Good words here from Eugene Peterson out of Eat this book: A conversation in the art of spiritual reading
I want to place personal experience under the authority of the Bible and not over it. I want to set the Bible before us as the text
by which we live our lives, this text that stands in such sturdy contrast to the potpourri of religious psychology, self-development, mystical experimentation, and devotional dilettantism that has come to characterize so much of what takes cover under the umbrella of “spirituality.”
Christian reading is participatory reading, receiving the words in such a way that they become interior to our lives, the rhythms and images becoming practices of prayer, acts of obedience, ways of love.
Are you living without any margins in your life? No reserves? Right on the edge all the time? Richard Swenson provides the following prescription
He says Margin is the space that “exists between ourselves and our limits.” 42 “the space between our load and our limits something held in reserve for emergencies, the gap between rest and exhaustion.” 69
We need margin to live well, according to Swenson.
Swenson suggests we should live with margin in
What does it look like for you when you have margin in each of these? When you are marginless? Any other areas you would suggest in which we should have margins? Spiritually?
Next: why do we live marginlness lives?
According to Soren Kierkegaard, purity of heart is to will one thing–God. He closes his book, Purity of Heart, with a prayer. Here is part of that prayer:
Father in Heaven! What is a man without Thee!
What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be,
but a chipped fragment if he does not know Thee!
What is all his striving, could it even encompass the world,
but a half-finished work if he does not know Thee:
Thee the One, who art one thing and who art all!
So may Thou give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing;
to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding;
to the will, purity that wills only one thing.
In prosperity may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing;
amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing;
in suffering, patience to will one thing .
Oh, Thou that giveth both the beginning and the completion,
may Thou early, at the dawn of the day,
give to the young man the resolution to will one thing.
As the day wanes, may
Thou give give to the old man a renewed remembrance of his first resolution,
that the first may be like the last,
the last like the first in possession of a life that has willed only one thing.
Decided on Saturday I would read Larry James’ Fixing Hell. James was a Colonel in the Army who was a big part of the clean up of the U.S. facilities at Guantanamo in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Read about this book in a newsletter by Christian Psychologist, Gary Collins. Does not answer all the questions about what went on but at least makes me confident that we are asking some of the right questions now. Very interesting reflections on how to be a doctor and a soldier at the same time–James had decided he would have been able to shoot and kill someone had he been threatened but I think he doesn’t think doctors should be put into that situation. James talked to Dr. Philip Zambardo who was part of the Stanford prison experiment in 1971 which directly informs the solutions James takes. One takeaway for me relates to my dissertation project–I need objective outsiders monitoring things and checking up on my health as well as the health of the group. Not sure how to do that?
Few weeks ago, I picked up Dean Koontz Relentless in the library and read it through quickly. In Relentless, an author flees a literary critic who is out to kill him and his family. When the critic starts out with a bad review, that is only the beginning for his latest victim.
Third book is a 50 page book by Kent Humphreys called Shepherding Horses: Understanding God’s Plan for Transforming Leaders that someone gave to me in February. Humphreys says not everyone in our churches are sheep and want to follow. Some are horses and they require unique strategies. Horses are self-sufficient, affected by a pagan workplace, are strong and fearless in battle, create false hopes and represent man’s effort instead of God’s provision. When trained in the way of Jesus, they can be effective leaders.
What are the psychological conditions conducive to evil? That was the goal for Robert Jay Lifton as he wrote The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide which I should finish reading later tonight. Lifton found there are no easy answers as one physician survivor stated,
“The professor would like to understand what is not understandable. We ourselves who were there, and who have always asked ourselves the question and will ask it until the end of our lives, we will never understand it , because it cannot be understood.”
Lifton’s book focuses on a particular part of the “final solution,” one of the many terms the Nazis used to describe their attempted genocide of the Jews. He writes about the role the German medical profession played in the selection, technology and disposal of the millions killed during WW II. For most of his 500+ pages, he focuses on the events in Auschwitz, a place in which at the height of their “efficiency,” 24,000 people in one twenty-four hour period were killed and then burned or otherwise disposed. For the Nazis, the Jews were a “life unworthy of life” or a disease that must be eradicated and so they attempted to justify their attempt to “heal” the nation. As Lifton says, “Genocide is a response to collective fear of pollution and defilement” (481). “The perpetrator of genocide kills to cure himself as well as his people” (487).
