Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. New York: Faber and Faber, 2006. originally published in 1994. ISBN: 978-0-86547-957-9.

I went to a library conference two years ago on the topic of the future of the book. One of the main speakers, a librarian at a major university thought there wasn't a future for the book. Most of the people at the conference thought the future for the book was bleak. The only really dissenting voices were professors from the humanities. Does the book have a future? Does reading have a future? These are some of the concerns addressed by Sven Birkerts in his book, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Birkerts focuses mostly on serious fiction and its future.

The Gutenberg Elegies is divided into three parts: The Reading Self, The Electronic Millennium, and Critical Mass: Three Meditations. I was surprised that the first part was mainly autobiographical narrating Birkerts' history of interaction with the book. This part was enjoyable to read and made me think about my own interaction with books. The reader can tell that books have shaped the author for the good. My favorite essay in this part was "The Paper Chase: An Autobiographical Fragment." In this essay, Birkerts describe his years of working in book stores and his journey to become a writer. "The Shadow Life of the Reader" is also good because it shows how books affect us even when we are not reading them.

The second part, "The Electronic Medium," analyzes changes that has been brought about because of the electronic age. Two other essays that I thought were quite good were "The Western Gulf" which is a review of Lionel Trilling's Liberal Imagination  and Alvin Kernan's Death of Literature. Birkerts describes Kernan as a "defeated humanist, gracious in defeat, telling us what has happened" (183). It reminded me of that library conference that basically buried the book. Birkerts thinks we are living between The Western Gulf and The Death of The Book. Birkerts is not completely pessimistic. He actually believes reading and the book will continue.

Some parts of The Gutenberg Elegies might sound anachronistic, but the core of the book addresses real concerns. There are both good and bad in the benefits we gain from technology. It is important to listen to the critiques of technology so that we can live more wisely. I thought of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury while reading this book. The people in this book stopped reading before the firemen began destroying books. Will there still be readers in the future?

Autism & Alleluiahs

Autism & Alleluiahs, by Kathleen Deyer Bolduc. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2010. 149 pp. $14.00. ISBN 978-0-8170-1568-8.
Reviewed by John E. Shaffett
This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
The Christian Librarian, 55 (1) 2012 : 41-42.
Living with a disabled child or adult is difficult and exhausting. Can the Christian faith help someone caring for a disabled child? What can the church do to help support families caring for people with disabilities? Kathleen Bolduc in Autism and Alleuiahs seeks to answer some of these questions. Bolduc is a nationally recognized author and speaker on working with the disabled. She is also the mother of an adult son with autism.
Autism &  Alleluiahs  is not a  biography or a book explaining everything you need to know about autism. It is a book about one family and their experience in raising a son, Joel, who has “autism, intellectual disabilities, and an anxiety disorder” (xiii). It is also a book about how the Christian Faith, friends, family, case workers, and the church have helped the family experience strength during their difficult times and to grow stronger. Bolduc says that Joel has been her greatest teacher. One of the important lessons he has taught his mother is to slow down and enjoy the moment. Another lesson is that the disabled are a gift from God. This message was shared with Bolduc from a Lakota Sioux. He told Bolduc that his people considered each disabled child as God’s gift to teach his people compassion.
Autism & Alleluiahs  is organized into thirty-nine small chapters. Each chapter includes a scripture verse, a personal story, and a prayer. The story has two parts to it: a troubling situation and how God provided his grace to help with the situation. For example, Bulduc was trying to get Joel ready for school one morning and the toilet would not flush. She told him she would take care of it. He refused to leave it and get ready for school. Joel eventually caused the toilet to overflow and poop was on the floor.  She asked a friend, “Where in the world is the alleluiah in a poopy morning” (124)? Her friend responded, “You know, Cathy, I seem to remember that quite a few of your chapters begin with a groan before you get to the alleluiah. The alleluiah is there. You just haven’t found it yet” (124).  The great strength of this book is that Bolduc does not sugarcoat the difficulties. The encouraging part is how God has used all these difficulties to make the whole family grow.
Autism & Alleluiahs is a well-written book with fluent prose that teaches us how God can use trials to help us to grow to maturity. It also shows that Christians have an important role to play in supporting families with disabled family members. This book is highly recommended.

Coach John Wooden's Life Principles

Coach Wooden: The Seven Principles that Shaped his Life and Will Change Yours, by Pat Williams with James Denney. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2011. 186 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-8007-1997-5.
This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
The Christian Librarian, 55 (1) 2012:42-43.

