Waking Up Slowly (Again)

A Gentle Reminder

This comes by way of reminder. A few weeks ago I reviewed Dave’s new book, Waking Up Slowly.

You know how some books, you read and forget in between the last word and the final period? Waking Up Slowly sticks with youIt will kick start your day like a Chai Tea Latte with a shot of dopamine.

It’s that time of year — you’re feeling a little ragged, a tad draggy — wondering what in the world you’re going to do with the kids when they are home ALL SUMMER LONG, and camp isn’t an option this year.

Pick up Waking Up Slowly, and sip it — maybe a chapter a day. It will last you well into the summer and make you feel like it’s an April morning in (fill in your favorite town, state, country, or planet).

Waking Up Slowly – a Review by a Fellow Phubberite

Dave Burchett's new book will give you paws...


So my buddy, Dave Burchett texts me a few days ago:

Dave: “Hey Reg, how about you write an excellent endorsement for my new book, Waking Up Slowly?” Or words to that effect. It was a setup.

Me (not knowing what the book is about): “Yo, Dave—love to, bud, but man, I’m just so (you know what’s coming)—BUSY!”

So, after letting him know what a sacrifice it would be for me to SPEND TIME reading and then blurbing his book, and how he would owe me big time, he sends me the book and I start power-reading (ie., turn on the fan and let the pages fly).

Then, some of the words catch my eye and I slow down. Because that’s what Waking Up Slowly is about: slowing down, being fully present in any given moment, cultivating your friendships. Unplugging. And yes, there are dogs. Dave’s dogs: wunderhounds! I turned off the fan.

I could hear Dave chortling in the background because he knew I’d be totally busted when I caught the drift of his book, which is really a few gulps of cold water on a Dallas day in August masquerading as something to read.

I’ll extend the drinking analogy in a minute. First, I want to encourage those of you who may have encountered this “slow down, you move too fast, got to make the morning last” mantra (thanks S&G for Feelin’ Groovy) in other times and places: this one is different. Waking Up Slowly is better. Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (for which she won the 1975 Pulitzer for General Non-fiction, by the way) comes close, but there’s only one chapter devoted to slowing down. I don’t know—maybe she was feeling a bit rushed.

A more contemporary, antiseptic version can be found in Sherry Turkle’s, Reclaiming Conversation: the Power of Talk in a Digital Age; however, Ms. Turkle is an MIT Professor, and an excellent clinical writer, but she’s no Dave Burchett when it comes to life-on-life, and being able to express her research in a way that will satisfy your thirst.

Which brings me back to my water analogy.

Waking Up Slowly is like that old dented, 5-gallon water tin Mr. Robins used to bring to Little League practice in the middle of summer. You’d wear yourself out for a couple of hours, playing on a rocky, dusty infield, getting dinged by bad hops and swallowing a cubic yard of dust—and you’d be eyeing that water tin the whole time. But you had to wait ‘til after practice to get a drink. Then, oh, the taste of that water!

Sometimes our Christian life is like practice on a dusty backlot on a blistering summer afternoon. You love the game, but it can leave you parched. Dave’s book is waiting for you over there behind the backstop. And you don’t have to wait until practice is over to take a drink!

BTW, you’ll have to read the book to get the “Phubberite” allusion in the Blog Title.

 

Silence

Expanding our Understanding of God's Love, or An Invitation to Apostasy

Silence

The following review is about twice as long as one of my regular posts. The importance of Endo’s work and the message it conveys require this more thorough treatment.

Silence, the most famous of the historical novels by Shusaku Endo, has been making waves since its original publication in 1966. A number of adaptations have surfaced, including the 1971 film Chinmoku, an opera by the same title, and a film by Martin Scorsese, titled Silence, and slated for release in November, 2016.

Story Summary

The story traces the slow painful descent of its central character, a Portuguese Jesuit priest named Sebastian Rodrigues, into the despair of suffering for the sake of Christ in 17th century Japan without the consolation of His voice, or a sense of His presence. Rodrigues and his fellow priest, Fr. Frncisco Garrpe have been sent to Japan to investigate the reported apostasy of a Jesuit priest named Ferreira, who has been serving there for more than thirty years.

