Monday, December 26, 2011

"The Digital Diet" by Daniel Sieberg

TITLE: The Digital Diet: The 4-step plan to break your tech addiction and regain balance in your life
AUTHOR: Daniel Sieberg
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2011, (272 pages).

Digital addiction. The ubiquitous Internet has led to an insatiable thirst for WiFi, digital information, and an unending need to be connected online. Daniel Sieberg calls this 'tech addiction.' He writes:

"Technology has overwhelmed our daily lives to the point of constant distraction. Many of us can no longer focus on a single task or face-to-face conversation without wanting to reach out - or retreat - to the virtual world every few minutes." (Back cover)

Proposing a four-step strategy to break the digital addiction, Sieberg aims to help readers regain a semblance of human normalcy, to win sensibility back from an online virtual world to an offline reality.

Step 1 is Re:Think. Before one can change, one needs to acknowledge the current condition. Here Sieberg exposes the dangers of being addicted. When one is plugged-in, one essentially checks out of the real world. There is also an unhealthy 'binary binge' where one consumes digital units without regard for one's general physical, mental or emotional health. Using the language of body diets, Sieberg warns us about letting technology 'fog' out our minds, creating an unhealthy 'e-obesity' where we consume technology without observing limits, and other environment problems that result from always on technology devices.

Step 2 is Re:Boot which begins a series of detox steps. He suggests practical steps like putting our gadgets into a box periodically in favour of something old-fashioned. By listing down the different technologies, one starts to distinguish between devices that are for communications and those that are for preparing daily essentials like oven, refrigerators, etc. The key is to give ourselves a fresh start to welcome nature, be open to real people, and to basically detox ourselves from digital madness. Suggestions are also made for discovering our own 'virtual weight index.'

Step 3 is Re:Connect which lists more practical exercises to take. From simple things like gazing at a tree to physical exercises, Sieberg encourages readers to learn to 'subtract' non-essentials. Often, technology contains too many fancy gizmos that we do not really need. Part of this subtraction exercise is to help us differentiate the needs from the wants.

Step 4 is Re:Vitalize. At this point, one is ready to move from an inorganic addiction to a more wholesome and natural organic lifestyle. He ends with ten digital rules to note.

  1. Avoid tech turds: by NOT placing our technological gadgets at prominent places, (eg leave phone in your pocket when at a restaurant dinner table.)
  2. Live your life in the real world: avoid posting personal updates too readily until you are willing to interact non-digitally with the people in front of you. (eg talk to your companions in front of you more than the distant person on the phone)
  3. Ask yourself whether you really need that gadget: not everything digital is a must-have. 
  4. Seek tech support: if necessary, outsource the use of the digital device
  5. Detox regularly: tackling digital addiction is an ongoing exercise to be done on a regular basis.
  6. Sleep device-free: Have a safe haven from the reaches of technology.
  7. It's either the human or the device: make an intentional choice of people over gadgets.
  8. Remember the 'if/then' principle:  how we treat our digital addiction affects the way we treat the real world.
  9. Structure your e-day: plan our daily consumption of technology
  10. Trust your instincts: pursuing our ultimate goal in balance and awareness.
My Comments

Manage technology before technology manages us. The longer we stay in addiction, the harder it is to break from it. Learn from those who have experienced technological burn-out. It is important to ensure that we are able to function normally as human beings. For all its wonders, technology cannot fully replicate the way we live as human beings. We cannot hug a computer and feel any emotional warmth. Neither can we build relationships only through an Internet connection. More often, the way to sustaining a positive and fruitful human relationship is to relate at a human level. Recognize that technology can only help us so much. Remember that technology is a tool, not the ultimate. 

This book is practical, helpful, and necessary in an increasingly connected world. Although the book is planned as a 28-day detox program, it can be easily modified to fit our own schedules. The important thing is not the specific steps. The important thing is to recognize the NECESSITY to take a break from our digital world, and to reconnect with people in the real world. Yes, we can Facebook. We can twitter. We can even depend on traditional emails. Yet, the human being cannot be easily digitized. As engineers, scientists, and technologists increasingly try to make the computer behave like a human, if we are not careful, we are in danger of making humans become like a computer. This book is one such book that speaks against this trend. 

Ratings: 4 stars of 5.


Monday, December 19, 2011

"A Marriage Carol" (Chris Fabry & Gary Chapman)

TITLE: A Marriage Carol
AUTHOR: Chris Fabry & Gary Chapman
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2011, (144 pages).

Many of us associate Christmas time as a happy and joyous occasions with family and friends. Yet, it is also known that the festive season can also bring about many heartaches and painful memories. Memories of the loss of loved ones, broken relationships, and missed opportunities of love. This book is set on Christmas Eve, the day where Marlee and Jacob are about to sign their divorce papers. As they try to get to their solicitor's office as quickly as possible, their short-cut turns into a long and treacherous fight for survival. The real battle is actually for their marriage.

Marlee stumbles upon a remote marriage retreat center and has an unusual encounter with a mysterious man called Jay. Through three pots, Marlee manages to see in her marriage, her past joys, her present disappointments, and her future hopes. She returns from this experience a changed person.

This little story is a wonderful attempt to tell readers that marriage is worth fighting for.  It is realistic to recognize that there are some marriages where love has died. What is necessary is not to make it worse, but to bring life back. The authors admit that it is easier said then done. Having said that, divorce can very well make it even worse. This book is not just a nice story. It is a necessary reminder for us to note that marriage is not about making good or bad investments. It is about investing in a marriage for better or for worse. Don't fight one another. Fight FOR one another.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


A Marriage Carol Trailer from River North Fiction on Vimeo.

This book is provided to me free of charge by Moody Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. Comments provided are freely mine.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Disciple" by Bill Clem

TITLE: Disciple: Getting Your Identity from Jesus (RE: Lit)
AUTHOR: Bill Clem
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2011.

This is one of the best current books on discipleship in the Church. Written in a clear and captivating manner, Clem has managed to distill the essentials of discipleship by focusing on the person of Christ. Beginning with the original purpose of man, the author takes the time to establish the groundwork that man's calling is still to be the image of God, that man has been created to be. Clem shows us that God reveals Himself to us, through story, and enables us through listening. What is at risk is not God's story to man, but man's distortion of God's story. He writes:

"The God of the Bible does not seem as interested in us knowing about him as he desires for us to actually know him - to have experiential knowledge of him." (12)
He goes on to add that man's version of his own story is distorted and is a futile search for significance. I find it a great reminder not to make the gospel so man-friendly, that it fails to catch God's story. God's story is told through creation (evidence of God in the world), through the Bible (Inspired Word), through Jesus (Incarnation), through the Triune God (relationships). Other themes of the story include conflict and redemption, and the way back to the image of God is via worship, community, mission, and a keen awareness that man is part of something bigger. Much bigger.