John Wooden coached the UCLA Bruins to ten NCAA National Championships in basketball. He was voted the greatest coach by the Sporting News in 2009. These facts are widely known in the world of sports and outside of sports. What is less known is that Wooden taught more than basketball; he taught real life. He taught values, ethics, and character. He was taught these principles by his father, Joshua Hugh Wooden. In Coach Wooden: The Seven Principles that Shaped his Life and Will Change Yours, Pat Williams tells how John Wooden received these seven principles from his father and how he lived them and taught them to his players. Williams puts these principles in their context and how they can help the reader change his own life for the better. These seven principles are: Be true to yourself; Help others; Make friendship a fine art; Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible; Make each day your masterpiece; Build a shelter against a rainy day by the life you live; Give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance every day.
Williams includes quotes from many former players to give the work “breadth.” For example, Jamaal Wilkes believed the principle, help others, describes the life of John Wooden. Wilkes notes, “When you help others, you don’t do it expecting anything in return. You just help people because it is the right thing to do” (66). John Wooden was asked what he missed most about coaching after he retired. His answer: “The practices. Not the rings or the titles. I’m a teacher, and I miss teaching the young men”(70). Bill Walton noted that Coach Wooden “taught life, not basketball. The way he taught us changed our lives” (70).
Pat Williams wrote an earlier book on Wooden: How to be Like Coach Wooden. In writing this book, he became friends with Coach Wooden and learned about the influence of his father and these seven rules for living. After finishing that project, he began applying these seven principles to his own life. He had hoped to present this book as a present to Wooden. However, Wooden died a few months before this book was published.
The first chapter describes Wooden’s father and his relationship to him. Joshua Wooden had a lasting legacy on the life of his son and through his son, hundreds of individuals. The rest of the chapters explain the principles in detail. Each principle has a chapter to itself. This book is a great read. The principles are applicable to our personal and work lives. It is recommended for all libraries.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Taking Your Soul to Work Part 2

R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung, Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace. Eerdmans, 2010.

In part one, I discussed the nine deadly sins that undermine the soul in the workplace: pride, greed, lust, gluttony, anger, sloth, envy, restlessness, and boredom. In this part I will analyze the nine resources for producing the Spirit's fruit in the workplace: Joy, goodness, love, self-control, gentleness faithfulness, kindness,patience, and peace.

Stevens and Ung ask the question why do we need the Spirit in the workplace? The authors believe that we cannot overcome the nine deadly sins on our own. We need the operation of the Holy Spirit in our life to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our life. Chapters ten through eighteen "describe how the various fruits of the Spirit serve as life-giving resources for workplace spirituality" (68).

It is interesting how the authors integrate the three parts. The first deadly sin we struggle with is pride. The way to overcome this temptation is through the fruit of joy. Pride looks at self as number one. Joy is being grateful that God is number one. The outcome would be continuous communion with God through prayer. The second temptation is greed. The fruit to overcome this sin is goodness. Goodness is "cultivating a character that gives rather than takes" (75). The outcome is a contentment with what God provides. The third temptation is lust. The grace to overcome this is love. Love seeks out the good of the other. The outcome from cultivating love is a love God and neighbor. The next obstacle to the soul is gluttony. The fruit to overcome this weakness  is self-control. The outcome of exercising self-control is a freedom from an obsession with food and to live simply. This concerns not just the amount of food but the kind. Anger is another sin that can destroy the soul. The fruit to overcome it is gentleness. The authors define gentleness as "empowering others by renouncing personal agendas and expressing meekness" (93). The outcome of cultivating gentleness is being happy with who you are.

The next sin to overcome is sloth. Sloth is doing minimal work. Faithfulness in work is the answer to this problem. The outcome of "persisting in important work with utter reliability," is  "a pattern of life that produces excellent work without being consumed by it" (99). The last three fruit of the spirit that are addressed in this work are kindness which overcomes envy; patience which conquers restlessness; and peace which overcomes boredom.

It seems that the authors believe that soul growth requires both the work of the Holy Spirit and our active participation. What Stevens and Ung say in these chapters seems similar to the idea of developing moral virtue. Some might question if the fruit of the Spirit is the work of the Spirit, why does it require human effort? That is a good question. There does seem to be much evidence that without our active participation, our character is more controlled by the nine deadly sins than the fruit of the Spirit. What does this have to do with the workplace? This is the place where we spend the majority of our day. Our jobs shape our character. Work is where we must practice good actions to become moral persons.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind

Alister McGrath, The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind. IVP Books, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-8308-3843-1.