Rodrigues and Garrpe are captured by Inoue, the magistrate of Chikugo. Inoue is an ancient samurai who delights in torturing Christians to pressure them to apostatize. The two missionaries are forced to watch Japanese believers being drowned, or hung upside down over a pit and slowly bled to death for their faith. Rodrigues’s idealized faith is shaken: Where is God in the midst of their intense suffering? Why does He refuse to speak? Where is the glory in such suffering?

Fr. Ferreira, who had indeed apostatized, tells Rodrigues that he can end the suffering of the Christians who are being tortured by publicly trampling on a fumie, a carved image of Christ.

Spoiler Alert – I’m about to reveal the climactic moment in the book. Stop reading if you intend to read Silence and don’t want to know how things turn out.

Rodrigues has no trouble suffering for his own faith, but he is haunted by the prospect of causing others to suffer by refusing to apostatize. As he looks upon the fumie, his foot aching at the prospect of trampling the divine image, and with the moans of agony rising from the throats of Christians ringing in his ears, Christ speaks to him from the image:

“Trample. Trample. I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample. It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”

Rodrigues places his foot on the fumie, saving the Christians. Later, Rodrigues comes to know a deeper love of Christ than would have been possible apart from his apostasy.

Review

Endo’s Christ is, despite His silence through most of the book, no passive observer of suffering, but an active participant in the suffering of those who follow Him.

Endo addresses the significant question, “is apostasy ever justified, and if so, why?

Endo’s Christ explicitly commands Rodrigues to deny Him publicly. But His reason isn’t so that the other Christians might be saved through his apostatizing. His reason is that He came into the world to be trampled and so to share the pain of those who deny Him. There is a difference between the suffering Servant who endures suffering on behalf of the sheep, and a divine Masochist who seeks out suffering for the sake of sharing in the fellowship of pain, and yet remains silent and inaccessible to those suffering in His name. Endo alludes frequently to Judas in the character of Kichigiro, a cowardly, weak, and despicable man – but also a dark hero. Kichigiro is one without whom Rodrigues might never have come to know the deeper love of Christ.

The Gospel According to Judas (a late third century Gnostic text) depicts Judas as a misunderstood hero in the passion narrative. He betrays Christ because Christ commands him to. In Silence, Endo paves the way for the message in The Gospel According to Judas (Endo had no knowledge of it since Silence was written in 1966, while TGATG didn’t surface until the 70’s). He suggests through his protagonist, Rodrigues that, when the Lord Jesus says to Judas, “What you must do, do quickly,”  he tacitly endorses his betrayal. This view of Judas as hero agrees with message of The Gospel According to Judas. But if Judas was a hero in the biblical passion narrative, why then would Jesus say of him, “it would have been better if he had never been born” (Matt. 26:24)?

Endo suggests that our devotion to Christ is not only negotiable in the face of suffering (ours or our fellow Christians), but is morally ironic. Endo’s message seems to be, “rather than stand fast, I must deny Christ in order to allow Him to fulfill His ongoing mission of suffering in and through His followers.” But dare we, who claim to follow Him, ever, under any circumstance deny Him? No. We cannot apostatize in order to enter into a deeper appreciation of the Lord’s suffering with us. That’s a twisted and pseudo-spiritual logic that will alienate rather than endear us to the Lord (should I “remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not!” Romans 6:1, 2a). Hebrews 6:4-6 reminds me of the consequences of apostasy. Denying Him doesn’t lead to a deeper love of Him (apart from repentance; e.g. Peter).

The cock does crow following Rodrigues’s apostatizing, but this is a different rooster than we find in Mark 14:72 or any of the other gospels. In the gospels, the rooster crowing is a herald of Peter’s denial and shame, whereas in Silence, the cock crowing signifies the fulfillment of Rodrigues’s journey toward a deeper understanding of Christ and His love via the avenue of apostasy. Did Peter deny Christ? Yes. Did he repent and was he restored to fellowship? Yes. Did Rodrigues deny Christ? Yes. Did he repent and was he restored? I see remorse along the lines of the remorse Judas experienced, but I do not see repentance – only a justification for his denial. Ultimately, he concludes, his decision to deny Christ was a good decision. A necessary one.

