Survival Guide for the Soul | Book Review


Kurt Vonnegut included a philosophy joke in one of his novels. It looked like this:

“To be is to do.” — Socrates
“To do is to be.” — Jean-Paul Sartre
“Do be do be do.” — Frank Sinatra

I can’t vouch for Vonnegut’s take on Socrates or Sartre, but I will say this: Any person who can be as well as they do lives as well as Sinatra could sing.

Ken Shigematsu opens Survival Guide for the Soul by distinguishing between doing and being. Drawing on an insight about Genesis 1–2 by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Shigematsu speaks of “Striving Adam” and “Soulful Adam.” These are not two different Adams, but two different ways of describing tendencies within all people. “One part of us strives to impact the world around us through our work and effort,” he writes. That’s doing. “And another part of us seeks soulful connection through relationships with people and by experiencing ultimate reality.” That’s being.

Ideally, we should keep our striving and our soulfulness together. But in the modern world, which emphasizes achievement, fame and success, Striving Adam has the upper hand, and Soulful Adam gets shoved aside. In response, we need to reemphasize meaning, not so that we can ignore achievement, but so that we can bring our striving back into balance with our soulfulness.

As Christians, Shigematsu argues, soulfulness begins and ends with understanding that we are God’s beloved. “Knowing that we are deeply loved by our Creator frees us to pursue a life of significant, enduring achievement — a life that is not driven by fear and anxiety but one that springs from a deep well of joy and gratitude for the love and grace God has shown us.”

At a surface level, all Christians know that God loves them. It’s written in black and white on the pages of Scripture. It’s painted blood red on the cross of Christ. But that surface knowledge too often doesn’t make it into the deep parts of our souls, where our emotions and passions govern. To move knowledge of God’s love from our heads to our hearts, we need spiritual disciplines.

Shigematsu discusses seven spiritual disciplines — he calls them “survival habits of the soul” — throughout the book. They are meditation, Sabbath, gratitude, simple abundance, servanthood, friendship and vocation. Each of these is a way of tuning out and tuning in. Tuning out worldly voices that tell us we are only as good as what we achieve, and tuning in to God’s voice that tells us we are truly and deeply loved.

“May you live more and more fully into the knowledge that the Creator of the universe cherishes you as a son or daughter,” writes Shigematsu at the book’s end.

That’s a good prayer for every soulful striver.

Book Reviewed
Ken Shigematsu, Survival Guide for the Soul: How to Flourish Spiritually in a World That Pressures Us to Achieve (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).

P.S. If my review helped you form an impression of the book, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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Celebration of Discipline, 4th Ed. | Book Review


“Superficiality is the curse of our age,” writes Richard J. Foster in Celebration of Discipline. “The desperate need for today is…deep people.” These words ring as true in 2018 as they did in 1978 when Celebration of Discipline was first published. And spiritual disciplines are still the way to produce depth. As Foster summarizes the matter in the book’s new Foreword, spiritual disciplines are “the means God uses to build in us an inner person that is characterized by peace and joy and freedom.” If you’re looking for help in overcoming the superficiality and distractedness of the current age, start with this book, which is forty years young.

Book Reviewed
Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 4th ed. (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Boy Jesus | Luke 2:41-52


Today’s Scripture reading: Luke 2:41–52

What did Jesus do when He was a boy?

The Gospels provide little information about Jesus’ early years. Mark and John begin their Gospels with an adult Jesus. Matthew and Luke provide brief descriptions of His parentage and birth. Only Luke tells us a story about Boy Jesus.

Some Christians in the early years of the church made up stories about Jesus’ childhood in order to fill in the gaps of the Gospels. One shows Boy Jesus making clay birds on the Sabbath. When a religious neighbor protests, Jesus brings the clay birds to life. Another story speaks of Jesus striking a playmate dead, only to resurrect him when the kid’s parents protest to Joseph and Mary.

None of the apocryphal stories has a basis in fact. The one story of Jesus’ childhood with any historical credibility is found in Luke 2:41–52. Jesus is 12 years old. His family goes to Jerusalem for the annual Passover Feast. When they leave to return home to Nazareth, they realize Jesus is not with them. (It’s easy to lose a kid in a caravan!) Joseph and Mary quickly return to Jerusalem to find Jesus.

Two things stand out to me in this passage: (1) Jesus is a smart kid. He knows how to interpret the Bible well enough to amaze everyone who listened to Him. (2) Jesus has an intensely personal relationship with God. He’s not just smart, in other words, He’s truly spiritual. In verse 49, He asks, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” For Jesus, information about God is good. But a relationship with Him is better.