Alister McGrath is a theologian that writes theology for the general public. McGrath says this book "is about 'mere theology' " a term he has borrowed from C. S. Lewis. By mere theology McGrath means "the basic themes that have characterized the Christian vision of reality down the ages" (7). The Passionate Intellect's goal is not to argue for any particular theology but "to focus on the positive role of theology in shaping, nourishing and safeguarding the Christian vision of reality, and applying it to the challenges and opportunities that Christians face today" (8). The book is divided into two parts. The first part provides the groundwork for a Christian theology. The second part looks at specific applications, especially in the areas of science, religion, and modern atheism.

McGrath notes, "Faith is fundamentally a relational matter; it is about trusting God" (20). The author believes that faith is motivated to understand what it believes. In other words, there is a direct relationship between faith and reason. The resources to help us understand faith are the Bible, reason, mystery, and tradition. McGrath believes that theology helps us to map the "landscape of faith" (33). The author believes there must be a connection between what happens in the pew and public theology. McGrath thinks the theologian has a responsibility to interpret the Christian tradition to the church and to the world. He also thinks it is important that the theologian be an active member in the church. McGrath makes an important point here about the theolgian's connection to the church. McGrath asserts that the great theologians of the church, Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, and John Calvin were not "outsiders, dispassionate external observers; rather they shared in the life of the church and regarded it as vital to their own mission and ministry" (40).

McGrath takes us on a journey with three theological writers and explore how they can help us think theologically about the Christian faith and the world: George Herbert, Martin Luther, and C. S. Lewis. McGrath analyzes George Herbert's "Elixir," a poem from The Temple. McGrath shows how the Gospel can transform our lives and our vision. Mcgrath thinks Lewis shows us how the Christian faith is "on the one hand well-grounded, and on the other enriching and enabling" (58). Luther shows us how the cross can help us deal with suffering and "theological bewilderment."

Chapters seven through nine discusses the issue of religion and science, especially evolution and Christian faith. McGrath provides a good narrative of Darwin's intellectual journey and his struggles with faith. McGrath also speaks how he abandoned atheism for Christian faith. The last two chapters McGrath provides a critique of the new atheism.

McGrath is a prolific writer and writes in intelligible prose that is readable to the general public. He wears his learning lightly. The Passionate Intellect is recommended to all readers who might be interested in Christian theology and its modern applications.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wolterstorff on Education

Nicholas Wolterstorff, review of  Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind by Mark A. Noll, Books & Culture, September/October 2012, pp.22-23.

The title of Wolterstorff's review is "Christology, Christian Learning, and Christian Formation." Wolterstorff is Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Yale University. He is a well-respected and published scholar. I found his review of Noll's book quite insightful, especially what he had to say about Christian formation and Christian learning.

In the first part of the book he affirms how Noll has connected the life of the mind with "classic Christological  statements to be found in the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the declarations of the church councils of Nicea (325) and Chalcedon (451)" (22). He also agrees that because Christ is both creator and redeemer both the world and humans are worthy of study. Wolterstorff points out that it possible that education could become so completely misguided that Christians should pursue "an alternative form of learning" (22). Wolterstorff does not think has happened yet, but there is much that can be criticized in higher education from a Christian perspective.

None of these things really caught my attention as much as his insight about Christian formation. Wolterstorff says that he is "less happy with the Christological guidelines that he (Noll) offers for engaging in such learning" (23). Noll makes the point that certain Christological doctrines can guide the practices of the Christian scholar. Wolterstorff thinks the practices of Christian scholars is influenced by more than doctrine. Wolterstorff believes that the Christian scholar should let "her Christian formation to shape how she thinks and acts within her academic discipline and within the academy" (23). Wolterstorff thinks that Christian formation includes "more than doctrines, and that the doctrines it includes go well beyond Christological doctrines. Christian scholars should allow the entirety of their Christian formation to shape how they engage in their discipline" (23).

Is Wolterstorff pulling hairs? I think not. Education is more than providing information. It is about participating in practices that cultivate habits that produces virtue. We are more than mind. There is a direct relationship between worship and study. There is a direct relationship between the moral and the intellectual virtues. We must not forget our desires and emotions must be formed morally. An education that only focuses on pursuing information is a misguided education.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Intellectual Virtues

Intellectual Virtues: an Essay in Regulative Epistemology by Robert C. Roberts and W. Jay Wood. Oxford University Press, 2007. 329 pp. ISBN: 9780199283675.

Francis Bacon noted, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." Intellectual Virtues by Roberts and Wood is to be chewed and digested. The purpose of this book is not "to produce a theory of justification, warrant, knowledge, or rationality; instead, the goal of this book is to "use the virtues as the focus of reflections  to increase our practical understanding of the inner workings of the intellectual life" (323).

