Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Breck England: Finding the “third alternative”

Posted on: July 19th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

The co-author of Stephen Covey’s new book, “The 3rd Alternative,” says leaders who are able to cultivate a mindset that can entertain wildly divergent ideas not only encounter less conflict but also come up with more inspired answers.

Updated: Stephen R. Covey died on July 16, 2012.

 

When people with opposing opinions collide, one side typically wins out, while the other leaves frustrated and angry.

But there’s a way to resolve differences that results in less conflict and leaves both parties enthusiastic about the outcome, said Breck England, co-author of Stephen Covey’s new book, “The 3rd Alternative.” (link is external)

The Third Alternative

In the book, the authors encourage individuals in leadership positions to listen to both sides of a problem and look for answers that transcend polarizing positions.

“It’s a question of mindset,” said England, who holds a doctoral degree in English and works as a consultant for the FranklinCovey Co., focused on Covey’s principle-centered theories of organization and leadership.

“If you approach a problem with the point of view that ‘I’m interested in an exciting third alternative; I don’t care where it comes from,’ then the burden comes off of you. It’s so liberating for a leader to be able to say, ‘I don’t have to be the source of this,’” he said.

Covey, a worldwide expert in business and personal time management, teaches at Brigham Young University but is best known for his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” along with other books about organizational leadership.

England spoke to Faith & Leadership about the latest book and the steps to finding better solutions to organizational dilemmas. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: Could you describe the concept behind “The 3rd Alternative”?  

In just about any field of human endeavor, you’ll have two conventional alternatives — left versus right, management versus labor. The idea behind “The 3rd Alternative” is to arrive at a position that is better — that is higher — than either of those two conventional alternatives.

Dr. Covey was taken with this idea years ago when he studied some of the literature on leadership and learned that many of the great leaders get beyond the conventional two sides of a story to a third side, which is new, innovative and better than anyone thought of before.

So the idea behind the book was that many of our conflicts, and also dilemmas that we face in life, are often the products of poor thinking. A better way to think is to look for a third alternative.

Q: How is it different from compromise?  

It’s the opposite of compromise. In a compromise, everyone loses something. When you get into a compromise situation, people tend to go away generally unsatisfied. They didn’t get what they wanted. They had to cede ground to the other party.

The idea behind “The 3rd Alternative” is actually the opposite of that. It’s that no one gives anything up, because we arrive at something that everybody agrees is a win for everyone. It’s something better than any of us thought of before. It’s something that delights everyone.

Q: How does this book build on Stephen Covey’s classic book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”?  

The “7 Habits” book is based on the idea that if you start by realizing that you are responsible for your own choices, you begin to rise in maturity through a series of seven habits. The final and culminating of what he calls “interpersonal” habits is Habit 6, which is “Synergize.”

Synergy, he believes, is the highest human activity. In any interactive situation, it’s possible to arrive at a synergistic solution that is better than anyone has thought of before. So he would say that the “7 Habits” book leads up to this book.

Q: Could you talk about the mindsets that make it difficult to find that third alternative?  

I can take a concrete example and walk you through it. Malaria is endemic in equatorial Africa. For years there has been a knock-down, drag-out argument between the left and the right about what to do about it.

Years ago, there was a solution in the form of DDT, which was very effective at wiping out the mosquito that causes malaria, but it was very damaging to wildlife. So for many years the use of DDT was banned, because it was damaging to wildlife. But then malaria came roaring back, of course.

So the right wing would like to see DDT brought back, for a number of reasons. They feel that the threat is overblown. And the left wing comes back and says, “This is far more damaging than you think it is.”

There’s this tremendous tug of war between them.

Our contention is that they’re both equally caught in conventional thinking and they’re unable to get past it.

While the left and the right wings are fighting over DDT, along comes Nathan Myhrvold and his fabulous Intellectual Ventures company in Seattle. And they come up with a thousand “third alternatives” for curing malaria.

Some of them are really off-the-wall, like a machine that will shoot down mosquitoes.

With less than $200 worth of equipment — a little blue laser, the kind that they use in the grocery store checkout, a computer and a radar system — they put this system in place in the perimeter fence around a village and program the computer so that it can distinguish the female Anopheles mosquito.

As the female mosquito enters the perimeter, a laser beam shoots it down. And the laser that shoots the little mosquito out of the sky will not hurt any other form of life.

Q: Is it the emotional investment that makes these disputes difficult to resolve?  

