Eat and be satisfied

Eat and be satisfied

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Hurt Map

The hurt map is the topography of all your pain. It is a panoramic picture of a lifetime of accumulated grief, loss, sadness, weakness, fear, and anger. Besides valleys of despair are vast deserts of loneliness. Whitewater rapids of confusion swirl next to steep ravines of disappointment. Dead-end trails of frustration wind through forests of conflict. And mountains of fear dominate the landscape.

You flash back to your hurt map every time you encounter a similar geographical feature in real life. If you walk into a forest, you're taken into the forest of your hurt map. You're instantly transported to a place of conflict. You sniff the tension in the air, hear dead leaves crunching under your feet, and watch the trees pressing in. You don't choose to remember the hurt map - it just happens. Whatever feature the forest had in real life disappears and the forest of your hurt map becomes the bigger reality. And you fight or flee from that place of pain. 

Each person has his own unique hurt map. No two people possess the exact same set of geographical features. Some maps are just one long mountain range of fear. Others wander a seemingly endless desert. A few have a diverse and varied terrain. But everyone has their own individual composite image of pain.

And yet every person has a rudimentary understanding of another's hurt map. The hurt map is the basis of relationship. Anyone with a valley, no matter how deep or shallow, understands despair. Anyone with a dead-end trail, no matter how long or short, understands frustration. The hurt map is a persistent ache for connection.

Jesus is intimately familiar with your hurt map. He knows the terrain. He has walked every valley. He has climbed every peak. He has negotiated confusion. He has weathered disappointment. Jesus knows the contours of your pain so well because his hurt map encompasses every possible feature of pain, fear, and weakness imaginable. His hurt map carries the sorrow of every person's map. Where our fears summit, his peaks stand higher. Where our despair reach their lowest, his valleys dip lower. Where disappointment steepens, his ravines are steeper. And his abyss of betrayal - its depths cannot be plumbed. Every hurt we've experienced, he went there first. He even went into death and came out the other side.

Healing from the hurt map is not removing the map's features. Jesus doesn't take anything out. He walks with us through the topography of pain and makes each feature beautiful. The forest is no longer a place of pain but refuge. Because in that moment, he came close. The hurt map is an invitation to journey with the savior. 

So when you enter a forest, you may go flashback to your hurt map's forest but it's no longer the same place. You're no longer alone. The Savior is present beside you. Instead of tension, you whiff the fragrance of victory. In place of ominous footsteps, you're soothed by the shepherd's voice. And the surrounding trees shrink back as he draws your hand into his.

So give him your hurt map and let him guide you through pain into beauty. For it is in the wilderness of sorrow that Jesus finds you.

Psalm 23:4  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Golden Son: Friendship and Transformation

Pierce Brown's follow-up to his debut novel Red Rising is better than the first book in his trilogy. The second I finished it, I looked up from the couch and said to Judy and Caleb:

That was so good. That was so GOOD. That was SO good.

Brown is an incredible story teller. There all kinds of twists. The action and pacing are relentless. The kill count is high. There's pretty much every variety of intrigue and betrayal. Brown is a master at getting you inside the main character, Darrow, and understanding his motivations. He is a classic tragic hero.

The premise of the trilogy is a conspiracy to overthrow the universe's color caste system. Golds are the master race - bred to rule with an iron fist. They are literally, gold in complexion and have gold sigils on their hands and different physiology. Only like colors can breed with each other so they're like different species. Then you have, among others, Silvers (businessmen), Blues (ship pilots), Greens (programmers), Pinks (pleasure class), Grays (police), and Obsidians (assassins). Darrow starts the series as an angst-ridden teenager and in the second book, he's twenty years old and transitions from being a pawn to being an active player in the political/military maneuvering to rule the galaxy.

Yes, it's shamelessly derivative, evoking Hunger Games, Ender's Game, Divergent, Gattaca, etc. Yes, the dystopian coming of age novel is way overplayed. Yes, the writing is terse and clunky at times. And yes, when I started the first book, I wanted to stop fifty pages in. But the execution is so good. And it represents what the science fiction genre is all about - a compelling idea told through an epic story. 

