The successful life is not about loving oneself or hating oneself. It’s about forgetting oneself. We can forget about ourselves only when we come to a place where we don’t care what others think and we don’t care about what we think. As long as our identity and worth is tied to what I think about myself or what others think I will never flourish. I will always be overinflated or under inflated. The way through the mess that is our ego is to be come convinced that the ultimate verdict of my life is not tied to others opinion of me or even my own opinion but rather Gods opinion of me.
The sheer beauty of Christianity shines on this point above all. In every other religion the verdict for my life only comes after my performance, so my self worth is still tied to what I do, only the stakes are much higher! Thanks to Jesus, the verdict of my life is in before the performance. The pressure is off, because of Jesus I am a loved and cherished by God. Proving my worth is no longer part of the equation of life. I am free. Criticism, self doubt, regret, and performance anxiety – all of these paralyzing realities connected to my ego are cut off. I can breathe, I can relax, I can love. This is so liberating.
This tiny little 46 page book is an absolute gem.
Whether or not you follow Jesus this book is a worthy read.
My hip was hurting again. I’ve put this off long enough, I thought to myself. It was time for me to face the facts. My hip was toast, and I needed to start the process of getting a new one. 9 years of limping needed to end.
Finally after waiting in the lobby of the Walk-in clinic for to long, I got the chance to tell my story to the doctor. I have letters and MRI reports, and X-rays from years past so I was ready.
“What seems to be the trouble?” he asks.
I launch in to my story, showing him what other doctors have said over the course of nearly a decade of hip pain. He notices that the reports which affirm joint deterioration and recommend surgery are from the States.
“F***ing Americans!” He blurts out.
Huh? What? Wasn’t expecting the F-bomb in the doctors office, I’m a little dazed. Before I can say anything he carries on.
“Yeah they don’t care about you, your hip is probably fine, it’s just that they get bucket loads of money for cutting you up!”
“Yeah, man, they get all the money, and we GP’s get nothing up here in Canada, It’s really hard to make it as a doctor in Canada you know.”
At this point I have no idea what to say. Finally I try to get us back on topic.
“Well, the American doctors decided not to operate because I was too young. They said I needed to change my lifestyle and manage my pain, so anyway, I moved to Canada, and tried to figure out ways to avoid surgery and manage pain so I did all kinds of things, like PRP for example.”
“Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy” I tell him.
He cocks his head and crosses his arms “Is that some kind of Naturopathic thing?”
“F***ing Naturopaths! — It’s just witchdoctor voodoo s**t man and they make so much money doing it! It’s just really hard for GP’s to make it in Vancouver!”
The second F-bomb had landed as effortlessly as the first. Wow!
It occurred to me, that this was not the guy to help me with my hip today. I began inching my way to the door. Health care, Canadian style, not always helpful, but certainly never boring.
He is repetitive, however, since his book is all about the benefits of repetition and the development of desire shaping habits, I don’t suppose he should apologize for using the word “pedagogy” a whopping 57 times and “telos” 38 times in his book!
What is Smith after with all this talk about habits and liturgies? He is in full revolt against Descartes axiom “I think therefore I am.” For Smith we are not fundamentally rational/thinking creatures, nor are we fundamentally believing creatures. Smith is utterly convinced that we are desiring creatures. To be human is to love (51) We are affective embodied creatures who make our way in the world by feeling our way around it (47) — So when it comes to the goal (telos) of education methods (pedagogy) Especially the formation of Christian education, we should be less concerned about ideas, rules, and doctrines and more concerned about capturing the imagination through pictures, stories, and embodied rituals. The reason for this, according to Smith is that our habits are the hinge that turns our heart”(56) as embodied lovers our loves are aimed and primed by the rituals and practices that turn those desires (126)
We need to give up our fixation on ideas, (65) he says, after all, before Christians had systematic theologies and worldviews they were singing hymns and psalms, saying prayers and celebrating the eucharist. (139) In so many churches belief and doctrine inform us and our worship follows as an expression of that belief. Smith says that’s backwards. Worship comes first, because desire forms knowledge.