The rest of the book hones on:

  • True Image vs Distorted Identity;
  • True Worship vs Distorted Worship;
  • True Community vs Distorted Community;
  • True Mission vs Distorted Mission.

Clem ends the book with a call to renew our focus on God in discipleship, demonstrated in planning, in multiplying, and in faithful living. Without the Cross of Christ, man moves toward shrinking hope. Through the Cross of Jesus, man progresses toward expanding hope and joy in God. The true hero of the story is in Jesus.

The image of God is mysterious, and for man to take wonder. Clem warns readers that there is a tendency to replace this image with 'blessings from God' like 'raises, promotions, positions, and possessions.' (69) There is a danger to replace interconnected living with individualistic lifestyles. There are three major distortions of one's sense of identity:

  1. "I am what I do." - where one's sense of identity is based on successes or failures in the world
  2. "I am What has been done to me." - where one's sense of identity is based on a reaction or retaliation of what has been done.
  3. "I am my relationships, my role, and responsibilities" - of one's sense of identity being wrapped up in temporal and undependable things.

True worship is one that is in love, in truth, in Spirit, in glory of God. Distortions of worship includes the three gateways of pride (Pleasure, Power, People).  In pride lies an idolatry of self that lives a life that is susceptible to anger, or fear.

True community learns to worship together, is devoted to truth, prayer, communion, belonging, and witnessing together. Unfortunately, community is often distorted in at least four ways:

  1. Distortion #1: community as therapy, seeing sin or a need to make an excuse to come together.
  2. Distortion #2: Some see community as a time to network and make friends or business partners.
  3. Distortion #3: Community as Program, where the community is loosely held through programming alone.
  4. Distortion #4: Community as 'exclusively Christian', that creates an unhealthy 'us-vs-them' mentality.
True mission is in two parts. The first is about unveiling the glory of God, manifested in God's people, redeemed creation. The second is about discovering and destroying the effects of sin. Again, mission is distorted through various kinds of 'onlys.'
  1. Only the message of evangelism, where mission is limited to proclaiming the gospel
  2. Only mercy is needed, where mission is limited to good works, social justice, etc
  3. Only freeing from sin, which limits the gospel to a mere unlocking of the door and nothing more
  4. Only apologetics, where one deals with trying to win arguments for the faith.
Instead, true mission has 4 components. One needs to declare the gospel of hope boldly in spite of opposition in the world. One needs to disclose the kingdom of God through Christlikeness. One needs to display Jesus and the Kingdom through tangible ways, to reconcile man to his original image of God. One needs to defend the gospel of hope, against doubts, sin, and all manner of evil. 

In Planning, Clem deals with three common reactions to mission. Firstly, to the statement "I can't do this," he uncovers the hurdles of habitual sins, debilitating mindsets, and a lack of priority management. He lists down ten friends, or 'specialists' that every disciple needs at various times of his journey to discipleship.

  • "A counselor to address your emotional sticking points."
  • "A coach to call you to accountability for the goals you set."
  • "A pastor to provide spiritual direction."
  • "An encourager to provide the inspiration to 'hang in there' and not give up."
  • "A peer to serve as an influencer."
  • "A consultant to provide information and input."
  • "An example to provide a template through their experience."
  • "A mentor who is a life stage or two ahead of you to provide wisdom."
  • "A friend with whom to walk through the journey."
  • "A partner who labors toward the same cause." (188-9)
He proposes a Shepherding compass to help leaders to grow, to feed, to lead, and to protect their flock. Finally, he urges the disciple to be fruitful and multiply through prayer, through the shaping of oneself in the Word, through forgiveness that reconcile relationships, through service with a servant heart, through a visionary mindset, and many more.

My Comments

I like the way that Clem builds his case about discipleship is all about becoming the image of God that God has called us to be, THROUGH Jesus. It is the imitation of Christ. It is to put away our distorted nature, and to let Christ redeem our fallen selves. Without God, the 'image of God' is essentially meaningless. Clem's book is very intentional about becoming like Christ, believing in Christ, belonging to Christ, and bearing the image of Christ to all, through community and hopeful living.

Clem's main idea is this:

"The point I am attempting to make is that if someone is oriented toward imaging God, then the disciple-making process will be more transformational than an informational set of verses and lessons." (65)

Well said. This is a book that deserves to be read by Church leaders and especially disciples of Christ. If you are serious about discipleship, but do not know where to start, the common wisdom is to begin with prayer and the Bible. If you still need help, you can use this book to spearhead your journey into meaningful and exciting path of discipleship.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free, courtesy of Crossway Books and NetGalley without any obligation of a positive review. The opinions expressed are freely mine.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Digital Disciple" (Adam Thomas)

TITLE: Digital Disciple - Real Christianity in a Virtual World
AUTHOR: Adam Thomas
PUBLISHER: Abingdon Press, 2011, (142pp).

Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in a Virtual WorldThis is a book written by a member of the Millennial generation using language that is familiar to the Millennial generation. As an ordained Methodist Episcopalian (Thanks, Adam for this.) minister, the author bridges the ancient spiritual practices like the Lectio Divina, the prayers, and biblical background to apply them to the modern Internet era. Beginning with an overview of the Virtual World, he highlights both the power as well as the dangers of being connected online. On the one hand, he praises the reach that the Internet has enabled many people to be connected and not feel lonely at all. On the other hand, people can feel strangely disconnected despite having an online connection 24 hours a day. Since we cannot get rid of all the technological downsides, why not learn how to live with it as Christianly as possible? This is where the book fits in.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"When God Doesn't Heal Now" (Larry Keefauver)

TITLE: When God Doesn't Heal Now
AUTHOR: Larry Keefauver
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2000.

I got this book several years ago. It was not read until recently as the catchy title keeps coming back to me. This is a book that attempts to correct misunderstanding of healing, and to debunk myths surrounding faith healing, and faith healers. It is evident that the author has encountered disappointments among people whose loved ones were not healed. They then enter into the guilt-zone of not praying hard enough, not enough faith, upset about unconfessed sin, and the confusion when certain faith healers did not heal as promised. The title of the book is important. Keefauver is not so much interested in the 'why' but in the WHEN. This is similar to Harold Kushner's world famous book, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." Keefauver argues that the why-question tends to drown a person in perpetual mystery and frustration. The 'when' extends the hope and allows the practice of faith.

The author is careful to distance himself from the kind of myth perpetuated by Kenneth Copeland, where physical healing has 2 dimensions: in time and in space (41). Instead, Keefauver suggests:

MYTH: "If you stand fast in faith, trusting Jesus, you will be healed in time and in space."

