Posts Tagged ‘books’

 

Christians have become quite prolific at naming their enemies. We know well, and talk regularly in our churches and with our friends about the issues we face and struggle with. Ironically though, one of the greatest challenges that the church in the information age faces is staring at us every time we discuss our challenges with each other without ever being named. We may be our own greatest barrier to discovering unity and truth.

Although feeling this struggle subconsciously for some time, I couldn’t name it and work against it until I found insight in one of the least likely of places: a book about fantasy football. Fantasy sports have been a hobby since I was a little boy picking Paul Coffey in front of my parents’ fire place in our four person Kramer family hockey pool. I was looking for beach reading, and instead was stuck with the profound insight that is “confirmatory bias”. “We believe what we believe, and now more than ever, those beliefs are easy to cement. In the age of information, ignoring the other side is the easiest thing we do all day”, wrote C.D. Carter[1]. It was a chapter meant to help fantasy football players better think about how they read and process information about players and games. Instead I was floored by the implications of confirmation bias for the believer.

The lifestyles of many believers are insular. Our friends are church people. We read Christian living books and novels. We listen to Christian music. Our pastors are careful to read the right commentaries and make sure not to rock the boat too much. Our conferences feature speakers from our own particular flavour of faith. We follow the right voices in our Twitter and Facebook feeds. Never has the ability to interact with the breadth of opinion and information existed, and never have we so purposefully worked to make sure we hear almost exclusively the ones that agree with what we already believe to be true.

We have a great deal to learn from those with whom we disagree most. If we are truly right, we have nothing to fear from interacting honestly with those we differ with. If there’s any chance at all we could be wrong, then we have that much more reason to seek out those with different perspectives from our own as we seek after truth. If we take Jesus at his word that he is indeed “the truth” than the pursuit of truth is the pursuit of God. Rather than circling the wagons when faced with a contrary opinion, we need to open our arms to the possibility of being drawn more closely to God: whether through the confirmation of our current beliefs or the beginning of finding something better.

David McRaney in a blog post about confirmatory bias wrote, “You seek out safe havens for your ideology, friends and coworkers of like mind and attitude, media outlets guaranteed to play nice. Whenever your opinions or beliefs are so intertwined with your self-image you couldn’t pull them away without damaging your core concepts of self, you avoid situations which may cause harm to those beliefs.”[2] This wasn’t written with people of faith as its subject, but if we have any measure of self-awareness this should hit us in the gut with a solid “oof”. When we hold so tightly to our beliefs as they are that we can’t change our minds without an identity crisis we have ceased to find our identity in Christ, and rather find it in our dogma.

We need to make space in our lives – personally and corporately – for contrarian thought. I’ve come to live by the general rule, “If I already agree with it, it’s not worth my time exploring.” After all, what is learning, other than the process of discovering where we are currently wrong? So let’s read books that are not in the church library, let’s listen to speakers other than from Christian conferences, let’s talk to people openly and vulnerably from outside of our churches – not as the people with all the answers, but rather, the one’s who are boldly seeking them out where they may be found through the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit.

Just because we listen to an idea, doesn’t mean we have to accept it as true. Our minds, as empowered by the Holy Spirit, are best used as sieves not sponges. We do not have to, nor should we ever desire to, embrace all ideas as equally true and valuable. There is such thing as a dumb idea. If we are to have a voice in our culture of diversity though, we must be people who seek out truth wherever it may be found, interacting honestly with a multitude of voices, rather than being seen as people who are sheltered from it. We do a disservice to ourselves and our young people in the information age to try to learn and play only where things are seemingly safe while we constantly tread in deep waters.

We need to listen to hear and learn, not just rebut. It is healthy for us to hear divergent opinions in our study conferences. It is healthy for us to study books in our care groups that we may not agree with. It is healthy for us to listen to other perspectives, not with the aim of learning how to apologetically debate the issues, but rather humbly learning to understand things well from other perspectives so that we may continue to learn and grow.

Humans do not have to be sponges by nature – just mindlessly sucking up and incorporating everything they encounter. God has blessed us with amazing minds with the ability to think and reason. God has blessed his people with the gift of the Holy Spirit, “to guide you into all truth”, as the gospel of John puts it. Let’s live in faith, holding to God’s promise, and listen and learn so we can continually grow into the faith we profess.

[1] Carter, C.D. (2014-05-29). How To Think Like A Daily Fantasy Football Winner: Applying psychological lessons from the poker table and Wall Street to capture a competitive edge in the daily fantasy sports marketplace (Kindle Locations 892-894).

