One of the biggest problems of our current culture is our complete inability to look outside ourselves. The old adage of putting yourself in some else's shoes has no applicable meaning to us. Instead we take the path of least resistance. Stubbornly, we charge down this path until it dead ends into the wall of dismissal. It's easy for us to dismiss each other. We hear and do it all the time: "that politician is and idiot, he does not know what he is doing". "Stop following the masses sheep!". "You only believe that because you watch (enter whatever new station you want)! Can you believe so-in-so said that"? "They are all the same". Frankly it's ease. It's ease to affirm our own assumption and flipitantly dismiss another point of vIew. The hard path, the road less traveled, is to listen and try to understand where a person is coming from. Now, I not about to sing the praises of post modernism and tell you truth is relative and listening allows you to find one of the many possible paths that lead you to relative truth. But I do think we have mistakenly linked listening with agreeing or condoning an entire philosophy. So we are left to our flawed reasoning. We can not view outside our assumptions, which leads to poor listening/understanding, and consequently dismissal. This is tragic considering we miss the "process". This process is the simple act of trying to understand what and why people think, view, and respond the way they do to a situation or idea. More often than not this process creates empathy. Notice it creates empathy not necessarily agreement. One of our current cultural topics that has suffered the most from this lack of the "process" is race divide. Recently there has been no shortage of incidences to highlight this. Just look at the comments section on any racial topic on social media. We are all only concerned with winning the argument and consequently we have all lost the goal. The goal of peace and harmony.
I have not read, in recent memory, a better book on the race divide than Benjamin Watsons Under Our Skin. Mr. Watson's gracious, passionate, articulate, honest, and humbly written book tries to take us through the "process". Simply, and yet not simple at all, Mr. Watson tries to bridge the race gap by helping the reader understand another perspective and look outside our assumptions. Under Our Skin is not written to win you over to his side of the argument, but to merely shed some light onto another point of view.
What I loved so much about the book was Mr. Watson's correct diagnoses of the race problem. Yes, there are facts and statistics that support both sides of the race divide, but ultimately the solution is not found in the external. Watson says "The real problem with rasiscm is not in "that guy over there". It's right here. I confess to you that the problem of racism is inside me." Mr. Watson discribs how the root problem of the race divide is the heart inside us, or in other words SIN. And while Watson frequently draws inspiration from his faith he hold back no punches "The church can be one of the most segregate places in America".
After reading Under Our Skin I felt challenged, disappointed, reflective, convicted, excited, encouraged and ultimately hopeful. Hopeful because I believe the Gospel can help us not only understand each other but bridge the things that divides us. That's what the Gospel has set out to do from the start. In Pauls letter to the Ephesians he says "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace" Ephesians 2:14-15. Now more than ever we could use something set up to break down the dividing wall of hostility creating peace!
The other night I sat down (bing!) to start a new book (buzz!). It was a book that a good friend (Beep!) had recently recommended and I was saving it for (ring!) the right time. A cold winter (ding!) night in January seemed like the perfect night. As I started to read (tweet!) I found that I could not quite get into it (buzz!). My friend who recommended it (ding!) knows what I usually like to read, so the fact that this book was not catching my attention (ring!) was kind of odd. Then it struck me....literally. My phone that is, buzzing on the couch next to me. What I realized was the constant buzzing, ringing, dinging, and the myriad of other noises emanating from my phone was completely sabotaging my ability to get into and enjoy this book. And this is the culture that we all live in. A culture that is progressively more intertwined with the digital world. Intuitively we all this know can be distracting and at times destructive. Yet acting as if the digital word does not exist and is not becoming a bigger part of every aspect of our lives amounts to sticking our head in the sand. Each of us has more than likely experienced the double edged sword of the digital world. We have all had the positive experiences of sharing life events with friends and family scattered around the country or world with only the click of a button. We have been able to keep in touch with those people who a few decades before, it might have been significantly more difficult. We have also experienced the the loss of the present moment, the loss of the here-and-now as our attention is locked onto our screen. Or the person who is sitting across the table from you, but they might as well be a thousand miles away as their attention is constantly being pulled towards the digital community. But we can't just throw the baby out with the bathwater right? There has got to be a middle ground? So what do we do?
