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Tools for Effectiveness

Below I list out resources that I have sought to leverage for optimal efficiency and effectiveness. We have amazing resources and also unprecedented distractions. Here are some things I have used to try to make the most of my time:

evernote Evernote

I have found Evernote very helpful. It allows you to create shelves, notebooks, and pages so that you can keep various lists and thoughts on any number of topics. It also allows you to tag everything. It has helped me be more organized and it has been very helpful because it is always with me and accessible. Actually, the first draft of this post was written on Evernote over the course of a few days. [free]

Advice: Use Evernote. And take the time to learn from the tutorials. It will be worth it to organize your notes and be able to find and track your thoughts. 

unnamed Pocket

I have found this app very helpful. You can save articles in Pocket, tag them for quick recall, and even share on social media. My favorite thing about this app is that it will read to me! I can now drive and “read” articles. [free]

Advice: Don’t spend all your time pocketing things, actually read stuff. Second, there’s no way to underline or make notes so screenshot the parts you want to capture and add them Evernote. 

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Thirty Thoughts Before Your Thirties

[[This is written to be especially applicable for high school graduates but the points apply to us all.]]

  1. Don’t forget about God and your personal convictions. You could gain the world, popularity and an inconceivably high GPA, but if you forfeit your soul it profits you nothing. In Jesus alone is there abundant life.
  2. Be in Christian community. Go to church. Read your Bible. Pray. Sing songs of praise to God.
  3. Talk to your pastor or spiritual mentor. Let them know when you have questions or are struggling with something.
  4. Have a personal development plan and record your goals and how you’re going to get there. And then do those things.
  5. Exercise. Just do it.
  6. Work ahead when possible.
  7. Do fun stuff but don’t be stupid. Always consider the possible consequences of your actions.
  8. Have fun but make the most of your time. For instance, maybe turn off Candy Crush and don’t binge watch as much Sponge Bob, or whatever. Maybe even turn the Internet off every once and awhile. It’s won’t be gone forever, I promise.
  9. Have fun. Although it feels difficult these are probably the funniest and easiest years of your life.
  10. Build relationships. Build relationships with your peers but also with professors, advisors, and bosses. Network (but not just for the purpose of networking. Actually care about people). And meet new people, different people. Say hi to people that you normally wouldn’t say hi to.
  11. Explore your interests and abilities. As you consider the future, keep in open mind.
  12. Ask questions and ask for help (in all sorts of settings).
  13. Learn about finances. Make a budget. Learn about investing. Don’t take out a loan unless you really have to.
  14. Get there ten minutes early and leave ten minutes late. Talk to the professor or listen to the questions that other students have.
  15. Stop your horrible habits now, don’t wait.
  16. Write things down (your schedule, thoughts, wishes, dreams, and the occasional poem). Your brain dumps its memory like every night, your phone or notebook doesn’t.
  17. Ask questions. Interact with the content you’re being taught. Share your opinions (though, not in an obnoxious know-it-all way)
  18. Read the syllabus. Love the syllabus. Live and die by the syllabus.
  19. Call your parents.
  20. Prioritize! Don’t procrastinate! If you prioritize well you have more room to procrastinate.
  21. Love learning for the sake of learning, not just for the grade. A love for learning will serve you better than your GPA.
  22. Chose your friends wisely.
  23. Chose your “special someone” wisely.
  24. Enjoy the work you do even if you don’t enjoy it.
  25. Remember one side sounds right until you hear the other. This is a proverb that holds true in all areas
  26. “I read it on the internet” doesn’t equal truth (even if you see the same thing in a few places).
  27. Relativism is actually harmful. Unless there is objective truth, the exhortation for people to be kind (e.g. planet care, respecting others, and not harming others) is subjective and relative to the whim of individuals (and thus doesn’t really need to be heeded).
  28. Read books. Read blogs, read news articles, but let the biggest part of your diet be books, especially old books that have stood the test of time.
  29. Do your work. Your professor should know what they’re doing. So, do the work that they assign.
  30. Keep your own list. Remember what you have learned and pass it on.