The undeniable passion of this book is to call Christians back to liturgy. We need intentional embodied practices at corporate worship gatherings because they are invaluable in shaping our loves and desire’s back toward God. Absorbing information about God won’t do it. Smith’s argument was compelling especially when he compared how secular institutions such as the mall, the frat house, and the stadium all employ embodied rituals and habits with incredible success as the means to capture the hearts of people.
The curious paradox — Smith writes a book, books target the mind. His book is a bunch of ideas communicating that ultimately it’s not ideas that form our loves but rather practices. He himself is still fixated on ideas, by virtue of the fact that he writes a book. He wants us to believe that humans operate from the body up. (25) but yet his book, is attempting to grab our heart from the mind down, as books do. I point out this paradox to suggest that maybe there is more to the development of deep love than embodied practices. Maybe that’s just a part of it, granted even a big part, but this book on its face, is leading me to believe that if I just practice more liturgy, if I just actively engage in more embodied habits and rituals then a deeper love for God will be formed in my life. Is that true? I am not convinced.
What does the Bible say about this? — Smith doesn’t really interact much with the Bible. I think it has a lot to say. In the Old Testament we discover Jewish worship and see quickly that it is loaded with liturgy. The ancient worshippers were totally embodied — all the senses engaged in repetitive worship designed to deepen love for God. So far, Smith could simply point to that and say “see there you have it”. The only troubling business is when you get to the prophets and then ultimately to Jesus. They all launch full scale attacks on the religion of their respective days and liturgy is at the centre of their condemnation. The assault crashes in: They honour me with their lips, they are meticulous in the practice of their rituals, but yet there is a huge problem. From Isaiah to Jesus it’s the same problem. “Their hearts are far from me.” Bucket loads of liturgy, more than anyone in the 21st century Western world could even fathom, and yet the hearts of these worshippers are not even close to being captured by God’s love. What does one make of this? What is shocking to me, is Smith doesn’t even bring it up, not a single word word about it.
What does Church History say about this? — As you trace church history you see the same pattern emerging. Over time, faith often finds itself reduced to going through ritualistic motions, with hearts not at all captured by God’s love. After reading Luther’s biography (1500’s), and then Whitefield’s (1700’s) it’s plain to see that these men called their listeners away from dead ritual and into something that was not just felt, but also known and believed. It seems to me that somehow knowledge, belief, and desire working in concert is what awakened people to a deeper love for God.
I agree with Smith that love is what drives the human, it shapes our belief and our knowledge – or at least how we interpret knowledge. I also agree that at some level habitual practice is extremely formative in shaping desire, I’m just not sure if that’s all there is to it. I think there is more.
I think mission might have something to do with it — the habitual practice of outward action. (?) It might be why Paul says “What is important is faith expressing itself in love” (Gal 5:6) This coming after he straightly charges the Galatians believers not to fall back into their Jewish rituals and practices. — The Love of Christ must flow outward or it dies. Maybe for this same reason, Micah says to his listeners its not about bowing, and burning, and offering things to God in ritualistic fashion. Rather, it’s about doing what is right in the everyday, practicing mercy on people, and being humble. (Micah 6:8) — perhaps in the walking out of God’s mission love grows.
He was totally dialled in. Oblivious to the world. His white man afro was dancing wildly in the wind. His size 12 shoe reached out in front of him and gobbled up yards of bike path with each stride. I had never seen a skateboarder go so fast. The sun was setting, and the sea wall was bathed in the warm soft rays of final light. It was a beautiful night for a ride and he was taking full advantage of the relatively unpeopled path. I tucked in behind him on my road bike, within moments I was ready to pass, but I couldn’t get around him. He was now crouched low on his long board, leaning forward, hands outstretched, smiling from ear to ear. It looked as if his eyes were closed! In his enraptured state he was weaving all over the bike path and try as I might I couldn’t seem to get around him. Finally I got as close as I dared and hollered
His head jerked up, and he looked over at me with a sheepish grin, pulling out his earbuds he yelled
“Sorry dude, I was just feeling the groove!”
