The Power of the Living Word

Our gracious and loving God, we thank you that you have been touching our lives: illuminating us; opening us at deep levels of our being; stretching us at points of our narrowness; confronting us where we are distorted; challenging us to become the word you speak us forth to be; but in every way working in it all for your good purposes in our lives. As we begin to consider ways of coming to Scripture that will enable it to become your living Word in our lives, help us, God, to remain open to the guidance of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

M. Robert Mulholland, Jr., Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation

This prayer merges helpfully our role in taking up the Scriptures and reading while simultaneously developing a deep, abiding trust that it is God’s work through the living Word within us to transform us and make us new, to grant us new insight, to grow and expand our souls, to correct and rebuke us when we are wayward, and to challenge and invite us in the taking of our next step–all for our good–through the sustained openness to the work of the Holy Spirit through prayer.

It is possible to know the Bible inside and out, and yet somehow miss the presence and activity of God. Consider the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, who knew the Scriptures, but did not recognize the Christ.

If you have a daily Scripture reading habit, wonderful! Take one more step in marrying that habit to prayer. Ask God to speak again through the Word, to use the written Word to conform you more fully to the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, so that you might more fully mature in him and more faithfully testify to the transforming power of his grace.

The Household: A School of Love

In Habits of the Household: Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms, Justin Whitmel Earley states, “The most Christian way to think about our households is that they are little ‘schools of love,’ places where we have one vocation, one calling: to form all who live here into lovers of God and neighbor.”

The everyday habits Earley explores include waking, mealtimes, discipline, screen time, and family devotions, marriage, work, and play, and conversation and bedtime. His comments on waking and marriage focus on the parents. The explorations of mealtimes, work, play, and conversation are shown to be crucially formative for the family, and family devotions, discipline, screen time, and bedtime are shown to be of heightened importance in the formation of children.

Think of the things that happen in each of these spaces. How are each of these areas, as mundane as they can be, pregnant with possibility for formation in love? If you are a parent, how many of your habits around waking, sleeping, and meals are derived from your inherited family rhythms? How many of them have been recast as part of your new family? How many of these habits are shaped by faith commitments, even if in subtle ways?

I’m certainly a believer in the importance of making clear commitments, developing systems that work, and establishing habits as avenues for transformation and change. I also believe in the importance of family formation, building a strong marriage, and choosing to have children. I understand why many today are delaying marriage, and some are opting to forego having kids. But I also want to challenge those trends. Having a family, and building a good one, takes a lot of work. But so does anything else worth doing.

Earley’s book provides a helpful frame for thinking about the family and the formative nature of the rhythms and habits of family life. If you possess a clear vision for establishing your household as a little school where those within it can learn how better to love God and love neighbor, you can also build in the practices, ways of speaking, and value commitments that move those within the household toward that end.

A clear vision of the kind of household one wants to be part of also makes it plain when that standard is not met. Our family has said that we want our household to be filled with the love of God, and that this is evidenced when we have peace at home, when everyone is encouraged to pursue their unique callings, when we celebrate victories large and small, when we serve others, and when each of us are good stewards of the life God has given us.

Habits of the Household is one of those books I will recommend to young married couples and those who are on their way toward or who have welcomed children into the world. While it is possible to figure it out as you go, adopt habits that work along the way, a book like this helps you think deliberately about the choices you are making, raising good questions about the desired outcomes parents have for their children, their marriages, and the overall constitution of the household.

Children are formed by their parents. Parents, at their best, are being formed by God. And all, together and with God’s help, can be schooled in love everlasting.

Conviction and Plain Speech

Photo by Lasseter Winery on Unsplash

If you cannot express yourself well on each of your beliefs, work and study until you can. If you don’t, other people may miss out on the blessings that come from knowing the truth. Strive to re-express a truth of God to yourself clearly and understandably, and God will use that same explanation when you share it with someone else. But you must be willing to go through God’s winepress where the grapes are crushed. You must struggle, experiment, and rehearse your words to express God’s truth clearly. Then the time will come when that very expression will become God’s wine of strength to someone else. But if you are not diligent and say, “I’m not going to study and struggle to express this truth in my own words; I’ll just borrow my words from someone else,” then the words will be of no value to you or to others. Try to state to yourself what you believe to be the absolute truth of God, and you will be allowing God the opportunity to pass it on through you to someone else.

Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, “December 15: Approved by God

This insight still holds. If you struggle to express your faith convictions, keep working at them until you can. And even though others have stated truths about life, faith, God, and the rest eloquently and well, they did not nor have not said it like you might say it.

Furthermore, there is an added power when such truths are stated not only in a unique voice, but in a way that is borne of conviction. Sanders adds, “Always make it a practice to stir your own mind thoroughly to think through what you have easily believed. Your position is not really yours until you make it yours through suffering and study.” Make your convictions truly yours, not just a parroting of another, so that when you speak your words may be offered “clearly and boldly.”

2021: My Year in Reading

Last year was a blur. When we rang it in, I was glad to welcome it. When we rang it out, I was glad to say goodbye. Here’s hoping to a better 2022, which I’m kicking off with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Off to a solid start! And I’m fine. One overnight sinus headache. Not bad. I’m thankful I received the vaccine and that I caught a mild case. Onward.

My media log from 2010 and every year since is found here.

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How Many Books Did I Read This Year?

This year’s goal was to read 60 books, and I landed just short at 59. The first book I finished was C. J. Sansom’s mystery novel Tombland, the latest Matthew Shardlake story. The last book I read was John McWhorter’s Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. I continue to read comic books: Detective Comics: BatmanGuardians of the Galaxy, Kang the Conqueror, X-Men, and Wolverine.

I logged 93 movies and 11 television series. There are a few comedy specials I watched, too, that I didn’t record near the date of viewing. I walked my kids through the Marvel Infinity War saga, which we began as 2020 drew to a close, and completed in early 2021. My favorite movies this year included The Hunt, Mortal Kombat (2021), Tenet, Chasing Amy, Nobody, Old, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. Kevin Smith was a major factor in my viewing choices. I watched a lot of his work.

I watched a lot of documentaries, too, and my favorites were about Thomas Sowell, ZZ Top, and David Lynch. I watches some stinkers, too.

I didn’t really like Wonder Woman 1984 or Black Widow or Ocean’s 8, or Jolt, Kate, or Bright. I didn’t like Parker or The Old Guard, Snake Eyes or Suicide Squad (2021). But in television, I liked He-Man: Revelation, The Expanse, and Chernobyl.

What Were My Favorite Books This Year?

This is a tough one. My reading choices this year were slightly constrained by review obligations. I also took on some really challenging books. I read Horace and Marcus Aurelius, and I’m still reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. I read more history.

My favorites were Tish Harrison Warren’s Prayer in the Night, Timothy Keller’s Hope in Times of Fear, Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream, David Byrne’s How Music Works, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, and John McWhorter’s Woke Racism.

I also think Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure is a book with important things to say.

Did You Hate Anything?

I hung in with, but did not enjoy Daniel Worster’s biography of John Muir, A Passion for Nature, or James S. A. Corey’s Leviathan Awakes.

What Are You Reading Right Now?

I’m very slowly progressing through Russell F. Weigley’s The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy. I’m reading Donald M. Lewis’ A Short History of Christian Zionism: From the Reformation to the Twenty-First Century (it’s over 350 pages!) and Miguel De Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

What Did I Learn from My Experience Reading This Year?

This year I picked up a lot of American history. Why? I want to understand the people and the ideas that have made this country what it is, both the good and the bad. The more I read, the more I come to believe that the founding ideals of the Republic are unparalleled in history, and despite the loud voices on the internet that persist in telling us how bad everything is, we live at a pretty incredible moment in time. Our moments most persistent doomsday preachers are more secular than they are traditionally religious. It might be a good time for Christians to emphasize the great good news of what God has done in and through Jesus Christ, and the great good work we have been invited into as participants in Jesus’ kingdom this side of the Lord’s Day.

I’ve also become more deeply convinced that daily habits add up to a lifetime of faithfulness, growth in holiness, and deepening of character. Reading is a key daily habit. Every day, I begin my morning with four chapters from the Bible, the appointed reading from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost from His Highest, and meditation on a selection from the Psalms. My morning reading takes anywhere from ten to twenty minutes, includes a few moments for prayer, and sets the tone for my day.