We shouldn’t read this passage as if Jesus were fully spiritually formed at age 12, however. As Luke puts it, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”

Jesus got smarter, bigger, more spiritual and friendlier as he aged. Even for the Son of God, spiritual formation was a process, just like it is for us.

So, what did Jesus do as a boy? Whatever it took to become the man God made Him to be. We would do well to follow Boy Jesus’ example.

 

P.S. This article is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com. For earlier posts in the Songs of Christmas devotional, see here:

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Thursday, May 12, 2011


What is the gospel? Dallas Willard’s answer: “How to get into heaven before you die.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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A Leap of Truth explores the relationship between Christian theology and evolutionary theory.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Allen C. Guelzo asks, “Whither the Evangelical Colleges?” Hunter Baker replies with a thither.

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“Presbyterian Church to ordain gays as ministers.” The Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards, a Presbyterian minister, considers this a “moral awakening.”Mark Chaves, a sociologist of religion at Duke University, comments: “They’re making this change amid a larger cultural change. General public opinion on gay rights is trending pretty dramatically in the liberal direction.” On a (cor)related (but not necessarily caused) note, mainline church attendance is tanking. Perhaps this illustrates the truth of W. R. Inge’s comment that those who marry the spirit of the age will find themselves a widower in the next.

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“Catholic Church should reverse opposition to in vitro fertilization.” What’s interesting about this story is that the author, Sean Savage, and his wife, Carolyn, used IVF. Due to a lab mistake, she was implanted with the wrong embryo. Incredibly, she not only gave birth to the child but also gave the boy back to his biological parents. Sean and Carolyn tell their story in Inconceivable: A Medical Mistake, the Baby We Couldn’t Keep, and Our Choice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift.

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Robert H. Gundry on “The Hopelessness of the Unevangelized.”

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Just what we need: Yet another English translation of the Bible. And does anyone else find it odd that a graduate school—my alma mater—prefers a translation “written at the seventh or eighth grade reading level”?

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“Scientology in Illinois’ public schools?” Only in Springfield would L. Ron Hubbard and Bart Simpson make common cause.

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“Adolescents, Identity and Spirituality.” Something for parents to keep in mind:

While adolescents may question or review their spirituality, it remains a critical aspect of adolescent stability. While research on spirituality and adolescence is limited, studies of religiosity have found a positive correlation with an adolescent sense of well-being, positive life attitudes, altruism, resiliency, school success, health and positive identity, as well as a negative correlation with alcohol and drug use, delinquency, depression, excessive risk-taking and early sexual activity.

In short, as adolescents develop, they will need to confront their own spirituality and incorporate it into their sense of identity. Continuing the dialog while respecting that process and acknowledging the quest may be difficult. Yet it really remains the only option.

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Is Buddhist pacifism a Western myth?

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Over at Patheos.com, J. E. Dyer pens these words in “Social Conservatism and the Quality of Mercy”:

The moral horizon of our society has been narrowing for some time to a closed equation featuring selfish vindication and death, and it is this process that only God and His concept of mercy can reverse. If Christians are “salt and light” in the earth, as Jesus said we would be, then we cannot do better, in the project of propagating God’s mercy, than to start by absorbing its meaning ourselves.

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“Black Preacher: Why I forgave George Wallace”: Because George Wallace needed forgiveness? According to the Rev. Kelvin Croom, “If a lot of us would forgive people, we could find healing. We could find peace.” Another path to peace would be if a lot of us would repent of our sins against others.

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A little bit of philosophical theology in closing: How do we reconcile the social ought with the personal good? Thaddeus J. Kozinski answers:

The phenomenological dialectic of right and good could be resolved if we could understand what is at the heart of human moral experience; but to understand this heart, we require more than what, unaided, human moral experience and purely philosophical speculation on this experience can provide. My argument for this conclusion is thus: What the duty aspect of moral experience suggests is the reality of justice, which is inherently relational and thus irreducible to any interpretation of morality as mere personal fulfillment. What the happiness aspect of moral experience suggests is the reality of desirefor-the-good, which is inherently personal and thus irreducible to an interpretation of morality as mere social or divine obligation. So, any explanation of the moral ought must include both others-related justice and self-related desire, and this is precisely what is provided by a theological ethics of creation and gift: If we are creatures, then we are inherently relational, with any actions related, above all, to our creator; and if creation is a gift, then we are supposed to enjoy creation as a good. And if God Himself, in essence, is a relation of three persons eternally bestowing upon each other and enjoying each other’s perfect divine goodness—God giving and receiving Himself—and if humans are made in the image and likeness of this Trinitarian gift-friendship, then we have the definitive—though still inexhaustibly mysterious—archetype in which the paradoxical human experience of simultaneous goodness and oughtness can ultimately be resolved.

You might also want to check out Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality by David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls.