Saturday, March 30, 2013

Review of What He Isn’t Telling You: A Guided Tour of a Man’s Body, Soul, and Spirit by David Murrow

I must admit even though this book is intended as insight for wives, I read this book for personal understanding hoping someone might give voice to the often confusing, often disheartening, often disgusting thoughts that roll around in my mind.  I wasn’t disappointed, in fact I was overjoyed.  Murrow says early on, “don’t ask your husband to talk about his feelings.  He doesn’t understand what he’s thinking half the time much less his feelings!”.  I don’t want to give away everything the author puts in the book, but let me tease you with five thoughts from the book all of which begin with the letter “C”.
Consume.  Men need food more than they realize.  A man will consider a meal prepared by his wife to be a greater thing than she realizes.  It nurtures him and makes him feel appreciated.  Also a man will shove anything into his mouth when he is hungry, so having a wife prepare something is his only hope of eating anything healthy and nutritious.
Competence.  Men do best when they are doing things they are competent in.  An unfinished project around the house more than likely has nothing to do with laziness but is something he wishes he could do but avoids it because its outside of his sweet spot of competence.  It’s also why many men aren’t big conversationalists when it comes to things like feelings, emotions and relationships.  It’s not that they don’t have them, they just do a lot of other things better and so they avoid their weak spots.
Conjugal.  Men do think about sex all the time and it is their hormones speaking.  The good news is that while testosterone is speaking, his mind and heart are still thinking and he wants to fulfill those thoughts with his wife.
Continuity.  Men do not multi-task at least to the same degree as their wives.  They don’t multi-think or multi-relate either.  The strength of a man is his focus and concentration on what is before him.  He will not change this because his brain is wired differently.
Connection.  Men enjoy going to church most when they really connect with their pastor.  It’s not the music, it’s not the fellowship, it’s not the wonderful children’s program or adult Sunday school.  When they sense the pastor is someone like them and can relate to them, they will keep coming back.

As previously mentioned there is much more that will reward the reader of this book.  Even though the author is decidedly Christian and does quote scripture, the book is not what I would call overly “preachy” and would be suitable to give to a person who is pre-Christian but open to some good information.  The author has a very informative website as well: which explores avenues for helping the church be a more “guy-friendly” environment.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Review of On Rumors : Why Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done by Cass R. Sunstein

The Bible warns us against bearing false witness against others.  In the extreme, this would be lying under oath in a law court that someone had committed a crime when you knew they really were innocent.  But most of us are guilty of this crime in its far lesser form: spreading rumors.  Sometime these rumors are fairly benign such as “I read that taking this herb not only improves your eyesight but also clears your skin, gives you fresh breath, and improves your libido!” while others can ruin and shatter lives forever: “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.  We must invade and topple their government immediately!”.   I know I have angered some of you already with that example because you believe there were WMD’s but they just were smuggled out before our invasion.  Maybe that is true.  Maybe it’s not.  If you have first-hand information let’s talk, if not, then calm down.  Chances are your information source on this was the same as mine:  I saw it on the news.  The difference is you have a different opinion and therefore a different conclusion.  In On Rumors, Cass Sunstein explains how intelligent humans can believe some really unintelligent things that have no basis in reality and that we are all susceptible to this.  How does this happen?  Well, none of us are omniscient that’s why.  All of us depend on and gather our information from others.  Sometimes the source is very credible, sometimes they seem trustworthy but are ignorant, sometimes they are manipulative or downright malignant in the information they give.  The point is, the less I know about anything, the more susceptible I am to rumors.  Case in point, I know a ton about Church history.  When The Da Vinci Code came out a few years ago, I didn’t spend one moment saying to myself “gee, I wonder if this is true?!”  I knew fact from fiction and Dan Brown’s book was really, really, really fictional.  But I met another person around that time who was very intelligent and said they believed the book was largely based on fact.  What was the difference?  They knew next to nothing about Christianity much less church history.  But talk to me about DNA or what happens on a navy air craft carrier, and if you speak with a measure of authority and it’s not too outlandish, I’m likely to believe you because I know next to nothing about these things.  Then we talk to others and so forth and the rumor spreads and takes hold. Sunstein writes the book in the context of the internet age where information—good and bad---is spread at the speed of light and where rumors can potentially spread so fast as to hurt economies, start wars, change elections, and ruin corporations a lot faster than ever before.  In the book he furnishes many examples of how humans tend to assimilate facts according to their personal biases and that even countervailing evidence will serve to further lock us into our positions not change our minds.  If I don’t like a political figure to begin with and then here a rumor of some ethical misdeed, I will be likely to believe it.  If that same political figure rushes to correct that rumor, it might potentially change my mind but more likely will cause me to think, “wow, that was fast!  I wonder what he is really hiding?”  The macro point is that we may believe we are neutral about the information we receive, but chances are we already have a predisposition and pre-commitment about the meaning of this or that fact in the geography of our mind.  I’m glad Sunstein didn’t talk much about religious beliefs in this book.  It is very easy to draw the correlations.  Religious views are formed through a very complex matrix some of which I believe are supernatural, some sociological, some situational.  Nonetheless, religious ideas are largely received information and where and from whom we receive this information often makes a huge difference in where we end up.  The author does make a modest proposal for protecting free speech and reputations from rumors and that is simply holding people legally responsible for their content on the internet if it is knowingly and demonstrably false.  He points out that while the marketplace of ideas, where the best ones compete against the lessor ones and the best ones win, is a noble idea, it doesn’t line up with the reality of our humanity or the increasing power of the internet.  I think in the barrage of opinions and news and advertising we hear every day, all day, we all might benefit from asking ourselves the question “says who?” and it’s followup: “is there any reason they might have an ulterior motive in sharing this information?”.  Yes, maybe more suspicious, but at least less gullible.