Another lesson: physical media is far better than e-books. I read a little on my Kindle, but nothing beats the feeling of a book in my hands.

What are you reading, and what should I add to my list?

World Changing Word Coinage

Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash

What is the best way to make a difference in the world?

[. . . ]

I’d like to posit that creating an idea that colonizes our minds—a signpost in the memescape, if you will—is a very high leverage way of making a difference in the world. . .The kind of signposts I’m thinking about are often little more than short phrases—or even single word neologisms—that, due to what ideas they have compressed within them, reorient how you see specific spheres of experience.

These are “catchy” concepts that often combine two or more words in unexpected ways, creating a mental hook for a vague penumbra of facts and experiences. And these signposts evoke a similar sensation to when you learn a new word: once you’ve been exposed to one of these, you see it everywhere. . .

How to begin? Recognize patterns in the world and name them. Smash unexpected terms together and see if they sing. Realize when you are struggling to describe something and spend some time just sitting and figuring out how to compress that description down into a short pithy phrase.

Samuel Arbesman, “Constructing Signposts in the Memescape

There’s something to this idea, but the change you render could be for good or ill. Shifting the memescape is reckless idea, I think, adding distraction to distraction, piling sound byte upon sound byte, pasting clutter over clutter, and hoping that the new coinage will effect a mystical transformational outcome. Arbesman names “premium mediocre,” “cozy futurism,” “horsehistory,” “intuition pump,” “undiscovered public knowledge,” “Matthew effect,” and several others as examples of signposts we now “see everywhere.”

He must be reading and conversing with people quite different than those in my sphere. I have not encountered a single example he cites.

I’m more an advocate of developing discourses, but, as someone who has been attempting to communicate the Christian tradition to people for years, I know how valuable shorthand can be, as can fresh ways of expressing old ideas in memorable, pithy ways. Preachers are often meme generators. The best build a world around those memes.

Brancusi’s Observation

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957)

I met icon-makers during my youth in the country. I remember that an icon-maker before starting to paint, or a maker of wooden crosses before starting to carve, would fast for a few weeks in a row. They prayed continually that their icons and crosses would be beautiful.

Constantin Brancusi, Artist and Sculptor, quoted by Cameron J. Anderson, “Transcendence and Immanence: The Sculpture of Constantin Brancusi and Alberto Giacometti,” in God in the Modern Wing: Viewing Art with Eyes of Faith, edited by Cameron J. Anderson and G. Walter Hansen

Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Brancusi observed something that should be true of all good Christian work: everything begins with prayer.

Thomas Kelly on Continuous Prayer

Photo by Luke Tanis on Unsplash

This practice of continuous prayer in the presence of God involves developing the habit of carrying on the mental life at two levels. At one level we are immersed in the world of time, of daily affairs. At the same time, but at a deeper level of our minds, we are in active relation with the Eternal Life. I do not think this is a psychological impossibility, or an abnormal thing. One sees a mild analogy in the very human experience of being in love. The newly accepted lover has an internal life of joy, of bounding heart, of outgoing aspiration toward his beloved. Yet he goes to work, earns his living, eats his meals, pays his bills. But all the time deep within, there is a level of awareness of an object very dear to him. This awareness is private; he shows it to no one; yet it spills across and changes his outer life, colors his behavior, and gives new zest and glory to the daily round. Oh yes, we know what a mooning calf he may be at first, what a lovable fool about outward affairs. But when the lover get things in focus again, and husband and wife settle down to the long pull of the years, the deep love-relation underlies all the raveling frictions of home life, and recreates them in the light of the deeper currents of love. The two levels are there, the surface and the deeper, in fruitful interplay with the creative values coming from the deeper into the daily affairs of life.

So it is sometimes when one becomes a lover of God.

Thomas Kelly, The Sanctuary of the Soul

Kelly adds, “How do you begin this double mental life, this life at two levels? You begin now, wherever you are. Listen to these words outwardly. But, within, deep within you, continue in steady prayer, offering yourself and all that you are to Him in simple, joyful, serene, unstrained dedication.”