FACT: "If you stand fast in faith, trusting Jesus, you will be healed eternally even when you do not see your physical healing manifested now. "(41)

Other myths include:

  • "Believe and you will be healed now" (Truth: It is not faith but God who heals.)
  • "Great faith heals." (Truth: we cannot quantify units of faith.)
  • "God must heal with we believe." (Truth: God is not servant to our faith demands)
  • "God only heals those who believe." (Truth: God can heal anyone, not just believers)
  • "The key to our healing is our faith."  (Truth: Key to healing is in Christ, not in our faith)
  • "When I confess my healing, I will be healed now."  (Truth: Confession of sins is chiefly about salvation, not physical healing)
  • "Persistent faith will cause healing to manifest." (Truth: persistent faith is not about persistent unto physical healing, but the race to complete the life of faith.)

The way to understand faith is this:

"It is more than believing in your heart that God heals. The truth is that God is the God who Heals. Faith is trusting the God who heals. Faith is a radical, absolute surrender to the God who Heals. Faith is not holding on for your healing but holding on to the God who Heals." (40)

Right on. Faith is on the God who heals, not on the healing.  Keefauver debunks the myth of faith healing which puts one's own faith (or lack of it) as a reason for lack of healing. He debunks the myth of some kinds of prayer that hinders true prayer. He deals with the myths of disease as a punishment from God, and the myths of faith healers.

Then he introduces his understanding of God's timing, sovereignty and true faith. What is not clear is physical healing. What is very clear is the eternal salvation and full healing in eternity. He then poses some truth statements:

  • Truth #1 - "Visible Facts are Not Total Reality" (132)
  • Truth #2 - "Faith Walking is Prayer Walking" (134)
  • Truth #3 - "God and His Word can be Trusted" (137)
  • Truth #4 - "Faith Focuses on the Healer, not the Healing" (138)

He then presents 40 steps to finding true health and healing.

My Comments

Keefauver has participated in many of the healing events by prosperity and health preachers such as Kenneth Copeland and Peter Youngren. While he does not agree with all of their teachings, he still admits God's sovereignty and timing, even quoting one healing event in Youngren's rally (118-9). While he acknowledges some healing, Keefauver's main point is that the Christian ought to give God the glory regardless of whether there is physical healing or not. This I believe is the most important point in this book. There is a tendency for people picking up this book thinking that it is a book that teaches one the formula for true healing. No. This book deals with the aftermath of 'failed' expectations of healing. It deals with what to do next. It corrects erroneous thinking surrounding faith and healing. It deals with the re-orientation of man's focus on healing, to God.

The author tries hard to give some practical applications, like the 40 steps to God's Healing through the Word. Unfortunately, it presents some problems. Not only is it too cumbersome and long, it is guilty of introducing another formula for healing. It may give the beginner a kickstart. It may give the new Christian hope in following through the steps. Its key strength is in debunking myths.

The fact is that everyone's faith journey is different. It is important for readers to discern what is best. Perhaps, there are no 40-steps. Perhaps, there is only a part or a combination of them. What is most important is that at each step, there is a renewed focus on God. God alone.


Monday, November 21, 2011

"Questions of Life" by Nicky Gumbel

TITLE: Alpha: Questions of Life - A practical introduction to the Christian Life
AUTHOR: Nicky Gumbel
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2003.

One of the most pressing needs in the church is continued Christian Education. This is necessary not just for young believers but also the older ones. For the young, they need an introduction to the Christian faith that is not only theological, but practical as well. For the older, they need to be reminded.

One can argue that true theology is practical. Unfortunately, there is too much anti-theology mindset going around in the Church today, especially among older believers. With cynicism, some people are also easily dismissive of theologians, preferring to breathe in their own air of anti-intellectualism. This is due in part to some over-zealous students, professors, pastors, and teachers of theology who unwittingly speak high-sounding words in an unintelligible way. The result is that people get put off when they equate such heady words with common theology. Not this book. Instead of heavy theological lifting needed, readers both young and old will find it a fresh invitation to ask basic questions without settling for easy answers.

Gumbel poses 15 basic questions as follows:
  1. Christianity: Boring, Untrue, and Irrelevant?
  2. Who is Jesus?
  3. Why did Jesus Die?
  4. How can I be sure of my Faith?
  5. Why and how should I read the Bible?
  6. Why and how do I pray?
  7. How does God guide us?
  8. Who is the Holy Spirit?
  9. What does the Holy Spirit do?
  10. How can I be filled with the Spirit?
  11. How can I resist Evil?
  12. Why and how should we tell others?
  13. Does God heal today?
  14. What about the Church?
  15. How can I make the most of the rest of my life?
All of these questions are pretty basic. Yet, in churches, people continue to ask these basic questions. This book is a great supplement to the highly popular ALPHA courses worldwide. The chapters are written in a very easy to read manner, filled with illustrations, discussion questions, and inviting topics. The main benefit is not the giving of answers, but the way it generates discussions and further questions. If you are thinking of getting the book to learn Christianity 101, this book is certainly a good start.

Sometimes, the most fundamental things we need are simply basic.


Monday, November 14, 2011

"The Wisdom of Each Other" (Eugene Peterson)

TITLE: The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends
AUTHOR: Eugene Peterson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

This little book is weighty, full of wisdom, and rich with insights. Eugene Peterson, most famous for his paraphrase of the Bible in the MESSAGE, gives readers an intimate look into conversations with spiritual friends. This is one of 5 books on the 'Growing Deeper' series, which was 1999 Gold Medallion book winner in the inspiration category. While all touches on spirituality, each covers a different aspect of it. Walter Wangerin touches on prayer in "Whole Prayer." Luci Shaw engages meditation on the soul in "Water my Soul." Calvin Miller deals with teaching and preaching in "Disarming the Darkness," while Philip Yancey provides reflections on Church in "Church, why bother?" Peterson's contribution is to see spirituality, not from the standpoint of a sage teaching the student, but a peer-to-peer sharing of spiritual journeys. In a world where conversations tend to become deterministic, where command and conquer tends to become the defacto function of language, Peterson helps us see language beyond mere utilitarian, to one that is sharing each other's presence. In the tradition of letter writings, like the Apostle Paul's epistles to the churches, Martin Luther's letter to his barber, CS Lewis's Letters to Malcolm, and many more, Peterson contributes this book by writing it to a fictional 'Gunnar Thorkildsson.'