Robert C. Roberts is the distinguished professor of Ethics at Baylor University. He also published two other books, Emotions: An Essay in Moral Philosophy and Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues. W. Jay Wood is professor of philosophy at Wheaton College. He has been on the faculty since 1982.

Intellectual Virtues is divided into two parts and twelve chapters. The first part provides the "context" for exploring the seven intellectual virtues: "Love of knowledge," Being steadfast, "courage and caution," "humility," independence, "generosity," and "practical wisdom." The important concepts discussed in part one are, "epistemology," intellectual "goods," "virtues," the mind and intelligence, and "practices." Chapter five provides an overview of the intellectual virtues discussed in chapters six through twelve. The second part, chapters six through twelve, are the meat of the book.

This reviewer has always wondered about the relationship between the moral and intellectual virtues. It is commonly said that young people go to school to train their intellect, not their character. Intellectual Virtues dispute this idea. The authors take the tradition of teaching about training the will and applies it to the intellect. They interact with Aristotle's Ethics and Linda Zagzebski's Virtues of the Mind. They believe that certain habits must be cultivated in the student if the intellectual life will prosper in them. Roberts and Wood think there exists a thin line dividing the moral and intellectual virtues. For example, the authors note, "The natural appetite for knowledge needs to be matured, formed, realized, completed" (154). There will be temptations or vices that will need to be overcome if we will achieve wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.

Intellectual Virtues will require much effort for the reader, but the prose is intelligible. The authors provide narrative and examples to make the ideas more intelligible. This book is recommended for anyone who is interested in cultivating the life of the mind.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing

The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing by Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards. Kingsport, TN.: Twilight Times Books, 2008. 180 pp. ISBN: 978-1933353227

Why should a reader write book reviews? What is the difference between a book review and a book report? How to write a book review? Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards answer these questions and other questions in their book, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing. This is a much needed book for beginners and for those who have some experience writing book reviews. The authors are published authors and reviewers.

The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing is divided into three parts: "The Art of Book Reviewing," "The Influence of Book Reviewing," and "Resources." The bulk of the book is part one which covers "The Art of Book Reviewing." Some of the things covered in this part are "The Five keys to being a good reviewer."  These five keys are a good command of English, "clarity of thought," "honesty," "objectivity," and knowing how to say something appropriately. The authors note multiple times, "honesty is what defines a reviewer's trade" (14). The authors argues that the reviewer owes an obligation to the reader to be honest about the value of the book.

Calvani and Edwards provide instruction on the basic ingredients to a good review: a hook, summary, and an evaluation. They also distinguish between a book review and a book report. A book report is just a summary of a book. A book review includes an evaluation of the book.

The Slippery Art of the Book Review is helpful because it provides examples of both good book reviews and poor book reviews. The authors also distinguish between blogs, reader reviews, and professional reviews. The authors observe that some have been critical of blogger reviews because of these reviews being overly positive.

The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing is a good guide for writing reviews. It gives excellent advice about how to get started writing reviews. It provides resources where book reviews can be published. This is a nuts and bolts kind of book on book reviewing. It is recommended to all readers who are interested in writing book reviews.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Re-reading Harry Potter

I finished reading Harry Potter this week to my kids. This is my third time through the series. Each reading have brought fresh insights. I wanted to share some reflections on the last three books.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: The genius of this book is that we see that Harry Potter is not perfect. We see that flaws exist in everyone. At different parts, Harry is not a likeable fellow. We also see that one of Harry's teachers tortures Harry. This woman is suppose to be fighting evil, but she uses evil to fight evil. This reminds one of Machiavelli's the ends justifies the means. In addition, Harry's intellectual curiosities leads to terrible results. He is warned against following them, but he is unable to restain.

Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince: Harry finds a textbook that had belonged to the Half-blood prince. His book is filled with his markings and his notes. It is like two books in one. Some people say you shouldn't write in your books, but Mortimer Adler argued that is the way we gain ownership of the book. Marking your book will help you to be a more active reader.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: At the end of the previous book, Dumbledore gave Harry the job of destroying horcruxes. Voldemort has split his soul into seven pieces. These horcruxes must be destroyed for Voldemort to die. Harry, however, finds out about the Deathly Hallows which would allow one to be the master of all others. Harry cannot do both. He must choose between destroying horcruxes or acquiring the deathly Hallows.

 After Dumbledore's death, many unknown truths about Dumbledore becomes common knowledge. These truths cast doubt on Dumbledore's goodness. Harry struggles for belief in Dumbledore despite these doubts. I believe Rowling is alluding to the Christian's struggle to believe in God. I think this novel shows that we ultimately are free to choose if we are going to believe. In the last part of the book Harry sacrifices his life for others and comes back to life. I think Rowling is pointing to the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Harry Potter books are not perfect, but they are very good. Harry Potter, however, is fun to read and it points to the permanent things, like truth, goodness, and beauty.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Taking Your Soul to Work Pt.1

R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung, Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the WorkPlace. Eerdmans, 2010.