This is a long and tough read and I bought it because one of my profs had mentioned it a number of years ago as a book worth reading. Lifton comes to a similar conclusion as does Roy F. Baumeister, in his book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty who wrote about the myth of pure evil (see my post on this). “No individual self is inherently evil, murderous, genocidal. Yet under certain conditions virtually any self is capable of becoming all of these” 497).
On a related note, my wife sent me a link to an article about why our response to hundreds of thousands of people dying is not significantly greater than our response to one person dying or in the article’s case, the life of one dog. I had never heard the story of Hokget, the dog stranded on an abandoned freighter. Worth a read!
But the real point is why don’t we care more? According to research cited in the article, our brains don’t have the capacity for dealing with the death of so many. In fact, Shankar Vedantam concludes, “We are best able to respond when we are focused on a single victim.” Maybe this provides some explanation why we cannot get our minds around the 6 million+ Jews that were killed during WW II. But, that does not make the facts any less true. If you are in any doubt, check out The Nazi Doctors.
From The Way of the Shepherd by Kevin Leman and William Pentak, a summary of their lessons. A small book worth reading.
- Know the condition of your flock
- Discover the shape of your sheep
- Help your sheep identify with you
- Make your pasture a safe place
- The staff of direction
- The rod of correction
- The Heart of the shepherd
To be honest, I picked up The Process of Forgiveness by William Menninger because his name sounded familiar and on the back cover was written, “Going beyond Lewis Smede’s classic Forgive and Forget” Now I am not sure he is beyond Smedes who is one of my favorites on this type of book but it was not a bad read.
A couple of useful things. Useful chapters on the “Stages of Forgiveness.” Since I have studied a bit about the enneagram, his nine chapters on the challenges of forgiveness for each of the nine enneagram types was unique. Ends with chapters on lectio divina, compassionate meditation, centering meditation and focusing.
Two more books gone from my “to read” list, these regarding life in the Philippines which may not be of interest to as many of you.
Surgeons Do Not Cry by Ting Tiongco
Well-written glimpses of life about the life of a doctor and his patients at the massive public facility in Manila called the Philippine General Hospital. Overwhelming needs, stories that will make you angry and ones that make you proud to be part of the Philippines. Locally printed only
Fun book to read since I knew Martin and many of the characters about which he wrote. Wish I had gotten to know him before he and his family left the field. At times he describes so well what life is like here and I wish I could give that section to my friends so they could understand! In the midst of amusing stories about life on the island of Mindoro, he intersperses a few critiques about Filipino and missionary culture. Two quotesL “But the one who was truly responsible for my deteriorating health was myself; the shadow of guilt of not doing enough; the fear of letting people down was always driving me.” 201 “In situations where most individuals are highly motivated and committed to the task, team leaders really need to lead by example by taking adequate rest, giving the right to those under them to similarly follow suit.” 207
Slum as a way of life by F. Landa Jocano
Sadly, I doubt if I will finish this fascinating study about life in a Manila slum during the 70s, written by an anthropologist. Amazingly many things don’t appear to have changed. Locally printed
Two books that may be of interest are now off of my bedside table. Wait, I don’t have a bedside table anymore, it is packed!
Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. Maybe it was the title that made me wanted to read this book? Story of her entry and then later departure into the ministry as pastor in the Episcopal church. Takeaways for me: Enjoy the people you serve, let them get to know you as a person, don’t miss life around you. Just gave my copy away yesterday.
The Way of the Shepherd by Kevin Leman and William Pentak
Short (123 pp) but invaluable “7 secrets to managing productive people.” Plan to write a separate blog post on this one but it may not get done before we move. Need to spend some more time reflecting here. First principle: Know the Condition of Your Flock.
“Evil exists primarily in the eyes of the beholder, especially in the eye of the victim,” says Roy F. Baumeister in his book, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. He goes on to say that we must have victims if we are to have evil and that victims are the first ones to spot evil. However, in this book he suggests that if we are to truly understand evil, the perception of the perpetrators should be considered. Thus, he tries to dispassionately look at evil largely from the perspective of the perpetrators of evil in order to understand it. Although there are a few individuals who enjoy evil, Baumeister says the “myth of pure evil,” is largely borne on the wings of movies and tv and has skewed our understanding of evil.