Finally, we must address the why of Jesus’s suffering as portrayed by Endo in contrast to one of the key reasons for Jesus’s suffering offered in the gospels. Why did Christ endure the Cross? For the joy that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Surely, this joy constitutes more than Jesus’s anticipation of perpetual suffering, even if that suffering is shared with those who follow Him through the dark valley. Endo’s idea of the suffering Christian’s relationship with the risen Christ reminds me of St. John of the Cross and his poem, Dark Night of the Soul. But where St. John stresses the joyful experience of being led along a mystic path of purgation (first of the senses and then of the spirit) to union with God, Endo envisions no such joy, but only the hard-won knowledge of a remote and inaccessible Christ suffering with His followers. And even that knowledge seems to be limited to the priests who deny Him at His invitation. The rest of the swarms of Christians who suffer in silence are left to perish without any awareness of His comforting presence.

Christians suffer persecution knowing that Christ is with us in our suffering, but we stand fast in our faith (2 Thessalonians 2:13-16) never denying the Lord since He said, “…whoever denies me before people, I will deny him also before my father in heaven,” (Matthew 10:33). Remain steadfast, fellow Christian, confident in His promise that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

“Our God approaches and is not silent” (Psalm 50:3).

(Almost) Unoffendable

Why Ephesians 4:26 Gets in the Way of an Otherwise Great Idea

unoffendable-book-mockup

A new friend recommended Unoffendable to me three weeks ago. I downloaded the Audible recording as soon as I got home. Approximately three days later I finished it. Then I did something I’ve never done before with any book, audible or hard copy, other than the Bible and Good Night Moon. I listened to it again. The whole thing. Most of it in one sitting.

The premise of the book is simple: there’s no place for anger in the life of the Christian. Despite our natural inclination to justify our “righteous anger,” despite our compulsion to cling to the indignation that satisfies our lust for vengeance, retribution for wrongs suffered unjustly – despite all that, Brant claims there is not one verse in the Bible, not one sophisticated and theologically nuanced argument that allows for us to hold onto anger.

He points out with clarity, humor, and a healthy dose of humility (his suggested alternative to anger) that our “natural response” is biblically unjustifiable and therefore inappropriate for that very reason – it’s “natural” – i.e., fleshly, or part of the old “natural” man that we are commanded in no uncertain terms to “put away” (Colossians 3:8; Ephesians 4:31).

I want to embrace this idea. It’s a sharply defined, all-or-nothing approach to anger that appeals to my all-or-nothing personality. And Brant is right about the effect of this anger–smushing discipline: the result of refusing to be offended leads to a more peaceful life and better sleep.

But here’s the problem: Ephesians 4:26. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger,” (NET). Brant doesn’t really unpack this verse very well. As Dr. Dan Wallace points out in the NET Bible notes on Ephesians 4:26, “Although several translations render the phrase ‘Be angry and do not sin’ as ‘If you are angry do not sin,’ such is unlikely on a grammatical, lexical, and historical lexical level,” (see his article on this verse in Criswell Theological Review, 3, 1989, 352-372). Bottom line – there is such a thing as righteous anger because the Bible wouldn’t command us to do something that is unrighteous.

Brant claims that anger should never be our motivation for doing what is right. But the Bible never claims that anger should be the motivation for doing the right thing. It simply says, “Be angry, and don’t sin.” The target of our anger (sin) is important. The duration of our anger (short) is important. Anger is a reaction to sin, not a motivation to correcting the sin.

Why react to sin in anger? Because in so doing we mirror God’s righteous displeasure with sin – which we then forgive, just as Jesus forgave, and as we are commanded to do as well. If I am offendable (as God is, by the way), that doesn’t mean that I wallow in a vindictive, get-even, spirit. I acknowledge the offense, I confront the offender, I forgive the offense and I move on.

Strange New Fiction from Michel Faber

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The Book of Strange New Things is my first foray into Faber-land. My wife recommended the novel to me based on a review she had read. She suggested I not read the review, but that I just dive in because it looked like something I might enjoy. She was right.

A couple of caveats before we continue: for my Christian friends whose literary tastes have been shaped by contemporary, best-seller Christian fiction, get ready for a very different read in Faber’s novel. If you are a fan of more mossy Christian fiction – e.g., the likes of Lewis, Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Tolkien, then brace yourself for a much more sober, reflective novel.

In fact, there’s little action to keep you turning pages, until the last 150 pages or so. I almost gave up three times, feeling that the pace was just too slow for me. But the last 150 pages are worth the wait.

