Excellent Quote

A sobering quote of a quote.

Haim G. Ginott (1922-73), clinical psychologist, educator, and best-selling author said:

I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness. Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.

So I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become more human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.

Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization

Sadly, applicable to so many things in society at the moment. And I even hesitate to post knowing some will consider, in their wrong-think, that it means going further down the same path.

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The Book That Made Your World

Normally I prefer to leave my book reviews until I have finished the book. In the case of The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi I am making an exception.

It is intellectually robust, and thus not a quick read. However in the many pages, Mangalwadi lays out how the Bible – and the Christian faith – was instrumental in creating Western civilization. What sets this book apart from others is that Mangalwadi, can compare and contrast with lived-experience the Christian influence against that of other Eastern religions including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

It is a book of solid intellectualism, rationally and carefully constructed logic; but that doesn’t mean it is uninteresting. With personal anecdotes and reflections, it has a living, breathing heart behind the words. And from the first chapter, “The West Without its Soul: From Bach to Cobain“, it retains an essence of the here-and-now, even as it looks backward through history to explain why.

There are many, many worthy quotes – and several dozen are applicable in our current environment:

“the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find out why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so, by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. . . . our own age is also “a period” and certainly has, like all periods, its own illusions.”

C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.

Starting with music, and moving onto literature, Mangalwadi illustrates just how all-pervasive the Bible is in our culture. Mangalwadi shows that the Bible – not Greek and Roman culture – have influenced every aspect of the West.

Homer wouldn’t pick any of us as heroes. But all of us can be like Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. If extraordinary things can happen to simple people, if through the obedience of faith we can become a blessing to our neighbors and to the nations of the earth, then all of us can be heroes. … Transformation and development of character is an important feature of the Bible that has had enormous impact on modern writing. Homer’s heroes don’t change. But Jacob does. He begins his career by deceiving his father, stealing his brother’s blessings, and cheating his father-in-law. His experiences with God transform him into a very different person. He then blesses his children and grandchildren with a prophetic faith in the future.

I recommend this book as an educational experience, that will grow your appreciation for the Word of God and the saints who went before us.

Living Water: Lessons from Esau

When I was reading the excellent Living Water some months ago I’d planned to write blog posts for each chapter. After discovering Kindle didn’t allow chapter-only exports I had to delay my plans. Because of this post #1 on Repentance sat alone for a long time.

Chapter 2 of Living Water is entitled ‘Lessons from Esau’. Months ago I sat looking at this chapter, trying to extract my blog post. It wasn’t coming to me, no matter how hard I tried so I planned to skip writing about the chapter. And yet, now as I see my post for chapter 2. Clearly my heart or mind wasn’t in the right place at the time. This post, therefore, is chapter 2, ‘Lessons from Esau’ (which relates to Genesis 25:29-34).

The chapter starts by quoting Revelations 3:11-13, 19. The first two sentences stand out to me.

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.”

If Jesus tells us to ‘hold on’ and ‘to overcome’ then there is an adversary who is trying to take ‘our crown’ from us. Satan will do all he can to steal our identity in Christ, to weaken our faith and to make us ineffective spiritually. I don’t think he cares how he does it: it could be through physical distraction, emotional injury or spiritual apathy. We need to realise the tug of war is real, ongoing, and the costs of losing are personally high.

Verse 19 says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”

Godly rebuke and discipline is given to us because of God’s love for us. But discipline is only beneficial if we accept the correction. I paraphrase that, ‘Listen carefully and respond accordingly.’

When I was first trying to find my ‘post’ I was looking at the chapter too narrowly. I read it as primarily talking about sexual sin, pride and greed and how they’ve derailed so many high-profile Christians. However, that isn’t what Yun’s talking about. He writes, “Satan is an expert at tempting us to fall.” I’ve heard it said before that Satan isn’t all-knowing, but he’s had plenty of experience in working out which buttons to press. Yun recounts from his own life how his pride resulted in him being imprisoned in Myanmar because he stopped listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

It doesn’t matter what our weakness is, we need to guard against the enemy exploiting it. As Yun writes the following (taking Esau’s bowl of stew as a metaphor):

“There may be a bowl of stew in your life as well. If you make a wrong decision and partake of it, it can destroy your life and bring you untold misery and pain.”