Peterson, begins each letter with "Dear Gunnar" and ends with his firstname, 'Eugene.' Gunnar is a person whom Eugene gets to know since the former's graduation from university. The conversation revolves around calling, Church going, marriage, hymn singing, the weather, prayer, spiritual life, theology, and many more. He also makes a critique on modern technology on how people seems more captivated by the man-made things and fails to notice enough of God's natural creation.  Unlike conversations that seem to present a question followed by an answer, Peterson is masterful in posing questions for Gunnar to probe deeper, himself. Rather than giving answers, Gunnar is encouraged to find his own answers. Rather than dishing out set techniques or sophisticated solutions, Gunnar is urged to find God in the most natural and simple way. Peterson may appear to be harsh on modern culture. On closer reading, it is more a case of him criticizing the non-critical acceptance of things around us to the detriment of failing to see God in the ordinary. In other words, the modern man tends to search for God in all the wrong places.

Peterson is a great mentor in this book. When I read it, I need to pause often to pray, and to reflect upon my own spiritual life as well. There is a bit of everything in this book. Who says wisdom and knowledge needs to come in volumes after volumes of encyclopedic-size books? This book can be used as a devotional cum spiritual guide.


Monday, November 7, 2011

"The Will of God as a Way of Life" by Jerry Sittser

TITLE: The Will of God as a Way of Life
AUTHOR: Jerry Sittser
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004, (256 pages).

The Will of God as a Way of Life: How to Make Every Decision with Peace and ConfidenceWhen there is a book about the will of God, I will read. If it is written by an unknown writer, I may just borrow it from the library. If it is written by my favourite authors, I will usually buy it. This book is one of them.

According to Sittser, this book is about a perspective of the will of God, not a series of steps to attain the holy grail of the experiment called life. Sharing about how he manages to move through the twists and turns of life, the book reveals a lot about how Sittser fumbles through life, and eventually arriving at a clearer understanding of what God's will means for him. In Chapter One, he shares about 3 clues. Firstly, 'we will never know how things will turn out' (20). The second clue is about how suffering and loss dispels his idea of a perfect and nice will of God. The third clue is that the Bible says very little about the future path of God's way, but a present avoidance of anxiety and wrongful presumption. The conventional way of thinking is in terms of finding out that ONE specific will of God for each person. Such a thinking reveals 3 problems.

  1. What if we make the 'wrong' choice?
  2. It makes us feel as if God is playing hide-and-seek with us.
  3. It causes us to be pre-occupied with a future view that God's will is something that lies ahead.
Chapter Two goes on to dispel such fears. We have an astonishing amount of freedom to seek the will of God in terms of the Person of God. In other words, the will of God is understood by looking BACK, while we seek FORTH to see God.

"As I struggled with the issue of discovering God's will, I came to a startling conclusion. The will of God concerns the present more than the future; it deals with our motives as well as our actions; it focuses on the little decisions we make every day even more than the big decision we make about the future. The only time we really have both to know and to do God's will is the present moment. We are to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we are to love our neighbours as we love ourselves." (34)
In Chapter Three, Sittser talks about the obstacles that prevent us from understanding God's will. 

"... God's will for us is to choose quality of life over quantity of options, to slow down and integrate our lives as best as we can, and to build friendships with people who know the whole of us, not just isolated parts of us. His will challenges us to resist and even to reverse some of the trends of contemporary culture itself." (41)

Among the obstacles mentioned are, 'tradition,' the massive potpourri of choices, busyness, lack of community.

Thankfully, Chapter Four proposes the way forward. Obedience as a way of life as exemplified by the artist and the athlete.  He writes:

"Both artists and athletes understand the nature of true freedom. They give up their freedom to do whatever they want, subject themselves to strict discipline, and in the end gain the freedom to perform at the highest levels of artistic and athletic achievement. Loss of freedom actually leads to freedom. It is the freedom of obedience, gained by following a strict regimen of practice." (62)

In Chapter Five, he expounds the Ten Commandments, calling them 'implications of grace' rather than the 'opposite of grace' (67). Chapter Six is a lovely chapter about the simple pleasures of attending to the little things in life, and to appreciate the ordinary and what we have often taken for granted. Chapter Seven is a helpful chapter about making choices. Sittser shares his wisdom:

"We must learn to be good listeners, to discern God's greater purpose, and maintain an eternal perspective. Then, after making a decision, we should never look back, trusting that God has already gone ahead of us." (96)
He also warns us about using the rule of 'success' to measure God's will. God's will is present regardless of our definitions of success or failure. He says wisely:

"We don't always know how our decisions will work out, but we know that God will work them out for our redemption. We will fall in love, change jobs, bury loved ones, say good-bye to children, move to faraway cities, raise cats, lose a fortune on the stock market, and end up living in Singapore. Sometimes we will make good decisions; sometimes not. Still, somehow God will work things out for our good, both because that is his nature and because that is his will for our lives." (105)

Sittser teaches us to discover the wonders of 'living in the present moment.' We need to learn to use disciplines to 'refresh' our daily routines, so that we can return to our original work with 'renewed creativity, perspective, and gratitude.' (152) He talks also about calling as a plural rather than a singular term. Finally, he shares six useful signs to discern our calling.

  1. Look within ourselves to ask what motivates us?
  2. What are our talents?
  3. What about our life experiences?
  4. Where are the opportunities?
  5. Is there a community that we can share our talents with?
  6. Is there joy in service?

This is a great book to read for learning about the wise counsel of Sittser. As someone who has gone through deep levels of suffering and pain, he typically weaves his suffering experience into the books he write. This book is no exception. In fact, Sittser dedicates the last three chapters to talk about that. Written simply. Expressed eloquently.


Monday, October 31, 2011

"Marriage Spirituality" by R Paul Stevens

TITLE: Marriage Spirituality - Ten Disciplines for Couples Who Love God
AUTHOR: R. Paul Stevens
PUBLISHER: Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 1989, (165 pages).

With his huge experience as pastor, seminarian, counselor, and of course, a married man, Stevens is certainly one we can learn from, with regards to marriage. Written with the Christian believer in mind, Stevens selects ten disciplines for couples to practice together. He believes that faith strengthens Christian marriages. For Stevens,

"To be married means to have our privacy invaded, to live dangerously close to another sinner, to be interfered with by someone who claims to love us but does not always know how. Yet to be married also means to celebrate a sacrament every day, all day, through everything we share, even when we are not together." (14)

The underlying conviction the author has is the need for husbands and wives to cultivate spiritual friendship with each other. Before this can happen, six barriers have to be addressed:
  1. 'Too many agendas': that sucks away time and energy to prayer;
  2. 'Overfamiliarity': that couples are not sensitive to fresh insights from each other;
  3. 'History of mutual sin and forgiveness': seeking each other's forgiveness is hard;
  4. 'Unresolved problems': unhealthy tendency to wait (forver) for problem to be resolved BEFORE any talk of spiritual togetherness;
  5. 'Afraid of intimacy': Fear of letting spouse into the insecurities of oneself;
  6. 'Complicated structure': the need for couples to see their marriage unique relationship in itself.
Simply put, the way forward is to let the marriage relationship become a 'response' to God's grace in the couple's life. The author suggests several ways to do the ten disciplines. One way is by taking an intentional 10-week experiment on developing spiritual friendship. Another way is through small couple mentoring program where two or three couples meet together regularly to encourage one another. Others include weekend retreats, teaching sessions or through sermons over the pulpit. The key is not to 'solve' but to share the journey.

