Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"Making Sense of God 6a" (Tim Keller)

TITLE: Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking Books, 2016, (330 pages).

Who am I? Who are you? Often, the answer depends on our upbringing, our links to certain institutions, or our roles and titles. In non-Western cultures, people are identified through their connections with their communities. In Western cultures, this is reversed via "expressed individualism." While it may be overly simplistic, this offers us a glimpse into the differences in mindset that contrasts "self-sacrifice" from "self-assertion"; Keller even points out the hit movie Frozen's song that affirms the latter in Western culture. With secularism, the image of the modern man has become incoherent, illusory, crushing, and fracturing.

Question 6a: "The Problem with the Self: Question of Identity"
On Incoherent:
"First of all, our contemporary approach is incoherent. If you look into your heart to find your deep desires, you certainly will discover many of them. And you will discover something else - that they contradict one another. You may very much want a certain career, but then you fall in love with someone whom you also want very much. Because of the particular nature of both the career and the relationship, you realize you won't be able to have both. What you you going to do? You might insist that one of these desires - for career or love - must be deeper and more 'you,' but that's naive. Why assume that your internal desires are arranged in such an orderly way? Francis Spufford writes that you are 'a being whose wants make no sense, don't harmonise: whose desires, deep down, are discordantly arranged, so that you truly want to possess and you truly want not to, at the same time. You're equipped. . . for farce or even tragedy more than you are for happy endings.


Not only do your desires contradict, but they also are elusive. 'What are the wants of the self?' Bellah asks. 'For all its unmistakable presence and intensity on occasion, the experience of feeling good, like being in love, is so highly subjective that its distinguishing characteristics remain ineffable.'

And besides being contradictory and elusive, our desires constantly change. As I have said, part of having an identity is having a stable, core sense of who you are, day in and day out, in different settings and times. That is why the traditional way of forging an identity through connection with something solid outside the individual self made sense. But if your identity is just your desires, they are going to be changing all the time. If in every situation you seek your own self-interest responding in ways that get the approval and control you want at the moment, then identity essentially disappears. 'In the work of Erving Goffman. . . [comes the view that] there is no self at all. What seems to be a self is merely a series of emphasis on 'being yourself' apart from fixed social roles results in there being no sustained 'you' left, which is common to all situations." (123-4)


Monday, December 11, 2017

BookPastor >> "Belonging and Becoming" (Mark and Lisa Scandrette)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Jan 25th, 2017.


TITLE: Belonging and Becoming: Creating a Thriving Family Culture
AUTHOR: Mark and Lisa Scandrette
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (240 pages).

Ask anybody what is the most important thing in their lives, and there is a good chance that it would be this: Family. Who doesn't want to have a closely knit loving family? Who would give anything for their families to thrive? Speaking of family is one thing. Achieving it is another. In fact, many people who wanted to have start a family begin well but spluttered along the way. Perhaps, we just need some help and mentoring to get our own families on track toward thriving instead of mere surviving.  For Mark and Lisa Scandrette, their journey started when they stopped to reflect about choices that they could make for the sake of the family. They took the time to intentionally explore new possibilities. They also resolve to take steps to make that into reality. In two words, they bring out the essence of what it means to thrive: Belonging and Becoming. Give children a sense of belonging and empower them toward becoming the best they could ever be. They define the thriving family as follows:

"A thriving family is a place of belonging and becoming, where each person feels safe, cared for and loved, and is supported to develop who they are for the good of the world."

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Making Sense of God 5" (Tim Keller)

TITLE: Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking Books, 2016, (330 pages).

Freedom is a much cherished right in the West. The progress of a society is intricately linked to the freedom to what whatever one pleases. Anything that infringes on such a freedom would be blasted as evil. If one elevates freedom to the highest importance, all others will have to play second fiddle to this sacred right. Truth is, is this workable? What if the exercise of one's freedom infringes on another person's expression of freedom? Is there a limit to free-will?

Question 5: "Why Can't I Be Free to Live as I See Fit, as Long as I Don't Harm Anyone?"
"If you see a large sailboat out on the water moving swiftly, it is because the sailor is honoring the boat's design. If she tries to take it into water too shallow for it, the boat will be ruined. The sailor experiences the freedom of speed sailing only when she limits her boat to the proper depth of water and faces the wind at the proper angle. In the same way, human beings thrive in certain environments and break down in others. Unless you honour the givens and limits of your physical nature, you will never know the freedom of health. Unless you honor the givens and limits of human relationships, you will never know the freedom of love and social peace. If you actually lived any way you wanted - never aligning your choices with these physical and social realities - you would quickly die, and die alone.