That is roughly the question that William Powers sets out to answer in his book Hamlet's BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. The problem with the digital world is pretty apparent. There seems to be an inverse relationship to connectivity and depth. The more connected we become, the less depth of experience we encounter. To analyze this phenomena Powers looks to the past to help us cope with the future. How have others throughout history dealt with technological advances? Powers examines how Plato, Guttenberg, and Shakespeare incorporated the new technology of writing of words onto scrolls, the printing press, and tablets (note books). He examines how they used these technologies to benefit themselves and not allow them to become a detriment. Powers also looks at how Ben Franklin used positive rituals to disconnect himself from new advances and how Henry David Thoreau used a physical disconnection from society in order to not be over stimulated. By looking into the past, we can gain insight on how to cope with our current situation.
So whats the solution? Powers suggests that increasing the gap's between digital experiences is the key to creating depth into your digital life. These gaps (actual time away from a digital interaction) helps you process, consider, and ultimately enjoy that digital experience to its fullest. The lack of gaps between our digital interactions is what creates a lack of depth and does not allow a humanistic connection. Our continual jumping from one digital experience to another is becoming an epidemic. Powers also provides several practical applications that we can implement into our daily lives to help create more of these gaps. A few that I found compelling where: Switching from your E-reader to a paperback book. Give your eyes a break from a screen and allow your real fingers to touch real paper. Dusting off your old CD's or records instead of using your digital device when listen to music. Don't skip from song to song, but let an entire album play from beginning to end. Provide physical distance between you and the digital world. Maybe that looks like camping for the weekend, or going for a long walk with the phone left at home. A very practical habit to begin would be to put your phone in the glove box when you are driving. Let your mind processes, wander, and daydream while you drive. Intentionally interact with the physical world. Maybe thats yard work, building something, or playing a sport. Set a digital curfew when all digital devices are turned off. Disconnect your homes WIFI for a day (or even a weekend! Oh the humanity!). Create a digital free room in your home. And one Idea I have recently adopted is to return your calendar back to paper format (Moleskin users unite!).
When I first heard William Powers do an interview on Hamlet's BlackBerry. I was really excited to read it. In that interview Mr. Powers mentioned how he first was writing about this topic it was in ashorter article. Eventually he got around to fleshing this idea out more and publishing this book. At times, this book did feel like it was an article that was being stretched into a book. By the turn of the last page thought, I had enjoy it. If you are interested in monitoring your digital intake and gathering a few digital diet tips, give Hamlet's BlackBerry a go...... in paperback of course.
One of my favorite things about the end of a year is the "years best" lists that come out. I like to see what was voted the best songs, movies, and moments. My absolute favorite is the best books of the year that are put out by the New York Times, GoodReads, or even just the average reader. Usually these list help solidify my reading list for the first 2-3 months of the coming year. I try and look at as many list as I can as they introduce me to books that I probably would not have come across otherwise. So I have decided to add my 2 cents into the crowded best of lists that are already out there. I compiled my Top 6 Books of 2015. Why Top 6? Because I could not choose between the last two books to make it a Top 5 list. I also realized this is my list and I can do whatever I want! So without further ado here is my Top 6 Books of 2016
6. Devil at My Heels: A Heroic Olympian's Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese PWO in World War II by Louis Zamperini: Most everyone has either read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand or seen the movie Unbroken that came out about this time last year. I actually voted Unbroken my "Best Book" 2011. Devil at my Heels is written by Louis Zamperini before Hillenbrand sought his permission to write Unbroken. Devil at My Heels tells Louis heroing story like Unbroken but is more gritty and graphic at times. It's like the directors cut version of a book instead of a DVD. It fills in some gaps that Unbroken left open and provides a broader view at this man's amazing life. If you enjoyed Unbroken, this is an excellent way to re-read the story again from a slightly different perspective.
5. A Small Cup of Light: A Drink In The Desert by Ben Palpant: Imagine laying down one afternoon to take a nap and when you wake up your life is forever changed. One moment you are a health man, husband, father and over the net few weeks you slowly loose almost all control of your physical body and mental abilities. This is exactly what happened to Ben Palpant. A Small Cup of Light takes us through this man's life experience while wrestling with the reconciliation between suffering and goodness. If you have ever wondered "why me" (so that pretty much includes everyone) this maybe a small cup of light for you in a dark time.