It’s good to feel the groove. Every now and then for a fleeting moment or two all of us are like that skateboarder, everything feels like it should, everything perfect, it’s “the groove.” Are those moments just dumb luck? Fortunate happenstance? Meaningless endorphins just doing their thing? Something great, then gone for ever?
What if these “groove” moments could be viewed not as experiences lost and memories ever dimming but rather as glimpses of a future that will be gained? What if we believed that the joys of today were mere tastes of an eternal banquet of joy to come? I think that’s the best way of looking it. Jesus has promised us great things and the great moments of our lives that pass so quickly should serve as joy and gratitude infusing reminders for us of what will be.
They tell the prophets,
“Don’t tell us what is right.
Tell us nice things.
Tell us lies.
2700 years ago the people wanted religion, but they wanted it to suit them, to make them happy and comfortable. This is exactly the kind of religion many in our world desire today. Religion that doesn’t actually make any claims, religion that doesn’t actually give directives for life, religion that doesn’t take a moral stance on anything. We want a religion that isn’t hard and doesn’t require sacrifice. Much to be preferred is a religion that just makes you feel good about yourself. Meditate, stretch, breathe, feel good, repeat. The principle deity of “tell us nice things religion” is self. In the end, self is a poor choice for a deity.
Ravi is not a happy camper and it shows. He knows it too, towards the end of his book he says,
“Some might even consider the tone of this book too strong or harsh.. it is hard not to get passionate when you read the bizarre twists of truth offered by the proponents of the New Spirituality.”
What are these “bizarre twist’s of truth” that have managed upset one of Christianity’s foremost apologists?
If truth is solid ground. Then new spirituality, is happy in the clouds. They shake their heads at those below who battle for truth. Their’s is a more noble stance, they think. Theirs which refuses to judge anything or anyone. But in doing that they have eradicated distinctions and words are now used to tell us that there is really no particular meaning to anything. Morality, time, essence, absolutes are all gone by the wayside in the name of spirituality, what is left for those in the clouds is to take pot shots at those below who still holds these distinctions. For Ravi, “Giving yourself the privilege of destroying other positions while parking your own position in an unidentifiable location is a form of linguistic terrorism” (14) Chopra, New Spiritualities most celebrated saint, says flatly there are no answers, and that hope is ultimately a sign of despair (92) Spirituality we are told is really just an expression of a universal hunger rather than an answer to anything. The hunger is satiated temporarily by whatever technique the guru prescribes. Ultimately the goal is self deification. “We will remain unfulfilled unless we nurture the seeds of divinity inside us. In reality, we are divinity in disguise, and the gods and goddesses in embryo that are contained within us seek to be fully materialized” says Chopra. (91) Ravi half jokes when he says he is not surprised that celebrities and spiritual guru’s have joined forces so well. “One thinks they are gods’ and the other tells them they are.”
Ravi is doing his best to catch a greased pig in a way. With N.S. everything is nothing, and nothing is everything, the human is God, and God is the human, there is hope, but there is not hope. There is meaning but no meaning, things are constantly shifting and nothing can be grasped, meaning is cloaked in ponderous terminology and so it is by design. Elkhart Tolle, when talking about suffering for example says, your suffering is good because it forces you to become nothing, to become as God, because God too is nothing” huh?
Ravi tries to lasso the cloud and catch the pig in two primary ways:
- Point out the inconsistencies. In a classic Ravi style assault of this particular belief system he says the following “Once a worldview has been established, it becomes the grid for making particular judgements. To say that there are no moral absolutes and then castigate Christians for being hypocritical assumes that hypocrisy is a moral flaw and a contradictory position and therefore, is to be vilified. To say that there is a spark of divinity in all of us and then treat the lower castes as “less divine” to even create such a system that categorizes people like this — is again to run afoul of reason. (Ravi will not let the new spirituality forget it’s roots in the east) Worldviews begin by definitions. Definitions create boundaries. Violations of those boundaries elicit condemnation. That condemnation itself excludes. It is impossible to sustain truth without excluding falsehood. All religions are exclusive.