[2] David McRaney – http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/23/confirmation-bias

I would like to consider myself a reasonably avid reader – although I would honestly like to be an even more avid reader if it were not for the Siren’s song that is the Daily Show/Colbert Report duo which ensnares me nightly – that tries to read things that will challenge my ways of thinking so I will continue to grow as a person.  In that pursuit I have read a lot of ministry related books by ministry related authors that a number of others in my circles would probably like declared anathema.  Fitting squarely into that category are the many works I have read, owned, and loved by Brian McLaren.  While I served on the Board for Faith and Life for the Mennonite Brethren Conference of Saskatchewan I received at least a few requests for his books to be banned from our church libraries altogether – requests which I was quite firmly against.

I can not say that I have read everything that he has written, but I’ve read at least seven or eight different books he has penned in his writing career and have been challenged and pushed to be better by all of them.  I deeply appreciate his heart for bringing Christianity to the world we now live in and attempting to frame it in terms that are meaningful and bring the God’s story to a world that needs him deeply.  I will not question or try to besmirch the man’s character or intentions for a moment.  I think he is truly doing and teaching what he believes to be true and right.  For years I have enjoyed being challenged by his often purposely ambiguous forays into questioning commonly and traditionally held views of the Christian faith.  I have spent hours and hours defending his work and assertions with friends and strangers, and that makes this all the more difficult because his new book A New Kind of Christianity has broken and is breaking my heart.

Many of his previous books were notorious for their ambiguity on a number of subjects, many of the most popular of his works being written in a kind of pseudo-fictional style allowing him to broach subjects thought untouchable without coming out and directly asserting anything.  This was great for starting discussions – which I believe was his real aim – but was not as great for helping people to clearly understand what he was actually trying to get at at times.  A New Kind of Christianity is an attempt to get past the murkiness and state exactly what he thinks the real discussions need to center around as the faith moves forward.  I will not try to get to everything that I have real concerns and heartaches over to this point as they would be far too numerous to get to here (I’m actually keeping them in a file that I plan on mailing to him in a letter once I’ve finished the book completely.) so I will suffice it to say that he has succeeded in confirming a number the worst case scenarios of his version of Christianity that I had maybe naively denying would be the case.  Whether it is his view of the nature of God, Jesus, Scripture, or even the over arching narrative of God’s story as a whole many of my biggest concerns have been confirmed instead of laid to rest.  If you want to discuss things more in depth, read the book and we will get together a book club of sorts.

Brian,

I want to love you as a brother in Christ, but the version of the faith you are espousing in this book is looking less and less like a faith I can accept as being faithful to Jesus or the story of God I believe is revealed in Scripture through the Holy Spirit by the page and chapter.  I promise I will write you to let you know everything I am struggling with, and I will still listen to you into the future, but your version of Christianity is look less and less like a viable answer to the problems our faith faces in this world.  I love your heart for people, ministry, mission and desire for truth, but the God you seem to be following is looking less and less like the one I do or could follow.

Sadly yours,

Ben

For years now I have been a professed theologian.  My bookshelves are full of works by authors whose names I can barely pronounce writing about topics and using words from languages I cannot speak.  I have always enjoyed reading books of great depth and importance and this has kept me almost exclusively in the camp of serious non-fiction.  I occasionally made some time for some fictional works or less serious reading, but I usually felt guilty like a diabetic eating chocolate cake – it was fun but I was pretty sure it was not healthy for me or profitable.

That being said, this current admission comes with no feeling of guilt of pangs of conscience: I love good stories more than anything.  It may be fiction or non but I can read a book full of good stories with the kind of joy and tirelessness that should accompany only Homer Simpson at an all-you-can-eat buffet.  And I’m not necessarily talking about biographies here.  They are often filled with a lot of boring minutia that only the authors’ mother could love.  I have fallen in love with Donald Miller‘s disarming and self-deprecating honesty, Douglas Coupland‘s strange but unbelievably insightful stories about post-modern life, and most recently Matt Mikalatos‘s funny and poignant book “Imaginary Jesus“.  In all honesty I’ve been finding far more food for thought and more life changing insights in the stories than I have by keeping on reading the seemingly never ending debate over the same church related issues in every book I have read over the past five to ten years.  It is not that I do not still read more traditional non-fiction ministry related books – they will always have their place and I do enjoy them- but I have found that these stories have been causing me to think more and change my life more than many other kinds of books have in recent history.

I still think that there will always be a place in my life and my studies for more traditional non-fictional didactic teaching type books, but if Jesus thought that teaching through stories was a good idea once in a while there is probably some space to be made in my reading for stories too.  If ever you want to take me out or invite me over for a beverage of some description make sure to bring your good stories with you.

bestMy brother Jon gave his best of list this past week, and I guess it would only make sense for me to again steal someone else’s idea and give my best of list. As is usual for me though, I will also give my worst of list in the hopes of possibly disuading you from wasting any of your time or money. Hopefully I don’t forget anything, as it would suck to disagree with your own best of list. So without further adieu, here it is:

VIDEO GAMES:
Best –Rock Band 2
This is easily the most fun I’ve ever had playing a video game. I’m really looking forward to forming a band with Jon and Kim. If you’d like to audition for the band just leave me a comment here and we’ll see if we can work out the details.

