Tuesday, May 31, 2011

DO Less, BE More @TBBMediaGroup @audrajennings

The title of this post is something I have often known I need to do. I keep myself busy and pride myself on my accomplishments. At the same time, I know this is my Achilles' Heel, as I can quickly burn myself out. And the more I do, the less I usually feel connected to God.

I've read several books that talk about slowing down, but many are honestly just lame. They talk a lot of theory and make excellent points, but they make it hard to put into practice. John Busacker's new book, Fully Engaged: How to DO Less and BE Moreattempts to tackle the issue of overburdened American lives.

Most of the underlying principles he discusses are honestly nothing new; I've heard them many a time and have told my clients and families about them frequently. However, his presentation is different. At the end of each chapter, which are easy reads, he includes some exercises. These are not the cheesy, artificially-created application questions or strained spiritual disciplines that so often appear in contemporary self-help books. Rather, they are non-time-consuming questions, reflections, or actual activities to help the reader self-reflect.

Ultimately, I think this is the strength of Busacker's work and what is often missing in most dialogue about busyness, stillness, and connecting with God. He asks the reader to look in themselves and see what's stopping them from being able to slow down. As a psychologist, I think this is vitally important, as we often try to simply replace one thing with another without exploring why we don't want the replacement in the first place.

At the same time, we do need to replace the maladaptive portions of our lives with something positive. I appreciated how Busacker focused on our values and living congruently from them. Much of the exercises and reflections are oriented in such a way to help the reader explore his or her values.

I tend to pride myself on knowing my values and living from them. But there was something in the way Busacker presented this material (I can't put my finger on it) that hit deeper. While I do think I have a clearer sense of meaning and purpose than many in modern society and live from that purpose to a great extent than a lot of people, I'm still greatly lacking. This is true specifically in my "down time," or more accurately, my inability to let myself have a down time.

The way Busacker reminded me of my values and the priorities of each of them really helped me slow down this weekend. I allowed myself to rest, which is something I greatly needed. Busacker's conceptualization of a fully engaged life, contrasted with "life worth" is particularly helpful. It does not discount the role of work and achievement, but puts them in their proper place:

Leading a fully engaged life begins with a multi-coordinate focus on your life worth—a realization that
     Relationships matter more than anything.
     Health determines your quality of life.
     Work gives voice to your giftedness.
     Hobbies engage your energy beyond work.
     Learning animates your imagination.
     And Faith gives all of your life purpose. (p.36)
What do you need to do to be fully engaged in life? What does full engagement mean?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Finding Value, Identity, and Purpose in the Bible @iShineLive @TyndaleHouse @AdamSab

As I've said before, I love collecting Bibles. And over the past year or so, I've really come to love the NLT in particular. The new iShine Bible recently caught my attention for two reasons: It's compact (I've been wanting a small Bible) and it's aimed at tweens (the population I primarily work with in my psychology practice).

The main selling point of the iShine Bible is that it will help kids discover their value, identity, and purpose in Christ. Those of you who know me well know that those are three things that I value highly in spirituality and psychology. I definitely see those at play not only in tweens' lives, but throughout all generations. In fact, the short devotional essays on each concept was meaningful to me personally (I often struggle with those, especially my own inherent value).

These values are a perfect fit with the Bible. However, they were really separated into their own sections. While the content is definitely congruent with the narrative of the Bible, I would have liked to see more devotional elements sprinkled throughout the text. As it stands, the iShine Bible is mostly a nice tract on value, identity, and purpose in a compact Bible. Not bad, just not remarkable.

The media links are a nice engaging touch that takes the Bible out of an isolated book into a world of engagement, which should be the case. There is also a section written in language appropriate for tweens about various questions tweens may have about theology and life. The answers are clear with good Bible references. However, they are often over-simplified. In working with this age group, I can attest to the fact that they can deal with far more intellectual complexity than we often assume.

Interestingly, it took me a while to find out why it's called iShine. At the bottom of the dedication page, there is the little phrase, "Because I am, I shine." I like it. It's simple and to the point. And it was actually quite meaningful to me. Perhaps the shorter devotionals could be useful for this population. It's not too much to get overburdened by, but enough to make one think. If nothing else, I think the iShine Ministries are off to a good start.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Tyndale House book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why did you become a Christian?

Over the past several months of conversations and observing spiritual dialogues, one of the things I've become aware of (in part thanks to my wife's observations) is that the reasons people became Christians makes a big difference on their current faith and how they approach faith challenges. This may not be a big surprise, but I've never heard anyone talk about the relationship.

I became a Christian on Palm Sunday my freshman year of high school. It was a quiet decision during youth group. I was a bit embarrassed. I know I didn't realize the full weight of the decision until I built my relationship with Christ. I don't remember all the details, but I know I finally believed God was real in Christ. His story made life make sense, and I wanted a relationship with him.

My decision didn't have to do with eternity. I don't recall Heaven and Hell being on my mind at all. Nor was doctrine or the Bible. It was simply wanting to know this God who structured the world and gave meaning to life.

I think that's why I'm so able to hold a lot of my beliefs relatively loosely. I don't need to have a clear definition of who is going to Heaven and who to Hell to feel secure in my faith because that's not a motivator for me. I also don't need to defend the Bible or particular doctrinal issues because they really don't affect my relationship with Christ.

Of course, we could argue that if you don't believe in the Trinity, the Christ with whom you think you have a relationship is not real. There is some truth to that. Yet, God still pursues us. And our God image develops over time and through relationship. I didn't have a fully accurate picture of my wife when I married her. I still don't. But it develops over time and that doesn't diminish the reality and power of our relationship.

What's your story? Do you see that affecting how you deal with questions, doubt, and controversy?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Salvation of Sabbath @booksneeze

Back in my first year of undergrad, I spent a couple of weeks intently trying to keep a traditional Sabbath: I would do no homework or studying on a Sunday and spend time in prayer, in nature, and reading non-school-related books (I can't say non-academic--I read those for fun :) ). That didn't last long. I have a lot of trouble not being busy. It's very hard for me to take a break and just have fun (you should see how much paid leave I have accrued at my job).

Now I work for a Seventh Day Adventist institution, and the SDA tradition heavily emphasizes the Sabbath (from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown). Yet the particular sub-organization within which I work minimizes that. I've seen a lot of people talk about Sabbath and live it legalistically, but I do not really see people who live it well in a way that truly benefits their lives and relationship with God.

Over the last few months, I've been slowly going through Dan Allender's Sabbath, part of Phyllis Tickle's The Ancient Practices series. Those who read my blog know I'm not a legalist when it comes to spiritual disciplines or anything spiritual, yet I do love topics of spiritual formation. I tend to engage in ones that are more active. Yet something drew me to this book. I think I knew I needed a Sabbath.

Allender's book starts off in some ways like a traditional book on Sabbath, reminding readers of the biblical mandate to take a Sabbath. However, he continues to explore the richness of Sabbath as something for our joy, pleasure, and fun. He emphasizes that Sabbath "is not merely the cessation of work; it is turning from work to something utterly different from what we normally call rest" (p. 26). In the ensuing chapters, Allender beautifully explores what this means, from explaining "Sabbath as a structure that mediates grace throughout creation" (p. 30) to it being "the most sensual day of the week" (p. 72).

This reframing of Sabbath from the absence of something to the fullness of God is absolutely vital and makes Sabbath not only more desirable, but reasonable. It makes sense why God wants us to engage in a Sabbath.

Yet I have a feeling I had trouble reading this book because this is something that is so hard for me to do. I have spent some moments in the last week engaging in more of Allender's sense of Sabbath. And it has been rewarding. Having a goal of something to work toward, meaning joining with Christ, makes Sabbath so much easier and realistic than just stopping all work.

Allender's quote of Eccelsiastes 4:6, "Better to have one handful with quietness than two handfuls with hard work and chasing the wind," particularly hit me as meaningful and poignant. I think that may be my new motto verse as a reminder and a lesson. But that doesn't mean Sabbath is not useful and productive. It's just productive in an eternal sense. As Allender states:
The Sabbath is our play day--not as a break from the routine of work, but as a feast that celebrates the superabundance of God's creative love to give glory for no other reason other than Love himself loves to create and give away glory. (p. 82)
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Discussion on Membership, Authenticity, and Doctrine

Last month, I wrote a post about seeking unity among theological disagreement. It described some of my personal struggle at the moment and continues to emphasize what I long for and struggle with with regard to community.

In any case, two of my friends have posted very thoughtful comments on the post. I highly recommend you read them if you're interested in the topic. They bring up some wonderful points that I could not say so eloquently.

Friday, May 6, 2011

300th Post!

In a move of shameless self-promotion, this marks my 300th blog post! Thank you to everyone who reads this and additionally those who provide feedback. What's most meaningful to me is to know that some of the things on this blog have helped people continue to deepen their faith journey. It really keeps me going! Blessings to you all!

On that note, I would always love to have feedback about what you all would like to see here and what you find most and least helpful.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Follow-up on bin Laden, Justice, and Children of God

On Monday, I posted a blog about not celebrating bin Laden's death. It was also posted on Sandals Church's blog in an edited version. I have received a ton of positive feedback. In fact, the pastor of another large church in the area posted the Sandals version, and one of the parents of one of my kids saw it and told me she loved it. :)

Of course, with anything controversial, there are those who disagree. The two main protests were important enough to warrant a longer response, in my opinion, as they don't just deal with the bin Laden situation, but about a lot of life.

The most common critical response was that people aren't celebrating bin Laden's death, but the execution of God's justice. It is good to celebrate justice, I agree. However, we have to be careful to not attribute our sense of justice to God. We must not anthropomorphize God and assume that what we consider to be justice is what God considers to be justice.

Honestly, I don't think justice was done in this situation. Justice would have been putting bin Laden on trial in front of the world Again, I don't see that being practical in this situation nor am I condemning the killing of bin Laden. But I'm not convinced God's justice was done. The need for punishment in clear, concise ways is often more of a human need than a divine need.

Just because our sense of justice has not been done does not mean God's sense of justice was not done.

Another comment was about bin Laden being a child of God. One person stated that my post blurred the lines of who was adopted into the kingdom of God too much. I strongly disagree.

As humans were made by God and made in the image of God, we are all children of God. That does not necessarily mean we inherit the kingdom of God. We still have to accept that inheritance. Yes, the Bible talks about being adopted into God's family. That is one metaphor to understand how we are reunited with God.

I find clearly demarcating who is and who is not a child of God is more to satisfy our own need to self-justification and self-assurance of salvation than honestly and authentically seeking Truth.

Monday, May 2, 2011

I'm Not Celebrating bin Laden's Death

I, like many, was shocked when I heard last night bin Laden had been killed. It's one of those days that after almost 10 years, many of us thought would never happen. I had just started my time at UC Berkeley when the twin towers fell. It defined much of my time in Berkeley. The 9/11 attacks defined a lot of my psychology work, too, as my dissertation focused on Muslim-Christian interfaith peacemaking. When I went to New York City to present some of the results at the Association for Moral Education, my trip felt like a pilgrimage. Seeing Ground Zero brought tears to my eyes, and I remembered why I spent years on this project.

I am relieved that bin Laden can no longer wreck havoc. However, I am saddened that it had to be death. Not that I'm surprised. I remember debating a Berkeley poli sci prof back in late 2001 or early 2002 that practically, the only way to really stop bin Laden was for him to die (can you image the rescue attempts and bounties and blackmails that would occur if he was imprisoned?).

Yet death is always tragic.

I'm definitely not an Obama fan, but I give him (or his speechwriter) a standing ovation for his address to the world last night. He recognized the significance of this tactical feat (after 10 years of trying, it definitely was a major feat). He acknowledged the Bush administration's contributions to this fight. And he didn't glory in death.

I, like many, hope and pray this brings additional closure to all of the families of people who died in the terrorist attacks and resulting military actions over the years.

At the same time, however crazy it may sound, we must remember that bin Laden was one of God's children. I have no doubt that God cried at bin Laden's actions. But I'm sure he cried at bin Laden's death, too. No matter the horrific actions we may take in life, we are still made and loved by God.


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).