- Point to a better story. This, in my opinion, was his most compelling point. Ultimately N.S. is an autonomous spirituality, it is a non personal theology with the individual self being all there is. Heaven is when self is lost in a union with an ultimate impersonal absolute. Heaven is a disconnect from relationship in this system. Christianity, is radically different than this. It teaches that at the heart of every human is a cry to belong. It’s why long lasting relationships are prized above everything today. We all still want “true love” to be true, even though we seem to see it less and less. Such an ultimate belonging is possible through a personal relationship with the God of the universe. Heaven in the Christian system, is when a person is welcomed into the presence of the Ultimate Being. Relationship trumps individual supremacy to me, making Christianity an infinitely better story.
A Child’s History of the World V.M. Hillyer
If it’s not a classic, perhaps it should be. Even my 5 and 6 year olds were drawn into discussion’s around this book. Hillyer clearly made it his expert craft to draw children into a love of learning and it shows. Through Hillyer history exploded off the pages and came alive in the minds of my children (and me).
It was written over 70 years ago, when America was still largely a Christian country so the story of God is woven into the historical narrative of humanity, without ignoring science or mocking the Bible. I found Hillyer’s efforts to allow the peaceful interfacing of God, history and science both refreshing and balanced.
The New Concise History of the Crusades Thomas F. Madden.
Kill people in Jesus name? What were they thinking? Perspective helps a lot in understanding. In this Madden is valuable. In the same way we are shocked that so many people would be willing to do battle for their religion, so to would the people of that era be shocked at us in our willingness to shed blood over political ideology, nationalism, or greed. The only thing worth dying for in that era was your faith. Anything else would have seemed foolish to them. Protecting the holy land was an issue because the powers that be were able to connect it to the faith of the people.
The crusades at first then were little more than misshapen piety. The people who went on them were under prepared, ill equipped, pilgrims determined fight there way into Jerusalem to worship and then go home. So many of these pious ones were slaughtered and most of the lands they gained were quickly lost because the vast majority of crusaders who actually survived the endeavours wanted nothing more than to return home upon completion of their pilgrimage.
Later crusades were definitely more conquest oriented, but in this Madden also does the reader a good service by dispelling the notion that the crusades could ever be reduced to bloodthirsty Christians killing and conquering innocent muslims. There we’re 5 key players in the in the Crusade era: Western Christians, Byzantine Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, and the small branch of Christians that clung to ever shrinking strongholds captured in the holy land. These 5 players were constantly battling each other, in order to gain the upper hand. For example, when the Shia brand of Islam came up from Egypt and threatened the holy land the Sunnis were quick to partner with the Western Christians to beat them back. Also during the 4th Crusade the Western Christians never even made it to the holy land, instead the sacked the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. The blow so weakened the empire of Eastern Christendom, that the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in 1453 can be attributed in part to the devastation brought upon that city by invading Western Christians so many years before. Other examples of this 5 way mess are what the book is all about.
As far as winning goes, there is no question the muslim’s won. That the Christians were able to hang on to some of their holdings in Palestine for as long as they did, was near miraculous.
According to Madden, Muslims only recently embraced the idea of crusades as a rallying cry for revenge and violence upon the west. In their histories, nothing much is recorded, except to view the invaders from the west as just another army among many armies who lost, thanks to Allah and good leaders like Saladin.
The History of the Medieval World Susan Wise Bauer
Susan Wise Bauer takes an ambitious crack at filling the reader in on everything that happened in the world between the conversion of Constantine and the first Crusade. From Krakatoa in Indonesia, to the mysterious dynasties of the Inca people, it’s all here in her book. She manages to avoid the nasty trap of limiting her writing to the spitting out of facts, dates and basic information that some historians get themselves into when having to cover so much stuff. Instead her book reads like a good newspaper — it has the information, but it has the stories that capture the imagination also. Bauer see’s the humour in being human and that is reflected in her writing. Bauer’s book also just drops it down to the reader in plain English. All the messed up stuff that is the human story is served to you on a great big platter. As you chew on it, it becomes easy to get reflective. To wonder how to avoid the mistakes of the past and embrace the successes for our future.