The ten disciplines are:
  1. Prayer that shares a special intimacy with God and each other.
  2. Conversation that involves listening to the heart.
  3. Sabbath that learns to rest, leisure, and play together.
  4. Retreat that encourages solitude together as a couple.
  5. Study to train the couple's ability to listen to God.
  6. Service to serve together.
  7. Sexual Fasting to learn to attempt to focus on resolving a particular spiritual matter.
  8. Obedience in doing God's will together.
  9. Confession to enable healing.
  10. Mutual Submission to affirm the equal relationship of both spouses.
My Comments

This is a lovely book to read as a couple. The strength lies in the application aspects where the author details the steps to practice the discipline. For example, the 'putting into practice' is not only realistic but covers practical details of a typical busy life. The author shows an astute understanding of marital challenges, and writes in a very encouraging manner. Personally, I feel that ten disciplines are a little too much. The disciplines are important. However, the book will benefit more if it focuses on say 5-7 of them. For instance, prayer and conversation can be combined. Confession and Mutual Submission goes hand in hand. The same goes for Sabbath and Retreat. In its current form, the book is best used for a teaching course rather than a marriage manual for couples spiritual friendship. If there is another title, I will certainly suggest: "Cultivating Spiritual Friendship in Marriages."

I recommend this book for Christian couples, especially those where both spouses are active in Church or work in a Christian organization.

Ratings: 4 stars of 5.


Monday, October 24, 2011

"Journaling as a Spiritual Practice" by Helen Cepero

TITLE: Journaling as a Spiritual Practice: Encountering God Through Attentive Writing
AUTHOR: Helen Cepero
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2008.

Write with a purpose toward knowing God and self. This is the key theme in this book. The author is a director for Spiritual Formation, and shares brilliant insights on how journaling can become a spiritual practice. She writes:
All spiritual disciplines and practices, including journaling, are about learning to be aware and awake, open to God, ourselves and the world around us. Journaling is meant to give clarity to your day and rest to your night, reminding you even when you are not writing in your journal that God is there with you, in and through it all.” (12)
The purpose:

“Our true goal is a deeper relationship with the God who longs to meet us at the heart of all that we were and are and hope to be. Attention to our own reality - our dreams and our wounds, our desires and our hopes, our friends and our enemies, our past, our present and our future - is not for its own sake, but to tune our hearts to hear God’s transforming Word for us.” (12)
Unlike general writing, spiritual journaling begins with God. When one writes, one writes by honing attentiveness on the presence of God, expressed through our writing.
Like all spiritual practices, it begins with the trust that God is active at the heart of our lives and the life of the world. It begins with our openness to trusting in the transforming power of Christ’s Spirit to lead us closer to our true selves and to God. As we regularly and intentionally pray in this way, we discover that ‘God is already present in the hidden depths of the present moment; it is just because we were skimming along across the surface of what is happening that we were unable to know and rest in that presence.’” (20)
About the Book
The author begins with an introduction of what journaling as a spiritual practice looks like, giving tips as to the timing, the place, the kinds of journal materials, and suggestions for overcoming the writer’s block.

In chapter 2, she urges us to just start writing.
Doubt, fear, faith struggles and feelings of insignificance can all cripple our journaling practice if they stay locked within us. But if we allow all of this to flow out of us and onto the page, we just might find our way through to a life lived with God, as well as a new sense of self-knowledge. If we wait until we can get our faith lives ‘right’ or make sure our motivations are unmixed or keep our minds and hearts clear, we will never begin a true spiritual practice at all. The journal is a starting place for dealing with all the faith struggles that are still going on, the doubts that linger and the fears that lurk. Saying them ‘aloud’ on the page helps us find the courage to continue, courage that is rooted not in our personal effort but in God’s eternal love for each of us.” (30)

In chapter 3, Cepero starts by noticing how God pays attention to us, and that we need to learn to exercise that attentiveness to God and to ourselves too. She points out 2 possible threats to our journaling experience. The first is the ‘censor’ that threatens to slice off part of our story. The second is the inner critic that undermines our writing.

Chapter 4 moves from noticing to honouring one’s story. One of the problems Christians face is the lack of self-esteem, that one is not significant. The author guides one to appreciate one’s name, as well as how God ‘named’ us. It is less of how we are searching for God, but a matter of how we are found by God.

Chapter 5 provides some writing guidelines to engage God via focus, free writing, mapping one’s life and context, recognize changes, and accepting invitations from God to approach Him.

Chapter 6 is a practical help regarding how our physical body conditions affect our writing.

Chapter 7 is a retrospective journey to our past where one learns to illuminate one’s past with thanksgiving, with naming our moments, with learning to let go or to hold on, and to discern God’s voice.

Prayer of Examen is a gentle summary: “Praying for light, looking back in thankfulness, praying into the heart of the day, and letting go and holding on.” (81)

Chapter 8 shows that journaling can also look forward. One can write up a to do list, and to reflect on the meaning and purpose of it. In learning to wait and hope, one plants the seeds of faith by believing that God will speak forward in due time. Just like the disciples who did not understand the word on their way to Emmaus. Until they met Jesus who explains the Scripture to them.

In chapter 9, readers learn to examine the present too. It can be used like a compass to know where is one now. Based on Jer 6:16, the author guides readers to look at South, East, West and North. South is ‘the direction of sunny exposure - the direction of creativity, imagination, spontaneity and play.’ (94)

East is ‘the direction of the dawn, the rising sun. It is the perspective of new beginnings.’ (95)

“Ask yourself: What light is just beginning to appear on my horizon? What am I being asked to take hold in a new way? Where am I being called to embrace something? What areas in my life need change or transformation? As you look to the east, remember that beginnings are usually small and can seem almost insignificant.” (95)

West is the ‘direction of the setting sun’ on a perspective that indicates endings and letting go. (96)

North helps keep the other perspectives aligned, as a navigational north star. This is the guiding light, representing the ‘stabilizing forces’ showing us where we are and where we ought to go.

She ends with the center that is at the middle of the compass, saying it is the human person in the center, us that moves with God.

Through dialoging, embracing the Cross, seeing God in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary, one journeys the faith.