The other caveat: there is sexual imagery in the book, though it isn’t voyeuristic. It is fairly graphic, though those scenes are infrequent and brief. More importantly, those scenes function to highlight a natural tension in the plot that would have been difficult to handle with any greater discretion, and still remain true to the central character and his predicament.

Setting and Characters

The setting for most of the novel, Oasis, is no Lewisian Perelandra. The inhabitants of the distant planet where Peter ministers as a Christian missionary pastor are as different from the exquisite Adam and Eve replicants of C. S. Lewis’s pre-fall Venus as one could imagine.

Peter’s adopted world is bleak, and dull. And yet, it is engaging due to the characters who inhabit that flat space. The physical space provides a featureless canvass against which the strange characters emerge as vibrant souls in search of fulfillment.

If you have heard that this is a Christian novel in the usual sense, then you will be disappointed. Contrary to a lot of Christian fiction, this novel is a written with a view to fully rounded characters, whose struggles we witness up very close and very personal. The problems are thorny. The answers – when there are answers – shimmer with an uncertain hope. A hope that may prove, upon arrival, to have been based in nothing but a mirage.

Plot

The plot is simple and direct, stark in its simple construction, but with the controversial elegance of an I. M. Pei design. To reveal much of the plot detail at all will spoil the impact of the story.

It’s safe to say it’s a love story – of sorts. But, it’s more of a meditation on the cost of Christian commitment in a foreign – really foreign – environment, than it is an action novel, or even a work of science fiction if you understand those genres in a conventional sense.

Bottom Line

Read it – as I did – without knowing any more than what I am revealing here. I believe you are in for a treat – a fine meal that should be enjoyed slowly, even reverently.

Great Sports Books

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Tim Colishaw is one of my favorite sports writers, so when he posts his top 50 sports books, I pay attention. He reminds me of Blackie on occasion, and that’s about as good as it gets in my book.

I’ve got enough reading ahead of me, thanks to TC, to last me through the next two Superbowls.

Tim Colishaw’s 50 Favorite Sports Books

Stay!

B8261-2_Stay_CVR

Dave’s New Not-As-Yet-Recommended Book!

 

 

My bud,  Dave Burchett has written another book. I haven’t read it yet, even though he sent me an advance copy weeks ago. It’s sitting on my desk down at DTS, with the picture of his beloved Lab, Hannah (whom Dave lost to cancer), beckoning me from the cover. I don’t recommend books I haven’t read, so there you go. It’s an integrity thing.

Burchett-Dave

I did read his previous opus, When Bad Christians Happen to Good People, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Dave’s dry sense of humor and his maturity as a Christian blend to provide an incisive and humorous perspective on a prickly subject.

Still, I can’t recommend Stay! since it’s still in the “in” and not the “out” box. But I can recommend the author, and maybe that will suffice to get you to buy a few score of Stay! and give them away as gifts. Dave and Joni, his wife of a million years, are two of the finest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, albeit at more of a distance than I would prefer due to too much busyness in all our lives.

I’ve known him since before he took his seat in the production truck and started directing TV broadcasts for the Rangers in 1983. He has let me visit him in that truck parked just outside the 3rd base entrance to the Globe on several occasions. He is a marvel to watch as he directs shots between the 13 monitors clustered in a banked array surrounding him. He’s almost as mossy as Eric Nadel, who has been calling games since 1979, though Dave has weathered the years better than a lot of us.

But as good as he is at calling the shots from the truck, he’s better at walking the talk. He and Joni have responded to  severe adversity (particularly, the passing of their fourth child, sweet Katie back in the late 80’s) with extraordinary grace and a resiliency that they found through their deep relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Of course none of that – his professionalism in the broadcast truck, or his character as a man of faith – qualify him as a writer. But they do inform his perspective on life. At the very least, they provide a context for commentary that would be worthy of our consideration.

So, no, I can’t recommend Stay! – yet. But my guess is, Stay! is going to provide yet another example of the kind of quality that I’ve seen in Dave’s life and work – and that it will mirror the kind of fine writing I witnessed in WBCHTGP. One of these fine days, I’ll sit down and devour Stay!  Then, if I’m in the mood, and the Rangers are winning, and I’m not too hungry – I might recommend it. I understand it’s also available on Audible, and narrated by the warm and congenial Maurice England – a perfect choice for Dave’s style.

Oh yeah, Dave – in case you’re reading this – I still like TexMex.

Dallas Morning News article on Dave Burchett & Stay!