Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Book review: The Ancient Path: Old Lessons from the Church Fathers for a New Life Today

This book is a semi-autobiography of John Michael Talbot relating his spiritual experiences how the early church fathers deeply influenced his spiritual, professional and personal life.

Talbot was born into a Methodist family with a musical background and at age 15 he dropped out of school and was performing as a guitarist for Mason Proffit, a country folk-rock band formed with his older brother Terry. Talbot embarked on a spiritual journey that led him through Native American religion and Buddhism to Christianity. At this point he and his brother, Terry, joined the Jesus Movement. Reading the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, he was inspired to begin studying at a Franciscan center in Indianapolis. He became a Roman Catholic and joined the Secular Franciscan Order in 1978. He started a house of prayer, The Little Portion. This book basically describes some of his experiences.

However, I find this book to be quite difficult to read. Talbot started by emphasizing that the early church preferred nothing  - not even life itself - to Christ. If Christians were willing to die as martyrs, it was because they wished to imitate Christ and reach Christ.

Ignatius of Antioch in AD 107 for example said: "I am the wheat of God. Let me be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ." Or as St. Cyprian said: "Prefer nothing to Christ because he preferred nothing to us, and on our account preferred hard things to ease, poverty to riches, servitude to rule, death to immortality."

Theologically too as an evangelical Christian, I find certain segments of the book hard to accept. For example, in chapter 3, Talbot said that the Eastern Fathers spoke of the graced exchange in Greek terms that are startling to Western ears. They called it theopoiesis - literally "god-making". They called it theosis - which can be translated, roughly, as godding. In saving us, God has "godded" us by making us partakers of his divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
......St. Athanasius of Alexandria, in the fourth century, said it most concisely: "He was made man that we might be made God." This does not mean we're given permission to walk around acting like we're God Almighty. No, it is a divine gift that makes us even more perfectly human." 

Although the qualifier is made, I still find this process of deification,  quite difficult for me to accept.

But the subsequent segment on prayers is great. As Talbot said:
The goal was to make Jesus the single focal point of life, and to make our prayer to him as constant as breath. Breathe in: Lord. Breathe out: Jesus.... It's not mechanical. It's not magical. It's love. 

The Eastern Fathers tell us to invoke the name and person of Jesus with every breath we take. Think about it: breathing is the only analogue we have as we become as we begin to consider the scriptural command. It is the one thing we do without ceasing. If we're living, we're breathing. When we stop breathing, we're dead.

In short, it might be a nice work, but still certain theological issues I find them hard to accept.

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this e-book free from Blogger for books as part of their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

Book review: Praying Upside Down

In this book Praying Upside Down, Kelly O'Dell Stanley uses imagery, simple techniques, and artwork to help the readers to creatively connect with God like never before and to move their prayer life away from the preconceived and expected to a new level of intimacy.  God, as the author calls it, "...is the Master of Creativity, the original Artist, and He rarely responds in the ways we expect"

Kelly is a graphic designer and writer - which explains the contents of this book: the product out of the junction of all of her passions - faith, art and writing. 

Praying Upside Down basically offers a fresh chance to learn something new, hear an answer we may not anticipate, and experience God in a more real, tangible way.

As she explained in the introduction section of this book, praying upside means to allow God to let us see - truly see Him at work, see Him in action, letting go of our own expectations. To pray upside down means to allow Him to throw our world out of orbit, turn our thoughts topsy-turvy and changing us from the inside out. Praying upside down will definitely mean that our perspective will never be the same again. Similarly, in chapter 3, the author defines praying upside down in this way:
Praying upside down is a way to move your prayers away from the expected so that you can learn something new, hear an answer you didn't anticipate, or see God in a unique way.
And again, in chapter 4, the author says that
Praying upside down is any way that God shakes you out of your comfort zone. It's a new perspective, an altitude of exploration, the wonder and marvel of sacred revelation.
As she says, before we can pray upside down, we have to learn to see upside down - or sideways, backwards, from other angles and vantage points. This disciplines trains our minds to examine things from a new perspective, much like an artist does. Preconceived ideas are discarded allowing our brains to see the actual shapes that we might have missed when the image was right side up. To pray upside down means we must be prepared to embrace  - and expect, the unexpected.

As she said:
Whatever we are viewing, once it's inverted, we become more aware of its nuances - the shapes of the dark shadows, the space between the edge of the object and the side of the page. We see it for what it is. The goal of reproducing the image hasn't changed, but the end result of the upside-down drawing is more accurate.

To introduce the core content of the book, she first picked up the brush and sketched out the background in the form of her own testimony when she and her husband were contemplating of buying a house. They were praying for someone to buy over her old house, when God prompted her to pray for the woman who was her potential buyer instead of about her own house.

As she wrote in the next chapter:
To make art, we have to be able to enter a complicated dance between knowing and not knowing, between what's clear and what's chaotic
To me, that can be scary especially if you are someone who is a control-freak or constantly worry or been disappointed before. As the author says in chapter 3,
God's answers to our prayers may seem upside down. He may ask you to forgive, even if you are the one who is wronged. He may ask you to become the wife your husband needs, rather than turning your husband into the man you always dreamed of. He may not save your job, but He might give you the time you've always needed to learn more about Him., or free your schedule to finish he renovations on your kitchen. He might not deliver you from poverty but instead teach you how to budget, balance, and take care of what He's provided. Or He may show you that even if you have very little, when you can find ways to give what you do have, you will feel wealthy.
For these groups of people, the author has this to encourage:
Maybe you are feeling stuck. Worried that God doesn't hear you. Convinced that you don't deserve to have your prayers answered. Wondering how, when, or even if God will answer you. Your need may be huge....You might have been hurt by "religion" or had someone twist the words of the Bible against you. You may have seen the way God answered one of your prayers and didn't like it, so you're afraid to try praying again.

We are face hurdles. Our issues, personalities, and abilities color our faith and guide our behavior. Whether you want to overcome issues from the past or you're taking your first tentative steps of faith - wherever you fall on the continuum of human experience - this is your chance to give prayer another chance, or to deepen your existing practice of prayer. To ask and to watch for answers. To try to see God in a new way.

Jesus Himself turned the world upside down because the world by itself is already upside-downed. To quote Billy Sunday:
  • The world is wrong side up. It needs to be turned upside down in order to be right side up.

Other notable quotes by Kelly O'Dell Stanley in this book:
  • God wasn't late. He was right on time. He saw the big picture, knew what was at stake, and steadily put things in motion. 
  • Praise your child only for what he has actually done. Don't exaggerate. When you set unrealistic goals for your children, you're setting them up for feelings of failure and inadequacy.
  • Even in the lowest times, God's still there showing me truths, He never condemns, He doesn't want my disappointment in myself to keep me away.
  • In matters of spiritual growth, as in art, one of the best ways to learn is by observing someone who has been doing it for a while. It's one thing to bow your head, maybe even raise your hands in the middle of a church service during the swelling chorus of your favorite song, alongside a hundred of other people. But it's another to do it when you're on your own, alone in a quiet room.
In generally, I love this book. This book is not just for read, but for action. It's an invitation. It's an encouragement for us to chew of the goodness of God, to savor the aroma of His love.

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this e-book free from Tyndale House Publishers  as part of their book review program called Tyndale Blog Network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

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