Taking Your Soul to Work is divided into three parts. The first part discusses the sins of the workplace. The fruit of the Spirit is analyzed in part two. The last part discusses "workplace spirituality."

Stevens and Ung describes the nine sins in the workplace that undermine the growth of the soul. Seven of these are known as the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony and lust. The authors add two additional sins to this list: boredom and restlessness. These nine sins are discussed in chapters one through nine.

Stevens and Ung asserts, "pride permeates the modern workplace" (17). The authors note that the opposite of pride is humility. Greed is the next sin described. The Bible says "greed or avarice is generated when our desire for God is channeled instead toward the things that God has made" (22). The Bible has much to say about being contented with what we have. A third sin is lust. One can see how if this sin is not controlled can lead to ruin. The way to overcome this sin is to love God and to love others with a godly love. The sin of gluttony"lies in finding satisfaction through excessive consumption" (33). This sin shows the importance of self-control. Anger is a sin that many struggle with. The authors note that of all our emotions, "anger is the most explosive" and leads to many of the other deadly sins. The authors believe we need to overcome anger by "surrendering to God the desire to control" (42). Sloth is a sin that many people misunderstand. This sin is usually associated with laziness, but it means much more. The authors assert that busy people can be slothful. Derek Kidner says in his commentary on Proverbs, "the slothful will not begin things, will not finish things, and will not face up to things" (45). The slothful persons seems to be caught in despair and of course, belife is the opposite of despair.
The last three sins discussed are envy, restlessness, and boredom. Do not envy is part of the ten commandments. People are often tempted to have what others have. The way to overcome envy is to cultivate a thankful spirit. The authors think that a modern sin that is prominent in the workplace is restlessness. It is the desire to run away from difficult situations. This sin is noted by Wendell Berry in his writings. We will miss out on character development when we flee difficult situations. The authors notes that "acedia is deadly because it causes us to despise our present circumstances, our work, and even life itself" (57). This idea is similar to the idea that the grass is greener on the other side. The last sin discussed is boredom. This sin seems to be a modern sin. The author thinks that boredom "results from too little or too much stimulation" (64). I hear this word often from my kids. The answer to boredom is leisure and the practice of the Sabbath. The authors believe that boredom is a sign that something is wrong in our soul.

These are the nine deadly sins of the workplace. We need to exercise discipline in our life to overcome them. By doing these things, we will allow God to shape our soul in the workplace. In the next part we will look at the fruit of the Spirit.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs

James V. Schall, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing. ISI Books, 2001. 189 pp.

James V. Schall is an excellent writer of essays. He knows how to use his essays to point to the highest things, like truth, goodness, and beauty. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs tells us what we think as serious is not really serious and what we think is not serious is really serious. Schall asserts that if man was the highest thing than human affairs would be what is most important, but humans are not the highest beings in the universe, God is. Schall seeks to answer how we should live our lives if God and transcendental truths exist. He says we should live our lives singing, dancing, and sacrificing.

The good thing about reading Schall is that he leads you to the important authors and their works. This book is no different. The reader will be entering a feast on what Aquinas, Augustine, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Josef Pieper and others say about the highest things. One of Schall's favorite authors is Charlie Brown, however. He finds many theological and philosophical truths in the comic strip. This probably says something about Schall.

Many of these essays cover education. How does one go about getting an education in the highest things, the things that matter most. Schall notes multiple times that it can be acquired through the reading of books. He also notes that we must have the desire to know. Schall draws richly from Aristotle's Ethics in this book. For example, Aristotle says "The life of someone whose activity expresses virtue will be happy" (156). Aristotle also said there is a "proper pleasure attached to knowledge, a pleasure that makes the activity even more delightful, even more absorbing"(159). Aristotle taught that happiness is an end. He also insisted leading a good life required virtue. In addition, there is an important connection between the moral and intellectual virtues. Schall emphasizes the importance of disciplining or ordering our life if we will see truth.

In some sense, these essays are an attack on utilitarianism. For example, one of Schall's essays is titled, "Philosophy: Why what is useless is the best thing about us." Schall shows in this essay how knowing the highest things is an end in itself. I thought many times about Josef Pieper's book on leisure while reading these essays.

Schall notes two important homophomic words  is "to wonder" and "to wander. " Aristotle said to wonder is the beginning of philosophy. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs is written for all potential philosophers, lovers of wisdom.