A Few Book Deals…

I’ve been home tonight watching the Dallas Mavericks, who destroyed the Golden State Warriors, and now I’m tuned into volleyball. The Baylor Lady Bears are squaring off against the Texas Longhorns. I’ve been pulling together Kindle book deals.

The following are affiliate links. Every click and purchase supports my book habit.

Not Influenced by Books, at all?

Alan Jacobs jokes (I think) in this very short post that “Christians are not influenced by books, at all.”

Asking if that assessment is true may be, and most likely is, the wrong question. But there is truth in it. Books, as a means of influence, appear to be far down on the list of sources shaping the heart, mind, soul and body of Christian people. Personality, various forms of popular culture, and the internet lead the way.

But there are still those of us who read books, are influenced by them, and then spread those ideas, either through lifestyle or in conversation, to those around us. The influence may not be direct, but indirect.

Is He Worthy?

Truett Seminary held a convocation service yesterday at the First Baptist Church of Waco, marking the beginning of our twenty-fifth year of ministry.

Supporters of Truett, faculty and staff, leaders at Baylor, members of the community, many students, and members of the inaugural class gathered to dedicate the year ahead to God. This silver anniversary, as it is, presents the opportunity to look back and give thanks, to look around and take stock, and to look ahead and dream of what might be. The service and the luncheon that followed were wonderful from gathering to goodbye.

One particular moment of our time together, however, left a great impression upon me. Prior to hearing from Dr. William D. Shiell, President of Northern Seminary, who would offer our convocation address, we listened to the Truett Chapel Worship Ensemble present “Is He Worthy?” by Andrew Peterson.

I revisited the song today, paying particular attention to the lyrics, thinking carefully about the words themselves. My cheeks became damp with tears. The music is beautiful. The visuals are quite good. But the song’s power comes from the words. They are powerful because they are the truth about the deepest realities of existence, expressing not only the promises of God as they are found in Scripture that inspire hope in the deepest recesses of the human heart, but also by pointing us to the person who has fulfilled them all.

Jesus, indeed, is worthy.

No Me Se Rajar

This is a great video (how romantic!), a gripping lyrical story, excellent ring walk music (Fernando Vargas!), and a powerful message (“I don’t know how to quit;” “Only God can take my life away;” “I’m not afraid of those ‘lengua larga’ guys.”).

As goofy as it sounds, I’ve been listening to the song excessively since I figured out who it was and what it was about after hearing it for many years on a sports talk radio show during a regular boxing segment (Thanks, Steven St. John!). I love it. Molly thinks I’m a goof. She’s right.

But I’m not gonna quit. I don’t know how.

August Books Notes and Deals

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Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash

The last set of book notes appeared in May, and I’ve read a few more books since then. The best books I’ve read more recently are A. J. Swoboda’s Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World and Timothy P. Carney’s Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse. I found a few laughs in John Cleese’s autobiography So, Anyway… and, as I always do, enjoyed the insight of Stanley Hauerwas in his book Disrupting Time: Sermons, Prayers, and Sundries.

Christianbook.com is blowing out titles as the summer draws to a close. Some of those books are listed for under $5. For  friends who enjoy reading Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology is $3.99. Books about United Methodist membership vows, the denomination more broadly, and an account of the sacrament of communion are marked down. Richard Mouw’s Adventures in Evangelical Civility is $3.99, as is Stanley Grenz’s Prayer. Kuyper’s Stone Lectures can be had for $4.49 and N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Scripture and John Stott’s Basic Christianity are $5. Be judicious. Not every sale is a deal.

If you browse and find a title that interests you I haven’t listed here and want to know what I think, leave a comment and ask. I’ll tell you what I know.

As for Kindle deals, Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy is $2.99 and Nouwen’s Discernment is $1.99.

On a recent run to the library I scooped up several novels by Toni Morrison. I have a couple of books to read and review from InterVarsity Press. Tonight I’ll begin reading a book by Joseph Bottum called An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America.

Reading anything exciting? Anything you’d recommend?

I hope so. Peace.

