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Saturday, August 17, 2019

"The Second Mountain" by David Brooks. A Review

The Second MountainThe Second Mountain by David  Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

David Brooks, author, speaker, executive director of the Aspen Institute and launcher of the WEAVE program, has handed the American public something of a secular version of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes in his recently published "The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life". This 384 page hardback is clearly friendly to faith, family, community and conjugality. And it is filled with words from a man who has entered a new stage of life where he looks back over his years seeing that in some ways, much of it was vanity of vanities and chasing after the wind. Or, as he puts it, "For many, the big choices in life often aren't really choices; they are quicksand. You just sink into the place you happen to be standing" (108). But what matters most is enjoying your life, your wife, the sun and the night, the neighborhood wherein you live, and the people with whom you engage. But unlike Ecclesiastes, there is no final end of the matter; there is no fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man conclusion.

Though Brooks writes a valuable script that will resonate well with many people of faith, much of the motive seems to be the very individualism he is trying to curb. It will make my world better if you and I do these thing; it will make you and me fulfilled if we share lovingkindness and build community; it will give your kids and mine a more wholesome future; etc. Don't get me wrong. I loved reading the book, and the author has done a masterful job unpacking the importance of faith and family, ritual and relationships, community and calling. Also, there are several bright and budding perceptions - such as the two chapters on the stages of community building. In the end, though, the subtle pull was "me". How I can be part of something bigger, better, and more blessed that I might find fulfillment. This is really my only critique, and why I call it something of a secular version of Ecclesiastes.

Yet, the overwhelming tenor of the book is healthy and wholesome! For example, as he unpacks the telos crisis in many American lives, he will hit a nerve and raise many voices of agreement. As he walks us through the social valley between the two mountains, we will be nodding our heads affirmatively as he traces out the loneliness crisis, the distrust, the crisis of meaning, the growing and raging tribalism, and suffering. I was beset on many sides while delving into the book; furiously marking it up here and jotting notes there. Much in this manuscript will feed the heart and stoke the fires of purpose. Surely Brooks is correct in seeing that our "society has become a conspiracy against joy" (xxii), and he, for one, is seeking to do something about it! Do we dare join the movement?

It was good for my soul to read "The Second Mountain". Many of Brooks's concerns about the rising suicides, intensifying anxieties and violent melees in our day are my concerns as well. And the overwhelming discussions, designs and directions gave me lots to ponder. Not only will a host of Boomers find the book valuable, but I think Xers, Millennials and iGens (or whatever they will be called) will be rescued from many a wrong turn as they read and learn. If it is at all possible, I encourage you to pick up a copy and read it before the month is out. I happily recommend the book.

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Friday, August 16, 2019

"Not Forsaken" by Jennifer Michelle Greenberg. A Review

Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After AbuseNot Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse by Jennifer Michelle Greenberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"When evil looms and darkness falls
And tragedy is breaking
When all that's good seems overturned
By God I'm not forsaken
For though I fall or wander far
I'm not too far for saving
And when my Shepherd seeks and finds
How can I keep from singing" (229)?

So cantillates Jennifer Michelle Greenberg, mother, wife, writer, musician and abuse survivor, in her new 240 page hardback "Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse". This volume is the tale of her terrors and troubles at the hands of an abusive father, and it is far, far more. It is truly a story of life after abuse, abundant life found only in the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. An easy to read book, it is ideally suited for those who have been traumatized and those who long to help the trampled! "I am not my abuser. I have a choice. I aspire to heal and grow by God's grace" (82).

Greenberg inaugurates "Not Forsaken" with short, heart-rending glimpses of her childhood to give the reader a deep sense that this is not a disaffected academic research project, but life and flesh and grief and pain woven into the fiber of each page. Yet the author does not dwell long in those dark corners and dank memories. She quickly moves on to uncover the substance of health and wholeness. She leaves little wiggle-room for an abuser's self-justifications. In fact, she rightly states - for the good of survivors - that you "won't recover from evil if you can't admit what is evil...For when we call evil what it is, not only do we embark upon the process of recovery, be we deny our abuser power over our minds" (51).

"Not Forsaken" also helps the victims to work through the voices in their head, the fog of confusion, the backbreaking weight of borrowed guilt, and the manipulative ploys used by their perpetrators that linger. The author even takes a constructive jaunt down the trail of forgiveness, making very useful distinctions and voicing invaluable perceptions. I deeply appreciated Greenberg's clear-eyed depictions of the traits of an abuser, and the trademarks of a "gracer" (44-51). This book is definitely a story about life after abuse, and how to actually live after abuse.

