Monday, December 22, 2008

Soul Revolution (Review)

I just finished my last book for review by Zondervan. Thanks guys. It is John Burke's new book, Soul Revolution. It was released in October. Let me preface my review by explaining that I could not stand his first book, No Perfect People Allowed. I thought he had too many anectdotes and not enough substance. This second book is very similar in many ways and nsignificantly different in others.

The premise of the book is that if a person wants to grow spiritually, one way to do it is to connect with God for 60 seconds every hour. When the top of the hour comes, pause and listen to God. Reorient your life to His voice rather than our circadian rythms. It is an experiment Burke does from time to time in his church and he sharess many anecdotes about how it has been helpful to those who practice it.

Thankfully, it is not completely anecdotal. He does a much better job of curbing his testimonies and adding more of the reason why these practices are important. It is incredibly approachable, no matter how much experience a person has with God. That is, he explains the cliches he uses, and makes it understandable to somebody who hasn't grown up in the church, which is a major strength. At the end of each chapter is a section focused on application. These are incredibly weak because they are identicle every week (talk to you running partners, think about the chapter, pray). They are not specific at all.

That being said, overall I enjoyed the book. He keeps spirituality simple, which is how it was created to be. This is a bare bones manual for growing closer to God, and is useful to a person who is intimidated by words like "Spritiual discipline" or "spirituality". It is basically how to live a Christian life and stay connected to God. It is a manual on abiding in God's presence (similar to Brother Lawrence's practicing the presence of God)

For a book to be worthwhile, it has to have either a new idea, or a new packaging of an old idea. Soul Revolution is a new packaging, but a very unique version of it. For that, it is worth purchasing if you would like to grow closer to God, but just don't know how. Especially if you are intimidated by books written before 1900.

The Good: very approachable. Very pracitcal. very simple. True to Scripture. Fits its purpose of introducing spiritual formation to young Christians.

The Bad: horrible application (it felt forced). Too many anecdotes at points. Gets repetitive about halfway through.

The verdict: Worth purchasing if you are new to spiritual formation. If you are familiar with Dallas Willards's The SPirit of the Disciplines, or Fosters work, or Ortbergs work, or any other introduction to spiritual formation, or if you like Christianese, not the book for you. I will recommend this to new Christians, and that's about it.

Finding Hope

Well, I'm back. The video was a fair success, and I wasn't up until the last minute fixing it, which was nice. Overall our Christmas program went quite well imo, considering we didn't communicate any of the transitions and whatnot. At any rate, back to reality for me and my regular schedule. This is a nice return to pace as my retinas were nearly bleeding from all the screen viewing last week.

I was on my way into work when I heard a familiar ad on the radio. It is a tag heuer ad wherein Tiger Woods talks about his continual pursuit of excellence. Have you heard it? I have nothing against the ad, but Tiger ends by saying that it is our choices that define us. This has grown to be an issue for me.

If my decisions define me, I don't have much hope. I have a hard time making decisions. Especially when it comes to escalating conflicts or not becoming over committed. Tiger (or at least the ad writers) is an existentialist. He believes that it is only through experience that we can ascertain knowledge, especially about ourselves. Kind of like batman. In bagman begins, he says something along the lines of "It's not who I am, but what I do that defines me". Right. Humans do stupid things all the time.

I don't disagree that our decisions and actions influence us. It is impossible to know truth completely objectively, without recognizing how our baggage influences our eyesight (I am a critical realist). We each have perspectives that are unique to our own context. But to claim that our only knowledge is subjective, relative, perspective lacks hope.

My hope is not in what I do. My hope is in who I am. In who God says I am, and who I believe I am becoming. Not by virtue of my actions, but because of who loves me. He calls me by name, redefines me, refines me, and makes it possible that not all of my decisions will be moronic.

P.S. Speaking of existentialists, Soren Kierkegaard was a great one.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I'm not alone.

Apparently I'm not the only sadistic person who creates loaded True/False quizzes about the nativity. Go here to see the one Dr. Craig Blomberg, Denver Seminary, stole from me (just kidding, we just happened to both do it).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Out of Office . . . OOO

Well, I'm going to be out of my virtual offfice the rest of this week and next. I will be spending my time in my real office on my real computer really editing our video greeting card. I plan to be frustrated often and lonely as well. Stop by for a visit or to learn something about video editing.

Soon I will have my latest advanced review (though the book is already out), a final foto friday in Israel, and some more personal blogs since I am officially finished with this semester. Stay tuned, or urled, or whatever.

I leave you with this: Consider Tolstoy. He was part of the Russian elite right before the Communist Revolution. He was one of the wealthiest people in a land where the disparity between wealth and poverty had never been greater. Upon reading the story of the rich young ruler, he literally sold everything and gave it to the poor. He seems to have been an incredible follower of Jesus. Yet, he found no fulfillment. He beat his wife and son daily, found out that he had the same hole in his life he had while rich, lived on an incredibly meager sum, and considered his life useless.