The Patient Friendship of God

Master of the Universe, through your son you would have us be your friend. But what could it possibly mean for us to be friends of God? Friendship with other people is hard enough. To be your friend is quite simply unimaginable. Friendship with you is right up there with asking us to be friends with our worst enemy, but then, maybe you are our worst enemy. Maybe I am my worst enemy. So, if you are nearer to us than we are to ourselves, unless we become friends with you we cannot become friends with ourselves or anyone else. This business of friendship must take time, but thank God your patience with us gives us all the time we need. Make us your friends so that when the puzzled world cannot figure out what makes us Christians the same, they will say, “But see how they love one another.”

– Stanley Hauerwas, Disrupting Time: Sermons, Prayers, and Sundries

In John 15:15, Jesus says, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” What a profound statement.

Jesus is speaking with his disciples. In John, Jesus is offering his “last words” to his friends before being betrayed, arrested, tried, and executed. One of the last things that he imparts: “I have called you friends.” Why? “Because I have made known to you everything that I heard from my Father.” Jesus, the Son, withheld nothing. Not even his life.

Hauerwas’ thoughts on friendship mirror my own. “What could it possible mean for us to be friends of God?” He is right to observe our relationships with other people, even our friends, are “hard enough.” Friendship with God is all the more challenging because God, being God, knows us inside and out. God can bring us face to face with that which is most unlovable about us. How? By facing us with the reality of the cross.

In his prayer, Hauerwas leaves enough openings to allow us to make our own connections. In becoming friends with God we discover the love that enables us to truly befriend not only ourselves, but our neighbor. We find both strength and wisdom to love our enemies. We discover the hope that our enemies may even one day be counted as friends, a hope made possible solely by the power of God. God has also tasks us with work: Jesus, by counting us among his friends, commands us to befriend one another, and in being friends, so display love that leads to witness.

Being a friend of God should unsettle us, even frighten us. “You? Friends with me?” After all, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But this same fear should also fill us with reverence and awe, for, despite our expectations, friendship with God is not only possible, but is sure. God has made such friendship available in and through Jesus Christ. For people of faith, this friendship is not contingent, but is established. And God, being eternally patient, has given us all the time we need to become his friends.

Patient Observation

One of the best pieces of advice was from my Year Two teacher, on how to draw a bicycle: “Spend twice as much time _looking_ at it than drawing it”.

I apply that to so many areas. More time listening than talking. More observing than doing. The outcome will always be better.

Anna Debenham

This bit of wisdom appeared in a newsletter I receive. Drawing, classically defined, is learning to see. Before putting graphite to paper, before making a mark, when the page is blank, whether in the mind’s eye or in the reality resting fifteen feet away, we must look, and not only look, but see.

My drawing instructor, Chad Hines, would have us put what we see in boxes. He would have us break down what we drew into its constituent parts. To see the lines, see the curves, see the ellipses and circles. He would encourage us to hold the pencil lightly, differently, to make marks that were easy, light, and then to look, and to look again. He observed that sometimes the false lines reveal the true. What you thought you were seeing was not actually what was there. As you draw, you look upon your object, and then you look upon your sketch, and you compare. You adjust. You try to draw what you see, so others can see it too. Drawing is always illusion. The drawing is not the thing that was seen. But the drawing can be true. It can accurately represent a moment in time, an object in reality. But only if first you really look, and really see.

I agree with Anna. We’d all be better off, I think, if we spent more time observing than doing. Looking. Listening. Slowly. Patiently. With thought. With intention.

Next time you are ready to act, next time you jump to speak, pause. Look. Observe. Think. Let a beat or two pass. Then, make a mark. Speak a word. Be truthful.

Disciplined Reading

Do not say…that one or two books is sufficient for instructing the soul. After all, even the bee collects honey not from one or two flowers only, but from many. Thus also he who reads the books of the Holy Fathers is instructed by one in faith or in right thinking, by another in silence and prayer, by another in obedience and humility and patience, by another in self-reproach and in love for God and neighbor; and, to speak briefly, from many books of the Holy Fathers a man is instructed in life according to the Gospel.