Friday, March 15, 2013

On Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly

Like many people my age, the Kennedy assassination is something that seemed like the beginning of a whole lot of things that have gone wrong in our country.  I was too young to know “where I was when I heard President Kennedy was shot” but old enough to remember my parents sadness (they were ardent supporters) and watching the funeral on our black and white Philco TV.  Although I’ve seen the documentary footage so many times I can’t remember, my bona fide memory is my mother pointing out to me the boots pointed backwards in the stirrups of the horse (representing Kennedy as a fallen warrior) and I remember the whipping I received from my mother because I kept standing in front of the TV when she was trying to watch it!  There were many social forces afoot in the 60’s (Vietnam, Civil Rights, Women’s Lib, Experimental Drugs and the Sexual Revolution) that would have happened anyway, but from the perspective of a kid, it seemed after President Kennedy died then things sort of went crazy.  In retrospect I’m glad they did, because by the time I was old enough to get caught up in things, everyone was tired of crazy and just wanted to dance and make money.  Yes, my generation’s great rebellion was disco music (or is it a social contribution?).  That said, I recently finished Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Kennedy and want to recommend it to anyone who lived through the times or is too young to remember but curious about why JFK was so popular and yet was assassinated before completion of his first term.  I’ve read a few books about Kennedy but this one is unique because it tells the story of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald (his assassin) and what was going on in both their lives from Inauguration day in 1961 through November 22, 1963 when their lives connected for 9 fateful seconds.  There are no revelations in the book but there are some incredibly interesting details that are supplied as the story unfolds.  O’Reilly obviously leans in the “lone gunman” direction, but I think deftly leaves the door open for the possibility of there being a wider conspiracy.  In typical O’Reilly fashion, he is judicious in making sure we put our weight down on the known facts, even though there are some other more sinister possibilities.  What struck me most about the book was that like so many other fateful days in history, the weather played a major role.  When Kennedy went to his first event in Ft. Worth on November 22, it was raining, but as his plane touched down in Dallas (only 32 miles away) the weather had cleared and the sun was shining.  This led the decision to not install the bubbletop on the Presidential limousine which fully exposed him.  Had Kennedy not worn a backbrace, he would have survived the first shot because it would have knocked him forward.  But instead it did its job and held him rigidly in place while Oswald got the second and fatal shot in.  On the other side of the equation, had Oswald’s wife held her resolve and not taken him back for the third time or if the Cuban embassy had not rebuffed his application to immigrate several months prior, he probably wouldn’t have been anywhere near Dallas that day.  But, it didn’t happen that way .   Once again we learn that the big events of history are all resourced in the small, daily choices we all have to make and sometimes these small things can change the world or at least our own lives in the time it takes to take a breath.  I would add a personal correction to Mr. O’Reilly with regards to the point he makes about Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy’s last dinner party in the White House before going to Dallas.  In wanting to point out the macabre irony of the dinner party including activities where Abraham Lincoln’s body was prepared and then viewed by friends, family, and associates nearly a century before, he forgets that the entire White House was gutted during the Truman administration and only the outer shell is original.  Thus they were not the actual rooms, but rather the approximate places these things happened. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Heresy of Jan Hus by Chris White