I have had this book on my bookshelf to read a few years but picked it up after trying unsuccessfully to understand the recent rescue of Jaycee Dugard who had been held captive for 18 years by Philip Garrido and his wife.
Baumeister does not deny evil at all. But, he says there are four major causes of evil. First–greed, lust, ambition: evil as a means to an end; second–evil coming out of etotism and revenge; third–evil arising out of idealism; fourth is the pursuit of sadistic pleasure.
Some interesting points
- “Villains, bullies, criminals, killers and other evildoers have high self-esteem. . . Violence results when a person’s favorable image of self is questioned or impugned by someone else.” 376
- “Noble ends are often seen as justifying violent means. . . When the perpetrators are driven by idealism, the victims do not get much mercy.” 377
- “Most observations of killers, torturers, rapists, and similar evildoers indicate that only about 5 or 6 percent of perpetrators actually get enjoyment out of inflicting harm. 377
- “Evil or violent tendencies are met with strong restraining forces, most of which can be conveniently categorized as self-control. . . The immediate, proximal cause of violence is the collapse of these inner restraining forces.” 263
- “Severe violence is typically the product of a process of escalation. . . Once evil gains a foothold, it seems very capable of growing and flourishing.” 283
- Baumeister has a very interesting discussion on the controversial topic of “desensitization”, which he says may lead to the escalation of aggression.” 285 ff
- Evil is the inflicting of harm or suffering on other human beings. Guilt is the distress that comes from hurting other human beings. Guild is thus an inherent, perennial problem for evildoers. . . must find some way to free themselves from of guilt, lest they end up feeling bad. Most people are not immune to guilt. 305ff
- Perpetrators of evil rely upon the inaction of the innocent by-standers. 342-370
In his conclusion, Baumeister offers the following compelling words.
Understanding how people commit evil acts is one important key to appreciating the human condition, and it may even hold some helpful clues on how to control human violence. 386
He says understanding is not enough–action must also be taken.
I also hope that the reader will make the effort to resume a moral condemnation of these terrible acts. To do so requires returning to consider the victim’s perspective. The victim’s perspective had to be surpressed for the sake of this book because it hampers understanding of the perpetrator. But the victim’s pespective is essential for making a moral judgment on the perpetrator. It is a mistake to let moral condemnation interfer with trying to understand–but it would be a bigger mistake to let that understanding, once it has been attained, interfere with moral condemnation. 387
Surprisingly, there are a number of people who do so. My wife is one as is Ammon Shea whose book, Reading the OED: one man, one year, 21,730 pages, I just finished. It is sort of a travelogue of Shea as he moves through the OED. In writing about his experience, you will learn all sorts of interesting tidbits about dictionaries and Shea himself. For each letter, he has selected words that he found interesting and (for most) provides his own definition. A fun read and only 223 pages.
One of my favorites: Pandiculation: the act of stretching and extending the limbs, in tiredness or waking.
So now I have a word to describe that which is very common for me. Now, what about the groans I make at the same time?
By the way, I bought an English-Tagalog dictionary to read through last week!
In the last month, I read three books for fun and thought I might make a brief post about them.
First is Monster by Frank Peretti. Was at a friends and she had it on her shelf. Since I had not read anything by Peretti in a long time, I picked it up. Not the spiritual warfare books like his first ones. In this, there is a mystery to be solved around a supposed sasquatch type of beast that is killing campers. A good read and a bit of a twist at the end. Ends up being a bit of a polemic against evolution but not over the top.
Second is Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. A friend is getting rid of a bunch of books and thought I would be intersted in this sci fi series. She sent over four or five books but the one above is the second in one series. I took a chance and I think I didn’t miss too much–quite a lengthy explanation from the author in my edition about the book and how it is a stand alone book altho does fit in with the others. Anyway, the speaker for the dead is a person who lives far in the future and goes around and speaks on behalf of the dead after talking to family and friends–sort of a post-funeral meeting. But when he speaks, he speaks about the person the way things really were–no embellishment, good and bad. Actually, I like the idea!!!