– Paisius Velichkovsky

Paisius Velichkovsky was an Eastern Orthodox monk and theologian. His observation is a rather simple one: we must learn wisdom from the bee, gathering wisdom diligently, broadly, and with great discipline. He exhorts us to read from the Holy Fathers, from the saints of old, who can instruct us in the Gospel and in Christian living. Our souls, being great things, need great nourishment. Like the bee, the gathering should take place daily, not from a paltry collection of sources, but from a diversity of literary riches.

I like to read and study. Not everyone is like me. Thank God. But if I could offer one bit of encouragement to others who, like me, are following Jesus, it would be to read a little more often than you do now. Begin with the Bible, particularly if Scripture is something you neglect. Scripture is a dietary staple. But then add to that a work of theology, or a historical work about a person who has been important to the Christian tradition.

Pay particular mind to your denominational heritage, if you have one (if you are a Methodist, read Wesley, if you are a Presbyterian, read Calvin, etc., etc.). I’d like the Baptists I know to be better Baptists, the Methodists I know to exemplify the best of their tradition, and on and on. Consider doing as Velichkovsky recommends: read the Church Fathers. Read Augustine. Read Athanasius. Read the Desert Fathers and Mothers. The old stuff is profoundly rich.

Choose one or two or three great theologians or renowned saints. Get to know them well, even if a little bit at a time. Pick up their work. Buy a book and learn about their lives. Read each day. Choose wisely. Stick with it. Observe. Learn. Apply. Grow.

LEGO: For Every Size of Imagination

e3fb2082011863.5d10fe8a88203This artwork from Asawin Tejasakulsin is absolutely brilliant, perfectly capturing the spirit and reality of working with LEGO. Check out the gallery. This too. And this. I first came across this design layout here.

I’ve had a longtime love affair with LEGO. I’m in the process of handing that same affection to my kids. I love the sets; I’m particularly fond of the Star Wars line. I build LEGO with my son, or I watch him build.

Occasionally we break away from the sets and come up with our own creations. My parents hung on a ton of LEGO pieces and eventually passed those on to me. We have plenty to work with. I’m always excited to see what my kids come up with.

Our creations are usually something like the dragon above, the seed of a grander vision. The small dragon is just as much of a wonder to behold as is the large dragon. Both spring from the imagination. Whatever we create, the important thing is that we can see it, we can share the wonder. We can celebrate what we do make. Then, the next time, we make something bigger, more detailed, grander. We learn and grow.

Nobody’s Gonna Get Hurt

This is a song about the lies we tell others. We also tell them to ourselves.

I’ve been a fan of Glen Phillips since singing “Thank You” in a service of worship many years ago in Kansas City. I’ve been singing that song since the day I first heard it. God’s love is everywhere.

“Nobody’s Gonna Get Hurt” is a song about the power of words and the deceptions that we persist in, the phrases we utter in our attempts to soften, dismiss, minimize, or distort the realities we face. Well meaning lies, whether meant to protect or obscure or outright hide difficult truths, nevertheless do harm, maybe not in the moment they are uttered, but in their corrosive effects over time. Sometimes silence is better, or a simple, “I don’t know.”

“There’s no price to love, there never was” are words that can only be said by someone who has never loved. Love involves sacrifice, and the deepest loves often come at the greatest cost. Look at Jesus.

“If it’s meant to be, it’s easy,” can only be said by someone who has never had to work for something eternally worthwhile. The easy things aren’t the only things that are “meant to be.” Again, look at Jesus.

“Broken hearts always mend” is a half truth. Sometimes the comfort we long for is elusive; we do not find it in this life. For Christians, hope must remain fixed on the day when God wipes away every tear. I find it interesting that in the new heavens and the new earth there will be any tears at all, but I find it more interesting that God will put a hand to cheek and wipe them away. Only afterward will God abolish death and mourning and crying and pain. Whatever caused the tears, the hurt and the pain, it is not dismissed, but met. It is met by God. Then and only then is it resolved and healed.

Our words have power. We must steward them well. Self deception, must be avoided; the first step in doing so is admitting we are prone to believe our own lies. We must also strive to tell the truth. To tell the truth one must know the truth, and be formed in such a way as to become a truthful person. For Christians, such formation is only possible through encounter with the God who is truth, revealed to us in Jesus Christ, truth in the flesh, truth for us.