Maybe doing things Jesus says to do is not enough. Maybe we are really in need for a great act of God breaking into our hearts, lives, world to transform us. Maybe we need this season of advent because doing things doesn't bring us closer to God unless we are doing it as subjects of his Kingdom, obeying our Lord.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Foto Friday-Bethesda, Shepherd's Field, Church of the Holy Sepulcher

First in this series is a group of shots from a modern and ancient shepherd's field. Reading the psalms which talk about the peaceful streams contrast with the reality of most of the area. A green pasture would be a nice change from this rocky terrain.

The pool of Bethesda, with its porticos. Sorry about the bad shadows, the sun didn't cooperate.

A cathedral at the pool of Bethesda. It has amazing accoustics. We tried to sing a couple songs inside, and thought it sounded decent. Till this little nun who had been there the whole time stood up and sang "Ave Maria", dominating us.

A cistern under the old city. You can see holes where water wouod drain into the cistern. You can only see half of it at a time because of a wall built in the middle. It was sweet to go under the old city.

These paving stones would have been there at the time of Jesus. You can't see it in this picture, but there are old carvings of children's games.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Traditionally (and likely) the place upon which the cross was set. There is an open spot somewhere inside where one can kiss the ground of calvary. The church is run by feuding Franciscan, Armenian and Orthodox monks, who brawl in the courtyard every so often.

We went in through the Orthodox side.

A tribute to the conflict to this day, this ladder has been there for 150 years for the sake of spite. Wikipedia the story.

A nearby mosque


I got this from my daily prayer site, sacred space: "religion is meant to be expansive and widen the heart of love within us". I think it rings true.

Anything that does not widen the heart of love within us is false religion. It's idolatry. So no matter how many programs we are involved in, souls we save, chapters of the Bible we read, etc., if we do not have love we are clanging symbols. Messing around with the trap set on the stage has taught me how obstructive, obnoxious, and just plain frustrating a clanging symbol is.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Faith Culture Devotional (review)

My next book Zondervan gave me the opportunity to pre-screen is A Faith and Culture Devotional. BY Kelly Kullberg and Lael Arrington. It came out Dec. 1.

It is a compilation of very brief devotional readings focused on the following topics: Theology, History, Philosophy, Science, Literature, Arts and Contemporary Culture. One article on each topic for 15 weeks worth of reading. This makes the book quite large for a devotional (considering many are 30-60 days as opposed to over 100). I appreciated the length and organization of the devotional as much as any aspect. This was very well done.

The articles are composed almost exclusively by experts in any given field. There is the occaional pastor/grad student article, but they are few and far between. The reader can be assured that they are reading scholarly accurate presentations. Another plus.

How were the devotionals? Short. Very short, two pages max. Another plus. Out of roughly 100 devotionals, I would say about 10 were phenomenal, life changing perspectives. 20 were quite good. 50 were mediochre. and the last 20 were basically terrible. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these devotions were simply not unique. I came to the book expecting it to be like nothing I've ever read. In fact, it was basically a right-wing conservative evangelical diatribe on how the heavens declare the glory of God, and the arts demonstrate humankind's falleness.

Who is it for? College students and those who have never heard about how faith and culture interact, or who have never read some of the ancient voices in the church. It is very good for a basic overview of faith and culture. It is not good for a fresh, unique, perspective.

The good: Short devotionals, some excellent ones, very cool demonstrations of how great God is, a variety of authors (though kullberg seems to show up an awful lot). Excellent introduction. Awesome questions for reflection at the end of each chapter (best part of the book imo). Good structure.

The bad: not unique, attempts to show how faith and culture interact, but only gives a conservative perspective. Often times the devotionals are just attacks against liberal perspectives on evolution, philosophy, or theology. Not necessarily christo-centric.

An Advent Poem

Advent is the time leading up to Christmas, where we eagerly anticipate the incarnation (God becoming flesh) of Christ. Here is a poem forwarded to me by Denver Seminary that I thought was actually worth sharing.

Come now where we least expect you,
Christ our hope and longing, come.
Show us where we still reject you
in the world you made your home.
Look around!
Christ is found
far beyond our sacred ground.

Come where we have tried to own you
locked within the distant past,
where your church has scarcely known you,
where the least remain the last.
Enter still
where you will,
come to challenge and fulfill.

Christ-child, come in loving kindness;
come, great Judge whom angels praise!
heal us of our pride and blindness,
purge our hearts and change our ways.
God's own Word,
love outpoured,
come to us, O Christ our Lord!

Marnie Barrell, 1996

Monday, December 1, 2008

Still a Sin?

I used to define gluttony thusly: being the guy that takes the last cookie off the plate at a party.

Is gluttony still considered a sin? How do you define/identify it? Is it simply an extension of idolatry (all sin to some extent is)? At what point does Thanksgiving dinner become gluttony? At what point does western materialism become gluttony?