Fittingly did Russell Moore, president of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, pen in the forward that what is most real in the cosmos is "the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil." Therefore, Christians "should be, above all people, those who understand the reality of trauma. And we should be, above all people, those who know that trauma is not invincible to the workings of grace" (9). This book is just the book to give Christians the means to understand trauma, and rejoice that trauma and evil are not invincible to the workings of God's grace. And this book is just the book to give the traumatized, abused, and surviving a hopeful and healthy way to be swept up in the workings of grace as it vanquishes evil! I not only recommend the book, I implore you to obtain copies to give to the scarred and violated.

My thanks to The Good Book Company for sending me a copy of the book at my request, which I used for this review. They made no stipulations or specifications. Therefore, this assessment is my own, freely penned and freely presented.

Get the book here.

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

"O LORD, I Am Your Servant" Congregational Prayer - 11 August 2019

“O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, ... Praise the LORD” (Psalm 116.16-19)! O LORD, we thank you for saving us from many dangers and devastations – known and unknown; for providing us with livelihoods and loves; for filling us with good things and being a God of steadfast love and faithfulness. Glory to you, O God Most High!

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name: O God, how we long to see you honored by all; to be reverenced and held in high regard by presidents and presidential candidates of all parties, constituents and denizens in all regions, by multiple Medias world over, family members, fellow workers, friends and foes. Since the fear of the LORD is Zion’s treasure (Isaiah 33.6c), may the hallowing of your name become a premier priority amongst your people. Give your fatherly discipline, deliverance and direction to your Church world over, here in America, this congregation, as well as St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Calvary Bible Fellowship, Everlasting Gospel Lighthouse, and Faith Church.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven: We desire to see your reign filled in and filled out from “the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24.31). Therefore we intercede on behalf of the Bangladesh Pastors Project; the Butlers in Australia; the Iverson’s in Japan; the Pardigons; Shane Hatfield at RUF OSU; Scott Morris at RUF OU; Caleb Harlan at RUF Univ. of Tulsa; the Berrys in Peru; and the Youngs in North Mexico; that you would provide support, strength, stamina and success in their work. And be with those who frequent our church playground and our ESL classes, that they would be drawn in to hear the Gospel. And may your kingdom, your reign, come on our country and all nations of this earth.

Give us this day our daily bread: Father, you supply our every need. There are some here who have serious needs… Provide them what they have need of. And we confess that all we have, in all of the plenty, comes from you. Help us to be rich in good works, to give abundantly, and to not neglect to do good and to share what we have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to you (Hebrews 13.16).

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors: Instead of holding grudges and demanding our pound of flesh, may your gracious mercy strike us with such weight and force afresh that we would become quick to forgive those who have wronged us, and just as quick to ask forgiveness of those whom we have wronged.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil and the evil one: Look mercifully, O Good Shepherd, on this your flock; and suffer not the sheep which you have redeemed with your precious blood to be torn in pieces by the assaults of the devil, the flesh and the world. Thank you that you have rescued us from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and the pride of sin. We long with earnest yearning for you to return where we will be forever free from the presence of sin!

For thine is the kingdom, and power, and the glory forever. Amen!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

"The Coddling of the American Mind" by Lukianoff and Haidt. A Review

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for FailureThe Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have been wondering what is happening among younger adults and college students, and if you have been puzzled by their seeming emotional fragility and lack of ability to engage with reasonable discussions, then a helpful book is out and about. Greg Lukianoff, an attorney, New York Times best-selling author, and the President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and Jonathan Haidt, American social psychologist, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business, and author, have pulled together an insightful and useful dossier running 352 pages, "The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure". The hardback came out in September 2018, and was recently reformatted into a softback. The authors have given a fair-minded, thought-filled analysis that is substantive, while being quite readable.

To put the book rather simply, the authors seek to take on and defang three damaging myths that have been grabbing hold of academia, students, and beyond. These three started showing their colors on campuses around 2013. The three untruths are: (1) What doesn't kill you makes you weaker (fragility); (2) Always trust your feelings (emotional reasoning); and (3) Life is a battle between good people and evil people (us versus them). Lukianoff and Haidt masterfully show "how these three Great Untruths - and the policies and political movements that draw on them - are causing problems for young people, universities, and, more generally, liberal democracies" (4).

