Monday, June 20, 2016

Growing Older Gracefully

Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister. Blue Bridge, 2010. 222 pages. ISBN: 9781933346335.

The past year and a half I have read many books on Mid-life struggles, human development, the stages of Christian faith, and spiritual development. I have found this reading to be quite helpful. Before a few years ago I thought very little on these subjects. I just finished two books recently: Weathering the Storm by Bob Biehl and Halftime by Bob Buford. Biehl's book provides a map of different stages of mid-life and how to figure where you are on the map and how to get to the place you want to go. I found the book to be quite helpful. I decided to read it over again. Two important things I learned from the book is the importance of developing a few close relationships and the need to rewrite our dreams or come up with new ones.

Buford's Halftime is a good companion to Biehl's Weathering the Storm. The two authors even think similarly about retirement. They prefer to think of it as a transition instead of as retirement. Buford's idea is that around mid-life we began to reevaluate our life. It is similar to halftime at a football game. We evaluate what we did in the first half of our life. He thinks that the main thrust in the first half of our life is to be successful; while, the second half is the search for significance. During half-time we might have regrets and thoughts about how we could have done it differently. In the first half of our life we believe we have all the time in the world to accomplish the things we want to accomplish. In the second half we realize we only have a limited time left. Both authors believe that the second half of our life can be even better than the first.

On one of my visits to Chapters, a coffee house in Oregon, I noticed Joan Chittister's book, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully. The title caught my eye since I have been reading on the topic for over a year now. The author's name sounded familiar and guessing I must have read a book by her previously. I began reading the book this morning. Some of the things she is saying is complementing the two other books I have already mentioned. Joan believes that life is more than breathing or simply being alive. It is about  "becoming more than we are, about being all that we can be" (viii). Like Buford, it is searching for significance. Middle age seems to be a reflective time where we reflect on our life and think about how we can make the best of the second half of our life. Chittister thinks the latter end of our life can be our best years. She was seventy when she wrote the book. She thinks that this time of life can be a time of growth. This is remarkable because many people think of old age as a time of decline. Another book I have been reading by James V. Schall has an essay on the death of Plato. Schall asserts that Plato continued to write when he was eighty-one years old.

Chittister argues: "This is a special period of life--maybe the most special of them all... Life is not about age, about the length of years we manage to eke out of it. It is about aging, about living into the values offered in every stage of life. As E. M. Forster wrote, 'We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us'(x-xi)." Old age is just another stage of life. WE actually live not one life, but several lives. "The evening of a well-spent life," wrote a French moralist, "brings it lamps with it" (xi). The author believes that old age can enlighten not only us, but those around us. Another book I read said that two things remain important in old age--knowledge and love. It is a time that we can continue to grow in wisdom and to invest our lives in those who will follow us.

Monday, June 6, 2016

On the Pleasure of Walking About Derby

James V. Schall, "On the Pleasure of Walking about Derby" in On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing. ISI Books, 2001.

Fr. Schall asserts, "No one will ever know whether there are answers to the highest questions unless he has first formulated the very questions to which such answers might be addressed." This is a remarkable statement because we tend to put the cart before the horse. What I mean is that we look for answers before we even created good questions. One important part of learning is knowing how to formulate good questions. Schall add, "Faith does depend on reason in this sense, that reason need not exclude a priori those answers of revelation that curiously seem to be aware of the abiding questions, when accurately formulated." For example, reading Plato can help us to develop good questions about the essential things of life which revelation answers. Faith and reason needs each other.

Schall notes how so many people are worried about the crisis of their time. He shares with the reader the advice Eric Voegelin shared with his students: "Civilizations as such are never static because every man is a new element of revolution in the world. Just stop being static and do something.... Nobody is obliged to participate in the crisis of his time. He can do something else." Schall adds, "The first thing we can do, then, is to refuse to cooperate with the forces that have brought upon us a crisis of culture." These words are startling. You hear so many people despairing of the times, but everyone can do something. We do not have to participate in this crisis; we can do something else.

