G.K. Chesterton: Esential Writings

I was surprised to see a volume on G.K. Chesterton in the Modern Spiritual Masters series from Orbis book. I’ve thought of GKC as a literary figure and as an apologist, but not a spiritual master. After reading the book, I am not ready to call GKC a “spiritual master” but I have a deeper appreciation of this man’s passion for God and clear thinking.

The editor of the volume, William Griffin, sorted through GKC’s vast amount of writing and selected 175 pages of text. Many of the texts are drawn from GKC’s works Orthodoxy and Heretics. The volume concludes with a transcript of the famous debate with George Bernard Shaw about Distributism (an economic theory which GKC promoted). None of Chesterton’s poetry or fiction is included in this anthology.

In his helpful, and at times funny, introduction, Griffin points out 3 characteristics of GKC’s life and writings indicating the key characteristics of his spirituality. The notes preceding each selection highlight how each of these characteristics is present in the passage. The first two charateristics of “Paradoxy” and “Hilarity” are familiar to anyone who has read GKC before. GKC is a master of paradox and often uses parodox to point to mystery and absurdity. “Hilarity” is more difficult to pin down and depends on your sense of humor. I enjoy GKC’s wit but know that it is not to everyone’s taste. “Humility” is the third characteristic pointed out. It is not a virtue I would have associated with GKC. This anthology didn’t convince me. While GKC is humble, in the sense of being rooted in reality, his intellectual flights are hard to reconcile with the earthiness I associate with humility. His thought always seems a little “airy” to me.

The writings are classified into seven sections which are not clearly defined but go under the titles: “Habits of the Heart,” “Habits of Mind,” “Habits of Soul,” “Habits of Observance,” “Habits of Discernment,” “Habits of Belief,” and “Habits of Debate.”

Overall, the book is worth reading. If you like GKC already you will have a chance to appreciate him anew. If you don’t know GKC you will get a nice taste of his non-fiction work. If you don’t like GKC you will find more of what you don’t like.

A brief note on the Modern Spiritual Masters series. I am excited by the volumes presented so far. These volumes offer a broad selection of writers. They are a nice size and feel good in the hands (never to be underestimated). They are short enough to be an introduction, but long enough to have some substance. Thank you again, Orbis books!
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The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Before I read “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, I would have written a scathing review. I wanted to write a critical review,
exposing the books weaknesses. The review I imagined myself writing had sentence like, “Cameron fails to acknowledge the role of redemptive suffering in her book.” However, I realized that the
review I would have written was judging the book unfairly. The book is a book about enhancing creativity, or “unblocking the artist” as Cameron might say. It is not a book trying to explain everything. It makes no claim to be a book of comprehensive spirituality or theology.
In fact, Cameron distances herself from both. It is a workbook that invites the reader to explore and engage their creative selves. In this, the book succeeds.

Cameron walks the reader through a twelve week process of creative
recovery. Using short essays on specific themes, several suggested
tasks for each week, and two fundamental tools, Cameron encourages the
reader to explore the blocks to their creativity and offers various
practices to help overcome these blocks.

The essays, while short, cover a lot of ground. They are clearly written. Several of these essays hit me between the eyes. They forced me to see my own fears and resistance.These exploratory essays provide lots of food for thought. Excuses for not doing creative work are explored, exposed, and dismissed. And that is their fundamental purpose, to make the “blocked” artist engage in the work of “unblocking.”

The weekly tasks offer a way of exploring resistance. Some take a
positive approach. For example, collecting images to nourish your
inner artist (described by Cameron as like a child). Others take the
opposite approach. For example, giving your inner censor (the part of
you that constantly criticizes your inner artist) a name and a face.
Cameron assigns several of these tasks each week and gives the reader
free reign in picking the ones that will be most helpful.

The two fundamental practices are the Morning Pages and the Artist’s
Date. The Morning Pages are three pages written longhand every
morning to clear the junk away, much like a meditation practice. I
found these pages extremely helpful. The Artist’s Date is a weekly
outing with one’s inner artist to nourish this child’s soul. This was
much more challenging for me. This is certainly not Cameron’s fault
and I believe she is right in recommending this practice. I am still
too much of a workaholic to engage in the Artist’s Date, but I am
working on it!

Overall, I see the work I put into this book as time well spent. I
would encourage anyone who wants to explore their creative selves to
give this book a try. It doesn’t do everything, but what it does is worth the effort!

Peace,

Lincoln
http://exploringthekingdom.blogspot.com/

Saintmaker

This book was well worth reading but it was not easy reading. At times, I was distracted by the variety of characters who came in and out of Francis’ life. That being said, Saintmaker situates the life and writings of Francis de Sales in their context of 17th century France. It gives the reader a clear idea of the progression of Francis life, especially placing his writings in context. Bedoyere also weaves in his own theological reflections and interpretations on the events in the saints life as well as provides summaries of the saints writings. Francis comes across as very human with profound insight into human nature and our relationship with God. If you are interested in a detailed account of the life of Francis de Sales this is the book to read.

Creating You & Co. by William Bridges

I actually just skimmed this book pretty quickly to see if it is worth reading. It certainly is. The book is made up of three parts. The first part offers the reasons why everyone needs to “learn to think like the CEO of your own career.” This summarizes much of the material found in Bridges book, Jobshift. While not completely convincing, it does make a strong case for thinking differently about making money… beyond simply “getting a job.” The second part of the book, I found the most helpful. It offers very concrete activities and exercises to identify your DATA (Desires, Abilities, Temperament, and Assets). The concreteness of these exercises is their greatest strength but they must be done, not just read. The third part of the book addresses the final step of turning your DATA into money. This section also has some activities and is very practical in covering the basics of marketing yourself. This practical book is worth reading and may change the way you think about how to make money.

The Preaching Life by Barbara Brown Taylor

The Preaching Life by Barbara Brown Taylor is a wonderful book. In Part 2 of the book, Taylor’s use of imagery and imagination brings fresh insight to common biblical texts. The reader is taken beyond simple doctrinal “answers.” Instead he is invited to engage the living Word of God as reflected through Taylor’s poetic and insightful mind. This is preaching at its best. One of my personal favorites is “The Tenth Leper” where Taylor moves beyond a simple call to gratitude to a much deeper analysis of the nature of gratitude as an act of love. Now, that may sound boring but Taylor’s style is not a dry analysis, but a living engagement with life in light of God’s Word. After reading that sermon, I had to close the book, sit down and reflect. Taylor’s words had given me a new insight into life, an insight that is not easily put into words or concepts. I had tasted a new reality, smelled the in breaking of the Kingdom of God in a new way. I had a fresh way of approaching my everyday life. The words had moved me to an encounter with the Word.
The first part of the book is not quite as strong but is still worth reading. In it, Taylor reflects on common theological themes (e.g. Vocation, Imagination, the Church, the Bible, etc…). This part is well written but the insights are not as striking or original as those found in Part 2.
Taylor’s imaginative and engaging style is delightful to read and her use of words reveals why she is regarded as one of the premiere preachers in the United States.