I don't know if Brown is a follower of Jesus but he certainly writes like one. The most moving account in the first book is an atonement scene involving the main character. And Golden Son is full of biblical references. Most prominent among these is the theme of trust. Darrow is repeatedly placed in situations where he must decide how he views his friends - whether a friend will come through for him, whether a person is truly his friend, whether a friend who betrayed him in the past can reform, and whether a friend who has been faithful will betray him in the future. There are so many trust questions and for the most part, Darrow is the Christ figure, always choosing to trust, even when he knows betrayal is inevitable. It's inspiring stuff.

The most challenging theme in the book concerns a person's capacity to change. Can a person brought up as a slave to blind obedience acquire the freedom to choose? Can the proud become humble? Can a friend who acts selfishly and traitorously transform and become loyal and sacrificial? It's not the central theme of the trilogy but it is perhaps the most vexing question of the second novel. Fortunately, Brown does not offer a simple answer. The implications are broad and in certain instances, tragic.

In his acknowledgments, Brown quotes from the Lord of the Rings when Frodo has all but given up on his quest and Samwise says to him, "Come, Mr. Frodo . . . I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you." He proceeds to acknowledge all the friends who made the journey of writing the book possible - they didn't write the book itself but they carried him. That's friendship in a nutshell and what Brown's story is ultimately about.

Friday, April 3, 2015

All Access Pass to God and the Price of Admission is Pride

At tonight's Good Friday service at our church, the children's ministry performed a musical (Micah with a solo!) and Peter and Paul from Operation Dawn, a gospel drug rehabilitation center, shared songs and testimonies of life change. I shared a condensed version of the following words:

When Jesus died on the cross, he was surrounded by an unlikely group of companions. The people you would most expect to be there were absent.

DISCIPLES ARE ABSENT: The men whom Jesus had spent almost all his time with in the past three years were missing in action during the moment of his greatest pain. They had deserted, denied, or betrayed him before the trial. This group of men took pride in their intimate relationship with Jesus, thetime they spent with him, and the fact that Jesus privately explained every parable to them. All of them helped feed the 5,000 and 4,000, watched him walk on water, cast out demons, heal disease, and even witnessed his transfiguration. But at the very end, their pride was crushed - none more so than Peter, who swore he would never leave Jesus but ended up denying him three times.

JESUS' FRIENDS AT THE CROSS: According to the gospel of Mark, the only people present whom could be considered friends of Jesus were a couple women and a Roman centurion. Let's look at Jesus' friends more closely: 1) The women, including Mary Magdalene and Jesus' mother, were women. In the Ancient Near East, women had few privileges and rights and Jesus didn't spend much time with women. Yet these women came without pride, without claim, in order to mourn the loss of their savior. 2) Now the centurion. You may wonder how this centurion can be a friend of Jesus. Just one big, stinking clue. He says: "Truly this man was the Son of God". The centurion was a foreigner to Israel, an uncircumcised Gentile, with no righteousness to boast in. He came without any pride.

UNLIKELY FRIENDS: Tonight in our Good Friday service, we had performances from an unlikely group of companions - children and former drug addicts. During Jesus' earthly ministry, these two groups were looked down upon. The disciples tried to block Jesus from people bringing their children to him and Jesus rebuked them saying "The kingdom of God belongs to such as these". The Pharisees condemned for dining at house of "sinners" - tax collectors and such. They were the drug addicts of that day and age. But here's what children and former drug addicts have in common with Jesus' friends at the cross: they have little to take pride in before God.

BEAUTY OF THE GOSPEL: When Jesus died, the curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom. The temple represented the presence of God and the temple curtain separated an unholy people from a holy God. And only once a year could an unblemished high priest entered into the holy of holies. He made a sacrifice in order to make the people temporarily righteous before God, only with regard to unintentional sin. It was a limited, annual pass with membership renewal based on a yearly animal sacrifice. So when the curtain was torn, it was a message that through Jesus, every person now has an All-Access Pass to the Throne Room of God - permanent, everyone is invited, it is all-inclusive, infinite righteousness. That means to having your sins forgiven, it means receiving the righteousness of the Son, it becomes to become a beloved son or daughter,  There is no animal sacrifice necessary; there is no more slavery to the Ten Commandments, and there is hope, freedom, meaning, and purpose in Christ. We have a new identity, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, we a mission to reach the world. And the only way to receive this all access pass to the kingdom of God is lay down your pride. The only way to receive his righteousness is to give up your own. That's what the women did. That was the centurion's attitude. That's what the disciples were doing at the moment Jesus hung from the cross, their pride was being crucified. 

OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS: And each of us have our own righteousness. Those of us who have grown up in the church, who are capable, smart, and respected, who haven't sinned in obvious ways, who don't do drugs, who live in nice houses, who are educated, who have high-paying jobs, who have dignity, who crave respect - we all have our own righteousness. We all have pride. Both Peter and Paul, in their testimonies, confessed their pride and how God literally stripped Paul naked and Peter was humbled by relapse in China. Even children have pride, but it's easier for them because they have less to be prideful in and they've had less of life to be prideful. The disciples had pride because of their position - they argued about who would be the greatest in the kingdom but on the cross, their pride was crucified as they were the ones who deserted Jesus.

HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS: In Jesus, the world has been offered an all access pass to God and the price of admission is pride. If you want the infinite righteousness of the Son of God, you can have it. The price is everything and nothing. It all depends on the size of your ego. 

C.S. Lewis closes his essay "Three Kinds of Men" with these words: 
The price of Christ is something, in a way, much easier than moral effort—it is to want Him. It is true that the wanting itself would be beyond our power but for one fact. The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars. Even on those terms the Mercy will receive us.

After the disciples deserted Jesus, their pride was crushed as Jesus as hung on the cross. Jesus was placed in a tomb and on the third day, he rose again and he appeared before the disciples. And the disciples were raised to life out of the ashes of their pride. Even on those terms, the Mercy received them. Whatever your pride today is, big or small, medium-sized, child-sized, adult-sized, intelligence, wealth, whatever your satisfaction, God will receive you - at the cost of putting your own righteousness to death. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Angry Asians and Face to Face Communication

Exodus 33:11a Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.  

A couple months ago, news came out that the owner of Angry Little Asian Girl (Lela Lee - a fellow Cal classmate but I didn't know her) had brought a lawsuit against Angry Asian Man (Phil Yu) for trademark infringement. She asked him, months earlier, if he could change his blog name to something different - presumably without "Angry" in the name. Their brands have been around for years but Lee didn't bring it up until recently because because Yu wasn't a professional - making a full-time occupation out of his blog. The whole thing escalated and you can read more details here.

Lee and Yu knew each other casually through various events - they had met in person in the past. However, at no point in their dispute did either party attempt to have a face to face meeting (based on what I read on Yu's blog in February - the posts have subsequently been removed). Lee emailed Yu. Yu didn't reply for months. Lee got mad and served him with a lawsuit (via email I believe). Yu retaliated by writing about her on his blog. Things got uglier from there with a Twitter war, etc.

For two people so respected in the Asian American community, taking a couple hours to sit down together and discuss this in-person would have been so valuable. 

I sense more and more confrontations like this occurring in the future because young Asian Americans have a decreasing ability to have face to face communication (and I totally get the irony of writing this post but written communication does have its role). 

The pattern of interaction in this dispute is so Asian - and I mean that in the most negative sense. I see conflict avoidance, passive aggression, bitterness built up over years exploding, feigned humility, and of course, minimal/non-existent face to face communication. We're already disadvantaged because of our upbringing - most Asian families avoid conflict, lack of eye contact in face to face interaction with parents especially fathers, and little/no training in empathy. Add to that toxic mix our increasing dependence on devices as an intermediary for interpersonal communication and you have a killer recipe for social impairment. 

During my IBM/Hitachi days, my Asian (American-born!) coworkers would instant message me while sitting a dozen feet away. It would drive me crazy but there were times I would do the same thing. We think it's more efficient this way - it's just a quick question and it saves time. It also feels less intrusive. The truth is, I would often resort to text and email when I didn't have the emotional energy to have a face to face conversation, when I was afraid of rejection, or when I wanted to state an unpopular opinion but didn't have the courage to voice it in person.