Third book was Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fisher. Insightful read and helped me understand the true story of the events of the early days of War for American Independence in 1775. Paul Revere was quite a guy and was quite an organizer for which the U.S. owes quite a debt. Debunks the solo rider idea as well.
Just finished Romancing Opiates: Pharmacological Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy by Theodore Dalrymple
Dalrymple writes a challenging book explaining why, in his opinion, our understanding and treatment of heroin addiction is fatally flawed. He shows it is based upon a Romantic understanding of opium addiction. To quote Dalrymple
“On no subject has the baleful influence of the past been so strong as that of opiate addiction. Almost everyone knows about it is wrong, and obviously wrong. The errors are derived ultimately from the self-serving, self-dramatizing, and evasive and dishonest accounts of De Quincey and Coleridge. It is time we escaped from their shadow, nearly two centuries long. “
Fascinating read—I am not sure where I found it—likely through reading on the City Journal blog
Just finished reading, Mao, The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, a page turner at 650+ pages. Mao was an evil man, who delighted in using violence to destroy the social order and maintain power. No matter that 20-30 million died in famines directly caused by his ambition to be a world military power. In the end, it was all about Mao, not about ideology or about the masses. As Chang writes about Mao’s last hours,
“His mind remained lucid to the end, and in it stirred just one thought: himself and his power.” 654
Did a book summary last week on the book Tipping Point–you can see the full book summary here.
Question of the book: How does a movement begin? Or an epidemic or a fad or an idea?
Key idea of the book “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.” 7
Three main ideas in the book
- Good ideas are contagious: a small number of people can bring about a change that impacts many
- Little changes can bring big effects
- Once the critical factors are in place, epidemics happen very quickly. Change happens not gradually but in one dramatic moment or at a tipping point
Synonyms for tipping point: critical mass, threshold, boiling point 12
Tipping points start when
¨ The influence of special people (connectors, mavens and persuaders) are involved
¨ You are able to make the content of your message “sticky”
¨ You are able to discover small changes in the context that get things started
Just finished Culture Making by Andy Crouch today; a book in which he helps us understand how we can impact our culture. In commenting on Gladwell’s book, Crouch says, Gladwell has discovered three “necessary conditions for cultural success. But they are not sufficient.” 196 In other words, when we try to introduce a “cultural good” (to use Crouch’s words) Gladwell may have discovered common factors in all cultural successes (“necessary conditions”) but we cannot guarantee success (sufficient conditions)–especially when we are talking about a large scale cultural change. Should brings humility and dependency on grace for those of us who would seek to be involved in bringing about cultural changes in our world.
In fact, Crouch says that there is no way we can guarantee the success of a cultural good on a large scale.
From Larry Crabb in his article, “Confessions of a Badly Dressed Mytic”
Union is established by the cross. Communion develops in the dark.
Union—securing a right relationship for a sinful person and holy God by the work of Christ
Communion—slow growth and enjoyment of the relationship gained above.
Present communion—has “more to do with the pain of thirst than the enjoyment of gratification.” Joy is more of a hope of satisfied desire than the experience of satisfaction
“We sometimes feel forsaken. We always are accepted and loved. That’s union. In the darkness, when we feel forsaken, we discover our desperate thirst for God, our consuming desire to know him, to experience him, to enjoy him. And concentrating on that desire, even as the experience of his absence deepens, is one form of communion, perhaps the one most pleasing to God.” 27
Actually, I heard a great illustration of this in a powerful testimony yesterday at church. Sandra had back surgery two years ago and because she was allergic to pain medication, she had the 18 hour surgery and all of her rehab without pain medication. Unbelievable, eh? She was expressing thanks for all that had prayed for her at church. She said for the past 2 years, “Pain has been my constant companion and diligent teacher.” She went on to describe how God had deepened her during this time. I think she was saying, like Crabb, that communion develops in the dark.
Reading in Psalm 77 and in this Psalm, Asaph seems to be experiencing the withdrawal of God. And yet . . . he says in verse 13, “Oh God, your ways are holy.” Oh yes, the inscrutable, holy, mysterious ways of God. Thank you Lord, thank you.