You are, then, not free to do whatever you choose. That is an impossible idea and not the way freedom actually works. You get the best freedoms only if you are willing to submit your choices to various realities, if you honor your own design." (103)

"In their book Bellah and his colleagues show that much of the health of a society depends on voluntarily unselfish behavior. Being honest, generous, and public spirited - being faithful to your spouse and children - regularly infringes on your personal happiness and freedom. If people stop doing these things and (as Haidt says) put personal fulfillment above commitment and relationship, the only alternative is a more powerful and coercive government. Bellah and his colleagues made this case in their original 1985 study. Their case was that the culture's emphasis on personal freedom over commitment to community could undermine democractic institutions. In 1996 and 2008 the book was reissued with a new preface written by Bellah, and each time he pointed out that our situation was worsening.

Let's bring this down to a practical level. Just as a sailboat is not free to sail unless it confines itself in significant ways, so you will never know the freedom of love unless you limit your choices in significant ways. There is no greater feeling of liberation than to feel and be loved well. The affirmation that comes from love liberates you from fears and self-doubts. It frees you from having to face the world alone, with only your own ingenuity and resources. Your friend or mate will be crucial to helping you achieve many of your goals in life. In all these ways love is liberating - perhaps the most liberating thing. But the minute you get into a love relationship, and the deeper and the more intimate and the more wonderful it gets, the more you also have to give up your independence." (107)

One of the most powerful links between God, love, and freedom is written by John Newton as follows:

"Our pleasure and our duty, though opposite before;
Since we have seen his beauty, are joined to part no more...
To see the law of Christ fulfilled, and hear his pardoning voice
Changes a slave into a child, and duty into choice."


Monday, December 04, 2017

BookPastor >> "God is Not Fair and Other Reasons for Gratitude" (Daniel P. Horan)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Nov 28th, 2016.


TITLE: God Is Not Fair, and Other Reasons for Gratitude
AUTHOR: Daniel P. Horan
PUBLISHER: Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2016, (144 pages).

This is a Christian book with a strange title. Using a counterintuitive title to draw curiosity, it is also about learning not to see things from the eyes of individualism but through God's eyes. As long as we wear personal subjectivity and egoistical lenses, we will accuse God of being unfair for the most part. The key thesis of this book is that we need both open minds and open hearts in order to grow in faith. Gratitude is that key to cope with the harsh realities of life; the complex cultures around us; and to unlock the mystery of faith. Through a series of reflections from cultural symbols to modern icons of the world, readers are invited to reflect on what it means to live in a world that seems so unfair. For Christians, it is about living in an intersection of theology, scripture, culture, and relationships. Part One focuses on the Christian faith in the modern world. What do we make of the movie depictions of zombies and World War Z? In a world flooded by negative media depiction of priests, can we still find dignity in the priesthood? What are we going to do about slavery? Can nonviolence and the abolishment of capital punishment bring about greater good in the world of violence and evil? What about failures? Who and what is a saint all about? These issues and more are looked at from the eyes of faith.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Making Sense of God 4" (Tim Keller)

TITLE: Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking Books, 2016, (330 pages).

Keller continues to invitation to a discussion with the next chapter about happiness and true contentment. He skillfully dissects the four key strategies secular people use to smother their underlying levels of discontent. He critiques firstly the strategies of youth where one thinks that by getting the right job, the right love partner, the right qualifications and so on, one would be happy. Truth is, these are basic distractions from the true pursuit of meaning. Secondly, we complain about the barriers preventing us from getting at our perceived goals of happiness. Thus we resent and believe that our path to happiness is to eliminate these barriers. This too is temporary. Thirdly, we become driven people to accumulate all kinds of possessions and accomplishments. Unfortunately, this is like that running on a treadmill where we have a lot of activity but does not progress in terms of physical distance. Like the physical treadmill, once we tire, we stop. Fourthly, we may adopt the strategy of despairing in which we no longer blame others but ourselves.

Other religions try to resolve such discontent through altruism (just keep doing good no matter how empty we feel); or cynicism (hardening one's heart about the non-existence of good meaning and purpose); or detachment (to escape). Keller then produces a powerful argument for God and love.