{journaling allows us to remember old histories with new insights.}

She ends with 6 fork-roads that require each journaler to maker a decision.
  1. Is journaling a distraction away from God or attentiveness toward God?
  2. “Is this a critic, or is this a mentor?”
  3. “Is this being rooted, or is this being stuck?”
  4. “Is this foolish or is this faith’s sake?”
  5. Is this a stumbling block or opportunity for growth?
  6. “Detour or home?”
My Comments

A book like this is rare. We have many books in the market that teach techniques, writing styles, overcoming writer's blocks and tools to aid writing. Yet, very rarely do we find books that uses journaling/writing as a spiritual practice. Cepero helps us by showing us how the simple act of writing and journaling can become a holy exercise of focusing our attention toward God. I like the gradual movement from life to paper, from paper to history, from history to future, and then back to the present. I appreciate the way Cepero uses the compass, asking us to begin with the South, East, the West and letting the North be the guiding light that brings everything together. Integrative spirituality is such an important part of spiritual discipline. I am glad Cepero has done this well. Very well.

There is a minor suggestion for improvement. Cepero will do well to expand her work to include the latest technological tools, like the Internet, blogging, social networking, on how one can use technology to facilitate journaling. Perhaps, the author can write a book: "Blogging as a Spiritual Practice?"

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


Monday, October 17, 2011

"A Slice of Trust" by David Hutchens and Gibbs Smith

TITLE: Slice of Trust: The Leadership Secret with the Hot & Fruity Filling
AUTHOR: David Hutchens and Barry Rellaford
PUBLISHER: Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2011

Not many of us have the time to read. Sometimes it is due to the busyness that we succumb to. Other times, it is because books are not easy to read. For such people, it will be great to find a book is not only gentle on our time, but also captivating to read. This book is perfect for the busy person.

About the Book
Based on Stephen Covey's The Speed of Trust, this book tells a fable of two men running a pie-shop business. It brings alive the many concepts that highlight the importance and efficiency of trust in the business world. At the same time, it teaches us the need to exercise wisdom. Through the simple story, one learns:
  • trusting people speeds the process up;
  • "Trust is built over time, a slice at a time." (66)
  • "Being trusted invites people to be their best." (40)
  • "To trust is to lead." (50)
  • In trust, the risks are large, but the rewards are huge.
  • High Propensity + Low Analysis = Blind Trust
  • High Propensity + High Analysis = Smart Trust
  • Low Propensity + Low Analysis = No Trust
  • Low Propensity + High Analysis = Distrust
The goal of trust is to be willing and open to trust others. This may be difficult for some people, especially for those who have been hurt or taken advantage of before. In order to aid trusting, adopt a level of analysis that is appropriate. Remember to analyze the situation, the contexts, the environment more than the person. The moment we start to psychoanalyse the person, we are treating the person as an object. Instead, study the contexts so that you can understand how and why the person is reacting as such.

This may not be explicitly Christian, but it sure has Christian principles that can be practised. I believe that the Church needs a high level of trust within. Small groups need to be trusting of one another. Trusting that is smart, and honest. By reading this book, one also learns that trust needs to be built over time. In fact, like any relationship, trust is imperative to the health of any organization. If you want to grow in closeness in any group, make sure that you have slices of trust.


Monday, October 10, 2011

"What Good is God?" by Philip Yancey

TITLE: What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters
AUTHOR: Philip Yancey
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Faith Words, 2010.

This is the latest book by Philip Yancey, with lots of references to his previous writings and recollections of his own faith journey. The author entitles this book in a thought-provoking way, showing readers that faith while not easy is possible. Amid a world of suffering, pain, terrorism, heartaches, it is still possible to discover and search for a faith that matters.

The book begins with Yancey's personal near-death experience that rocks him back to memories of his own faith journey. Through the lens of "What Good Is God?" he probes the matter of suffering at the massacre of Virginia Tech University in 2007. Instead on focusing on the pain and hurt, he focuses on the comfort and healing that many have provided.

Monday, October 3, 2011

"The Journey Through Grief" by Alan D. Wolfert

AUTHOR: Alan D. Wolfelt
PUBLISHER: Fort Collins, CO: Companion Press, 2003.

The Journey Through Grief: Reflections on HealingThis book is a very helpful guide to grieving and mourning. Recognizing the angst and pain behind loss and suffering, the author begins with a gentle understanding of grieving in two ways. Firstly, he recognizes that grieving is inner expression of emotions while mourning is an outward demonstration.  The importance if mourning and grieving cannot be underestimated because it is central to healing. Secondly, he makes a plea toward heart-based comfort rather than head-based answers.

"... another important lesson I have learned is that healing in grief is heart-based, not head-based. Modern therapies sometimes separate the head from the heart; it's as if we should somehow be able to rationally think through our grief." (1)

The way to help the heart is via "6 yield signs." The needs are numbered as:
  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death.
  2. Embracing the pain of the loss.
  3. Remembering the person who died.
  4. Developing a new self-identity.
  5. Searching for meaning.
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Book: "Respectable Sins"

TITLE: RESPECTABLE SINS - confronting the sins we tolerate
AUTHOR: Jerry Bridges
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 2007.

Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate
A sin is a sin. Unfortunately, the world tends to separate sins in terms of unacceptable and acceptable ones. The latter is what is called the 'subtle sins of behaviour.' Author Jerry Bridges first shot to fame with his bestselling book: "The Pursuit of Holiness." In this latest book, his concerns center around what is called 'respectable sins.' Here is his rationale:

"The motivation for this book stems from a growing conviction that those of us whom I call conservative evangelicals may have become so preoccupied with some of the major sins of society around us that we have lost sight of the need to deal with our own more 'refined' or subtle sins." (9)

Beginning with his chapter on 'ordinary saints,' Bridges defines sinful behaviour as the opposite of holiness. Anyone living in sin is not living a saintly life. Sin is the antithesis of holiness. Bridges main point is that what is 'respectable' to man, is 'reprehensible in the sight of God and deserving of judgment.' (22) We cannot downplay some sins from the perspective of man, and undermine the God's perspective.  Sin is like cancer. It is 'malignant.'