Worst –
I don’t really have much time to play video games anyways, so I really only have time for playing my favorites. If I had to vote on a worst it would likely be something involving a game made for a Disney Movie of some sort.

ALBUMS:
Best – Elect the Dead by Serj Tankian
Unlike Jon who inexplicably only purchased one album this year, my rough count brings me to the number of at least fourteen albums I acquired this past year.  Strangely enough, not a single one of the albums was released in the year 2008.  This album though, after much contemplation, likely comes out on top despite the fact it’s the one I purchased most recently.  Every song is great, and strangely enough Serj actually has a lot of insights to offer.

Worst – anything by T-Pain, Timbaland, or Nickelback
Classics like “Can I buy you a Drank”, “I’m in Love With a Stripper” and “The Way I Are” are quickly robbing western music and society of any credibility or value while simultaneously destroying the english language.  I enjoyed a lot of pop music from 2008 (I still can’t get Womanizer out of my head), but this stuff was just absolute dreck.

MOVIES:
Best – SICKO
I was going to nominate “The Dark Night” here because it was the most fun I had watching a movie all year, but SICKO was definitely the best movie I saw this year.  Whether you like Michael Moore or not, you can’t argue with the fact that the poor and needy are badly neglected in western society and this show pointed a giant finger at the problems we ignore that stare us right in the face all generally brought about by our pursuit of greed.  The most damning thing of all was the question he didn’t ask: “Where is the church in all this?”

Worst – Quantum of Solace
I’m told that if I had seen Casino Royale that this show may have made more sense to me.  The problem I have is that it made total sense, it was just more boring and predictable that a “See Dick Run” story.  None of the characters were particularly interesting, the people who were going to do were obvious, and there never really was the big dangerous end of the world type weapon or the cheesy humor that used to make Bond movies at least tolerable.  Don’t waste your two hours on this one, just watch the Wiggles instead.  It has more entertainment value, suspense, character development and plot in half an hour than Quantum did in two.

BOOKS:
Best – Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne
This one was a really tight race because I actually did quite a bit of reading this year and read a number of good books.  In the end this one I think was the best one of the year for me because it affected my thinking more than anything I’ve read in recent memory.  In the end I don’t buy the most extreme ends of what he endorses, but all in all I think this book helped me become more Christlike in my worldview and actions.

Worst – Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell and Don Golden
I guess it wasn’t that terrible a book if you haven’t read anything from Bell before, or if you had previously thought that everything the Western Church endorses is awesome.  To me though this book was a major disappointment because I have read his previous stuff and I already know the church has problems.  I was hoping for some offering of suggestions as to what the church should look like, maybe some risky suggestions or admissions that we are deeply flawed, but instead I got a bunch of recycled ideas and gutless suggestions of possible problems.  Rather than offering some vision of where to get to he just pointed out a few vague possibilities of problems and smugly left it at that.  I was really hoping for more.

NEW (TO ME) AUTHORS:
Best – Donald Miller
I know he’s been around for quite some time, but I had never read anything of his before this year.  I picked up his Greatest Hits (a 3 book collection), in the local bookstore for $20 and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of each book.  His writing style was very comfortable to read in a recliner with a cup of coffee in a darkened room.  His memories and stories of friends reminded me what it was like to have friends close to me onnce upon a time and really inspired me to think about writing myself.

Worst – N.T. Wright
Now, I know some of you my friends will want to burn me in effigy for this, but I’m just being honest.  I read a couple of his theological works this year and they were really dry reptitions of things that I had heard a hundred times before.  I didn’t really find anything new of challenging in any of his books.  All in all I think he’s probably a great man of God but he’s not a great writer.

NEW (TO ME) WEBSITE:
Best – Footballguys.com
I’ve been a pretty involved fantasy football player for about six years now and this is the most revolutionary thing that has happened in the game for me since I discovered VBD about 5 years ago.  Between the constant flow of information, the interesting articles, and the helpful applications, I spent more time on this site than any other over the past 5 months.

Worst – Faithful Word Baptist Church
I’ve posted all about this guy earlier in the year so I won’t rehash it all over again, but the hate, venom, and outright craziness espoused by the pastor of this church still astounds me.  His sermon about the man who pisseth against the wall is still one of the funniest of the things of the year though.  If only he meant it to be comedy.