Jesus and Jihad (part one)

Introduction

Islam has many expressions. It is not monolithic. We are wrong if we think we understand Muslims because we have met one or read the Qur’an. That is a simplistic and false understanding. “Islam is a dynamic and varied religious tradition.”[1] In the same way, if you have met a Christian and read the New Testament, for example, that does not mean that you understand Christianity. “The range of contemporary Muslim religiosity varies tremendously. One of the reasons for this is that people understand and ‘use’ religion in a variety of ways; that is true whether we are dealing with Islam or Christianity or any other religion.”[2]

As Christians have different beliefs regarding certain doctrines, Muslims have different beliefs as well. Christianity has many expressions, liberal and fundamental and various particular denominations. In this post (and in part two), we will explore the Islamic understanding of jihad and contrast it with Christianity. Our first observation is to realize the multifaceted nature of our exploration.

Many Expressions of Islam

As we have briefly seen, not all Muslims are the same and not all Muslims understand jihad in the same way. So, some Muslims emphasize the more peaceful passages (e.g. surah 5:32; 2:256; Allah is also repeatedly said to be “most gracious, most merciful”) and that the Qur’an seems to teach to not begin the fight (2:190; 22:39). However, others believe that those who have not confessed Allah and his prophet have already essentially made war with Muslims and should be subjugated.[3] Some Muslims are strict adherents to Islam and some are secular. Muslims are not homogeneous. (For example, we see two very different narrative accounts in Nabeel Qureshi’s, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and Mosab Hassan Yousef’s, Son of Hamas). In fact, “not all Muslims believe that the Qurʾān is the literal and inerrant word of God, nor do all of them believe that Islam requires strict conformity to all the religious and moral precepts in the Qurʾān.”[4] We could group Muslims into three broad groups: secular Muslims, traditional Muslims, and fundamentalist Muslims.

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Beauty (a few thoughts & more questions)

Beauty. What is it? Dictionary.com says beauty is “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else.”

Roger Scruton asks, “Why do we call things beautiful? What point are we making, and what state of mind does our judgment express?”[1]

“The nature of beauty is one of the most enduring and controversial themes in Western philosophy, and is—with the nature of art—one of the two fundamental issues in philosophical aesthetics. Beauty has traditionally been counted among the ultimate values, with goodness, truth, and justice.”[2]

Objective or Subjective?
At the head of the conversation over beauty is whether beauty is subjective or objective. The subjective view holds that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder;” beauty is determined by the subject.[3] The objective view holds that beauty is in the object. That is, there are some things that are objectively beautiful. However, it seems to me that there are actually problems with both of these views.

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Not all “facts” are created equal (and other proverbs for today)

A few important and relevant things I’ve found to be true through my short tenure on earth:

1. Statistics can be skewed (in all sorts of ways).

2. Money talks, and sometimes money makes people talk about facts that don’t actually exist.

3. “Sound bits” don’t equal sound knowledge.

4. Video doesn’t always equal validation.

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C.S. Lewis on the Importance of Reading Old Books

As part of our book diet, C.S. Lewis reminds us to not leave out old books. “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones” (C. S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books”).

Lewis is wise to also say that,

“People were no clever then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction” (C. S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books”).

A (Very) Brief History of Art and the Church [Part I]

The Christian Church has a long and varied heritage when it comes to art.[1] That being the case, it is instructive for us to briefly understand some of the issues involved. This will help us better grasp the Church’s present situation when it comes art.

Christians, at first, as a small unpopular and often persecuted group did not produce works of art that were distinctly Christian or had an impact on secular culture. Early Christian art mainly used pagan vocabulary to express Christian sentiment.[2] “Until roughly A.D. 200 most visual imagery was found in catacombs, the burial places (and sometime hiding places) of Christians.”[3]

“In the third century, as Christianity become more established, marble imagery appeared, though it continued to portray the same images used by the early Christians.”[4] However, the biggest change came with the conversion of Constantine the Great (in 312), the Roman Emperor, and the Edict of Milan (in 313) when Christianity was granted religious toleration within the Roman Empire. After the edict, Christians were free to publically display their faith through art and architecture. After this period we begin to see Christian art flourish.

By 574 we see amazing buildings with huge mosaics depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament  being dedicated (like San Vitale). The murals and mosaics were especially important because many people were illiterate and did not have Scripture in their language (e.g. the Mass was in Latin). Although, images were helpful in promoting worship some also saw the use of images as dangerous.

“Images, no matter how discretely chosen, come freighted with conscious or subliminal memories; no matter how limited their projected use, they burn indelible outlines into the mind… Images not only express convictions, they alter feelings and end up justifying convictions.”[5]

One of the dangerous, for some, was the veneration of icons. There are three stages in the development of icons. First, “As the emperor’s image represented the presence of the emperor, Christ’s image, or the image of a saint, came to serve as a kind of ‘proxy’ for their presence.”[6] These images assisted the veneration of the saints. Second, there was a rise in the use of imagery in private devotions. People began to go on pilgrimages to shrines or churches. “The third stage occurred at the end of the seventh century, when portraits or images of Christ and the saints began to appear as isolated frontal figures” and “by the beginning of the eighth century it had become common practice to venerate these images, which meant that honor paid to the image honored the person represented.”[7]

These developments brought controversy to the Church. “The practice in the East of venerating the image of Christ inevitably caused those accustomed to a more symbolic orientation to react. Christians who opposed the use of images in worship generally felt that these objects marginalized the work of Christ.”[8] In fact the controversy got so bad that in 730 Emperor Leo II destroyed the “images of Christ, his mother, and the saints.”[9]

Clearly then, the Church took art and the use of images in various forms very seriously.

“The icon… was much more than an aesthetic image to grace the church and stimulate holy thoughts. It was something that expressed deeply held theological convictions, and it was meant to move the viewer to love and serve God. In many respects, an icon was theology in a visual form, and the practice of making an icon itself represented a spiritual discipline.”[10]

However, did the Church cross the line of making idols that were so clearly and vehemently condemned by the prophets in the Old Testament (e.g. Is. 44:12-20)?

During the Early Renaissance, “a renewal in the arts was closely connected with reform movements that began springing up throughout western Europe.”[11] During this period many massive cathedrals were built (e.g. Salisbury Cathedral and Reims Cathedral).

“These great structures, which must have been extremely impressive amid the modest building around them, not only became the center of the social and religious life of the community but were actually intended to be a microcosm of the world. An image of the last judgment was frequently located over the central portal of the cathedral…, reminding those entering of God’s judgment, which was avoided only by eating the holy Eucharist. The space of the church represented the ‘ark of salvation.’ On either side of the portal were images of the prophets and apostles, on whose word rested the hope of God’s people.”[12]

During this period there were also seeds planted that would eventually rise up and challenge the extravagance of the Church and her art. We see this for example through the work of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic of Spain. For example, Francis and Dominic emphasized simplicity and mission.

Next, we will look at the impact of the Reformation on art within the Church. But at this point, it will be helpful for us to see what we can learn from what we have seen from history so far. So, here are a few questions to consider: 

  1. What are some dangerous to avoid when it comes to art and the church?
  2. What do you think about the extravagance of the church?
  3. What concerns should we have?
  4. What takeaways for our modern context of cinderblocks, cement, lights, and lasers?
  5. How did art serve the purpose of the early church?
  6. Can art still serve the purpose of the church? If so, how? 
  7. What should we be cautious of regarding art and the church?

__________________

[1] For a brief and interesting introduction see “The History of Liturgical Art.”

[2] William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith, 26.

[3] Dyrness, Visual Faith 26.

[4] Ibid., 27.

[5] Thomas Matthews, The Clash of the God, 11.

[6] Dyness, Visual Faith, 35.

[7] Ibid., 35.

[8] Ibid., 36.

[9] Ibid., 37.

[10] Ibid., 37.

[11] Ibid., 38.

[12] Ibid., 39-40.

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