Yes, there’s a deep emotional investment in one’s own side and one’s own position and one’s own philosophy.

Why do people find it so difficult to get past these conventional ways of thinking? We believe the reason is because they emotionally identify with their positions to the point where they can’t get beyond them.

Q: So what are the personal skills and habits that people can learn in order to practice this kind of thinking?  

What you need to do is recognize that there is an abundance of solutions.

In logic, there’s never only one alternative to anything. There may be infinite alternatives.

For example, the struggle over energy philosophies in this country is a deeply political, and therefore deeply psychological and emotional, conflict. The fact is, the universe is absolutely roaring with energy. There is no energy shortage. There is simply a shortage of solutions.

In India there are millions of houses without electricity. The leftist politicians want a national electricity grid paid for by the government. And there are private interests who say a national electricity grid should be privately owned. The result is you get a 40-year battle between these two sides and no solution.

Then what happened was that a little company owned by a man named Harish Hande slips in between the two and says, “We don’t need a national electricity grid.” So he’s producing kits that will enable these homes to be electrified by solar power for less than $200, and millions of homes in India are rapidly being electrified by these little kits. Soon the argument over whether there should be a national electricity grid becomes irrelevant.

Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen saw all these television sets running off of solar energy kits and said, “People don’t want a national electricity grid. What they want is a TV they can watch.” The national electricity grid is just one way to get there.

A second key to this kind of thinking is to have enough personal confidence to go up to people you disagree with and say — and in sincerity — “You disagree with me; I need to listen to you,” instead of saying, “You disagree with me; I need not to listen to you.”

If you really do sit and listen to the other side with the intent to understand them and understand their point of view and see if there’s anything of value there, that immediately diffuses the conflict.

A third thing you can do is say, “Would you be willing to look for an alternative that neither one of us has thought of before?”

Generally, they will say they are willing to do that. And as you push towards a better alternative and keep that goal in mind, you soon find yourselves transcending your positions. There’s no guarantee that you’ll arrive at it, but when you do, you’ll know you’ve got it. Everybody gets excited. They say things like, “I never thought of that before,” or, “Why didn’t we think of that before?” They recognize it when they get there.

Q: How can institutional leaders cultivate those skills and habits in their organizations?  

My research and experience have shown me that to a very great extent, an institution is the reflection of the leader. Whether you’re the university president or the CEO, the leader sets the tone for the entire institution.

The key is to begin to model third-alternative thinking. Have third-alternative sessions if you’re facing a dilemma: “Do I need to raise money or not?” or, “Should we take money from this source or not?”

Whatever dilemma you’re facing, you start holding sessions where the goal is not to fight or argue points but to generate third alternatives. You can always argue later if you want.

A good place to start is by saying — just say, “You differ from me; I need to listen to you.” And then just do it, without debating the point with them. The idea is to truly understand their position rather than to debate it.

Q: You wouldn’t allow people to start arguing over those points — just present them to the group?  

Yes. The idea behind letting people vent is that it gets it off their chest, and it kind of empties their conflict bank. It empties out their psychologically pent-up, repressed feelings. And then they’re often ready to sit back and think with you.

Here’s another story: One little pizza store in a chain was producing so much more revenue than the others that the company was interested in how the manager was doing it.

The only thing he does differently is bring together his crew once a week and hold what he calls a huddle. He lets them come up with the ideas, and it’s amazing how creative these teenagers can be.

They’ve come up with some outstanding ideas, like load a pickup truck with hot pizzas and drive them to the football game and sell them out of the truck.

They come up with these unconventional ways of selling. As a result, this man has a huge revenue stream compared to his competing stores, because he values the ideas of his people.

Think about that mindset in relation to running a huge organization like a university. You can see how energizing it could be if a university president were to get his vice presidents or his reports together and say to them, “What can we do this week we’ve never done before?”

Q: How do you apply this in situations where maybe there isn’t conflict, but you just think it’s a good way of thinking?  

It applies to any dilemma that you face. So the idea is, if I’m a leader, I really value diverse points of view.

We all have slices of truth, I like to say. So it’s valuable to get as many slices of truth out on the table as you can, and take that terrible burden off the leader of trying to be the fount of all wisdom.

The idea behind “The 3rd Alternative” is the principle of synergy — that you and I together can come up with things that one of us alone could never do. And those things will be far more fruitful than just the two of us together. One plus one equals three, or 10, or 1,000, instead of just two.

