get there. Also chocked full of stories of people who went after big goals. Conclusion: it's the pursuit of the goal that brings about the most joy and meaning in your life - even more than accomplishing it.

Fahrenheit 451 - One of the more haunting books I read in high school. For years I wouldn't even look at the cover in the bookstore. A book about burning books? Horror. But for some reason I overcame my fear and re-read it this year and I'm so glad I did. So much more depth here than I remembered, as we watch Montag question his occupation and moved by the sacrifices of those that would rather be burned with their books than live life without them. I used to think the book was condemning a society that would ban books. But I now see it was condemning a culture that grows so shallow in its thinking that they demand books be censured. Bradbury was more prophetic on this theme than I ever could have imagine. Here is evidence. (PS - I love the cover on this edition). I had my son read it, and I think I will re-read it every year.

JRR Tolkien bio - Of all the books read this year, this was hands down my favorite. I'll definitely be re-reading this in future years. His story was so incredibly inspiring. Made me want to quit my job and become a professor of middle-earth, I mean middle English. Fascinating person of great depth. My favorite part of the book was when he explained that he had to write LOTR/Hobbit so he could discover the back-story to the languages he had invented. Of course. Who wouldn't. I previously posted my notes from the book here. I picked up a collection of his letters by the same author and hope to read through those this year.

I'll soon publish a list of books I re-read this year. I rarely re-read books, so I was surprised when I looked back over this year's books to discover I had re-read quite a few from previous years. I also noticed that all of these books had significant importance for me. So keep an eye out for that list.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Summer Reading List for My Son 2015

I've been writing with a friend of mine on a blog called NoahGetsANailGun.com

Usually I'll post about my son's summer reading list on this blog, but this time I published on the other.

You can read that article here.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield - Book Notes

One of my favorite books for inspiring writing, or any creative act is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Steven is also the author of a number of books, most notably The Legend of Bagger Vance and The Tides of War.

Pressfield also known for his burden to teach young writers how to work, and he primarily does that through his own story of "going pro" when he was around 40. Before that, by his own admission, he was pretty purposeless in the world. He has a great story with many insights and he tells it well in The War of Art and in this book. If you only have time for one, I'd read The War of Art first.

Below are some of my notes and reflections from the book. Bold quotes take under two minutes to read.

ON AMBITION

9-Ambition, I have come to believe, is the most primal and sacred fundament of our being. To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act upon that ambition is to turn our backs upon ourselves and on the reason for our existence. Those first stirrings of ambition saved me and put me on the path to becoming an artist and a professional.

ON THE 'SHADOW CAREER'

by 'Shadow Career,' he means whatever work you're doing that's keeping you busy but keeping you from doing the real work you know you should be doing.
13-If you're dissatisfied with your current life, ask yourself what your current life is a metaphor for. That metaphor will point you toward your true calling. 
24-When we turn pro, the energy that went into the Shadow Novel goes into the real novel. 
69-Sometimes it's easier to be a professional in a shadow career than it is to turn pro in our real calling.

ON ADDICTIONS AND DISTRACTIONS

22-3-The addict is the amateur; the artist is the professional. (Addictions are) distractions, displacement activities. We enact addiction instead of embracing the calling. Why? Because to follow a calling requires hard work. It's hard. It hurts.
35-Distraction and displacement seem innocent on the surface. But lives go down the tubes one repetition at a time, one deflection at a time, one hundred and forty four characters at a time. 
39-Addiction wants to keep us shallow and unfocused. so it makes the superficial and the vain intoxicating... It can be fatal, keeping up with the Kardashians.

