Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Midweek Meditation: Living as Children of Light

What does it mean to live as children of light? This is what the first century disciple, Barnabas had to say.

"Consider now the way of light. All who are intent on reaching their appointed goal must be very careful in everything they do. Now these are the directions that have been given to us for this journey: love your Creator; reverence your Maker; give glory to Him who redeemed you when you were dead; be committed to this one thing, but have many spiritual treasures; avoid those who travel down death's highways; hate whatever is displeasing to God; detest all hypocritical pretense; do not abandon God's commandments. Do not act falsely, but be modest in whatever you do; claim no credit for yourself. Plot no evil against your neighbor, and do not give pride an entrance into your heart." (Barnabas, in "Awakening Faith," Zondervan, 2013, p58)

Monday, April 27, 2015

BookPastor >> "Humilitas" (John Dickson)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on July 19th, 2012.


TITLE: Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership
AUTHOR: John Dickson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, (208 pages).

Whenever I read a book on humility, I wonder how qualified the author is. It is a strange paradox. If humility is such an illusive thing where the humble refuse to acknowledge one is humble, can anyone who is not humble ever write about humility? This dilemma is exactly what John Dickson felt right at the beginning of the book. Whether one admits or denies, it is hard to capture the essence of humility. So Dickson takes the approach of learning from history, and to lean on past wisdom and traditions. A historian by profession, Dickson tries to unpack two things: the aesthetic and the practical nature of humility. The key thesis of the book is that "the most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility." He defines humility as follows:

"Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. More simply, you could say the humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others." (24)

In other words, humility comprises three elements: it presupposes the dignity of others; it is a choice; and it is self-deprecation for the sake of others. He then proposes ten reasons in which humility is important. Firstly, humility is the mark of authentic leadership. While ability and conferred authority are also marks, it is the practice of persuasion and example that truly enable humility to shine as leadership traits. Secondly, humility is not about people high up or way down somewhere, but is of common sense heritage.  It holds together a keen awareness of one's limitations as well as one's inherent worth. Thirdly, humility is beautiful, not something to be worn, but something to be appreciated, cherished, admired, and be transformed. Fourthly, not every culture sees humility the same way. During the Roman and Greek era, it is noble to seek good honour, where modesty is preferred over humiliation. Fifth, our modern understanding and widespread appreciation of humility begins at the Cross of Jesus, of how Jesus becomes servant and model of true humility. Six, there is a practical benefit of humility. It slows pride, builds self-esteem and positions one to be ready for growth. Seven, humility can be persuasive through influence and character. Eight, humility is inspiring. Nine, humility is better than tolerance. In fact, far better than tolerance or reactions against intolerance is an intentional work toward harmony. Finally, the author presents six steps to grow in humility.

  1. Allowing us to be shaped by what we love, believing that our actions shape our thoughts.
  2. Reflecting on the lives of humble people, to learn from them.
  3. Conducting thought experiments to put ourselves on a lower rung of society or an underprivileged position
  4. Acting humbly makes us learn from our own actions
  5. Inviting criticism
  6. Forgetting about ourselves trying to be humble
My Thoughts

This is a very unique book that represents not only impressive scholarship and critical thinking, but also self-deprecating humility in three ways. First, the author acknowledges and learns openly from the history, tradition, and various faith persuasions. Second, the author writes introspectively, always aware of the presence of pride even as he writes. Third, he applies his thesis cautiously with very practical steps for modern readers wanting a how-to perspective. In fact, Dickson readily admits he is not humble, and that his steps may not apply to all. The tone is inviting rather than intimidating. What I appreciate is that whenever Dickson writes on topics away from his field of expertise, he is ready to admit he is not the expert, and he proves that with examples and stories of people he respects. This book brings hope to those of us feeling lost about how to go about being humble. His six thoughts above about preparing one toward humble living is worth remembering. I like the way he ends with CS Lewis's thoughts about humility.

"If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed." (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, London: Collins, reprint 1986, 112)

Provocative but brilliant.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "The Garden"

A beautiful garden needs no invitation for wonder
"God could have put us on a beach, on a mountain, in a desert or in the ocean. But He chose to plant a garden especially for us. God is the original Gardener. Those of us who know the joys of a garden have a deep understanding of where we are meant to be. By bare-handedly working the earth and tending its fruits, we better know the Creator."