SOFTWARE:
Best – Footballguys.com Draft Dominator
The number of calculations and sheer amount of data that this little application allows you to process almost instantly in a fantasy football draft is outstanding.  I will never feel comfortable in another draft without it.  Sure it was my worst season in fantasy football history but it’s not the fault of this little gem.

Worst – Internet Explorer 7
Wow.  Bill, I’ve really tried to be a team player here.  I’ve been a PC guy my entire adult life.  I’ve had a Windows 98 pc, Windows XP pc, a Windows Vista laptop, and even bought into Windows Mobile 6 with my new Motorola Q9C smartphone.  I’ve run your Microsoft Office platform for everything and even resisted iTunes in favor of Windows Media Player up until about a year ago, but this year you really broke my heart.  I naively kept on the Internet Explorer bandwagon for years now but after hearing about a new security flaw in IE7 seemingly weekly on the news I finally switched over to Firefox about a month ago.  Bill, your web browser sucks.

NEW (TO ME) TV SHOW:
Best – 30 Rock
It’s funny, really funny, I don’t even have to feel guilty about talking about it with church people.  I love the characters and the ways they interact in fake real life situations.  It’s completely unrealistic set in a real place.  I always heard good things about it and now I’m the one recommeding it to you.  The Office/30 Rock combo has been one of the few things that have brought me through a lot of otherwise miserable weeks.

Worst – Four Square
Now that I’m a dad and Payton is starting to be conscious enough of his surrounding that he enjoys some shows, I have been dragged down into the seemy underbelly of children’s programming.  Some shows like Rollie Pollie Ollie (sp?) and Winnie the Pooh are tolerable, but Four Square is such mindless, irritating, shmeg that I get angry even just thinking about it.  Grown adults in spandex aren’t allowed to serve alcohol in Regina and there’s no way they should have a children’s show either.  Silly actions and commands like “hup, hup” do not entertainment or education make.

GADGETS:
Best – Motorola Q9C smartphone
This was probably the toughest category for me to pick as a gadget guy because between my PS3, PSP, stereo bluetooth headset, and smartphone I had a lot of wonderful gadgets come my way this year.  Because of the sheer number of things this new phone has allowed me to do though (email, browsing, fantasy football, podcasts, ebooks, gps, scheduling, blogging, etc) I have to give the nod to my digital assistant.

Worst – None
Really since I discovered the wonderful electronics reviews on cnet.com I haven’t acquired any garbage gadgets in quite some time.  And I guess in my books it would take a lot for a gadget to be bad in my books.

Well, there you go . . . my best and worst of ’08. Praise and hate mail may be left accordingly.

I’m Moving Again!

Posted: October 16, 2007 in life
Tags: , , , ,

moving boxesNow before you go jumping to conclusions, no I’m not leaving Swiftyvillerton.  Jenn and I are reasonably happy here and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.  The moving I’m talking about is moving blog homes.  You can find the link to my old blog, Humble Musings of a Curious Man, in the list of blogs called “blogroll”.

It’s kind of a weird feeling moving my online address.  It would seem that it shouldn’t be as big a deal as moving a real address, but I think this virtual move actually has me more anxious than my physical move from Regina to Swift Current last year.  In my real move I had to pack and move stuff in boxes to a new house 250km away.  How do you move something that doesn’t really physically exist though?  I can’t literally move my thoughts, my lists, and my pictures of from website to another.  I have to leave it behind.  It may be silly, but it is slightly traumatic to have to leave behind the thoughts and records of the past year of my life.  Physical stuff you can move, the abstract you can’t.  Technically I don’t have to fully leave it behind, it will still exist in perpetuity in it’s current place, but it won’t be where I call home now.  The links on my new page will take you to my book lists, music lists, and picture lists from my old site.  It’s just a lot easier to update those lists from where they are and quite frankly, it’s a little nicer looking to make the lists there because I don’t know how to code HTML.  It’s kind of a sad “see you later”, and not a total good-bye, but none the less I can’t help but feel a little emotional regarding my move to a new home.

 Well, I hope you all feel welcome to come and visit me in my new home on a regular basis.  The 3403 page views over the past year at my last home says that someone was visiting and reading on a regular basis, so I hope you enjoy my new residence here just as much.  I made the move for you!  That’s right, I didn’t move just because I wanted to move for the sake of it, I moved to the new site so that you could let me know that you were there to visit.  This new blog will allow you to leave comments on my posts without having to sign-up for anything or give all your personal information to Bill Co. (Microsoft).  I hope you will make use of this new feature and leave comments on my posts, otherwise this whole traumatic move will be for not.

Anyways, I’m glad I made the move.  I think this will be a good place to settle down for a long time.  Rest assured, I have no desire to go through this whole ordeal again anytime soon.  Have a good one, and come back to visit soon.