Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Christianity and the Soul of the University

Christianity and the Soul of the University: Faith as a Foundation for Intellectual Community edited by Douglas V. Henry and Michael D. Beaty. Baker Academic, 2006. 192 pages. Isbn: 978-0-8010-2794-9

Christianity and the Soul of the University is a collection of essays that grew out of a 2004 conference held at Baylor University on the relationship between the Christian faith and the University and how the Christian faith can provide the foundation for an intellectual community. The first part discusses some of the major issues of a Christian intellectual community. In chapter one Richard B. Hayes shows how the epistles of John, Peter, and Paul can provide insight for creating a Christian intellectual community. He discusses five characteristics of the Christian community: it values concreteness, it tells the truth, it is wary of cultural idols, it locates itself in the Christian story, and is intellectually charitable to outsiders.

In chapter two Jean Bethke Elstain shows through autobiography and argument that the intellectual mind and the Christian faith are friends. She thinks the university is a place for both reasoned faith and respectful discourse. She show how her intellectual struggles deepened her faith. She describes her own journey from childhood belief, "to halfhearted yet dogged unbelief," to belief. In the next chapter John C. Polkinghorne argues for Christian disciplinarity. He shows how the Christian faith unifies knowledge in contrast to the modern fragmentation of knowledge in the university. In the last chapter of part one David Lyle Jeffrey offers an excellent essay, "Faith, Fortitude, and the Future of the Christian intellectual community." Jeffrey asks the question if there is a future for the Christian intellectual community. He answers in the affirmative if "there are communities of scholars who make it their business to privilege faith," practice academic freedom that is "grounded in the larger Christian principle of love your neighbor;" as long as we do not become "double-minded and unstable in all our ways;"  and "as long our faith is unwavering, accompanied by fortitude and perseverance" (99). Susam M. Felch begins the second part which deals with the practices of the Christian intellectual community. Felch's essay, "Doubt and the Hermeneutics of Delight" argues that delight serve as a better characteristic for the intellectual community than doubt. She does agree that doubt has a place in the university, but she says doubt becomes a problem when doubt is crowned as "education's patron saint." She proposes that "we consider delight as an alternative to doubt." Aurelie A. Hagstrom proposes Christian hospitality as an important practice for the intellectual community. She believes it serves as a better alternative than tolerance. She asserts, "Tolerance is ill suited to address matters of deep controversy because of its tendency to trivialize what is important to us." She thinks it is a "false form of engagement." She states that "hospitality is much more engaging, risky, and costly" than tolerance. She continues, "Hospitality takes the identity, story, and tradition of the guest seriously as a foundation for table fellowship and meaningful dialogue, and it does so without pretending to be less than one is a Christian" (127-128). She concedes that true dialogue in the context of Christian hospitality is not easy. In addition, she shows how Christian hospitality is an exercise in Christian charity.

Other essays discuss the importance of worship, moral imagination, and the importance of emphasizing the protestant doctrine of vocation which has been deemphasized. This book is an excellent collection of essays about how the Christian faith can serve as a foundation for the intellectual community.  

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.