Question 4: "How Can We Be Happy?"
"There is another powerful dimension to this reordering of loves. Paul Bloom, in his book How Pleasure Works, argues that what matters most for pleasure is not the simple impact on our senses but what it means in relationship to other persons who matter to us. A painting that we think is an original by an admired artist gives less pleasure when we find out it is not. A chair may be comfortable, but if it is our mother's favorite chair from her sitting room, it will give us even more pleasure. To use theological language, 'we enjoy things most when we experience them as a sacrament - as carriers of the presence of another.' " (93)

"Here, then, is the message. Don't love anything less; instead learn to love God more, and you will love other things with far more satisfaction. You won't overprotect them, you won't overexpect things from them. You won't be constantly furious with them for not being what you hoped. Don't stifle passionate love for anything; rather, redirect your greatest love toward God by loving him with your whole heart and love him for himself, not just for what he can give you. Then, and only then, does the contentment start to come. That is the Christian view of satisfaction. It avoids the pitfalls of both the ancient strategy of tranquillity through detachment and the modern strategy of happiness through acquisition. It both explains and resolves the deep conundrum of our seemingly irremediable discontent." (94)


Monday, November 27, 2017

BookPastor >> "The Forgotten Ways" (Alan Hirsch)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Jan 12th, 2017.


TITLE: The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating Apostolic Movements
AUTHOR: Alan Hirsch
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016, (384 pages).

Why is the Church in general struggling with growth? Where is the passion for a movement for Christ? Have churches spent too much time defending traditions and their ecclesiastical rituals to the point of forgetting their biblical ways? Have they unwittingly based their ecclesiology on the medieval European model of Christendom instead of the first-century model of New Testament Christianity? Have we forgotten that the Church is the 'ekklesia' a 'called-out people of God?' According to author Alan Hirsch, the contemporary challenges of doing Church has an upside because "it forces us to think and act like our original founders and pioneers thought and acted." When we know that there is no "Plan B," we will pray desperately, spend frugally, live passionately, and reach out fervently. The key question for readers in this book is this: "Have we forgotten about the mission of the Church?" He affirms that our greatest truths are not invented or newly discovered. They are remembered. Key to this book remains the mDNA paradigm (gospel-fluency, discipleship, incarnational mission, innovation and risk, multiplication, APEST, etc.) which the author admits could be designed as several standalone books. He hopes to wake up sleeping people and sleepy churches with the revelation of God's ways which somehow had been forgotten.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Making Sense of God 3" (Tim Keller)

TITLE: Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking Books, 2016, (330 pages).

Continuing the excerpts from Keller's very wise take on secularism and religion,

Question 3: "Is Meaning in Life Without God Practically Possible?"
A growing number of skeptics are insisting on the freedom to think and believe in anything they choose. With such a heavy reliance on humanistic thinking, the question Keller poses the question of meaning and God, beginning with a possible yes before concluding with a larger no. Note how Keller inserts the word 'practically' into the question.

"So is meaning in life without God practically possible? Public discourse is filled with loud religious voices insisting that life without God is inevitably pointless, bleak, and unworkable. On the other side there are plenty of secular people who insist that they not only have satisfying meaning in life but also have a kind of freedom that religious people do not. Who is right? Can we have meaning in life without any belief in God at all? To be fair to all, I would argue that the answer is both yes and no.

I say yes because both by our definition and by lived experience secular people can certainly know meaning in life. We defined 'meaning' as having both a purpose and the assurance that you are serving some good beyond yourself. If you decide that the meaning of your life is to be a good parent, or to serve a crucial political cause, or to tutor underprivileged youth, or to enjoy and promote great literature - then you have, by definition, a meaning in life. Plenty of secular people live like this without being tortured or gloomy in the manner of a Camus. It is quite possible to find great purpose in the ordinary tasks of life, apart from knowing answers to the Big Questions About Existence.

But I also say no. Secular people are often unwilling to recognize the significant difference between what have been called 'inherent' and 'assigned' meanings. Traditional belief in God was the basis for discovering, objective meaning - meaning that is there, apart from your inner feelings or interpretations. If we were made by God for certain purposes, then there are inherent meanings that we must accept.

The meanings that secular people have are not discovered but rather created. They are not objectively 'there.' They are subjective and wholly dependent on our feelings. You may determine to live for political change or the establishment of a happy family, and these can definitely serve as energizing goals. However, I want to argue that such created meanings are much more fragile and thin than discovered meanings. Specifically, discovered meaning is more rational, communal, and durable than created meaning." (64-65)


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