SILENCE AND BEAUTY

https://www.amazon.com/Silence-Beauty-Hidden-Faith-Suffering/dp/0830844597

I am writing a book on how to trust God in the midst of suffering. Recent reads were Endo’s Silence followed by Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty. I made over 200 marginal notes in the pages of Endo’s Silence. It is an extremely important work for Christians to digest deeply.

Usually a commentary on a great book may be helpful and illuminating, but hardly of the caliber of the classic. This book may break this regular rule.

Fujimura’s reflections on Endo’s classic work are simply stunning. Silence and Beauty is a wonderful companion to Endo’s Silence. In fact, I would argue that Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty is indispensable to reading Endo’s work. Silence and Beauty takes you into the heart of Japanese culture and rituals. It helps you understand why Christianity is such a threat to its cultural ethos.

Silence and Beauty is wonderfully conceived and full of compelling insights. Highly recommended.

PRINCETON LOG #3: PEOPLE

The past two posts on Princeton have focused on places.  This one focuses on people.  My last week Princeton included four wonderful days with some terrific folk.  My first was with well-known artist and author, Makoto Fujimura or Mako for short.  Mako has recently written an absorbing book called Silence and Beauty.  It is a commentary of sorts on Shusaku Endo’s novel, Silence

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We took a day trip to Yale.  There we met with David and Karen Mahan.  Doreen worked with Dave at Virginia Tech in the early 1980s. Both of them were on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru).  I met Dave during the summer of 1985.  Our son, Chris, is looking into various graduate programs. Yale is one of his possibilities so it was wonderful that he could join us. 

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James McPherson is widely hailed as our greatest living historian of the Civil War.  In 1989 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his magisterial book, Battle Cry of Freedom.  I spoke with Professor McPherson on how various people processed the carnage of the war.

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My week finished up with Carl Trueman, Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.  Carl and I have corresponded via email, but never met in person.  He is a terrific historian and wonderful essayist. Make sure to check him out on First Things and Mortification of Spin.

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PRINCETON LOG #2: WHAT WE’RE STUDYING (AND A NOTE ON PURGATORY)

Yesterday, we posted a picture outside of Payne Hall.  Here is our living room:

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Here is the huge balcony we share with one other apartment:

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Princeton is a walking town, so we (gladly) do lots of it everyday.  A few pictures of our walk with a couple of the University which is right across the street from the quaint town.

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Some spots along our daily walk to the library:

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You may have heard me mock pastors who say they are “married to the most beautiful woman in the world.”  I like to jest that she must be getting very tired.  Well, I think it is fair to say that the day the following picture was shot I could safely say I was married to the most beautiful woman in the library.

Doreen had no idea I was taking a picture, but now she will be on to me.  She is doing research on Sarah Edwards, wife of Jonathan.  As many of you know, her first book covers the marriage of Jonathan and Sarah, along with the Whitefields and Wesleys.  I happy to say that the Princeton library carries her book along with two of mine.

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The burial place of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards.  Also, the graveyard for John Witherspoon, Aaron Burr, and many more.

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My spot in the library:

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I am finishing up a thirty-five year study of how to trust God in the midst of suffering.  One of my final reads is Ralph Wood’s utterly amazing book on Flannery O’Connor.  At my current pace, this 280 page book will have over 500 marginal notes.  It is one of the most insightful and beautifully written books I’ve ever read.  If you choose to read it, go very slow and bring out your pen!

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Protestants don’t tend to believe in Purgatory.  I have joked that looking at someone’s photos of their family vacation can feel like Purgatory exists.  Hopefully, you will find this log more celestial in nature.

PRINCETON LOG #1: GETTING THERE

Packed and ready to go:

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Dinner (and spent the night) with wonderful friends, Bill and Helen.  A great restaurant Bill and Helen introduced us to:

Breakfast in Dallas with our oldest son, David, who works for Deloitte:
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Driving over the Mississippi River:
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Feeling peace because our dog, Dexter, is in the terrific hands of our friends, Bill and Diana.  Note well his Napoleon complex!
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Spent night in Knoxville with Doreen’s sister and brother-in-law.  Met a new family member.  He cried right after this picture was taken.  It had nothing to do with my skills, but everything to do because the little guy was hungry.  That’s my story…
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Stopped at Wayside Inn in Middletown Virginia.  We stayed here twenty-five years ago when Doreen was pregnant with David.
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Asymmetrical is critical when Doreen drives:
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Arrived in Princeton.  Our place is the second floor with balcony.  Surrounded by history and beauty on every corner.
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Coming up next: What we are researching and writing.

AGING

One way I’ve thought of aging: It is a secret society which your younger self barely knew existed.  Quicker than you can imagine you are made a member of the club.  The dues are very steep!

HOW TO SIGN A BOOK

I’ve done some book signings for my own books.  Several writer friends have put nice notes to me in copies of their books.  But none have done what Edith Schaeffer did when I asked (in the summer of 1986) her to sign a book for my then girlfriend, Doreen!  By the way, it was perhaps the most idyllic place I’ve been: out in the Swiss country surrounded by the Alps.

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DON’T MEMORIZE SCRIPTURE…

I am a big believer in memorizing Scripture.  It is one discipline I’ve kept at for forty years now.  I am deeply grateful for wonderful models who valued the importance early on of hiding Scripture in my heart.

So is my subject line a joke?  Yes and no.

Many people tell me they just don’t have a good memory so memorizing Scripture is tortuous.  To quote Bob Newhart, I tell them to “Stop it!”

Rather, meditate on Scripture.  Keep chewing on it.  Divide up the phrases.  Mull over individual words.  By doing so, you will begin to have passages memorized.