Q: You use words such as “excitement,” “promise” and “delight” to describe this concept — not your typical business leadership language. What’s the significance of this?  

Human beings are delighted by the exciting, new idea. It’s just part of our makeup. I think it’s the highest human endeavor, to discover new truths, to discover new ideas, to arrive at new realizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. (I grew up with “Star Trek,” OK?)

I believe that’s rooted in us. And it’s our highest delight in life to discover something new that really works well and works better than we ever thought anything could work. Of course, we live in a world where we’re saturated with that.

The highest form of human work is coming up with the exciting new alternative that nobody thought of before.

We wrote the book because we were fascinated with all of the evidence of human ingenuity that can come once we get past our conventional, two-sided ways of thinking. The “me-against-you” thinking is the enemy of the future.

It’s a very hard thing to do, to get past your traditional mindsets.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Alban at Duke Divinity School, Alban Weekly, June 27, 2016

Canada’s Catholics: Vitality and Hope in a New Era

Posted on: June 24th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


CANADA’S CATHOLICS
Vitality and Hope in a New Era
by Reginald Bibby and Angus Reid

Novalis, Toronto, June, 2016
192 pages. $19.95 CAD
ISBN #978-2896-88261-8.

Publisher’s Promo:

An essential guide to the Canadian Catholic 
Church from award-winning sociologist
Reginald Bibby and well-known pollster
Angus Reid.

The Catholic Church in Canada experienced
seismic shifts in the 20th century.

Once a stronghold of national and provincial
culture and life, the Church underwent a 
dramatic transformation, with decreased
participation and a loss of social prominence
However, according to Bibby and Reid, there’s
evidence that we ought not despair Rather, the
Church is in a period of major transformation,
and there is hope.

Drawing from a new cross-country survey
of 3,000 Canadians, Bibby and Reid offer an
insightful look into what lay Catholics believe
and what draws women and men to the life
of the Church.


Reg. Bibby Wiki Bio: http://tinyurl.com/j8svkru

Angus Reid Institute: http://angusreid.org/


Note:

Bibby is Protestant by background, and
Reid is Roman Catholic. Their research synergy
greatly enhances the quality of this book.

Authors’ Words:

(Partway through our collaboration since 2014,
Reg came up with an idea that would help us 
make this book possible – to extend the overall
sample of a Canadian survey on attitudes to
religion in this country – to include 1,000 Catholics.)

This allowed us to generate largely unprecedented
data on beliefs, attitudes, and practices of Catholics
across the country, including, of course – Quebec.
Comprehensive national survey data on Catholics
has been sparse, which is somewhat surprising,
given the historical place of the (Catholic) Church
in Canada, especially during the country’s
formative years…

Media reports in recent decades, for example,
have offered at best a confusing picture of the
status of Catholicism in Canada… (some of the 
perspectives tend to portray a Church in decline,
while others suggest a Church that is healthy,
vigorous and confident.)

Faced with this cacophony of mixed signals, and
contradictory reports (Reg and Angus) decided to
go straight to Catholics to get a more direct
reading that would help provide insight into
current trends and future directions.

Contrary to dominant views among social
scientists that religion has been experiencing
a declining role in contemporary societies, we
have found precisely the opposite to be the
case in Canada when it comes to Catholics.
Indeed, globalization and immigration have
been bringing to our shores millions of people
whose identities are firmly fixed by religious
beliefs and practices.

Surprisingly, the Catholic Church in Canada has
been benefiting enormously from developments
in the postmodern world that experts had
predicted would be its nemesis.

Independent of the immigration factor, we also
see a Catholic community that remains deeply 
rooted in an identity that is Catholic… Catholic
culture, along with beliefs, practices and the
vital role of faith in life’s key events – birth,
marriage and death – serve to unite the 13
million Canadians who define themselves as
Catholic. Our research points to considerable
vitality and fertile ground for creating vibrant
Christian communities in the new millennium…

The spirit of the research project and this book
has been a full-fledged partnership… an uplifting
and enjoyable relationship.

Our hope is that Catholics and others will find
the material to be of value. 

– Angus and Reg in the Introduction

 

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst

My Thoughts:

Taken together, Bibby and Reid have been polling 
Canadians for three quarters of a century. That
means they have developed a rather refined sense
of the communities out of which we live our lives,
and what occupies our thoughts. What a formidable
combination on an increasingly complex topic! 