That's why texting, email, and instant messaging can be lazy and cowardly forms of communication. I totally get why Asians like it though. We want the opportunity to take our time coming up with the right words. We don't want to feel pressured to instantly respond. We don't want to deal directly with rejection or an unexpected response. The intermediary provides a buffer. But face to face interaction matters because there's so much more communicated when you meet someone in person. I remember in college when my dad told me I had become a man after I apologized to him. It was a conversation in the car that I will cherish for the rest of my life. The intensity of looking another person in the eye and acknowledging them as a human being is the essence of what relationship is about.  In face to face communication, the words only convey a fraction of the sender's intent. Most of it is body language and tone. The other two powerful elements of face to face communication is touch and context. Touch: If I'm able to resolve a dispute, I can give the person a hug. I can hold their hand or touch their shoulder when we pray. Context: If we're eating, we can comment on the food. If the weather is nice, we share that in common.

So if you can't stomach the idea of having a face to face conversation with someone you have a dispute with, you need to pause before communicating through any other medium (email, text, instant messaging, etc) because you have anger, bitterness, and resentment that needs to be dealt with first. Take your time to calm down and meet with the person. But expressing anything through an intermediary - human, digital, or otherwise  - seriously risks your intentions being misinterpreted.  I can't remember ever successfully resolving a dispute over email. Email flame wars always escalate because it's so easy to misconstrue people's intentions for the worst and the other party has no opportunity to defend himself/herself in the moment. 

I am not naive enough to think if Lee and Yu had simply had a face to face conversation, the Angry Asian dispute could have been prevented. There seem to be years of resentment on Lee's side motivating her lawsuit. But it saddens me they could not have gotten together, looked each other in the eye over a Philz iced mojito, and really sensed each others' hearts. At the very least, they could have agreed to keep the dispute private and not fight in front of the kids. They have both brought a lot of good to the Asian American community and it would have been a great blessing to have that work continue unblemished.

Finally, I love this professor's suggestion of doing a face to face day - no devices for the entire day. Painfully good.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

We don't believe in the priesthood of all believers

Does the Bible teach every believer is a member of a holy priesthood?

In his book, Center Church (and sermons like this one), Tim Keller explains how every believer is a prophet, priest, and king. Ephesians 2 describes how each believer reigns in heaven with Christ. In Acts 2:16-19, Peter declares Joel's prediction fulfilled concerning the Holy Spirit's enabling of all of God's sons and daughters to prophesy. And the verse below explicitly states every believer in Christ is a member of a royal priesthood - granted the privilege of announcing God's majesty to a broken world.
1 Peter 2:9  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Thus, the question isn't whether the Bible teaches all believers are priests, it's whether we actually believe it. And the truth of our belief is indicated by our behavior.

1) We hold pastors to a higher ethical standard

During my visit to the UK, I talked with a friend about how pastors handle having their kids' sports participation. The pastor at my friend's church has a teenage son who plays high-level competitive soccer. Many of the tournaments and games occur on Sunday mornings. However, the pastor's family has a household rule that their kids will not compete on Sunday mornings. The thinking goes something like this: His son is a role model for the rest of the congregation. If the pastor's son attends a soccer game instead of worship service, what message does that convey to the rest of congregation?*

I've wrestled with this question as our oldest son, Caleb, also plays competitive soccer. He was recently promoted to the gold level of his team. Before moving him up, the coach asked Judy and me if we were willing to let Caleb play more on Sundays. The coach knows I'm a pastor and perceives a lack of commitment because Caleb has missed a handful of Sunday games (not all church-related absences). Judy and I struggled with this decision. 

What irks me though is that I'm expected to behave differently from other people because I bear a title. I don't mind that we place higher expectations on church leaders. We are certainly role models. But I am concerned when higher expectations are placed on pastors versus other church leaders - as if pastors are a different class of leader. The expectation is since they get money from the church, they should behave better. 

I also find Christians are consistently shocked and angered when high-profile pastors are caught in church scandals. I've certainly experienced surprise and disappointment when I've expressed to others my struggles with lust, pride, anger, etc. It's as if I'm somehow in a different category of person because of where my money comes from. Because I made a decision to receive a (lesser) paycheck for religious work, I bear the burden of increased expectations. I wonder if this is why most Christians are reluctant to go into vocational ministry - the pressure of expectations is suffocating.

In the end, we decided to let Caleb play in tournaments on Sundays. For individual games, we would allow him the freedom to choose - with Judy and me having veto power. In instances he misses church, we'll listen to a sermon together on the Saturday drive. The principle here is freedom of choice. We obviously value our church involvement and up to a certain age, all of our kids are required to attend church with us - because it is a family thing, not because they're role models. In that respect, I am modeling as a parent and leader how I would encourage other people to raise their kids in freedom - not because I'm a pastor but because I am learning how to be a godly father.

* There's also the related question concerning the sacredness of a Sunday worship service - is it gospel-centric to consider one day/time of the week more "holy" than others?

2) We expect pastors to do work we are called to do ourselves

I often hear Christians who are shopping for a church complain "I'm not getting fed". The image of a dining room with adult men and women sitting in over-sized high chairs, wearing Sesame Street bibs, and crying out "I'm hungry! I want food!" pops into my head. And in this picture, the pastor runs around frantically with a large spoon, scooping beef stew, and plunging it into the mouth of each overgrown child - anything to get the incessant whining to stop.

Certainly, a pastor's calling is to feed God's sheep. But if we are truly the priesthood of believers, then that responsibility does not fall upon the pastor alone. If we are indeed priests then we bear the mutual responsibility to FEED EACH OTHER. That's what it means to be the body of Christ. 

Like so many things in life, this comes down to how we see money. We have an anti-biblical attitude because how we view money colors our perceptions of vocational Christians. We want the biggest bang for our buck. Because we pay the pastor, we want to extract the maximum value out of him. Therefore he should do evangelism, visit the sick, counsel people, cast vision, train leaders, preach every week, confront sin, study the Bible, organize events, get along with everyone, welcome newcomers, tuck his shirt in (or not), spearhead outreaches, lead bible studies, pray for people, take care of the church building, be nice to puppies, set up chairs, and host potlucks. 

A kingdom-centered view of money means viewing the pastor's income as a gift to him just as all sources of income are gifts and expression of God's provision. Just as in the Old Testament, no priest earns his paycheck. His income is a gift. He relies upon the generosity of the community. No matter your occupation, you rely upon the generosity of a community. This community (organization, company, etc.), whether spiritual or secular, was ultimately set up by the Creator. The specific community may not operate by these principles but God is the mover behind the entire system.

Thus, the focus of a pastor is to preach the word and pray in order to equip others for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-1). His job is to make himself dispensable. And that's what Jesus did - He equipped his disciples and then left the building, leaving the Holy Spirit behind to carry on His work through His body, the church. My job as a pastor is to equip people to fulfill their calling as priests. 

3) We look at the pastoral vocation as a higher calling

I never experienced the calling to be a pastor. The closest thing was when I was a high school senior, James Taylor (Hudson Taylor's great grandson) spoke at our winter retreat and challenged us to reach China with the gospel. From that point forward, I felt convinced I was supposed to be a missionary. I still do - just not necessarily overseas. I don't doubt being a pastor, missionary, or full-time Christian worker is a unique calling but is it a superior calling? Is everyone else second-class Christians? 

I hear people tell me frequently, "Oh, I don't have the calling to be a pastor." Sometimes there is a kind of apologetic, defensive tone to this response. It's often accompanied with some type of explanation of why this person doesn't feel worthy to be a pastor. I don't want to get into an extended discussion of calling but let's say God, at a minimum, calls people according to His will as revealed in His word. So if the Bible teaches all believers are holy priests then we must certainly be called as priests in the places where we spend the most time. Whether you feel worthy of being a priest is not an issue of competence but faith. 

So if you work at McDonald's, you're called to be a McDonald's priest. We need Home Depot priests, Goldman Sachs priests, Starbucks priests, Exxon priests, and Tinder priests. If you're a student, you're a priest at your school. You're a priest to your family. I talked to a young man in Scotland about his job in the oil and gas industry. He bemoaned how difficult it was to live out his faith in an antagonistic environment but recognized his sacred calling to be salt and light in his workplace. We desperately need people who feel a sense of calling as priests to their companies, who recognize their unique role in carrying the gospel into dark places. 

A personal reflection

One of the hardest thing about being a pastor is my actions also don't convey that I believe in the priesthood of all believers. Part of me enjoys being held to a higher ethical standard. Part of me enjoys being placed on a pedestal and feeling superior to others. The fleshly part of my nature wants so badly to feel significant and valued relative to my non-vocational ministry peers. It's also risky to train and equip people to do pastoral tasks because it can feel threatening to my job security. But the truest part of me is learning to embrace this truth. And I do believe it's crucial for all church leaders, pastors included, to live out the truth of the priesthood of all believers. Otherwise how will others see this reality as legitimate?

At a recent high school reunion, a friend asked me what it was like being a pastor. I told her my work has its highs and lows and it's sometimes not quite as fulfilling as I imagined. She responded, Yeah, well, it's just a job isn't it? 

I thought to myself: How dare she refer to my holy calling 'just a job'?

When I believe vocational ministry is a superior calling, I'm defining my value according to the source of my income. But if what the Bible teaches is true, it truly is just a job. It is simply one specific location in which I've been placed to express my priestly calling. It is just a job. The greatest calling is to be a disciple, a beloved child of our ultimate intended father, a member of his household of believers, and a holy priest. Because if God has raised you from the kingdom of death to the kingdom of life, your job title and source of income are irrelevant.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Gone Girl Book Review

I heard the movie is a psychological thriller so I thought I would read Gillian Flynn's book first. It's sick, twisted, and excellent. I still haven't seen the movie. I loved the alternating point-of-view narrative between husband and wife. Flynn is a little too smart for her own good. It's difficult to distinguish which is more pretentious - her writing or her characters. But the story moves. It's a roller coaster ride through a gloriously dysfunctional marriage into the black depths of a psychopath's mind. Even though the book starts dramatically, it is tough to like the characters in the beginning so the first half is kind of a slog. The second half really picks up as the plott twists get going and the tension accelerates. The thing I enjoyed most about the book is how Flynn depicts the depraved aspects of marriage - as a theater of disguised intentions and an endless war for control. Oh, and Flynn really likes to use italics. In her book, italics are everywhere.

I want to share two memorable quotes from the book. Nick, an embattled husband whose wife has gone missing, talks to his neighbor about his wife's disappearance. She is extremely hostile towards him for reasons he cannot fathom and Nick has the following thought:
She went away. I thought the unkind thought, one of those that burbled up beyond my control. I thought: Women are fucking crazy. No qualifier: Not some women, not many women. Women are crazy.
First comment: As Nick will find out, all women are indeed crazy but some women are a couple standard deviations crazier than others. Second comment: It absolutely tickles me that a woman wrote that line.

Nick, again, bemoaning the bankruptcy of his hometown mall as a metaphor for the bankruptcy of his soul:
It seemed to me that there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative (although the word derivative as a criticisim is itself derivative). We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can't recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn't reference immediately to a movie or TV show. A fucking commercial. You know the awful singsong of the blase. Seeen it. I've literally seen it all, and the worst things, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in way reality can't anymore. I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. . . We are all working from the same dog-eared script. It's a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters. And if all of us are play-acting, there can be no such thing as a soul mate, because we don't have genuine souls.
It's a over-the-top existential but it was still a thought-provoking paragraph to read. It makes me realize my most delightful life experiences were small, everyday moments that have never been captured in a movie - they're too unique yet mundane. And some of the most pleasurable occasions are those experienced in reflection - that a movie or TV show or video or picture can't quite completely capture. Overall, this book is an insightful, thrilling read.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

My 9 Favorite Manhood Books

Recently a friend asked me to list my favorite books on manhood. He asked from a place of need because it's lonely being a guy. We're not good at expressing our feelings. It's hard for us to ask for help. We have trouble forging deep friendships because we fear intimacy. We haven't been taught how our violent passion is a gift from God. And we have few role models to patterns ourselves after. Every man has other men who lead him into manhood and although they will never replace iron-sharpening relationships with other men, there are my favorite guides in the journey so far (in order of when I read them, oldest first).

1) Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot

Before this book, I didn't understand anything about manhood except that it related to strength, courage, and risk-taking. After I read this biography about Jim Elliot during college, I began to imagine the limitless possibilities of faith, courage, and vulnerability. Here was this guy who risked his life for Jesus as a missionary in Central America and yet was incredibly raw and honest about his own walk with God, his fears, failures, and desires. It was an intimate portrait of what was possible for someone following God. It wasn't about manhood per se but it was so powerful. It is one of the defining books of my Christian life and an all-time favorite. This book inspired me to keep a journal - a practice I follow to this day. A great way to learn about manhood is to study the lives of great men. I have read other biographies but this one stands above everything else - perhaps because of the strategic moment in which I read it.

2) Wild at Heart by John Eldredge

Certainly the criticisms of the book are valid - it's stuffed with movie illustrations, unabashedly white middle-class male, and his use of scripture is suspect - but the book simply rocks. Up to that point, my issue was feeling pressure as a man, feeling like biblical manhood consisted endless commitments, responsibilities, and toil  But when I read Eldredge, I felt fully alive and inspired to kick ass for God. I felt like something deep inside me was awakened - and that same spirit of adventure is latent in every man, yearning to be released.

3) Bringing up Boys by James Dobson

I bought and read this book after our second son was born and it was a tremendous blessing. I'm no James Dobson fan and I don't appreciate his conservative political activism. But in the end, it's an insightful guide on how boys are different from girls, how God made the differences good, and how we can appreciate and nurture those differences in boys. He treats topics with nuance, tenderness, and the unconditional love of God - it's just a fantastic manual for helping parents of boys. It helped me appreciate certain things my dad unintentionally did to invest in my brother and me and certain things that I want to do with my boys.

4) Silence of Adam by Larry Crabb

I love Larry Crabb. His stuff is so good. I don't know why this book isn't more popular. It's about the passivity of men and how men tend towards either neediness or toughness - and what each behavior indicates about our heart condition. He also talks about the words every man (and women) need to from another man: I believe in you. You're not alone. You can do it. A retreat speaker used the same phrasing in his talks one time and now I know where it came from. 

5) The Game by Neil Strauss

I talk about this book a lot because it's the quintessential manhood story. It boils masculinity down to chasing girls and it's arguably the most popular male self-improvement book in the world. Like Shadow of the Almighty, it is basically a memoir. I see it is as kind of exploration of what it means to be a man - are we defined by women or how other men see us? I appreciate Strauss' story because it is a coming of age narrative for any man. A man is utterly incompetent in an area and through mentors, hard work, and training becomes a champion. But is being a champion womanizer what he really wanted?

6) No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover

This is the most practical book on my list. The nice guy syndrome doesn't describe every guy but is spot-on for pretty much every Asian guy I've met. This book is the secular antidote to the problem of the Passive Asian Male. It describes the outward behavior of a new creation male. If you place radical trust in Jesus, then the picture of manhood Glover paints is possible and natural for you. The manifestation will require a painful inward journey of self-discovery but as you walk in the Spirit applying this book, the sky is the limit. He will teach you how to prioritize your needs, set limits, and express your feelings. It's basically Boundaries (Cloud and Townsend) for men. His stuff on covert agendas is amazing.

7) Seizing Your Divine Moment by Erwin McManus

This book was not written for men at all but a guy like McManus represents .000001% of the population and this book about faith risk-taking is the essence of what manhood is. Only McManus can take a few verses about Jonathan and his armor bearer taking on Philistine post and write an entire book about it. It's like Wild at Heart without the male-focus and better exegesis.

8) Iron John by Robert Bly

Robert Bly is not a Christian but he is a poet (all Christian are poets but not all poets are Christians). He writes beautifully about manhood and mythology. The book is woven around a mythic wild man who rescues the king's son from his parents, in particular, the queen. It's an extended metaphor for the male initiation ritual and it is incredibly intense. His stuff on father-woundedness and separation from the mother is controversial and thought-provoking. The book was pivotal in helping me understand the social importance of the fraternity and men's organization. 

9) Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang

It's not about manhood, it's not Christian at all, and it's really an extended rant on various topics but it's such a great meditation on a man's journey through anger. Anger is the defining emotion of manhood. Tim Keller says anger is love in motion to deal with a threat to someone or something we truly care about. Huang's struggle to understand his anger and make it productive is what makes his story compelling. I also really wanted to include an Asian male in this list. 

If I had to pick one book to give to my son, it would probably be Shadow of the Almighty. It's hard to go wrong with a martyr.