Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Writing Your Book: From Fear to Confidence in Ten Steps (Step One)

1.    Don’t Think You’re Going to Become Rich And Famous
My first tip on writing is a negative. Put another way, I’ll start by saying a Yes to No

Don't think writing will make you a billionaire. In fact, one of the worst things you can do is that that it's your birthright to sell a million, or even a 100,000, copies of your book.

This mindset will freeze you for sure.

Don’t listen to stories like I’ve heard. Like from Paul Young. He was poor, living the Pacific Northwest, working three jobs to support his wife and four kids. On the way back and forth to work, he wrote a story, a tragic story of despair and redemption. In desperation, he prayed for God to help him print enough copies for his family and friends. 

At Christmas time, an anonymous check of $100 arrived at his door. After buying gifts for his family, he took the balance and walked to Kinko’s where he made 15 copies of his manuscript. As he told me, 
“Making those copies—That was all I wanted to do.” 
People read them and passed them on. He found a publisher. It became viral, and ultimately The Shack: When Tragedy Confronts Eternity went on to sell something like 20 million copies and become a first-run movie starring Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington

Now that’s a story of faith and confidence.

An outlier
The reason we love that store is it’s exceptional. It’s an outlier. We love it because Paul is a remarkably humble person whom, frankly, it’s hard to dislike even if you're tempted to envy his success.

But wound within this tale is something dangerous: Thinking you’re writing to become rich and famous is ultimately demotivating for almost all writers. 
This will happen to me. Write it and they will come and buy.
Looking into my crystal ball
So I’m going to make a prediction—that won’t happen to you. It’s just basic statistics.

“The average U.S. book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.” 
That's certainly what I've seen and heard.

Nevertheless, there is a positive
How’s that for negative? Let me assure that in it, there’s a surprising positive. 

I’ll give you hint. Next week I look at why you do publish: Because it’s an itch, even a lust.

What do you think? Please feel to tell me what you think. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Soul Dialogue: Animated Discussion with An Imaginary Friend

GSC: I like returning to the topic of the soul, albeit on a different continent. Man, we’ve walked a long way, and I feel like I’m with my friends who drink beer together and discuss theology (aka “the Quad”). But how weird it is that all three of you are combined in one person!

Interlocutor: Yes, it is a bit weird. Here we are at beautiful Mt. Hermon in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

GSC: At any rate, I’ll start with Meriam-Webster’s definition
The soul is “the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life.”
And so here’s my thesis: In order to have our souls become fully alive, we need to reconcile the inputs of our hearts and minds. Or as Jesus phrased it, 
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” Jesus, the book of Matthew 
This is being fully alive. This is happiness. This is the essence of Christian spirituality.

Interlocutor: Why do you care?

GSC: I know I’m not always “up,” and that if I rely on my feelings, it’s shaky ground. I’m disappointed with “spirituality” today in the U.S. It strikes me that there’s an overemphasis on feeling and excitement. It’s like we all have to be amped up and happy to be faithful Christians. 

Interlocutor: What makes think this?
 Anonymous? This amazing art?

GSC: First of all, I’ve been working on a book about the history of religion and science in our country. As a people, we have a strong thread of rationality alongside a deep search for spirituality. We’ve done much better when we’ve put those together.

Interlocutor: Didn’t the Harvard scientist and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead say something like this in 1925? 

GSC: In fact he did! He commented that the future of our civilization depended, to some degree, on how effectively we were able to relate science and religion, particularly 
“the force of our religious intuitions, and the force of our impulse to accurate observation and logical deduction.” A. N. Whitehead, scientist and philosopher
How did you know?

Interlocutor: Yes, remembering Whitehead, Kendrick Lamar, and Bugs Bunny references—that’s what makes me a good interlocutor! So, Greg, what about you and me? Have Christian believers forgotten anything?

GSC: In my own pastoral and professorial experience: people too often divide themselves between head and heart. So it’s also what makes sense in the church.

