Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Making Useful Connections

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big DifferenceThe Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In my writing classes, I often have to tell my students that cause and effect connections are difficult to prove. I may have to encourage them soon to read this book to help them learn the sort of critical thinking required to look at problems and come up with and communicate viable solutions.

At first glance it may seem that Gladwell's connections are silly or oversimplified. But they not only work, and not merely as some intellectual exercise. He demonstrates the complicated relationships between actions and events. The book also illuminates the potential humans have for problem solving. This is a book that should be required reading, particularly for managers and administrators. It certainly can be a boon to those who wish to improve critical thinking skills.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 27, 2014

Augustine's Confessions

Confessions (World's Classics)Confessions by Augustine of Hippo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a magnificent book. Well, parts of it. Augustine's actual account of his life is beautiful and stirring. I was particularly struck by his love of his mother and his friends.

But when he gets into his ruminations about time and all that, I kept thinking, "What does this have to do with his conversion or his spiritual and intellectual growth? Shouldn't this be in another book?" Maybe that is modern impatience creeping in on my part.

Yet it is all worth it to see not only his devotion, but honesty. More Christian writers, especially memoirists, would do well to read this before thinking their journey is all that special. And even those who are not Christian could benefit from Augustine's story and reasoning. His faith comes not from backwoods ignorance, but from careful thought and an open search for the truth.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 20, 2014

Parents and Breaking the Bonds of the Law

Paul wrote to the church in Galatia: “the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” Perhaps a good living metaphor for this is the relationship we have with right and wrong (not thinking of sin--that's another matter) when we live at home and when we move away from our parents. Mothers and fathers teach us what they believe is right and wrong behavior (and sometimes right and wrong thinking, attitudes, beliefs), and when we are very young we obey them not because we have recognized that their guidance is true, but because they are stronger than we are and also because we know nothing else. We also may love them and wish to please them.
As we get older, we see in the world around other ways of acting, and we may want to do that instead. Sometimes we succeed, but most often we are still bound in different ways to our parents’ way of living. We usually rebel, but only when we are completely free of our parents can we completely “try out” what is different. By then, our parents hope we are rational and mature enough to choose what is truly right, even if that choice means some actions they would not have sanctioned or approved of.

Most often, the rules our parents raise us with are not bad, but it does not take us living long for us to realize that life by rules is not freedom. Freedom is choosing the right rules. Freedom is faithful living in parameters, parameters which may change as we grow.

But Jesus had to make a sacrifice for this difference to come about. Just as we cannot keep all the rules our parents make for us – any child, even a good one, can tell us this – we cannot keep the whole of the law, and so we fall short. Just as good parents love their children when they fall short, so God still loves us. Jesus, our brother, had to sacrifice himself in order for the bonds to be broken. Our parents, if they were good, made sacrifices when we broke the rules, but we could not understand them until we became mature.

When we love Him, the law of God is kept. When we do not love Him, we have only the laws of man, bondage to which makes for failure.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Honoring Companionship

Dog SongsDog Songs by Mary Oliver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading Dog Songs, I get the impression Mary Oliver is not just a dog lover, but a person who loves life with dogs as companions. This volume, many of the poems of which were culled from previous collections, is not only a fine tribute to lives of dogs, but is a wonderful portrait of a person who has learned to live well with them.

Oliver writes accessible poems which do not have to rely on cliché or the ordinary. These poems honor not only the dogs she has lived with, but also the wonder of a life lived in the tension between solitude and companionship.

I would like to rate this book a little higher. But there are some pieces with lines that in need polish or pruning. However I think this is likely to bother very few people other than myself. Dog Songs is an otherwise a earthy and enjoyable read.

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Contemplative Fellowship

I have been listening to Jeff Johnson's music for many years, always delighted by his compositions and sensitive playing. His collaborations with Brian Dunning (of Nightnoise fame) have almost always been nothing short of stunning. So I am not surprised to find this project, with violinist Wendy Goodwin to be remarkable and quite edifying.

All of the songs here are arranged to give each player plenty of room to shine without blotting out the contributions of the others. This is music that adds beauty to just about any environment, whether that be your personal quiet time, reading a book with a quiet beverage, or conversations with friends. In fact, this music feels like a contemplative conversation where few words need to be shared, but fellowship is deepened.

More information about this brilliant album can be found here.