Somehow, the topic of the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery came up last week. Saw it on our bookshelf and read it (again). Can’t say I remembered much of it actually but I suspect it is one of those books that grow on you and surprise you each time you read it. Here is a favorite dialogue by the Little Prince and a fox:
The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.
“Please—tame me!” he said.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me . . .”
So, the little prince tamed the fax. And when the hour of his departure drew near—
“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”
“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you . . .”
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“:Then it has done you no good at all.”
And he went back to meet the fox.
“Goodbye,” he said.
“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Have read three books on leadership in the past two months and I thought it worth giving some thoughts about them. All worth reading!
1. Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton, IVP 2008 She talks about strengthening the soul of a leader through the disciplines of silence and solitude so that we experience a fullness personally that we are trying to lead others into. She resonates with me!
2. The Starfish adn the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A Beckstrom 2006 They are trying to help organizations to extend their influence by decentralizing leadership. The basic idea–have a shared leadership so that when anyone person is cut off (like the leg of the starfish), the organism keeps going and actually reproduces. Leader as spider is the traditional model and so when the spider’s head is cut off, the organization dies or has to find someone to replace the person immediately. . . Thinking about how to do this in a member care system in our organization.
3. Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fisher-Wright, 2008 Finally read this after a friend raved about it for a month or two. Five levels of organizations–most are stuck in level 2 or 3. The five levels: Life sucks, My life sucks, I’m great (and you’re not), We’re great (and they are not), Life is great. It is fairly easy to identify where an organization and a leader are based upon the language they use. Some coaching help to help move your organization up one level at a time.
My latest history read was Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild, a book about the abolition of the slave trade. If you read it, you will likely never eat sugar in the same way!
Although to our shame, there were many Christians who justified slavery, there was also a group of Christians who who not give up in pursuing the abolition of the slave trade. Hochschild describes how the abolitionist movement was one of the (if not the) greatest human rights movements of all time–in fact, many of the strategies used by most “citizens’ movements in democratic countries today”, were formulated and perfected by those early abolitionists. The abolition movement led to laws against child labor and for worker rights, women’s rights and eventually to universal suffrage. In this book, you meet well-known personalities such as Wilberforce and Newton but also learn about the critical roles of the lessor known Thomas Clarkson and Olaudah Equiano.
Some shocking statistics from the opening chapter (his book does not dwell on statistics).
- “At the end of the 18th century, three-fourths of all people alive were in bondage of one kind or another.”
- “Close to 80,000 chained and shackled Africans were loaded onto slave ships and transported to the New World each year.”
- Often, more than a third of all slaves would die on the voyage and 20% of the sailors would die on the passage or of disease
- There was an estimated 35,000 Atlantic slave voyages over the three and half centuries of trade
Hochschild sets the scene in the 18th century.
“a world in which the vast majority of people are prisoners. Most of them have known no other way of life. They are not free to live or go where they want. They plant, cultivate and harvest most of the earth’s major crops. They earn no money from their labor. Their work often lasts 12 to 14 hours a day. Many are subject to cruel whippings or other punishments if they do not work hard enough. They die young. They are not chained or bound most of the time, but htey are in bondage, part of a global economy based on forced labor. Such a world would, of course, be unthinkable today.” 2
A concluding sentence is also worth highlighting, “The end of slavery did not mean the end of injustice, but one measure of human progress, surely, is that today enslaving others is a “crime against humanity” under international law. 360
In this quote, Papa (God the Father) is talking to Mack about the need for forgiveness. He is talking about the specific forgiveness of the one who brought pain and tragedy in to Mack’s life. From p. 225
” I don’t think I can do this,” Mack answered softly.
“I want you to. Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver,” answered Papa, “to release you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and your ability to love fully and openly. Do you think this man cares about the pain and torment that you have gone through? If anything, he feed on that knowledge. Don’t you want to cut that off? And in doing so, you’ll release him from a burden that he carries whether he knows it or not–acknowledges it or not. When you choose to forgive another, you love him well.”
“Not today, you don’t. But I do, Mack, not for what he’s become but for the broken child that has been twisted by his pain. I want to help you take on that nature that finds more power in love and forgiveness than hate.”