Interlocutor: What do you mean by “it”?

GSC: I mean the way that we bring together all we are—body and soul—under God’s care and in power of the Spirit.

Interlocutor: What about Scripture?

GSC: Let me end there: As you know, every summer, I go back to the book of Philippians. In that book of just 104 verses, I’m always surprised by Paul’s emphasis on the mind or the attitude as in chapter four:
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think aboutthese things.” Paul in the book of Philippians
Our mindset directs our hearts. That's what makes sense according to the Scripture. And that’s how God made us.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Fully Alive

I’ve been musing about a new book. It builds off this conviction: In order to become fully alive, we need to reconcile the inputs of our heart and mind. Then we become whole. Or as Jesus phrased it, 
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22: 37
This is happiness. 

This is the essence of Christian spirituality. This is life fully alive.

You may know this already, but the idea of being “fully alive” comes from Irenaeus’s words that 
“The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” 
To my mind, it’s a fully integrated life that pulls together all of who we are. We live into the purpose for which God created us.

It’s also in the Apostle Paul’s words, 
"So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush." Philippians 1:9, The Message

In this book (at least the one that's in my head at the moment), I’d like to integrate the insights from science that I’ve studied over the past few decades to help Christians take in what it means to be fully alive in a scientific and technological world. To give one example, this would naturally engage positive psychology's insights on gratitude and happiness. It would interact with the realities of the human being that emerges from reading both the books of nature and Scripture.

What do you think? What are some elements you’d add?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Dialogue on the Soul Continues

(I return to the dialogue on the soul with my philosopher friend from the post two weeks ago...)

Me: Wow, it seems like this conversation has gone on for awhile, but we're still strolling around Oxford! And since we're now in the library at Magdalen College looking at the "New Building," let me pause for a moment. I'll lay out four steps on how the concept of the soul developed in Christian thought, especially as we think about this in light of contemporary science, which has a great deal of trouble with a disembodied soul.

Philosopher: That sounds good. At least I'll be clear on what I'm disagreeing with!

Me: First of all, the Hebrew Bible (for example, Genesis 1-2) presents the human being as a unity of body-soul Generally, this is referred to as a “psychosomatic unity.” The natural state of human beings is thus to be in this unity. (By the way, some see a tripartite breakdown of body-soul-spirit, but I think they're mistaken, and the difference isn't essential to our conversation. It's the unity that's critical.)

Philosopher: I already see some issues, but I'll let you keep going and simply pose questions from time to time...

Me: Second, As the Jewish people became more interested in eschatology and thus resurrection, the teaching of the resurrection of the body became increasingly important. This is a bit more complicated because it implies a correlate A. Jewish psychosomatic unity needs to be distinguished from the immortality of the soul of some Hellenistic thought, most notably in Plato (but not restricted to him), where the soul fits more or less uncomfortably in the body, and the point is to release the soul from its prison. Nonetheless, I do admit Plato's dualism--and the many other similar forms-- is the perspective taken by many Christians today.

Philosopher: This is a dumpster fire--not just your ideas, but a real dumpster fire right
there. At  any rate, I think you're blaming a lot on Plato. Isn't he just a representative of that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all?

Me: There you go, you sly, sagacious, philosophical dog, throwing in an allusion to Vincent of Lerins! At any rate, I'll give a direct answer to your question: No. And this brings me to correlate B: There is no widespread unity of perspectives on soul in religions and philosophies throughout history. Something close to substance dualism—where there are two entities, “body” and “soul” that together make the human being, but that are, in principle separable—may be the majority opinion, but I’m not sure how one could know, and it is by no means universal. For example, Hindu substance dualism holds that the soul transmigrates through different lives into the different bodies (not all of which are human). In contrast, Siddartha Gautama (aka the Buddha) and many Buddhists do not hold this view.

Philosopher: Before we go any further, I have to ask you for a definition. We philosophers don't travel very far without defining terms.