"Sin is a spiritual and moral malignancy. Left unchecked, it can spread through our entire inner being and contaminate every area of our lives. Even worse, it often will 'metastasize' from us into the lives of other believers around us." (23)

Proposing that the gospel is the remedy for sin, the author asserts that the gospel will motivate as well as energize one to deal with one's sins. One not only recognizes the sin, one will 'desire' to deal with it head on. Chapter Five talks about how the path to holiness is dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. He proposes the seven directions in how to deal with sin. They are:

  1. Letting the gospel be applied in our lives;
  2. Letting us be dependent on the Holy Spirit;
  3. Recognizing our responsibility to obey;
  4. Identifying specific sins that are 'respectable'
  5. Letting Scripture into our hearts, and applying them;
  6. Cultivating prayer;
  7. Accountability to one another in Christ.
The Respectable Sins
Bridges gives a list of 14 'respectable sins.' They are:
  1. Ungodliness
  2. Anxiety and Frustration
  3. Discontentment
  4. Unthankfulness
  5. Pride
  6. Selfishness
  7. Lack of Self-Control
  8. Impatience and Irritability
  9. Anger
  10. The Weeds of Anger
  11. Judgmentalism
  12. Envy, Jealousy and related sins
  13. Sins of the Tongue
  14. Worldliness
The author begins his treatment by calling ungodliness as even more 'basic than pride.' In other words, 'ungodliness' is the root of all sins that are deemed 'respectable.' Anxiety is seen as the opposite of trust in God. The discontentment that Bridges is most concerned about is that pertaining  otheir 'relationship with God.' (71) It is reflected in how one responds to their lack. Unthankfulness is a condition of the heart that fails to recognize that everything is given and everything belongs to God. Pride's biggest problem is the ease of seeing other's fault but difficulty in seeing one's real fault.

When addressing selfishness, Bridges use 4 stages to measure: self-interests, how one uses time, how one uses money, and one's inconsiderateness. A lack of self-control makes one vulnerable to all kinds of temptations. Impatience and irritability are one's responses to 'unintended actions of others.' (116) One needs to use the biblical method of lovingly confronting the other person to correct in truth and in love. For anger, while it is an acceptable emotion, it can be sinful. Bridges, recognizing the complexity of anger, uses two chapters to talk about anger. Judgmentalism is one of the most 'subtle' of sins, and is a result of one trying 'equate our opinions with truth.' (141)

Envy, jealousy and other related sins come about because of one's tendency to compare themselves unfavourably with others. In sins of the tongue, the author uses Ephesians 4:29 as his key verse in tackling sins of the tongue. Finally, in worldliness, the author writes about money, immorality, and idolatry that is infecting the Church.

He sums up all the 'respectable sins' in his final chapter, and urges readers to adopt the following approach:

"Remember that our progressive sanctification - that is, our putting off sin and putting on Christlikeness - rests on two foundation stones: the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit." (181)

My Comments

I think Bridges has done a commendable job in writing this book. The sins that he has tackled reminds me of John Owen's classic work: "Overcoming sin and temptation." Though the book by Bridges is not of the same classic status as Owen's book, it gives modern readers a fresh start to tackle the real problem of sin. In fact, Bridges book is a good basic preparation to help the serious disciple of Christ to move toward a deeper encounter with God, toward the approach taught by John Owen.

Respectable Sins Discussion Guide: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate
Discussion Guide
As a critique, I think Bridges has trouble trying to categorize each 'respectable' sin. The way he does it in the book, is quite different when one looks at the accompanying discussion guide here. In the book, Bridges devote 14 chapters to deal with each respectable sin. In the study, he condenses them into 6 study chapters. Even within the book's structure, there is some confusion with regards to how different some sins are from others.

Perhaps, sin in itself is related to the rest. While Bridges does a good job in explaining the individual sins, he has probably chewed off too large a chunk for himself to swallow, and for readers to follow. The main use of this book is to use it as a preliminary guide to stir one toward a more serious mortification of sin. It is important to use this book with an accountable group. That way, sin is not allowed to remain hidden from others.

"Respectable Sins" has a catchy title, and will appeal to the casual reader. It is only a start. One needs to move to advanced territory after reading this book. The path of holiness is long. It is treacherous. That is why one needs the help of God to become a saint of God.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Book: "The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage"

TITLE: THE TRUTH ABOUT SAME-SEX MARRIAGE - 6 things you need to know about what's really at stake
AUTHOR: Erwin W. Lutzer
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2004.

The Truth About Same Sex Marriage: 6 Things You Need to Know About What's Really at Stake
There is a battle for the mindshare of the public going on right now. The issue of marriage appears to be the main thing. Yet, while divorces continue to be on the rise, and traditional marriages on the decline, many are clamouring for a wider acceptance of same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, an increasing number of people are accepting the same-sex union more as a 'right' rather than what is actually right. Erwin contributes this book to help Christians sort out the messy debates.

Beginning with a heart-felt plea for the Church to wake up, the author traces the origins of why the Church has largely adopted the stance of silence. Rather than being silenced by the public sentiment, they prefer to mute themselves. This is tragic. It allows the homosexual activists to parade their gay agenda openly.  The chief strategy of the gay agenda is essentially this:

"...make their lifestyle and behavior 'normal' in the eyes of mainstream America." (18)

The six crucial things that Lutzer wants to share are:
  1. The Church Must Speak
  2. We Must Consult the Bible
  3. We Must Remember the Generations Present and Future
  4. We Must Resist to Pressure Against Speaking Up
  5. We Must Act Now With Urgency
  6. We Must Seek God

My Comments
This book is an important voice to a much muted Christian community that fears an even greater division because of the homosexuality issue. What is previously sin is now called controversy. Soon, what is controversy will become a point of view. Then, what is a point of view will become a 'sacred right.' Eventually, if unopposed, the gay agenda will become mainstream. This is the reason why Lutzer writes the book. The Christian Church must speak up in truth, in love, and in earnestness.

I appreciate the way Lutzer highlights the dangers of a sleeping church. Lutzer has conveniently brought together a list of important points for the layperson to understand. By reading it, we counter the general flow of mainstream media which continues to turn people's opinions against the Church, or any Christian group that presents a different opinion from the gay agenda. This book is important, necessary, and may even save some.

If you only have time to read one book about the problems of same-sex marriage, read this book.


Monday, September 12, 2011

"After Shock" by Kent Annan

TITLE: AFTER SHOCK - Searching for Honest Faith When your World is Shaken
AUTHOR: Kent Annan
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011.

After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World Is ShakenThis is one of the most honest books that tackle the bull of suffering by the horns of honesty. Suffering is something not easily solved or answered. In a book that oscillates between mindful faith, and hurting doubts, Annan sensitively deals with issues of God, disasters, suffering, pain, faith and doubt.

In Part One, the author deals with the issue of 'confronting a crisis of faith.' It recognizes that disasters just happen. Being honest about it enables one to hold the reality of suffering on one hand, and maintain a semblance of hope on the other. The author verbalizes many of our concerns and wishes, by listing down a 'wish list for change.' Wishes like God being able to swipe away disasters before they happen; like God making life less painful than it is; like punishment for the wicked, and reward for the good, and so on. He ends this part by urging readers to learn to feel.