ON TURNING PRO

5-Turning pro is free, but its not easy... 
Turning pro is free, but it's not without cost.
Turning pro is free, but it demands sacrifice. 
71-When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them.
72-When we turn pro, everything become simple. Our aim centers on the ordering of our days in such a way that we overcome the fears that have paralyzed us in the past.
75-Turning pro is like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President Kennedy. We never forget where we were when it happened.
43-One day, I typed THE END. That's the moment when I knew I had beaten Resistance. I had finished something.
116-[on Rosanne Cash's decision to go pro] The other thing about the changes Rosanne made after her dream is that she didn't make those changes to earn more money, or achieve greater fame, or to sell more records. [amen]. She made those changes out of respect for her craft. She made them to become a better artist and a more powerful musician.

ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE AMATEUR AND THE PRO

53-The amateur fears that if he turns pro and lives out his calling, he will have to live up to who he really is and what he is truly capable of.
54-The difference lies in the way the professional acts in the face of fear.
57-Paradoxically, the amateur's self-inflation prevents him from acting. he takes himself and the consequences of his actions so seriously that he paralyzes himself.
58-The amateur fears solitude and silence because she needs to avoid, at all costs, the voice inside her head that would point her toward her calling and her destiny. So she seeks distraction. The amateur prizes shallowness and shuns depth. The culture of Twitter and Facebook is paradise for the amateur.
62-The amateur believes that, before she can act, she must receive permission from some Omnipotent Other - a lover or spouse, a parent, a boss, a figure of authority. The amateur sits on a stool... waiting to be discovered.
66-Have you ever followed a guru or a mentor? I have. I've given my power away to [others]. I've sat by the phone. I've waited for permission. I've tuned in work and waited, trembling, the judgment of others.
93-The amateur tweets. The pro works.
97-The amateur spends his time in the past and the future. He permits himself to fear and to hope. The pro has taught himself to banish those distractions.

TWENTY QUALITIES OF THE PROFESSIONAL (p.90)

  1. The Pro shows up every day.
  2. ...stays on the job all day.
  3. ...is committed over the long haul.
  4. For the Pro, the stakes are high and real.
  5. The Pro is... Patient
  6. The Pro seeks order.
  7. The Pro demystifies
  8. The Pro acts in the face of fear.
  9. ...accepts no excuses.
  10. ...plays it as it lays.
  11. ...is prepared
  12. ...does not show off
  13. ...dedicates himself to mastering technique.
  14. ...does not hesitate to ask for help.
  15. ...does not take failure or success personally.
  16. ...does not identify with his or her instrument
  17. ...endures adversity.
  18. ...self-validates.
  19. ...reinvents himself.
  20. ...is recognized by other professionals.

ON THE ACT OF WORK

103-The Monk glimpses the face of God not by scaling a peak in the Himalayas, but by sitting  still in silence... It seems counterintuitive, but it's true: in order to achieve "flow," magic, "the zone," we start by being common and ordinary and workmanlike. We set our palms against the stones in the garden wall and search, search, search until at last, in the instant when we're ready to give up, our fingers fasten upon the secret door.
106-When we do the work for itself alone (I know how easy that is to say and how hard it is to do), we're like that Marine who sleeps in a foxhole in the freezing rain but who knows a secret that only he and his brothers and sisters share. When we do work for itself alone, our pursuit of a career (or a living or fame or wealth or notoriety) turns into something else, something loftier and nobler, which we may never even have thought about or aspired to in the beginning. It turns into a practice."
107-[He talks about dedicating an entire year to writing, called his "year in the wilderness"] I was enjoying myself. Maybe nobody else liked the stuff I was doing, but I did. I was learning. I was getting better. The work became, in its own demented way, a practice. It sustained me, and it sustains me still.
44-In the end, it didn't matter. That year made me a pro. It gave me, for the first time in my life, an uninterrupted stretch of month after month that was mine alone, that body knew about but me, when I was truly productive, truly facing my demons, and truly working my [stuff]. That year has stuck with me.

ON PRACTICE

109-Practice has space, and that space is sacred.
110-When we convene day upon day in the same space at the same time, a powerful energy builds up around us. This is the energy of our intention, of our dedication, of our commitment.
111-The key, according to Gladwell, is that the practice be focused.
78-"Refine your skills to support your instincts."

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