The first three chapters describe what these treble troubles look like, and how they have been playing out in the academic environs and environments around the country. One of the main culprits that has bred this trifecta of mendacity is suffocating safetyism, the modern obsession with protecting our young people so that never feel unsafe. From it has burbled to the surface harmful notions of fragility, safe spaces, microaggressions, cognitive distortions, common-enemy identity politics, the call-out culture, etc. In the following two chapters, the authors give multiple examples of how these bad ideas have been acted on through intimidation, violence and witch-hunts. The book moves further on to explain how we got here as it examines polarization, rising numbers of young adults affected by anxiety and depression, paranoid parenting, the decline of play for children, and the bureaucratic institutionalizing of safetyism. The authors, always looking to encourage changes, end the book promoting various ways to bring about wiser kids, wiser universities, and wiser societies. As I read, I found myself challenged and humbled, especially with regard to paranoid parenting and safetyism; but I also felt that the authors presented what was constructive and hopeful.

In many areas I discovered the authors aiding me in clarifying certain concepts that gave me a better perspective. One example out of many was their distinction between proportional-procedural social justice as it stands in sharp contrast to equal-outcomes social justice. After reading through the material on this subject, I am convinced that a number of the conflicts over "social justice" are because a majority of folks attribute to it different meanings that go in dissimilar directions. Lukianoff and Haidt gave some much needed clarity on the subject.

"The Coddling of the American Mind" is neither a rant nor a rave; and it is neither left nor right. It is a friendly book intended to give lucidity to what is often baffling, and in my estimation it succeeds! Not only should university and college administrators grab a copy and pour over it, so should moms, dads, grandparents, government officials, law enforcement, and anyone who cares about people, especially the generations rising up at the present and in the future. I highly recommend the book!

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Sunday, August 4, 2019

"Praise, O Servants of the LORD" Congregational Prayer - 4 August 2019

{This congregational prayer is shaped by Psalm 113}

Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD! We lift our hearts to you, O mighty God, merciful God, majestic God, because you have cared for us in spiritual and bodily and psychological needs; and so, with our hearts and hands and voices we resound with your praises!!!!

Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised! Lord God, our Father, we pray for your one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and we pray for St. Christopher’s, St. David’s, St. James’, and St. John’s Episcopal Church. We pray for all your Church’s Bishops, elders, pastors, ministers, and servers, that they would all be faithful to the Word of God and guide your Church to prove herself to be the light of Christ to the nations. And Abba, Father, for this congregation we pray; for all of our parents and the children in our homes, our students and young adults seeking to take out on their own paths, for each of us in our vocations and conditions; that in all we do we would show ourselves Christ’s disciples in word and deed.

The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? Governor and Ruler of all creation, nations and peoples, we pray for the peace and security of the world’s nations, for an end to unjust war and violent oppression that the peoples of the earth may come to receive the Prince of Peace. And eternal God, who has made us pilgrims and sojourners, we pray for our own country, for those who govern, for all the people in this land. May we have justice, security and well-being. In these days of racial tensions, political rodeos, hot headedness, terror threats, ethical fluidity, and sexual bewilderment, show yourself a mighty God on our behalf that our own nation would finally say with deep conviction and deliberate comportment, “In God we trust!” We pray for Patrick Crusius that you would visit him with your mercy and justice: he would come to his senses and see the evil he ripped through peoples’ lives with and he would utterly turn to you; but also that he may receive for his crimes what is legitimately warranted. Finally, for others in our country who are tempted to unjustly take up arms and destroy others – whether out of bigotry, hatred, fear or from mental illness – stop them, in whatever ways are best and right for them. 