Schall believes that two of the most significant words in the English language is to "wonder" and to "wander." They even sound similar. As we wander we wonder. Aristotle says that wonder is the beginning of philosophy. Chesterton said, "We wander because we have here no lasting city." Schall describes how Louis L' Amour wondered as he wandered. He has written an excellent book, Education of a Wandering Man. It is a book I have read and which I need to read again. Schall notes, "Perhaps the only thing that will save us from the many ideologies found in academia and public life will be books--good books--that we find lying about unnoticed because, as was the situation in the Athenian democracy, virtually no one can distinguish a good book from a silly one." We  can educate ourselves simply by reading books or through meeting good men and women in our wanderings.. This is what Louis La'Mour did. In his book, La'Mour lists hundreds of boos he read during his journeys. L'Amour wrote: "I know that no university exists that can provide an education; what a university can provide is an outline, to give the learner a direction and a guidance. The rest one has to do for oneself." It is in our power to acquire an education if we are willing to put forth the effort.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Taking Your Soul to Work

Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace by R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung, Eerdmans, 2010, 200 pages. ISBN 978-0-8028-6559-5

R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung, authors of Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace, draw from the Bible and the Christian spiritual tradition and from their own experiences in the marketplace to argue that the workplace is an arena for spiritual development. Eugene Peterson in the foreword asserts, "one of the most offensive and soul-damaging phrases in the Christian community is 'full-time Christian work.' Every time it is used it drives a wedge of misunderstanding between the way we pray and the way we work, between the way we worship and the way we make a living" (viii). All Christians are in full-time Christian work. There is a false separation between sacred and secular. As Stevens and Ung suggests we are to take our soul to work.

Taking Your Soul to Work is divided into three parts. In the first part the authors identify the struggles of work and how the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, gluttony, anger, sloth, envy, restlessness, and boredom) can "entangle" us in our work. The second part shows how God has given us the fruit of the Spirit (joy, goodness, love, self-control, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness, patience, and peace) to transform us while we work. The last part discusses outcomes from the Spirit-empowered life (continous prayer, persistent gratitude, beautiful purity, joyful relinquishment, surrendered contentment, life-given rhythems, neighbor-love, vocational confidence, and heavenly-mindedness). There is a chapter for each of these characteristics and each chapter includes a dialog between the authors and ends with tips to apply the truth.

R. Paul Stevens is professor emeritus of marketplace theology and spirituality at Regent College in Vancouver and adjunct professor both at Bakke Graduate University in Seattle and at Biblical Graduate School of Theology in Singapore. Alvin Ung is a Fellow at Khazanah National, the national investment agency of Malaysia. He has taught seminary classes and led workshops for CEOs in Asia and North America on the integration of faith and work.

The authors hopes the readers will learn the following from the book:

  • How to handle the frustrations, challenges, and ambiguities that you face every workday.
  • How your work can be a source of spiritual growth rather than a hindrance.
  • How your work can draw you toward God.
  • How to keep God in mind while working, even if the work is all-consuming.
  • How to discover God's will for you in the workplace.
  • How God is most present to you in times of struggle, pain, and even failure.
  • How work provides a context in which you may overcome your hidden compulsions and discover new strengths in your character.
Stevens and Ung in their book Taking Your Soul to Work do a great job in showing how our faith can be applied to our work. In addition, they show how our work can shape us spiritually. The authors write in a conversational style which is easy to understand and the chapters are short enough to read in five to ten minutes. This is the second time I have read the book and I enjoyed it as much in the second reading as I did in the first reading. I plan on reading it again in the future. I recommend the book to anyone who wants to apply their Christian faith to their workplace.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hugh of ST. Victor (1096-1141) Instructions for Learning

Hugh of ST. Victor, Didascalicon in Renewing the Mind: A Reader in the Philosophy of Catholic Education edited by Ryan N. S. Topping. Catholic University Press of America, 2015. ISBN 978-0-8132-2731-3

Hugh of ST. Victor provided instruction on how the seven liberal arts can provide the foundation to pursue all learning. Hugh asserts "these seven (grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music) they (the ancients) considered so to excel all the rest in usefulness that anyone who had been thoroughly schooled in them might afterward come to a knowledge of the others by his own inquiry and effort rather than listening to a teacher" (120). In other words, the liberal arts provides the tools for life-long learning. It is liberal because it is not vocational or job training. An example of this type of learning is that you teach someone how to fish, instead of endlessly feeding him or her.

