Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Randy Pausch is the professor from Carnegie Mellon University that last year gave his now famous Last Lecture on "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams." It is very stirring particularly since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and had been given only 3-6 months of good health. As you watch it, it's unavoidable to think, how can he do this and know that he dying soon? He has just recently died (July 25, 2008).
Only recently had I heard of Pausch and thought I've got to watch this. So I did and it was worth it. In this lecture he discusses his pursuit of his childhood dreams and some of the lessons he has learned along the way. If you want to know what his were and whether he achieved them go and watch the lecture! I will give some highlights and thoughts after viewing the lecture.
The main line is powerful: "Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things." We all hit brick walls in the pursuit of our dreams, it is our response that matters. Brick walls are opportunities to those who have the courage to scale them, and they keep the less earnest and eager out. That's the other side of the coin of achievement, if it wasn't hard it wouldn't be worth achieving. What would be the point of pursing an Olympic Gold Medal if they handed out at the door to all who merely showed up?
The other point that really stuck with me was this one: We often learn more from the dreams we pursue that we don't achieve than from the dreams we do achieve. He discusses one of his unfulfilled dreams but that he learned unforgettable lessons from the pursuit itself. Two points here. First, "fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals": "whatever it is that you are pursuing remember that you can't do the fancy stuff, if you can't do the fundamentals." Second, "when you are doing badly, and no one lets you know anymore, then no one cares anymore." Ouch. That is a terrible place to be. The take-away is to find people that really care.
You can visit Pausch's site, or the Wikipedia article on him. The lecture can be viewed on his website or you can download a great copy of it from iTunes from Carnegie Mellon's posts to iTunes University (all free, search for "Pausch" on iTunes).
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I've often heard and used expressions that have as of late got me to thinking. The two that come to mind are: "you only live once" and "this is as good as it gets!" There are more and these are may have valid uses in the right contexts, for it's true we do only live once before Christ's coming. And sometimes I have uttered on a beautiful sunny day when I feel all is right with the world: "ah, this is great! This is a good as it gets!" And that maybe true on this side of "the sunny banks of sweet deliverance" (as Anthony Mangun says).
However for the born-again believer these must be turned on their head. The cliche "you only live once" is really only true for the unbeliever. The unbeliever lives once and dies forever. The believer dies once but then lives forever.
The cliche "this is as good as it gets" is really wrong-headed as well. For the unbeliever this is as good as it gets, and the worst day on earth will be far better than hell. But for the believer, the best day on earth will never compare to what's coming. No, for the believer it's always: the best is yet to come. And that's a word for all of us, and that's hope. That's what caged Christians facing beasts in a Roman coliseum held to and that's what every suffering saint of God can find hope in. This is not positive thinking, it's faith in God that He's building a city--a Kingdom--that's coming and will right all wrongs and conquer all evil. And even there I believe we will live in hope and see greater things forever.
I've always liked the ending of C.S. Lewis's The Last Battle, the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia, and it's fitting here:
"...the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before".
This is not a rant and I'm not claiming these as signs of the times, no they have been constant dangers to all Christians since Christ ascended. The question is: do I live and talk in such a way that points to a reality beyond me? That reality is God and His Kingdom that is soon coming in it's fullness. Am I walking and working in such a way that displays a real belief that treasure and reward in that great reality are greater than anything in this life?
Monday, August 11, 2008
Friday, August 8, 2008
You've doubtless heard of Sherlock Holmes, and you may have heard of Sam Spade, but there's a good chance you've never heard of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin or of their creator Rex Stout. Nero Wolfe is a massive man - a "seventh of a ton" - with an even larger genius for crime solving. But he's also an obtuse recluse that doesn't like to leave his orchid's at home nor the food of his personal chef, Fritz. He doesn't even like to leave home for business, that's why he's got a full-time assistant, Archie Goodwin, who's the street-smart, sure-foot sleuth who does the legwork. It's a 20th Century Holmes and Watson but with more fireworks both between Goodwin and Wolfe and they and their enemies as it's set in New York City from the 30's to the 60's. There is also intense and amusing competition between Goodwin and Wolfe and the New York Police Department and the police, particularly Inspectors Crammer and Stebbins are always close at hand yet far behind the private detectives.
