Friday, June 24, 2011

Book: "Less is More"

TITLE: Less Is More - meditations on simplicity, balance, and real abundance
AUTHOR: Mina Parker
PUBLISHER: San Francisco, CA: Conari Press, 2009, (128 pages).

Less Is More: Meditations on Simplicity, Balance, and Real AbundanceThis beautiful book is a photo-cum-reflective journal of life, seen from the meditations of the writer. It is an attempt to reinstate some semblance of sanity in a world caught in a mad-rush for time, and a crazy race to outrun one another. The gist of the book is captured by the author's favourite Swedish proverb.

"Fear less, hope more; Eat less, chew more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more; Love more, and all good things will be yours." (11)

Part One talks about 'Hidden Treasures' obtained through simple living, appreciating home-cooked meals or farmed food, decluttering, and the gems that one can learn through 'mundane' things. Part Two deals with contentment on the basis of knowing that what we need, we already have. We don't need more stuff, just more appreciation for what we have. Part Three is a call for us to learn to change our outlook in life, if we want to gain a better perspective. It can potentially change our attitudes, our relationships, and our purpose in life. Part Four, 'Give Credit to Where Credit is Due' is a call for grateful living. Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

  • "Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple." (Dr Seuss, quoted on p15)
  • "It is vain to do with more what can be done with less." (William of Occam, quoted in p20)
  • "To be satisfied with a little, is the greatest wisdom; and he that increaseth his riches, increaseth his cares; but a contented mind is a hidden treasure, and trouble findeth it not." (Akhenaton, quoted in p25)
  • "Fortunate enough, is the man who takes exactly the right measure of himself, and holds a just balance between what he can acquire and what he can use." (Peter Mere Latham, quoted in p40)
  • "Prosperity depends more on wanting what you have than having what you want." (Geoffrey F Abert, quoted in p42)
  • "It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing." (Gertrude Stein, quoted in p46)
  • "The great thing to learn is, first, not to do what you don't want to do, and, second, to do what you do want to do." (Margaret Anderson, quoted in p47)
  • "Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough." (Charles Dudley Warner, quoted in p60)
  • "What you call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down." (Mary Pickford, quoted in p71)
  • "We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are." (Anais Nin, quoted in p70)
  • "Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art." (Frederic Chopin, quoted in p76)
  • "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving." (Albert Einstein, quoted in p85)
  • "The more you reason, the less you create." (Raymond Chandler, quoted in p86)
  • "I'm a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will." (Antonio Gramsci, quoted in p95)
  • "Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many - not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some." (Charles Dickens, quoted in p99)
  • "Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from." (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, quoted in p101)
  • "Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving." (W T Purkiser, quoted in p106)
  • "The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings." (Henry Ward Beecher, quoted in p110)
  • "Happiness is itself a kind of gratitude." (Joseph Wood Krutch, quoted in p120)

My Comments

The book gives us a needed brake to slow down our lives, especially those rushing headlong down a hill of busyness. It reminds us that 'more' may actually mean less, and that 'less' may surprisingly mean more. Written in 5 parts, the book touches on the 'hidden treasures' of life, that many things can be learned just by becoming more observant about the small things in life. Each reflection is accompanied by a pretty photo, and a 1-page reflection of life. While the book can be rushed through and finished within the hour, I will recommend against it. True to its title, we will benefit less of the book's message if we simply consume it without taking time to think. In fact, I feel that the book is deliberately written to help readers be more sensitive to the basic truth: "Less is More."

The world tries to tell us that the key to life is to accumulate more things, accomplish more projects, speed up our tasks, connect with more people, and so on. The philosophy is simply more means more. Such a thinking unfortunately creates a life that is more complex, unbalanced, and we end up with a poorer quality of life as a result. I like the wide range of quotations and thoughtful photos. In fact, the photos themselves can evoke different reflections each time. This is a book of art and spirituality. It deserves to be read, again and again.

For the Christian reader, this book can be best used with the Bible next to us. While the book is not a book about Christian spirituality, it teaches us how to meditate on the simple things in life. It contains wisdom, and a need to change our brute attitudes toward life. Make it simple. Make it sweet. Make ilife significant and meaningful.

Ratings: 4 stars of 5.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Book Review: "After You Believe"

TITLE: AFTER YOU BELIEVE - Why Christian Character Matters
AUTHOR: N. T. Wright
PUBLISHER: NY: HarperOne, 2010, (307 pages).

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters
This book won a place on ChristianityToday's list of top books for the year 2011. Appearing under the THEOLOGY/ETHICS section, it is the third book on the important question: "How Christians should live?"

The first book, "Simply Christian" argues for the rationale of the Christian faith. The second book, "Surprised by Hope" is a nice eschatological treatise on what really happens when we die. It brings Christians back down to earth, saying that the final hope of a Christian is not waiting to go someplace in the future, but is in being resurrected into God's new heaven and new earth, available right now! This third book also deals with the present moment, about the need to cultivate Christian character in the now. The author's basic point is this:

"Christian life in the present, with its responsibilities and particular callings, is to be understood and shaped in relation to the final goal for which we have been made and redeemed. The better we understand that goal, the better we shall understand the path toward it." (NT Wright, After You Believe, NY: HarperOne, 2010, ix)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Review: "A Resilient Life"

TITLE: A RESILIENT LIFE - You can Move Ahead No Matter What
AUTHOR: Gordon MacDonald
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2004.

A Resilient Life: You Can Move Ahead No Matter WhatThe Christian life is sometimes compared to a race. In Paul's letter to Timothy, he famously said:

"I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith." (2 Tim 4:7)

Based on biblical concepts, the author has written a brilliant treatise on the need to establish resilience in our Christian walk. He places 5 major ways in which one can develop resilience.

  1. Resilient people are committed to finishing strong.
  2. Resilient people run inspired by a big-picture of life.
  3. Resilient people run free of the weight of the past.
  4. Resilient people train to go the distance.
  5. Resilient people run in the company of a 'happy few.'
I like the emphasis of this book that focuses on the long-term, marathon-based, and the need to cultivate toughness in a person. Firstly, by developing a plan to establish a resilient life, one can avoid the easy temptations of short-cut Christianity. Knowing that the journey is long gives the Christian an impetus for faith and hope. Secondly, knowing that the race is more like a marathon will help us equip ourselves accordingly. Thirdly, having a tough mentality shows that the servant of God is not easily discouraged. It prepares one to go through the pain and sufferings of life, without losing the foundations of faith.

I warmly recommend this book for those of us wanting to cultivate a tough spirituality, that is tough on sin, but soft in grace.