It is surprising that the subject they address in
this book – Canada’s Catholics – has received so
little attention over the years. Here, they set
about to rectify that deficiency.

Since Roman Catholics make up a third of the
Canadian population – by far the largest single
religious grouping in the country – this subject
is of considerable importance as far as faith
studies go. Their work benefits not only 
Catholics, but the rest of us as well.

The strong presence of Catholics in Canada,
(in terms of the total population, including the
large French-speaking Catholic population of
Quebec) is a very big factor distinguishing
this country from the United States.

Protestants were the principle founders of America.
while Catholics were the formative constituency of
Canada. Subsequent immigration has changed the
population mix of both nations, but that important
distinction remains.  When Canadians and Americans 
assess each other, this key reality may be forgotten.

I would suggest that the book under consideration
should not only serve Canadians, but those wishing
to gain a better understanding of Canada from an
international perspective. Indeed, the book is written
with a globalized point of view. We are a nation of
immigrants – no doubt our First Nations people as
well – and we are now, more than ever, a global
community and not simply a people with European
ancestry. This is reflected in our church life today.

In a true sense, the Catholic Church is positioned,
like few others, to benefit significantly from our
global society, multi-cultural in-migration, and
the resulting Canadian population.

Stated simply, many Catholics from around the
globe are helping to build the new Canada and
the new church of which we are all part.

As this occurs, I am so grateful that Canada
today is a far different place,  faith-wise,
than it used to be. In a world where narrow
nativism constantly raises its ugly head, we
Canadian shave been celebrating globalized
religious and cultural diversity  for almost
fifty years.

What benefits some of us benefits us all.

When Canada’s heart goes out to Muslim
refugees and when “Canada’s Catholics”
celebrate the revitalization of a Christian
tradition other than my own – I take great
pride in my country. I am part of it – even
as I must also be mindful that this blessed
tolerant state could easily be lost without
our vigilance.

I rejoice that all non-Catholic Canadians –
Protestants and non-Christian people of
faith – are part of a great development.

Speaking more to this volume – I have read,
reviewed or introduced most of Reg Bibby’s
books over the past 30 years (see a selected
list of them by clicking his Wiki bio, above).
I am not as familiar with Angus Reid’s work,
even though he has been a household name.

To have a Catholic and a Protestant join
forces to create this important study is
indeed fortuitous. My sense is that one
tends to complement the other. Where
one has lacked background, the other is
there to fill the gap.

In an ever-increasing and effective way,
Canadians are able to articulate their
evolving identity as a people. This book
is one more building block making that
possible.

For these and many other good reasons,
I encourage you to secure and read this
book and to make it part of the way you
understand Canada and religion in this
country.



Bibby Web Page:
http://tinyurl.com/jnszknw

Contact Reg:
[email protected]

Buy the book:
Amazon.ca
http://tinyurl.com/gt53vvg

Chapters.ca
http://tinyurl.com/zes4q9w

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XI, No. 44,  June 26, 2016

Jacques Ellul: Essential Spiritual Writings Selected

Posted on: June 21st, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

JACQUES ELLUL
Essential Spiritual Writings

Selected, with an Introduction
by Jacob E. Van Vleet

Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY
2016. 183 pp. $32.00 CAD
$22.00 US, Kindle $12.21 CAD.
ISBN #978-1-62698-183-6.

Editor’s Words:

Many leading thinkers have been influenced 
by Jacques Ellul. From Christians to atheists, 
anarchists to politicians, artists to activists,
the array includes such figures as: 

William Stringfellow, John Howard Yoder, 
Ivan Illich, Ursula Franklin and others…

While some of these names may at first seem
surprising, together they signal Ellul’s truly
dialectical and interdisciplinary world view
which is embodied in his own canon…

Of the over fifty books he wrote in his
lifetime, most were either sociological or
theological. Ellul referred to these as “two
rails of a train track,” both moving in the
same direction but separate and distinct.
For nearly every  sociological book he
wrote, Ellul would write a theological or
spiritual counterpart…

While acknowledgment of this contrast
is vital to understanding Ellul, this book
is a compilation of writings from his
spiritual side. Rich with uncommon and
remarkable wisdom, this portion of
Ellul’s volumes is undeniably timeless;
yet is especially apt in today’s landscape.
Of course, this collection is by no means
exhaustive, but its selections reflect
Ellul’s essential and imperative message:
one of profound spiritual observation
and ultimately of hope…

Ellul was involved in the French Reformed
Church to a greater or lesser degree
throughout his life. Early on, Ellul was
active in local Reformed organizations
and societies. In the late 1960’s, however,
he became increasingly skeptical of
anything institutional, including any
denominational churches and other 
establishments. This attitude primarily 
grew from Ellul’s distaste of modern
politics, which he believed to be mirrored
in many religious institutions.

