Book Study: Road to Character Part II

Our book study of Road to Character by David Brooks continues…today we briefly cover chapters 3, 4, and 5. The main subjects of these chapters Dwight Eisenhower, Dorothy Day, and George Marshall – two Army Generals and human rights activist. The character content deals with “self-conquest”, “struggle”, and “self-mastery.” Again, as I mentioned in my previous overview, Brooks makes many insightful comments and brings in many thoughtful comparisons throughout these chapters. I can only hope to hit the highlights; and I am enjoying the book very much…maybe too much, which is why I am hopelessly slipping behind schedule. But, technically, it’s still July! Continue reading

Book Study: Road to Character Part I

Road to Character by David Brooks is the new book study for July…and I guess I’m already a bit behind schedule! But, hey, it’s summer, right? I’m glad to say that of what I’ve already read (through ch. 2 of 10) I am really enjoying the writing style, the stories, and insights presented by Brooks…maybe that’s why I’m reading it so slowly?

The introduction sets up Brooks idea of “character” by presenting the reader with an Adam I and an Adam II (very biblical), and what these two personas mean. One character is “of this world” and the other is “of a humble and self-sacrificing” centered type of character. The book, as broken into chapters, presents major themes or morality and virtue, as made real through the lives of different people. Chapter 1 (The Shift) continues this theme, generally, as Brooks comparatively presents the culture of the 1940’s vs. today. He examines the cultural differences through the lens of “Little Me” vs. “Big Me.” Little Me was a time “of more understated presence, self-effacing style.” The Big Me of today’s generation is rooted in “self-importance and a tendency to proclaim accomplishments.” Brooks’ point is that we’ve lost our way to follow the humble path in life, and that humble path is that idea, “humility is the freedom from the need to prove you are superior all the time.” I agree with Brooks that in our fast-paced, notice me society, we can often feel the need to highlight our accomplishments…I suppose there is a fine line is joyously proclaiming your delights and becoming a bit full of yourself. Here, Brooks quotes a good Anglican, the late Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, regarding how thankfulness and graciousness helps us prevent us from becoming too boastful: “Thankfulness is a soil in which pride does not easily grow.” Brooks’ point is that self-reflection and honesty about one’s strengths and weaknesses leads to a willingness to improve. Again, I wonder if our culture has lost the ability to take moments of silence for genuine self-reflection. A final thought of chapter 1: Brooks offers that many people who follow the path of humility were brought there through some difficult circumstances. “They had to descend into the valley of humility to climb the height of character,” says Brooks. He continues, “In the valley of humility they learned to quiet the self. Only by quieting the self could they see the world clearly. Only by quieting the self could they understand other people and accept what they are offering.” Continue reading

Book Study: Part III – Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Our book study of Reza Aslan’s “Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth” concludes with Part III of III. First, I want to say that I REALLY wanted to like this book…I really did! Unlike many other books that I am requested to read as I join others’ book studies, I had the freedom to pick any book I wanted; I selected this book because I had heard some interesting and provocative ideas were contained therein. And there are certainly provocative ideas, just none that I can take too seriously or somehow internalize and thoughtfully create an inflection point on my journey of faith and spirituality. I will be the first one to say I enjoyed many aspects of Dan Brown’s books, but he never seemed to present his narrative as anything other than historical fiction. If Aslan is going for historical fiction…I take everything back; if he believes he is a serious, scholarly writer, well, that’s a different matter altogether. Continue reading

Book Study: Part II – Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Our book study of Reza Aslan’s “Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth” continues with Part II of III. In this middle section of Aslan’s book, we hear the details of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and learn Aslan’s insights to the ministry of Jesus and the reasons for his ministry, both as Aslan proposes Jesus understood his ministry and how his followers understood the meaning of Jesus’ ministry and later massaged this meaning to fit their evangelical purposes. Aslan’s claims are always provocative, sometimes compelling, and often based on personal opinion, without the necessity of scholarly research. Continue reading

Book Study: Part I – Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth

In this book study, I will be presenting a few thoughts on Reza Aslan’s “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.” And I will follow the author’s guideline of three parts; and for this installment, Part I, which covers an opening section Prologue and the first six chapters of the book. Part I is the historical groundwork of the life and times of the people of Palestine, both Jews and Romans. Aslan sets the stage for an appreciation of later discussion in the book (I assume, I have not read beyond Chapter 6 so I can present my thoughts as any reader…without knowledge of what lies ahead). Continue reading

The Irrational Christian

Second Sunday in Lent (Mark 8:31-38)  03/01/2015

Earlier this week I was attending a gathering with my clergy colleagues. We met at a church located close to a college campus and the topic of young adults and faith came up in our conversation. Someone shared the observation that a number of college students who regularly attend worship services and claim that the practice of their Christian faith is important in their lives had been questioned by their peers for their faith in God; often challenged for their faith and devotion…behavior deemed to be irrational. Irrational…meaning one exhibiting behavior that lacks normal mental clarity, reason or understanding. As I listened to my clergy colleague tell this story that placed such a great value on reason and understanding, I was reminded of a recent interview on an Irish TV show called, “The Meaning of Life,” hosted by Gay Byrne. The guest of the show was Stephen Fry, (well-known actor, author, and atheist), and Byrne asked him, “[I know that you do not believe in God, but] suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates, and are confronted by God. What will you say?” Fry responded, “I would say this: How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain. That’s what I would say.” Fry’s words are quite strong and perhaps a bit unedited toward the One we believe is holy and almighty, and perhaps like the host of the show your jaw has dropped a bit from its normal resting place. Continue reading

Advent Reflections: make straight the way

Advent reflection: this week during Advent we encounter John the Baptist, proclaiming the coming of the Lord as he courageously stands in the wilderness, clothed in camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. Make straight the paths for the coming of the Lord. In the reflection offered below from Stan Purdum’s Advent study book, we consider the paths of our lives, the obstacles, roundabouts, and narrow ways of those paths; and, finally, reflect on how we might begin to uncover our obstacles to God and smooth the way for the coming of the Lord. Continue reading