4. The Water is Wide a Memoir by Pat Conroy: Having lived in the low country of South Carolina for a few years, I have an affinity for Pat Conroy books. Pat Conroy's writing embodies everything southern to me. It's slow, full of flavor, warm, and hospitable. The Water is Wide exudes all the best characteristics of Southern and in particular Conroy's writing. While most of us know Mr. Conroy as an author, after college he was a school teacher on a small, poor, and mostly minority populated island off of Beaufort, SC. The Water is Wide recounts that year as he lived, taught, and came to love the kids on that island.This novel is one of those that you won't want to end and will be thinking about long after you finish.
3. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger: "That was it, That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word". This is one of the more memorable quotes from anything I have ready this past year. Ordinary Grace chronicles the Drum Family in New Bremen Minnesota in 1961. That year the Drum family is shaken in ways they could not imagine. They are in desperate need of something. They are not sure what it is they even need, but when they get it, its more than they asked for. Simple, unassuming, ordinary.
2. A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash: This novel had all the ingredients of a classic. Cash weaves together themes of faith, love, power, redemption, regret, forgiveness, expectation, loneliness, brotherhood, and selfishness into a beautiful story told through the eyes of a young boy. A Land more Kind Than Home will absolutely be made into a movie sometime down the line (you heard it here first!). Make sure you have some dedicated time to read when you start this one as you will not be able to put it down once you start.
1. Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, lost, and Found Again. By Preston Yancey: "The only word I can form that somehow capture's the presence without presence is silence.... While I intellectually know God is still present, while I intellectually know God will never leave me, while I intellectually know God desires the best for me- my heat and my soul they don't seem very sure anymore". Sometimes a book is just read at the right time. A perfect trifecta of writing, timing, and topic come together. In essence after I read Tables in the Wilderness, the other books did not have a chance. Beautifully written, honest, and emotional this was one that I could not put down. Once I was finished with it I found myself flipping back through large sections of the books again and again. I don't know if it will connect with everyone the same, but Mr. Yancey's unique writing style is worth the read alone.
Bonus: Worst book of the year. Unapologetic: Why Despite Everything Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense by Francis Spufford. I don't even know where to begin on this one. I have disliked books before, but I don't know if I have every been as annoyed with a book. Not only with content, but also with writing style. This whole books was one long run on sentence. His thoughts seems to develop slower than an old man easing into a warm bath (obligatory Seinfeld reference). I have an unhealthy habit of having to finish all books, but I wanted to save a few poor souls from even starting this one!.
So, what are some of your Top Books of 2015? I would love to hear what you have read this past year and what you would recommend.
What does it mean to be a man? This can be a hot topic in today's society and I completely understand why. What comes to mind when you hear "be a man!" The images that come into our head probably would make us all cringe and in the name of "manhood" a lot of abuse, hurt, and pain has been caused. That is not at all what we are talking about here. Instead of droning on for hours trying to explain something and never quite get the true meaning across, occasionally it can be easier to explain what you are not talking about to emphasize what you are talking about. I think this tactic suits this discussion well. When we talk about what it means to be a man I am not talking about how much you can bench press. I am not talking about how much money you make, nor am I talking about how well you can fight, how tough you can be, or how macho you can be. Manhood obviously can present itself in many different forms and variations but there is some universal commonality in manhood. Stephen Mansfield address this topic in his book Mansfield Book of Manley Men. Mansfield identifies a set of characteristics that help define manhood. He does this by looking back though history and selecting great men who exemplified these characteristics. What he ends up with is a compilation of characteristics that men can aspire too. Now not all men will have every characteristic and we may posses some of these characteristic in varying degrees. Each chapter discuses a characteristic that defines manhood and gives a tangible humanistic example of that trait. All of the chapters and characteristics are worth discussing, but a few characteristics stood out to me a bit more than others and warrant highlighting.
I love everything about books. The feel of the page between your fingers, the sound of a book spine cracking, even the smell of an old dust jacket. Looking to share that passion with others.