In addition, Hugh presents instruction on learning. He states that three things are needed for learning: aptitude or the ability to learn, practice, and discipline. Natural endowment means they "must cultivate by assiduous effort the natural endowments they have;" and by discipline he means that they must cultivate virtue in their life because the intellectual and the moral life is connected. Hugh also gives instruction on the order of expounding a text and the method of expounding a text. For example he says that exposition includes the letter, the sense, and the inner meaning. The letter is the arrangement of words; the sense is the obvious meaning of the text; and the inner meaning is the "deeper understanding which can be found only through interpretation and commentary." The order of inquiry follows this order. The method of expounding the text consists of analysis. The expounder of the text must begin at the finite and move to the infinite. In other words, the student must begin with what he knows and move to what he does not know. The author believes the reading and studying of the text lays the foundation for meditation. Hugh states that there are three types of meditation: the first focuses on morals, the second on the commandments, and the third on the divine works. Hugh also gives instruction on the methods of remembering what the learner reads. Not everything has to be remembered, just the important principles.

In the section on discipline, Hugh asserts that morals equip learning. Next, he declares that the "beginning of discipline is humility." He thinks the lessons of discipline are many, but he emphasizes: "first, that he hold no knowledge and no writing in contempt; second, that he blush to learn from no man; and third, that when he has attained learning himself, he not look down upon anyone else." These lessons agree with Fr. Schall's ideas about the need to be teachable.

In the next section Hugh speaks c"concerning eagerness to inquire." This is not something that is taught, but encouraged. He shows how we can learn much from the ancient authors that have stood the test of time.

The last four precepts he discusses are quiet, scrutiny, parsimony, and living on foreign soil. Concerning quiet, there must be both inner and outer quiet. The learner must have sufficient leisure to pursue his studies. On scrutiny, he implies earnestness in considering things. It is compatible with the eagerness to inquire. Parsimony is being able to live simply. This requires the virtue of temperance and moderation. Last, Hugh speaks about living on foreign soil. Many students in the Middle Ages had to travel where the teachers were located. He asserts that living on foreign soil teaches us that earth is not our permanent home.

One thing that was impressed on my mind during this reading was the importance of ordering our life for study. In some sense, the path of learning is the path of a monk. Their lives were ordered for religious service. A student's life must be ordered if learning is to take place. What do I mean by this? I basically mean that we must have sufficient leisure time to pursue our studies. For example, if a person wanted to pursue learning over a long period of time he might choose a career that would allow him sufficient time to study. He must eat a temperate diet because excessive foods or the wrong types of food could hinder learning. In addition, he would need a place for quiet and freedom from distractions. This does not necessarily mean excessive amount of time, but it does mean arranging one's life to pursue his studies.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Self-Discipline

James V. Schall, "Self-Discipline" in On the Unserious of Human Affairs ... ISI Books, 2001.

Fr. Schall argues that we can order our lives for the purpose of seeking truth. Self-Discipline is not an end in itself, but the means for finding truth. Schall believes there in an important connection between our moral and intellectual lives. Schall defines self-discipline as "the ability to rule over all our given passions, fears, dreams, and thoughts" (109). Self-discipline is the beginning of wisdom, but not its end.

Schall's essay on self-discipline a great short essay on how to pursue wisdom, truth, beauty, and goodness. He believes that no one can order our lives for us. Disciplining one's self is a "systematic process by which we acquire knowledge or virtue or art." IT is instructive that the author of the Book of Hebrews tells us: "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (12:11). This is hard for modern man to understand. The popular idea is that learning is all fun and games. The idea is that teachers are to entertain the student. However, to learn any skill at the beginning is difficult. For example, if we want to be a great athlete it requires many hours of training and self-discipline. Another problem is that modern man wants instant gratification. He is not willing to wait for the reward of hard work.

Schall makes some great comments on what to expect from a college education. In addition, he lists some unexpected places from where we acquire wisdom. He does not think that we will learn what life is about from college. He says that college is "primarily to be used." He does not think we should attend them "blindly, even though we can and must make ourselves teachable." In other words, we must already know some things that will determine what is good and what is not so good that is offered to us in college. This relates to the idea of using college. We are to be in charge of our own education. Schall states that many of the "very important books and ideas that a student will need to know to know if he is to know the truth, and if he is to confront what is good, are never mentioned in any university curriculum or course" (108). This reminds me of my own journey. I have always read books that were not required for my courses with the books that are required. This has been very helpful in my own search for truth. In addition, Schall asserts that some of the important things we need to learn we can learn from "parents or our church or our friends or our own curiosity." I love his next sentence: "Many a man has saved his soul because of some book he chanced to read in some obscure library or used bookstore." This has happened to me many times over the years.

Self-discipline is not an end in itself. It is for the purpose of acquiring truth. Self-discipline is the beginning of wisdom, but not the end. There is an essential connection between our intellectual and moral lives.