So don’t start out by trying to memorize.  Meditate frequently.

But do review what you have memorized.  Review is crucial.  I know many people who have memorized even long passages only to lose it later on because they made no time for regular review.

THE PAIN AND JOY OF LEARNING

If you are following the debate swirling about the trinity, I think it is quite clear that one side has the better of the argument.  My brief reflection on this, and by way of extension, all such challenges:

Luke Timothy Johnson likes to remind us of the ancient phrase that “to learn is to suffer.” Learning many times means abandoning something we believed to be true, but now realize is not.

The other side of learning is the joy of discovery. Ezekiel Cheever, the first headmaster of Massachusetts Bay, believed that “children ought to come to learn as they come to play.”

May God motivate all of us to admit when we are wrong. There will undoubtedly be some pain in the discovery, but joy will attend our way as we do.

LITURGY, THE BIBLE, AND CHRISTIAN GROWTH

https://www.amazon.com/You-Are-What-Love-Spiritual/dp/158743380X?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

James K.A. Smith (aka Jamie) writes with insight and verve. He is a deep thinker who wants us to know that there is more to life than thinking. More on that in a moment.

I’ve read four of Jamie’s books: Letters to a Young Calvinist (reviewed here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/06/15/david-g-moore-i-guess-im-not-a-calvinist/), Desiring the Kingdom, How (Not) to be Secular, and his latest, You are What You Love (YWYL). YWYL is designed as a more accessible version of Desiring the Kingdom, but I found both worth reading.

There is much to appreciate about the project Smith calls “cultural liturgics.” Smith has sniffed out a pervasive and naïve notion at least among American Christians: the idea that thinking alone is adequate to form us in the way Christ intends. Smith’s concern here is well founded as one can find many examples of Christians who once stuffed their heads with Bible knowledge only to find themselves now burned out, disillusioned, and adding to the growing numbers of self-proclaimed evangelicals who seek to work out their salvation autonomously. There is no doubt that Bible knowledge alone does not make one a Christ follower. Jesus warned the Jews to not confuse knowledge of the Scriptures with knowing Him (Jn. 5:39,40).

Smith forcefully argues that Bible knowledge alone is not enough. Some believe he falls prey here to a false dichotomy in correcting this error. I think that charge is unmerited. Smith gives some explicit disavowals to the contrary. Also, the body of Smith’s work makes clear that he is no anti-intellectual. Something else must be afoot rather than simply advocating a simplistic either/or option of head versus heart.

I agree that we are not just (a modifier Smith wisely employs on many occasions)“thinking-things” or ‘brains on a stick.” Smith’s view seems to be that formative liturgies are primary while biblical knowledge, essential as it may be, takes a subordinate role of sorts. He writes, “We learn to love, then, not primarily by acquiring information about what we should love but rather through practices that form the habits of how we love.” (Emphasis his)

The examples Smith gives in YWYL to demonstrate that biblical knowledge is hardly adequate for the best Christian formation are ones that sadly glut the evangelical landscape. Granted, there are many pathetic examples of ministers investing an almost magical power in acquiring biblical knowledge, but here is where I have questions. It is easy to see the foolishness of making biblical knowledge alone magical, but that begs a question of sorts. Is biblical knowledge acquired in only one way? That is, do all Christians believe that mere intellectual apprehension of biblical data is the proper way to learn Scripture?   Smith’s monolithic description of gaining bible knowledge does not consider the myriad of ways, including the healthy ones, where Christians interact with God’s Word.   Yes, we have many bad examples of a simplistic notion that learning the Bible better can automatically make one mature. However, there are Christians who come to the Scriptures with reverence, submission, and a genuine reliance on the Holy Spirit. Proper Bible knowledge is meant to lead us to the person of Christ. Smith never engages with these possibilities. Categorizing the place of all biblical thinking in a monolithically negative manner dismisses what ought to be delved into much further. David Morlan writes in his own review of Smith’s proposal that “he deals with generalities and stereotypes of churches, not actual people and actual churches.”                                                                                              

I would argue there is more of a both/and dynamic with thinking and formation rather than formative liturgies being primary. II Corinthians 10:3-5 and Romans 12:1,2 along with a more integrated/holistic anthropology (which keep the intellectual tethered to the affective) also move in that direction. The latest neuroscience from folks like Antonio Damasio shows that there is more talking going on between the so-called right and left halves of the brain than we previously imagined. I therefore find Smith’s regular refrain that we love things before we know why or that “virtue isn’t acquired intellectually but affectively” unpersuasive.

Smith claims that our “primary orientation to the world is visceral, not cerebral.” In my own discipleship ministry with men I first cover trusting God when suffering intersects one’s life. I take the men through an in depth study of Habakkuk. It is heavy biblical input while candidly working through issues of sorrow, grief, and the important role of lament. I don’t find it possible or prudent to separate the so-called visceral from the so-called cerebral. New Testament scholar, Patrick Schreiner, voices a similar concern: “I still personally wonder if the picture Smith paints is actually too neat. Maybe the process of theological anthropology is too complex to break down into humans primarily being this or that. Because isn’t the intellect a part of the body’s and heart’s process of desiring”?                                                      

Jamie Smith makes all of us think more deeply about the Christian faith. I for one have benefitted from his gifted pen, even, and maybe especially so, when I disagree with him.                                                                                                                                                      

[I am grateful to Jamie Smith for his quick response to my questions. I am also appreciative for Dennis Okholm and Scot McKnight taking the time to interact with me over the role of liturgy in spiritual formation. I alone take responsibility for the views expressed in this review.]