C.S. Lewis once offered the advice that for every new book you read you should counter it with an old one.  He was trying to counter the intellectual snobbery of his time (and ours as well) that the latest is the greatest, and what is old (or ancient for that matter) is of little or no value.  Jack Lewis would be proud of me this week because I have read two books the newest of which was 103 years old.  Most of my reading has been about the 15th century Czech proto-reformer and martyr Jan Hus.  In protestantism, Hus and the Oxford philosopher and cleric John Wycliffe are known as reformers before the Reformation which is normally attributed to Martin Luther in 1517.  This is generally true, but better history shows that the road to the Reformation started much earlier and has a longer cast of characters than most would suppose.  But that said, Jan Hus (prounounced "yawn-hus") was a popular preacher, educator, and writer who based his theology and practice on the scriptures alone and found himself at great variance with the laws and structures of the Catholic church of his day.  His views that Christ, not the Pope, is the actual head of the Church and that only God, not a priest can forgive the sins of a repentant Christian, or that when communion is served both the wine and the bread should be presented to the parishioners as opposed to bread for the parishioners and wine and bread for the priest are hardly radical.  His sermons were also very popular because he taught them in the plain language of his people not the ecclesiastical Latin which was the language of the highly learned.  For evangelicals (and even a lot of Catholics) this is hardly radical much less heresy.  So why was Hus condemned as an arch-heretic and burned at the stake and his memory damned by the Catholic church never to be reviewed or overturned even posthumously (as was done in the case of Joan of Arc)?  It was largely because Hus misunderstood his situation and ministry context.  What he believed is scriptural and 100% true and Hus believed that if something is true, he is free under God to practice it or amend it.  When he was accused of heresy (teaching false ideas) he stood his ground on the basis that he would retract anything that could be proven wrong.  Standing your ground for conscience sake is always the moral high ground and in my estimation the correct course for any son of God.  But what Hus failed to take into account was that as a servant of the Church he was to obey the doctrines and laws laid down by his superiors in the hierarchy which in Catholic theology has been given this authority by Christ Himself.  His heresy then was not Biblically-based but rather a violation of church polity something he had vowed to support and obey when he was given his license to preach.  He also lived in a context that valued harmony and uniformity in society the cement of which was a single and united Christian faith (hence, Christendom).  Modern society values diversity of opinions and society even though it often does so at the expense of truth.  This put Jan Hus in the position of saying, "if I'm wrong, show me" (which presumed he was right) and the council that was judging his actions was in the position of saying "the very fact we have to prove to you your error, shows you persist in your rebellion towards the constituted authority of the church."  What both parties in the Hus trial were doing was speaking past one another with differing visions of the ultimate right and good.  Hus saw scriptural truth and practice as the highest good (which it is) while the other party saw institutional unity and coherence as such.   The tragedy is that better communication was not likely to change the outcome given the spirit of the times.  While I believe Hus was in the right, I do have some sympathy for the other side.  Few institutions appreciate the condemnation or correction of anyone, especially an insider.  Having your failures pointed out, especially by a subordinate, requires humility few but saints and angels possess.  As with many things in history, what needed to happen, did.  Later church reformers realized separation was the only way they could speak truth into the situation.  And while the institution of the Roman Catholic church did not appreciably reform its doctrines, much of the moral corruption which had been condemned by the reformers was eventually corrected within decades (lightening speed in the Christian world!).

Friday, March 1, 2013

Fresh Insight from Ancient Prayers by Chris White

I recently finished a fascinating book on how Christians used to think and worship in North Africa during the early days of Christianity (up to 200 AD).  North Africa has been a largely ignored region of the world until just recently (with the “Arab Spring” in Tunisia and Egypt and the ouster of Khaddafi from Libya) but in the ancient world it was a region of great importance not only for its resources but also its cultural contribution to the Roman Empire.  The influence of Christian leaders from North Africa is also quite pronounced as well with people like Mark (as in the Gospel according to), Athanasius, St. Antony, St. Augustine, St. Cyprian and of course the likes of Tertullian.  With such cultural and spiritual influence, it isn’t too surprising to find that some of its heritage remains with us even today.  One of the more interesting practices of the ancient North Africans was that they prayed facing east.  Unlike the Muslims who pray facing their holy city of Mecca (which could be any direction depending on your locale), the Christian purpose of this is that the sun rises in the east and therefore east is the source of light upon the earth.  They looked upon the sun as symbolic of the person and teaching of Christ  who said of Himself “I am the light of the world” and is called in scripture “the Sun of Righteousness.”  Another practice was prayer in a standing position with arms outstretched to form a cross with one’s body.  They also kneeled in prayer but this was usually saved for prayers of contrition when seeking forgiveness for sin.  Standing prayer was more than taking a cruciform stand, the open hands pointed towards gladly receiving from God His answers and the upright position was a statement of faith that Christ had forgiven their sins and they were coming without guilt and shame as sons of the living God.  Another practice which comes from this ancient group is tracing the sign of the cross on your forehead every time you began something new in your day.  It was to be a reminder that every dimension of your life was to be under the Lordship of Him who died on the cross.  If you think about it, such a habit might dissuade you from a lot of sins, if you stopped for a moment to make the cross.  I met a Bible teacher once who always held a cross in his hand while he taught.  He didn’t do it to affect an air of holiness before the audience, but rather to remind himself that all he says as a representative of Christ must line up with the cross.  Not a bad move.  Can we ever think too much about the cross?  Of course what I’ve shared really has more to do with the form rather than the function or content of prayer which seems paramount.  But sometimes a new idea, even if it is 1800 years old, can enliven our hearts and give the fresh perspective that brings new life to our modern but tired prayers.