(Lois Trigg Chaplin)

"At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid." (John 19:41)

Monday, April 20, 2015

BookPastor >> "The Shallows" (Nicholas Carr)

TITLE: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
AUTHOR: Nicholas Carr
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: WW Norton, 2011, (286 pages).

Is the Internet a boon or a bane? Are the hidden consequences of using (or overusing) technology? What if we fail to distinguish the limits of technology? What if we lose our ability to discern what can or cannot be handed down to technology to do? Author Nicholas Carr's concern can be summed up as a key point in the dark prophecy of Stanley Kubrick's 2001, a Space Odyssey:

"As we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence." (224)

His concern has been shared by many authors. Marshall McLuhan's famous work, Understanding Media argues that technology effects can alter "patterns of perception steadily and without resistance." Hal the supercomputer takes away control from words into humans. The pathologist, Bruce Friedman confesses that reading long articles on the web or in print has become more difficult because he has grown accustomed to skimming articles. People click more than read. Their brains are being changed from the inside out as they become used to new powers of technology. Scientifically, it is proven that the human brain has plasticity that diminishes the older one gets. Carr begins to introduce the benefits of literacy, affirming like Walter Ong, that "writing heightens consciousness."I find chapter 4 particularly fascinating as Carr describes the "deepening page" of how people's literacy is aided by writing platforms. The Sumerians etched words into tablets of clay. In 2500BC, the Egyptians manufactured papyrus by pressing down wood fibers so that writers can scratch or put words on paper. Wax tablets enable the writing and erasing, thus enabling the reuse of tablets for multiple usage. With the invention of the printing press, force is exerted to transfer ink to paper. People in those days also read slowly and laboriously, just like Ambrose who read silently. Deep reading facilitates deep thinking. Carr comments on reading as follows:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "Who am I?" (Parker Palmer)

"From the beginning, our lives lay down clues to selfhood and vocation, though the clues may be hard to decode. But trying to interpret them is profoundly worthwhile - especially when we are in our twenties or thirties or forties, feeling profoundly lost, having wandered, or been dragged, far away from our birthright gifts.

Those clues are helpful in counteracting the conventional concept of vocation, which insists that our lives must be driven by 'oughts.' As noble as that may sound, we do not find our callings by conforming ourselves to some abstract moral code. We find our callings by claiming authentic selfhood, by being who we are, by dwelling in the world as Zusya rather than straining to be Moses. The deepest vocational question is not 'What ought I to do with my life?' It is the more elemental and demanding 'Who am I? What is my nature?'"

(Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000, p15)

Monday, April 13, 2015

BookPastor >> "Unfriend Yourself" (Kyle Tennant)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Feb 1st, 2012.


TITLE: Unfriend Yourself: Three Days to Detox, Discern, and Decide About Social Media
AUTHOR: Kyle Tennant
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2011, (89 pages).

It started with a school paper that the author proposed as "How should the Church be using social media?" Curiously, the author's professor urged the author to remove the first word. Just one word launched the author into a whole new area of research as far as social media is concerned.

Should the Church be using social media? As a "technology pessimist," Tennant begins with a critical view primarily to make people stop and reflect on why they are using social media in the first place. Slowly but surely, he urges the reader to think carefully about whether they really need to be on the social media in the first place.

This little book takes a critical look at the ubiquitous social media icon: Facebook. In a world where many people simply hop onto the social media bandwagon without asking why, or simply because everyone else is doing it, Tennant helps us to understand why it is important to look before you leap. He constantly reminds us that he is not bashing Facebook per se. Instead, he is calling upon readers to think critically, and to recognize the limitations of social media.

He offers a three-fold challenge for readers over a three day Facebook fast weekend. Firstly, unplug and start the process of detoxification. Recognize what Facebook can do and not do. Facebook friends are very different from face-to-face friends. He then goes through some false promises that people have of Facebook.

  1. "Media are amoral."
  2. "It's ok to make it all about you."
  3. "Community can be found anywhere."
  4. "Nowhere is somewhere, and it can be anywhere."
These promises are not viable on the Facebook medium. The chief concerns surrounding uncritical use of Facebook is summarised as follows:
  • Facebook provides a tempting platform for one to present themselves as more important than others.
  • Facebook is the modern fig leaves that cover up our sinful selves
  • Facebook is a powerful tool for self-promotion.
Secondly, he urges readers to discern what is best for them, and to discern and discover the pros and cons of social media. He points out that bad old sin lurks in the social medium. Digital communications is a convenient and easy cloak to hide our real selves from others. In other words, how can we build real community if we only showcase the nice parts of ourselves?