Friday, May 20, 2016

On Teaching and Being Eminently Teachable

James V. Schall, "On Teaching and Being Eminently Teachable" in On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing. ISI Books, 2001. 1882926633

I love the title of his book of essays. It pretty much sums up the good life. In his essay on teaching and being teachable, Schall reflects on the statement by Leo Strauss that "we are lucky if our lives coincide with those of one or two of the greatest human thinkers to ever live" (15). If we are to encounter the greatest thinkers who ever live we will discover them in their books. It is helpful to have guides to help us in our learning because of three problems suggested by Thomas Aquinas. First, the student is confronted by a multiplicity of information, for example, all the courses offered in a typical university. Where should the student begin. The second problem is that the knowledge of a particular discipline (history, science, philosophy, literature) is not presented "after the order of the discipline or the subject itself but are instead presented simply according to the arbitrary structure of a book, topic of dispute, or conversation" (23). Saint Thomas believed there was an order to learning. There is a certain order to the relationship between a subject and its parts. The third problem is the confusion of the student from encountering "a mass of unrelated material." Aquinas thought because of these problems that it was helpful to have a guide to learning. I know I have had several guides over the years: Thomas Aquinas, Plato, Augustine, C. S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft, Josef Pieper, Mortimer Adler, and others. Schall observes, "But for most of us, an orderly learning is far easier and more productive. With the aid of someone who knows already, who has been through all the mistakes one is likely to make, and who takes delight in truth, we can learn easily, provided we allow ourselves to be eminently teachable" (24).

What does it mean to be eminently teachable? I am glad you asked. Yves Simon thought there were three types of students: those who are only interested in grades, those who continuously asks questions but does not listen, and the third student "recognizes that he must take responsibility for his education and has a certain faith or trust that someone else can guide him" (24). What kind of a learner are you? Simon's point about taking responsibility for our learning is remarkable? What do you think he means by this concept? What does it mean to take responsibility for our learning? One thing is that we need to have the desire for learning. Another characteristic for  learning is we must have an "inquiring mind wondering about the truth of things." Plato stated that the student "who is willing to taste every kind of learning with gusto, and who approaches learning with gusto, and who approaches learning with delight, and is insatiable" (18). We must have a (eros) love for the truth. We have to seek it with all our being. The best thing about learning is that it does not require formal schooling. It can occur any place at any time. We are never too young or too old to begin the journey of learning. In addition, our learning does not have to end with the ending of our formal schooling.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Road Most Travelled

Robert Jeffress, The Road Most Traveled: Releasing the Power of Contentment in Your Life, Broadman & Holman, 1996. 184 pages. ISBN 080546266x

I am reading a book by Fr. Schall, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs. In one of the earlier essays he speaks about how used book stores can be a treasure chest. He states that for a little amount one can purchase some of the best books written. I have a similar experience in cataloging new and donated books. Sometimes I come across a book that catches my eye that I must read. Recently, I cataloged The Road Most Traveled: Releasing the Power of Contentment in Your Life. Maybe, what drew my attention is the word contentment in the title or maybe, it was the Road most traveled because I was curious what it meant. Usually I perused a book before reading it. I examine the title, the preface, the table of content, the back cover and any other introductory material. Usually, in a short time, I can discover the subject and purpose of the book. By that time, I usually know if I want to read the book or lay it aside.

The Road Most Traveled is a good book for a man approaching mid-life or a time where he is evaluating his life. For about two years now, I have been evaluating my life. Some people call this mid-life crisis, but Jeffress prefers to call it mid-life evaluation whichs seems a better fit for my situation. Jeffress believes that the key to contentment is accepting the sovereignty of God in our life. The author asserts, "The Road Most Traveled deals with the most basic issue in a man's life: contentment. Until a man can make peace with the unchangeable circumstances, choices, or even mistakes of his life, he will never be emotionally or spiritually free to perform the duties outlined by many books" (4). Among the topics covered in the book are how to be content wherever you are, finances, glorifying God in your work, accepting your spouse and children as God's gift, accepting on mistakes, accepting your inevitable death, and "seeing God's hand in your life."

I was not disappointed with the book after reading it. The author shared some essential principles for accepting our lot in life. A good point the author makes multiple times is: "The message of The Road Most Traveled" is that while most of us are destined to live an ordinary life, every detail of your life is part of God's plan--a plan designed for our good and for God's eternal purpose" (175). If our life in this world was perfect, we would never seek God; but we are pilgrims and this is not our final resting place. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to evaluate their life or looking for ways to find contentment in his life.