One of the last straws came in 1973 when
Ellul campaigned for the French Reformed
Church to encourage and support those
who were conscientious objectors and
promote a complete rejection of military
power and control. Ellul’s proposition was
refused, confirming his conviction that the
church was no longer motivated by the
authentic gospel, but rather by its own
political interests.

Though Ellul was skeptical and critical
of institutional Christianity, he was a
strong advocate of personal and group 
Bible studies and home churches… 

Ellul believed that a more genuine and 
personal type of Christianity could be 
embraced and propagated in this way: 
an organic and grassroots community 
of faith, rather than hierarchical, 
top-down religion…

(Ellul was strongly influenced by the
Danish philosopher S. Kierkegaard and
the Swiss-German theologian K. Barth.
Though he remained within the French
Reformed tradition, Ellul was not confined
to it. He was influenced quite strongly by
Christian existentialism and a theology
committed to the “wholly otherness” of
God which the organized church could
not contain or control. He also believed
in living out one’s faith as the “presence 
of God’s kingdom here on earth.”)…

(I have collected many of Ellul’s key 
theological tenets for presentation in
this book, and not his sociological or
political writings.)

– from the Introduction

 

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst

My Thoughts:

To engage the thought of Jacques Ellul
today is to take me back fifty years when
I first studied him during my 1960’s 
seminary days and graduate studies.

Fortunately, I spent some very productive 
time at the Graduate School of Ecumenical
Studies (located near Geneva, in Bossey, 
Switzerland) sponsored by the World
Council of Churches.

(By the way, Bossey is about to celebrate
its seventieth anniversary in 2017 and it 
has distinguished itself in the training of
ecumenical leaders for the world church).

An emerging reality during my time at
Bossey was “secularization.” We were
on the cutting edge of trying to come 
to terms with a significant, long-term
development in the history of religion
that continues to strongly influence the
churches and faith traditions into our
own times.

Jacques Ellul was a natural guest of
the WCC and its assembly planners
in those days, but illness prevented him
from attending a speaking engagement
with our student body while I was there.
We did, however, hear lectures about
him and read his books. Ellul continued
to teach and write into the 1980’s and
I followed his thought well into my
early career.

Van Vleet collects his material around 
half a dozen central themes of Ellul’s
thought – God and Jesus; the Role of
the Christian; Myths, Idols and the
Demonic; Christian Ethics; the Dialectic
of Christian Realism; and the New City
and Universal Salvation.

These themes became the life-long
scholarship of many modern theologians
who continue influencing contemporary 
theology and spirituality.

Reading these selections will serve as
a worthy reminder for those who first
knew Ellul as a contemporary, or for
those who now read him in historical
perspective. For all of us, it is helpful
to learn that visionaries like Ellul were
seminal advocates for both the classic
biblical/theological tradition of the
church and some directions that Christian
thought needed to take into the future.

I am grateful that Orbis Books, Jacob E.
Van Vleet and colleague Robert Ellsberg,
the Orbis editorial director, have made
this book available to a wide readership.

 

Buy the book from:

Orbis Books:
http://tinyurl.com/j7q2kcd

Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/hfhdmfx

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XI, No. 40,  May 29, 2016

A Way to God

Posted on: June 15th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

A WAY TO GOD
Thomas Merton’s

Creation Spirituality Journey
by Matthew Fox

New World Library
Release date Canada – May 20, 2016
Paper. 308 pp. $27.00CAD  $18.95US
ISBN #978-1-60868-420-5.

 

 

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst

My Thoughts:

Matthew Fox emerged during the 1970s/80s as
a creative thinking advocate of what would come
to be known as “creation-centered spirituality.”

His new focus on the classic spiritual themes
of the “Four Vias” became well-known, and
particularly because he started his reflections
with “Via Creativa” and not “Via Negativa” –
implying a humanity focused on its “goodness”
and not its “evil” and “guilt.”

I remember when the value of that insight
first struck me, and it has continued to guide
my spiritual quest ever since.