"I want to cry, because when I'm honest about sadness I'm able to be more open to joy. I want to cry, because maybe it will help me find God. Yes, that might be putting too much added pressure on the tear ducts. I want to cry if it helps me find extra strength for my small work toward justice. If we don't turn away, just like this may our tears flow as prayer and then as love." (73)

In Part Two, Annan demonstrates how disasters shake faith in a poignant manner. The Church he attends regularly is also in rubble. Not only is one's spiritual faith rocked, the physical building that represents religious faith is also among the rocks. Faith means to keep moving despite the shocks and after shocks. He notes that after the earthquake in Haiti, one visible trend is the increase in marriages. Under normal circumstances, people marry only when they have enough money. After an earthquake, when everyone is equally lost and poor, people marry without guilt of not accumulating enough riches. In Annan's view, such a rush to marry is one way of establishing 'stability and commitment in a shaky world.'

My Comments
This book looks more like a lament rather than a how-to-relief book on suffering. Each chapter has a verse from a lament psalm: Ps 13. It is a meditation on the author's experience of the earthquake in Haiti and how he weaves in faith and doubt amid the suffering he sees and feels. It takes a physical earthquake shock that reverberates with multiple spiritual aftershocks later on.

How can one enjoy a book like this? I think it is hard. Just like it is hard to 'enjoy' any topic that hurts, it is hard to read about anything on suffering. Suffering us a mystery. No one can fully answer the problem. It is not something to be solved, but to be lived through. We can try to prevent it. We can learn from it. We can even teach about it. Yet, the fact remains. Suffering exists, and the sooner we learn to accept it as a part of life, the better prepared we are to deal with it. Annan shows us the way to deal with it as follows. Lament. Talk about it with God. Frequently. Let our faith linger with God. Do not try to speed up a resolution to suffering for there is none. Do not try to slow down the recovery when there is one. Keep one's faith honest. There is a kind of doubt that leads to faith. Annan has shown us one way to do just that.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Book: "The Rule of Benedict"

TITLE: The Rule of Benedict - A Spirituality for the 21st Century
AUTHOR: Joan Chittister
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Crossway Books, 2010.

The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (Spiritual Legacy Series)
This book is a modern refreshing look at an ancient spiritual guide used by Christian monks in the 5th and 6th centuries. The author, herself a distinguished student and teacher of Benedictine spirituality, weaves in an impressive understanding of Benedict's Rules with an insightful appreciation of modern living. For a book that is 1500 years old, it still speaks to us living in a modern culture that prides on 'progress.' She notices that the technological society that we are in have trained us to be a throwaway culture, where we constantly upgrade to new stuff and throw away the old, despite the latter being functional. She criticizes the consumer society that fails to search for the real God, choosing instead to look for gods among things. The main question Chittister poses is this:

"What meaning, if any, can this Rule possibly have for average people of our day who grapple daily with a culture awash in the transitory and the tenuous, in superficiality and confusion?" (Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict - A Spirituality for the 21st Century,  NY: Crossway, 2010, xi)

Calling the Rule a form of wisdom literature, it basically implies timeless applications from a great tradition. Chittister's reasons for using this ancient document for modern times are as follows:
  • Against 'transcience and distance,' the Rule stresses the 'need and nature of real community.' (xiii)
  • Against 'secularism,' the Rule emphasizes prayer and the rhythm of it; (xiii)
  • Against separating creation from human living, the Rule ushers in greater respect for life, to encourage better stewardship; (xiii)
  • Against 'random and state violence,' the rule brings 'quality and reverence' that leads toward peace; (xiii)
  • Against arrogance of the eveloped world, the rule teaches humility that all peoples have a right to the basics of life; (xiv)
  • Against working for money, the Rule teachers one to work for the sake of God's will for all of creation; (xiv)
  • Against aimless leisure, the Rule works toward sense of contemplative living to enable us to 'see the world as God sees' it. (xiv)
"The basic contentions of this book, then, are clearly two: first, that Benedictine spirituality deals with the issues facing us now - stewardship, relationships, authority, community, balance, work, simplicity, prayer, and spiritual and psychological development. Its strength, therefore, is that it is both fresh and ancient, current and tried at the same time. Second, its currency lies in the fact that Benedictine spirituality offers more a way of life and an attitude of mind than it does a set of religious prescriptions." (xiv)

In summary, the author views the Rule of Benedict as one that is not merely concerned with a particular place, time, church, or ministry, but one that is concerned for living throughout many generations, including ours. Chittister structures this book to be read three times through the year. In other words, from Jan-May, May-Aug, and Sep-Dec, this book can be read like a devotional, with Chittister's insightful commentary to guide one's spiritual thoughts.

My Comments
This book is like a commentary and devotional combined. In the former, Chittister gives insights of what the Rule says as well as it modern applications. In the latter, the author supplies rich meaning to direct us toward God. The Rule covers wide aspects of life, all of them centering on God as the purpose for living. It helps maintain clarity in our modern minds about the meaning of life.

I like the first posture of the Rule, which is to 'listen.' Far too often, we stumble over ourselves because of our haste and hurry to do things faster and faster, something without much measured consideration. All spirituality begins in the Holy Spirit, and we learn through listening. Being aware of God's presence reveals who we are. Being mindful of our responsibility helps us discharge our stewardship of creation better.

"... life is very short. To get the most out of it, we must begin to attend to its spiritual dimensions without which life is only half-lived. Holiness is in the now, but we go through life only half conscious of it, asleep or intent on being someplace other than where we are. We need to open our eyes and see things as they exist around us: What is valuable and what is not, what enriches and what does not, what is of God and what is not." (23)
There are three reasons why I like this book.

1) It Clarifies
In a world that assumes it knows what is best, often we stumble over our own follies when we mistake them for wisdom. We think we are smart alecks when we are not. The Rule brings us back to reality, that we need God as our starting base.

2) It Applies
This book is a very practical book. Daily, the reflections lead to contemplative prayer. Prayer leads to good works. Without making the Rule too unwieldy or difficult to comprehend, the author places snippets of the Rule, enough to jiggle the mind, and to prepare the heart. Sometimes, the Rule reads like the wisdom books of the Bible, like Proverbs.

3) It Promotes Community

This is perhaps the biggest benefit. The Rule is a classic work on how to build communities. In an Internet world, connecting millions of people around the world, the problem of loneliness and isolation remains. For all the technological advances, science is still not able to bring together people as well as God can.  We cannot depend on technologies to build community. Fact is, the best technologies cannot build perfect communities. Perfect communities can help build the best technologies. That is not the main point. The main point is that communities are necessary, and we need to be reminded and be disciplined about being intentional about community building. The Rule is a brilliant work on community building. This is the best reason to get this book.