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD! Father, giver of all good gifts, we pray for the poor and hungry…., the homeless and mentally ill…, the unemployed and heavily employed…, the sad and scared…, the sick and lonely…, and for the families of the dead and the wounded in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio; that help unlooked for may arrive at just the right time; that you would draw them up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set their feet upon a rock, making their steps secure. That you would put a new song in their mouth, a song of praise to our God, so that many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD (Psalm 40.2-3). And saving God, we pray for those who do not rest on your Son Jesus – maybe some in here and those out there…; as well as those who are in deep spiritual need…; that by your Spirit active in their lives, they may find conviction, courage, and comfort in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

"The LORD is Righteous" Congregational Prayer - 28 July 2019

{Today's congregational prayer interacts with Psalm 11}

In the LORD I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, “Flee like a bird to your mountain, for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” O Lord our refuge, the shelter in the midst of the storm, for those who are taunted and teased by their afflictions, ailments, burdens or biliousness to “flee like a bird to your mountain,” we pray… enfold them in your compassion and fill them with courage that they may rejoice in your goodness. For those being aimed at by the bow of the wicked, shot at in the dark and dimness, we pray…shield them from the fiery darts, and screen them from slander and spite. For those who are rocking and reeling and feeling as if the bottom is falling out, we pray…may they find in you their sure foundation and be built up in sturdy strength. 
The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD's throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. O LORD, high and lifted up, many in academia, and many in positions of power and prominence in our broadcasting and print outlets act and function as if they are gods, high and mighty in their own opinions and derisiveness. Many in our institutions of science and medicine proceed and pronounce as if the sun rises and sets at their bidding. Bring them to know that they are mere dust before you, that they are faulty and frail mortals who are given each breath and each opportunity to think and speak and live from your hand. And bring them to bow the knee before your Son, Jesus Christ, now, before he returns to judge the living and the dead. And for our own country and all the nations of the world, we pray: “Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you! Put them in fear, O LORD! Let the nations know that they are but men” (Psalm 9.19-20)!

Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face. O Father, we pray for your church that spans this round globe, including this congregation, and Church of the Redeemer, Church of the Resurrection, St. Anslem of Canterbury and St. Augustine of Canterbury. You who are righteous and love righteous deeds, may your righteousness triumph among us. Produce repentance where there has been a history of hardheaded recalcitrance; grace where there has been hardnosed legalism; peace where there have been heartless divisions; hope where there has been helpless trouble; ongoing fortitude where there has been Biblical faithfulness; and outright success where there has been Gospel outreach. Hasten the day when the upright will behold your face; by the saving power of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (From Psalm 11).

Sunday, July 21, 2019

"I Rejoice at Your Word" Congregational Prayer - 21 July 2019

{Our congregational prayer today is supervised by Psalm 119.161-168}

Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words. There are places in our world, O Lord, where injustice, immorality, illegality and inhumaneness sit enthroned and empowered, violently and viciously crushing people and seeking to harm your chosen ones. Lift up the downtrodden and demoralized, show strength with your arm; scatter the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; and bring down the mighty from their thrones (Luke 1.51-52). We especially ask for you to defend, direct, and deliver your Church in all places, and more pointedly, in Turkey and Mynmar.

I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. Eternal God, look upon these United States of America that there may again be great joy at your Word, like the joy of those who have found a priceless treasure. Many who are in office claim to be disciples of Jesus, and fellow believers. Especially for them we beg you to shape their desires, direct their actions, protect their families, and build them up to pursue God-defined justice, equity, and the common good for all in this land – the free born, foreign born and unborn.

I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. Great God, faithful God, God of truth and fidelity; we implore you to bring honesty and integrity to the forefront of our land, to the forefront of our relationships, our families, our jobs, our schools and colleges, our civil offices, and our international affairs. Rouse your people in this country, to include Western Oaks Nazarene Church, Yukon Church of the Nazarene, First Deliverance Church, St. George’s Ethiopian Orthodox Church and All Souls Episcopal Church, to reclaim and be reclaimed by the importance of your Word, to return to committed, prayer-full connection with you through Christ alone received by faith alone, and resilience in pursuing what is right.

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. We have loved ones and friends, O Father, who once professed faith in Christ but now seem to be tottering between heaven and hell, perdition and redemption…May they come to the peace your law promotes, the peace that can be found only in your Son, Jesus Christ, and only by the fullness of your Spirit, so that they may become steady and not stumble.

I hope for your salvation, O LORD, and I do your commandments. My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly. I keep your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before you. Hear us cry out for those who have never known your great salvation: family, friends, neighbors, and any of the kids and parents we interacted with in VBS…. Bring them into your family that they may know they’re forgiven in Jesus Christ, and bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control. / And please grant recovery, refreshment, and restoration for those in tight places, difficult spaces, and hard races...; through our great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, we offer these prayers. Amen (From Psalm 119.161-168).