Me: We have indeed now traveled to a pub that has the same name as one of my favorite taprooms in my hometown, Chico! How cool is that! Let's grab a pint and on the way inside, I'll offer a common definition of substance dualism
A form of dualism in the philosophy of mind that states two types of substances exist: the mental and the physical. It is a fundamentally ontological position: it states that the mental and the physical are separate substances with independent existence. (adapted from  http://www.philosophy-index.com). 
How does that work? I'm taking this to represent a commonly held view. In it, I want to emphasize the independence and separability of these two substances. This is inconsistent with biblical teaching and most Christian theology throughout history, despite whatever else you philosophers might conjure up. (Did I really just say that?)

Philosopher: That's a great idea--the pint that is--but I'm not sure why substance dualism is incompatible with Christianity.

Me: I arrive then at my third step: As the Christian church developed its ideas of the resurrection of the body after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It distinguished itself in some ways from a Jewish conception in which once the Messiah arrived the general resurrection would occur tout de suite. Christians realized that there was some intermediate state in between our death and the general resurrection, but that this was unnatural for human beings. This would be an unclothed soul (2 Corinthians 5). The texts are notably sketchy on what this is and point toward the mystery of what is to be revealed (1 Corinthians 15). Jesus’s resurrected body, however, allowed him to eat (Luke 24), which contradicts an assertion that he was pure spirit after the Resurrection.

Philosopher: Hmm... I can see we need to take some time to work out these ideas. But we've got time and wow, we've also got a really nice view! It's almost like we were transported from the Handle Bar, which has no view, to a rooftop bar on High Street. 

Me: You're right--it's almost like a foretaste of God will bring, in the twinkling of an eye, something unexpected, a whole new, higher view. At any rate, let me close with this, step four: Our ultimate hope is to be fully restored and unified human beings that are a unity of both bodies and souls. In the new heavens and the new earth described in Revelation 21, there are many activities that imply and require a body. That's what we long for: a new body-soul for the new creation.

Philosopher: I definitely see that there are several distinctions left to be drawn and a number of points of disagreement. No worries. I hope this is some ways a literal foretaste of our future hope and that our resurrected bodies will allow us to share a pint together in the life to come.

Me: We can definitely toast to that!

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Citizens of Heaven and Earth: Reflecting on the 4th of July

(A note: I generally post on faith and science issues. This week, because it's the week of July 4th, I decided to look at how faith intersects with civic life. It's not too much of a stretch to see how these reflections can also be an analogy for any encounter of Christian faith with culture. By the way, Blogger and I are fighting over getting the font size and style correct. I'm currently losing. So I'm posting as is.)

The Fourth of July might make us think of one of three things. 

The first is this: “Why does the 4th of July have to happen this year on a Wednesday?”

Second is this: "What does this mean for our country?" Most of us know that this is the day on which our great country signed its independence from England. On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, and two days later delegates from the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson.

And finally, we might go even deeper and ask, 
“What does it make to be a good citizen?” “What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus and to celebrate this day as an American Christian?”
The answer that I’m offering here is that our calling is to know the one true God revealed in Jesus Christ and to follow this God in mission in the world. This call brings us freedom and joy.

And I want to look at through this topic through the eyes of the Apostle Paul. In his words from the book of Philippians, we find freedom and service that we might never have imagined. 

Two texts from Philippians on citizenship
I’m going to take up two texts from this Pauline letter that may at first be contradictory. He affirms two things:
1.   In chapter one: “Let your manner of civic, public life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ…” (And in this passage he uses the Greek word politeuomai, which more literally signifies “be a citizen.”)
And then in chapter three: “Our citizenship is in heaven…”
How can we be both citizens of heaven and earth? What does that mean?

To answer those questions, we need to step back for a moment and note a paradox: when Paul writes this letter, he’s a prison seeking and he’s working to inspire this group of Christians. From this man in chains we learn about freedom. 