Thirdly, Tennant challenges readers to decide what is best for themselves. This final section is worth the price of the book. Instead of simply blasting away the use of social media, Tennant provides some suggestions to redeem the way we use it. 

Closing Thoughts

Tennant openly admits that he is a 'technology pessimist.' He prefers to err on the side of caution. Personally, I feel that this book is an important contribution to check the tsunami of interest and uncritical use of social media. Many have argued against the use of Facebook using statistical data and expert advice.  What Albert Borgmann and Neil Postman have done at a scholarly level to argue warnings about technology using us, Tennant has done for the layperson. The observations in the book is a reminder to us again that technology, social media such as Facebook needs to be on a leash. Uncritical usage of social media is like a pit-bull terror let loose, devouring others, and finally us. 

One need not agree with all the pointers, but I urge readers to keep the warnings fresh as they use Facebook. If all self-control fail, when all self-discipline is gone, then do the best thing for ourselves: Unfriend ourselves from Facebook.

Ratings: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All comments offered are freely mine.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Midweek Meditation: Christian Meditation (Watson's Third Thing)

Thomas Watson: "The third thing in meditation, is, the raising of the heart to holy affections. A Christian enters into meditation, as a man enters into the hospital—that he may be healed. Meditation heals the soul of its deadness and earthliness; but more of this afterwards."


Monday, April 06, 2015

BookPastor >> "A Fellowship of Differents" (Scot McKnight)

The Church should not be a community of people with similar characteristics. They ought to be people of diversity under one Lord.

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God's Design for Life Together
AUTHOR: Scot McKnight
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (272 pages).

Difference is the biblical normal. Community is not about conformity toward sameness. It is according to popular author, Scot McKnight, a "fellowship of differents." Using the metaphor of a salad bowl, McKnight argues passionately that the Church ought to look like a "salad" of different tastes, different ingredients, and different mixes. In fact, the Church is "God's world changing social experiment" for bringing all sorts of different people together. Differences are not to be despised but welcomed. Alternatives should be celebrated. This refers to not only gender or ethnicities but also status changes like widows and widowers. In order to facilitate the fellowship of differences, McKnight proposes six ideas to keep different people together.

The first is "grace" via the gospel of yes. For if God says YES to us with such emphasis, why should any of us do any less? In Christ, through the Holy Spirit, we have been promised God's yes over and over again. Through grace, we have been offered both a "place and a power." A "place" is in terms of an identity to be able to sit at the same table with God and fellow believers. A "power" is in terms of overcoming all kinds of odds and differences in order to be united as one people. Through grace, we turn from "God-fighters into God-defenders; Jesus-haters into Jesus-lovers; and Spirit-resisters into Spirit-listeners." After comparing with some definitions of grace by several prominent speakers, McKnight settles on Anne Lamott's "I do not understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us there." Beautiful.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Midweek Meditation: Christian Meditation (Watson's Second Thing)

"The second thing in meditation, is, a serious and solemn thinking upon God. The Hebrew word to meditate, signifies with intenseness to recollect and gather together the thoughts. Meditation is not a cursory work, to have a few transient thoughts of religion; like the dogs of Nilus that lap and then run away; but there must be in meditation a fixing the heart upon the object, a steeping the thoughts. Carnal professors have their thoughts roving up and down, and will not fix on God; like the bird that hops from one branch to another, and stays in no one place. David was a man fit to meditate, "O God, my heart is fixed," Psalm 108:1.

In meditation there must be a staying of the thoughts upon the object; a man who rides quickly through a town or village—he minds nothing. But an artist who is looking on a curious piece, views the whole portraiture of it, he observes the symmetry and proportion, he minds every shadow and color. A carnal, flitting professor, is like the traveler, his thoughts ride hastily—he minds nothing of God. A wise Christian is like the artist, he views with seriousness, and ponders the things of religion, Luke 2:19. "But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." (Thomas Watson)

(Thomas Watson's A Christian on the Mountaint, link)

Latest Posts