I read somewhere that one reads a single Nero Wolfe story and enjoys it but reads two or three and is addicted. I agree with this opinion. I recently read my first Wolfe novel, Death of a Doxy and enjoyed it thoroughly - it was good fun. It's the story of a straightforward homicide that Wolfe sorts through fairly easily. Then I read my second Wolfe novel, In The Best Families and this one really drew me in. It was great fun. Wolfe is really put to the test this time by the tangled mess of a homicide and a mobster. This is a fabulous story and I'm looking forward to more.
Wolfe and Goodwin are truly interesting characters and Stout draws them well. These are good stories, the characters are worthy and the dialogue is excellent. Wolfe himself really is fascinating. He's similar to Holmes but is more arrogant, more obstinate, more passionate when drawn out, but is even colder towards the fair sex than the occupant of 221B Baker Street. He also seems more human, he has other interests besides sleuthing, such as reading, his orchids, and his cuisine, and his stance towards the other sex is not merely cold business-like but rather seems driven by some past lost love. When it comes to his side interests his detective work seems a distraction from what he really wishes to do, but he must do it because he's so good at it and makes good money doing it (and his comfortable and sedentary lifestyle has a price). And when a mystery is brought to him he can't hardly help himself until he resolves it. And he resolves it by sitting around and simply thinking on it. When he figures it out, he only acts to prove it, he doesn't care to defend himself to others for he doesn't need their approval.
"I can give you my word, but I know what it's worth and you don't." - Nero Wolfe
Nero Wolfe is among the best of literary detectives - Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Ellery Queen - and if you like murder mysteries you'll find that this is very good stuff. And I'm not alone in saying so, Eugene Peterson, recognized author and translator of the Bible paraphrase The Message, recommends Wolfe, among 12 other mysteries, in his Take & Read book of recommended reads. Peterson says that for 30 years he has amused himself with the Wolfe stories, of which there are over 70. If you like detective fiction, you'll love Wolfe. Dig in and enjoy!
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Here are seven:
1. Words without actions.
2. Busyness without purpose.
3. Calendars without sabbath.
4. Relationships without nourishment.
5. Personality without accountability.
6. Giftedness without humility.
7. A biblical theology without personal integrity.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
1. The religion of Medieval Roman Catholicism was very confused. If what is depicted in the Cadfael Chronicles is near authentic, then the Middle Ages were indeed dark. Prayer to dead saints? The Bible mostly ignored but for divination? These are not new observations but when one is placed in the daily events of that world it is mind-blowing. If for no other reason read the novel, and imagine living with that worldview day in and day out. Without a doubt, the Reformation was necessary and long over due.
2. This is what most modern skeptics equate all religion to: devotion to superstition. If, when one is reading the skeptics or talking to one, realize that there perception of us is not that different from our reaction to the devotees in the Cadfael Chronicles.
3. Sin is not eliminated by removing one's self from the world. No, worldliness is already in the heart. This is a very interesting point of the Cadfael Chronicles, and I think a theme deliberately placed by Peters. These holy brothers are not very holy and while separated to the spiritual, normally they are not very spiritual. In fact, they are often quite carnal in pursuing what they deem to be spiritual.
4. The whole episode of applying sortes biblicae is deeply intriguing. For one, I don't think this method is totally gone from the Church, in fact I think Christians of all sorts probably apply this type of thing in personal decision making. Honestly, I have on a few occasions been deeply comforted by randomly leafing through Scripture in a manner similar to this though I wasn't using it to make a decision. Nothing wrong with that I suppose. However, Scripture was not given to us for this purpose. Scripture is to be read in its entirety and in context, interpreted and applied carefully. We are to be guided not by superstitious divinations creatively forced to apply to our situation, but by the truths of all of Scripture.
5. In spite of all that may be perceived as negative in the medieval mindset and showcased in this book, one foundation of that worldview seems to me to be bedrock for any Christian worldview: that God is ultimately in charge of all things, persons, and events, and is the source of all authority. I know that the doctrine of God's sovereignty can be abused and misused but it is something that we have profoundly lost, for that is something that most Christians think little on and consider controversial.