And then there’s the historical context: In order to understand these words, we have to grasp the context in Philippians. This city in Europe, though about 800 miles from Rome, was a colony of the Roman Empire. Why? In 42 BC, there was a huge battle by Octavian (later the Emperor Augustus) and Mark Anthony and the leaders of Julius Caesar’s assassination, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. The conquering general and later emperor Octavian had to figure out what to do with all these Roman soldiers in Philippi. So he made this part of Europe a Roman colony. This meant that, though they did not live in Rome, they were Roman citizens, which signified, among other things, freedom from taxation. And they were very proud of their citizenship and their city of Philippi, which Acts 16:12 calls “a leading city of Macedonia.” 

OK to these two passages…

We are citizens on earth.
NIV, Philippians 1:27-28 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner (lives as citizens) worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit,striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.
Or as paraphrased in The Message
Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance. 
We are even more citizens of heaven.
NIV, Philippians 3:18-21 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
And again, those key verses paraphrased in The MessageThere are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.  But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! 
In a word, we—like the Philippians—are citizens of earth, and citizens of heaven. Because we are citizens of God’s country (as it were), we are free to serve this country we love.

Free to love God as citizens of heaven
We are free for God: that’s where our citizenship lies.

This implies that we worship God with our entire lives, our everyday, ordinary life, our sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life” a la Romans 12:1-2 and The Message, and this is our “living sacrifice.” 

Getting our identity straight
This implies that we are free from being defined by any label such as “American Christian,” “Republican Christians” or “Democratic Christians” or even “Presbyterian Christian.” The adjective always has to inhabit a priority entirely secondary to the noun.
This can get so confused. I’m told that a few years back the Church of England and the Church of Scotland were in talks to have a merger, and a pastor in Scotland was having conversations in his town with various people. This Scottish pastor met a man man told him, “I’m totally opposed to this.” 
And the pastor responded, “That surprises me a bit. I always thought you were an atheist.”  
The man shot back, “Aye, that I am, but I’m a Presbyterian atheist.”
Having a standard outside our culture
And this takes us to the power of being citizens of heaven. Unless you have something outside the culture, you can’t speak into the culture. As I mentioned in another post, during the years leading up to World War II, the Nazi regime had very few resisters. One of the few was the small Confessing Church in Germany led by the theologian Karl Barth. In 1934 they said a distinct No to Hitler’s treatment of the Jews because—as they put it—Jesus Christ is the “One Word we have to hear and to obey in life and in death.” They could state a word that was angular to the way that the Nazis asserted that God, through the Weltgeist (the world Spirit or Mind) was speaking through the achievements of the German Volk. 

That’s what it means to be free to serve our country.

And there’s also the personal angle
As citizens, we are free to serve God.

And here it’s important to realize the difference between freedom from and freedom for. I’m beginning to think that the main reason to be free from entanglements that hold us back—even sin—is to be free for serving God.
This week, there’s been a lot of interest in LeBron James and where he’s headed. We now know it’s the Lakers. (Good luck in the Western Conference with my mighty Warriors.) Lebron is a uniquely talented player, but this talent leverages some significant natural physical qualities. And this makes me realize that no one will be as interested in me if I were to declare my intention to play for the NBA. Despite that fact that I’m free from any hindrances to play basketball, I’m not free for this. 

As Paul says, 
“Let your manner of civic, public life—your citizenship—be worthy of the Gospel of Christ.”
Here I’ll just close a few questions directed at you and at me:
  • Do we live representing the kingdom of God?
  • When we look at the Gospel of Christ—his care for the hurting, the outcast, those damaged by religion and society—do we live up to that standard?
  • Do our lives reflect Jesus? Are we his hands and feet today?
As we reflect on these questions, my prayer is that they will that, that we may we know that kind of freedom, the freedom as we celebrate the birthday of the United States of America, but even more the freedom, by the power of  the Holy Spirit, to let our manner of civic life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ.

That’s the way I want to celebrate the Fourth of July this year and every year.