Which raises the question, what are the ‘bowls of stew’ in my life? What are the things that are more likely to distract me from the things of God? I think it’s important identify the areas of vulnerability and bring those areas before God in prayer and surrender. It could be rewards (e.g. promotion, money, fame) or pleasures (activities, sports, relationships) or even attitudes (cynicism, independence from God, selfishness). Yun advises,

“This doesn’t mean that we control ourselves, but it means we must submit to the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us and who helps us to fear God and hate sin. …it is only the grace of God that can help and train us to overcome temptation.” (italics his)

I know that there are areas which I need to reflect on, and take to God. Two scriptures stand out to me.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

This passage does not say that there isn’t a speck in our brother’s eye, but that we first must see clearly before we can reliably help our brother. And also,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7).

It is all too easy to get tied up in worry, even worrying about ‘good things’. We aren’t supposed to worry; we should take things to God. Worry crushes our spirit, faith that God’s looking after something can give us peace and confidence.

Distracted

With the rare exception, I have written a blog post every week for a long time. Except it’s been over a month since my last post. So what has happened?

Distraction. Some of what has distracted me has been good-distraction in-and-of-itself. Like maintaining and strengthening relationships, or good stewardship of what I’ve been given (i.e. maintaining the garden), or beneficial long-term (i.e. occupation focused work). Other distraction has been less-good and less productive: gaming, avoidance and other time investments that will never pay dividends.

There’s also been a big block of stress during that period, which mentally constipated me and had me reaching for any mind-numbing procrastination as though it were Valium. And more recently illness that quite literally put me on my back. Thankfully both of those issues have now been resolved.

The truth is the distraction began earlier in the year. At the start of January I was more focused on the things of God and faith. And then like a man heading out for a distant port, I heard the siren’s song of temptation. I started to have more ideas for stories, and my hunger for other hobbies grew too. Now I know that God has given me giftings to use for his glory but that doesn’t mean they should overshadow my desire for him. These were not his blessings, but the enemy’s temptations. I have allowed these other activities to absorb more of my time, thoughts and heart than they had any right to. It’s time for me to re-evaluate my priorities.

I have recently been pondering this passage from Colossians 3:


1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

What does this mean for my life? How does it translate to how I spend my time? On if and what I write? If I am God’s servant, his adopted child, how is my life different in a day to day, hour by hour fashion. My life is not my own, I was bought with an incredible price.

That’s actually a danger that I face as a creative person. My mind can spin a dozen ideas out of thin air – and each of those ideas could easily absorb hundreds of hours of writing time. But I want to make sure that I’m not spending my life on something inconsequential.

All that matters is that which lasts for eternity.

Herding People

Herding people (i.e. getting them to do what you want) is sometimes like the task of herding cats. That is to say, not easy. For just under three years I was running the men’s ministry of my church, and in this blog post I’m going to discuss and share an automated tool I created which helped to organise ‘interest groups’. You may find it helpful in similar endeavours.

I’m going to assume a reasonable knowledge of Excel skill. The code works on Office 2016; minor tweaks might be required for other versions. (Note when you open the spreadsheet you will get a “Macro Warning” at the top of Excel, which you have to “Enable” if you want to run the macros).

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A World in Need of Balance

This week there was some pretty disgusting news that in New York the abortion laws were extended. It’s not the first state in the US to allow it, but it’s the first I’d heard about.

The new law allows a child to be killed up to 6 months for any reason. It also allow a child to be killed up until birth, for the nebulous “health reasons” of the mother. Tired of the sore back? That’s a health reason. Stressed your life is going to change? That’s a health reason. Worried about how the budget is going to stretch? Also a health reason.

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/foetal-development-worksheet-6257624

The above chart is pretty shocking. Think about it – at 16 weeks the baby can suck it’s thumb.

It makes me sick. It makes no sense that an abortion is legal 1 minute before birth, and considered murder 1 minute after.

Babies are treated with less regard than convicted serial killers; they at least get 20 years in prison. Let’s dispense with the euphemisms and the rare outlier stories which make the law seem more palatable: what we’re actually talking about is personal convenience (or responsibility avoidance) and corporate profit.