6. Reading literature, by that I mean fiction, short stories or full-length novels, is a good practice for the Christian. It raises issues that provoke thought and it gives much more time for reflection than does television and movies. Though one should not read only fiction, one should not feel guilty for reading much of it and enjoying it. Good literature should have a solid place in the reading of the Christian.
7. Reading of all kinds is sheer joy and good for the mind!
Cadfael is a sleuthing monk, a Holmes of the Bendectine Order, but more than a brother also a herbalist, man of medicine, and a former soldier and Crusader. This was my first reading trip through 12th century Shrewsbury Abbey and it was great fun.
In this chronicle, Cadfael tackles a theft and a murder alongside his friend Hugh Beringar, the reeve of the shire. The theft of the celebrated relic of Shrewsbury leads to a fascinating thread through the tapestry of local politics, authorities , and medieval Catholicism-very devout but deeply confused. This is a world of powerful and rigid authorities both sacred and secular, of saints and relics, of place and position-a world far from the modern or "post-modern". I'm no historian of the Middle Ages but this seems like a worthy immersion into the medieval mindset.
Most interesting is the tangled process of determining the will of a dead saint concerning the saint's own relic. The culmination of the process is application of sortes biblicae, the use of the Bible for divination. This is performed by the seeker taking a copy of the Gospels in hand and letting it open randomly and placing a finger somewhere on the open pages. The portion by the placed finger is read aloud and then applied to the decision at hand. This is truly foreign territory but one must remember that this was an age when most truly believed every event to be the evidence of the will of God.
Furthermore, it's just a good tale! Imagine murder and mayhem among monks! Sin among those totally dedicated and separated to holiness. The many different characters-the monks, peasants, sheriffs, lords, and troubadors-and the interplay between them are well drawn. If you need exhilarating racing action this is not for you, but if you enjoy a good story woven together then pick it up and spend a few afternoons in its pages, it won't disappoint.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The lists of recommended summer reading have been rolling out lately and some of my favorite bloggers and authors have done so. It's always useful to see what other people are reading and particularly what they consider to have been good reading!
Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has published three blog entries giving an annotated list of recommendations:
Ten for the History Books -- Summer Reading Part 1
Ten for the History Books -- Summer Reading Part 2
Books for Guys -- Maybe for Dad, Maybe for Son, Maybe for You
Al Mohler also put out a thoughtful look at the threat to libraries posed by the Internet and the digital revolution: The Citadel and the Open Space - Will the Library Survive in the Internet Age?
C.J. Mahaney, leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries and friend of Al Mohler's, responded with his own, lighter, reading list:
Books for the Beach
And lastly, Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and author of the recent The Reason for God, a very good read itself, has given this list:
Summer Reading List
Enjoy! I hope you find the time...
Thursday, April 24, 2008
For a class on Christian Philosophy in my M.Div program at Southern Seminary, James Sire's The Universe Next Door was assigned reading. I greatly enjoyed reading it and in fact I recommend it. In this post, however I merely want to mention a point I found helpful. In the discussion on theistic existentialism, Sire points out some of the positive contributions it made to theology and Christian thought. Existentialism of the Christian variety was largely a reaction to the dead orthodoxy of European state churches. Soren Kierkegaard and later neo-orthodox theologians such as Karl Barth were reacting to the cultural captivity and stagnancy of the churches of their day. If we are not careful it is possible to become dead, captive to culture, or both, and there are more ways to do this than one can imagine.
For instance, it is easy to depersonalize the Christian faith into a mere system of dogma rather than a living faith based on a real interaction between a real God and a humanity longing for relationship. This is not to set theology in opposition with personal piety, they are both absolutely necessary. Sire includes the chart below to help one view basic concepts of the Christian faith from both the perspective of the personal and the impersonal (Sire, 131).
One can see the appeal of both perspectives, particularly the personal. The Scriptures include both perspectives as well, and I think place the emphasis on the personal. There's nothing new here but much to remember.
Breaking a rule
Betraying a relationship
Sorrowing over personal betrayal
Canceling a penalty
Believing a set of propositions
Committing oneself to a person
Pleasing the Lord, a Person