As a disabled man my parents could have decided that I wouldn’t have a fulfilling life, or that I might be too much of a burden. Thank God they resisted the doctor’s advice to give me a chance. I was only a helpless babe; I needed someone in my corner.

(I know some who read this, may be confronted and hurt by my words. I honestly don’t want to hurt you, but neither do I want to permit the normalization of abortion or shield you from hard truths. It’s only when we acknowledge our guilt before God that we can be forgiven (1 John 1:9)… and I too have much to confess myself (Rom 3:23). To ignore the guilt we have is to choose not to accept God’s forgiveness).

2018 has Come and Gone

2019 seemed to roll unobtrusively around this year. Not that I’m one for big New Year parties or even resolutions; I’m quite happy to be in bed well before the clock strikes midnight. In fact, I’d be rather annoyed if I was still up at that ungodly hour. Even still, it came and went like a grease-fingered pick-pocket with me barely noting its passing.

Unlike previous years, I don’t even have intentions of what I’d like to achieve in the coming 12 months (well, 11 now). Perhaps that’s because work often has me feeling like a wrung-out rag and I don’t have energy for much else… but it could be more than that. I’ve often written about my ongoing wrestle with how I should be spending my time. As I’ve written in my fictional story, Escape from Hell:

I’d always assumed I’d live into my 70’s or 80’s. I saw myself dying from a heart attack while gardening or, best-case scenario, drifting off to sleep one night and never waking up. Peaceful, placid, timely. I’d never even considered I might die from a long-term illness or in tragic circumstances. I had expected death would be accompanied by a warning, a death-rattle of sorts. There would be gradual signs of declining health as my peers began to die around me. I would live, I would grow old – and then when it was time and I’d lived a full life – then I would die. I now realised those thoughts were nothing more than a hope-filled assumption. I had never expected death would approach me so stealthily or be so instantaneous.

No matter who you are, the limited-time problem is an important question of priorities that we all need to grapple with. We only get to live once, and if we don’t ask ourselves what’s important in life – on a regular basis – and then do that, we’ll find our lives are evaporating away, with little to show for it.

As a Christian, I believe that I’m answerable to God for how I spend my time while here on Earth. It’s not just about fearing a “telling off” when I get to heaven, but a responsibility to make full use of the opportunities that I have. It’s about realising that I’m not living for myself.

As an amateur writer is my spending a huge amount of hours writing good value for time? And if it is, what kind of material should I be writing? I want to write things – do things – which have eternal value. Everything else won’t survive.

In discussing this recently with a friend, he pointed out that the arts can draw people toward God. Even if it only about drawing the creator toward God, there can be value in it. Both statements are true. And yet I want to be confident that it’s what I’m supposed to do. At least I need to listen to God and give him the opportunity to tell me it’s not what I should be doing. It’s all too easy to justify what I want to do if I’m the judge. If there’s one thing I don’t need, it’s lessons on how to be selfish. If it could be called a skill, I’ve got that one mastered.

One thing I am inspired to do is begin a Word document I’m calling “The Tome of Thankfulness”. I’m going to write down in detail, and categorise all of the things which I have to be thankful for. I expect, over time, that it will grow large. Sometimes in life, I forget to be thankful and I can start to go into a woe-is-me spiral. This document will be invaluable as a source to uplift me, to remind me of the many thousands of things I have to be thankful for.

As an example: I’m thankful that I can see colours. When I’m driving down the road, I love seeing the range of greens in the tree-tops. How wonderful is that – when you consider that it’s possible that we could only see in monochrome?

I haven’t fact-checked these data, but this was from spam I received recently:

  • If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep… you’re richer than 75% of this world.
  • If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change somewhere in the house… you are in the top 8% of the world’s wealthy
  • If you woke up this morning with more health than illness… you’re more blessed than a million people who won’t survive the week.
  • If you have never experienced the dangers of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation… you’re ahead of 500 million people in the world.

It seems to me, whether you ascribe to a loving God or not, if you can read this blog, you have much to be thankful for. And maybe if we are thankful, we can extend more grace and love to those around us and be happier about our lives.