Many spiritual seekers today tend to ignore
completely the “negativa” part, and Fox
may well be to blame for some of that. But
it must be maintained that “evil” and “guilt”
were always part of Fox’s formula.

Fox helped many people in our world to rejoice
in the fact that God created humans as good.
They were not “born in sin” as the liturgies of
the churches had so often emphasised.

Fox was outspoken in his views, and he didn’t
hesitate to criticize his own Roman Catholicism,
including his Dominican Order, more than 25
years ago. It would not be hard to demonstrate
that, in an era of more conservative popes,
he brought rejection from his church upon
himself. While other creative Catholic thinkers
would have toned down their rhetoric to remain
within their faith community, Fox did not.

He has continued to write and press the envelope
of creation-based spirituality during the last
decades as an Episcopalian priest, based in
California, a heartland of spiritual questing
and diversity.

The book under consideration is a helpful
presentation – not only about Matthew Fox, but
also about its subject – Thomas Merton. In this
volume, Fox claims that Merton was a key mentor
in his spiritual formation and development over
the years. He gives many examples from Merton’s
life and writings to demonstrate his debt to the
even more famous Merton.

There may be more objective presentations
of Thomas Merton, but probably not a better
one on the subject of Merton’s influence on
Fox, and a whole generation of modern spiritual
seekers who may or may not be committed to
organized religion. 

The very fact that New World Library publishes
this attractive book, rather than a church-based
publisher, is indication that Fox seeks and appeals
to a broader base of spiritual seekers.

For Merton and Fox fans, this is a helpful study.

 

Buy the book from New World Library:
http://tinyurl.com/hht53ws

(or)

Amazon.ca: http://tinyurl.com/hdt5c3k

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XI, No. 38,  May 15, 2016

Book Reviews: Off to a Good Start and Time

Posted on: June 15th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

OFF TO A GOOD START
Openers & Prayers

for Church Meetings,
by David Sparks

United Church Publishing House,
Toronto, ON. April, 2016. Paper.
138 pages. $19.95 CAD.
ISBN #978-1-55134-239-9.

 

 

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst

 

My Thoughts:

I find that many “opening” and “closing”
rituals at church meetings, studies and
other activities have a tendency to be
perfunctory and “last minute” in nature.

It’s almost as though we should call a
one year hiatus on all such rituals  –
until some serious thinking  is done
about why we go through these activities
in the first place.

Is it because we are meeting in church
and should therefore “do” something
religious?

Is it to give a member of the clergy in
our midst an opportunity to perform a
duty befitting their vocation?

If we find the traditional Bible-reading
and reflection-devotional of the past to
be boring, what are we doing to take its
place – if anything?

Like prayers before meals at home,
family devotions, or at other public
gatherings – meaningful reflections at
church (not just a quick “spiritualized”
ritual harvested at the last minute from
the internet) – seem to be going the way
of the dodo bird.

As one raised in an era of devotional
reverence at home, at church, and in
the public square, I find this development
very sad. But what am I doing about it?

I think David Sparks is on to something
with a book like “Off to a Good Start.”
We are people of ritual. If we continue
to do rituals, why not fill such experiences
with meaning?

Buy this book to liven up your life while
doing the work and ministry of the church!

We need more people like Sparks and
more books reflecting a philosophy like
this one to help us move past the routine
to a sense of doing something worthwhile,
and worthy of special investment.

(buy the book, below: and now a second title)

 

 

TIME
From Famine to Feast
by Donna Schaper

Wood Lake Publishing
Kelowna, BC. 2016. Paper.
87 pages. $14.95CAD.
ISBN #978-1-77064-811-1

 

 

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst

 

My Thoughts:

Schaper correctly recognizes that
the intense nature of our lives, many
of our inter-personal conflicts and
our nagging sense of fatigue and
overwork are all spiritual problems
at base.

The author sets out to deal with
a spiritual problem with a spiritual
solution. That is also, essentially,
what I believe this book is about.

This book is written as a 6-week
Lenten devotional kind of small-
group study guide. But it’s 52
practices can be followed most
any time of year.

Shaper is a seasoned writer and
spiritual guide. I like her work.

So, I need to stop my busy routine
for a while, and with a group of
spiritually “dis-abled” colleagues,
spend quality time with her book.

 

Buy the books from:

United Church Publishing –
“Off to a Good Start”
  http://tinyurl.com/zb34zmh

 

Wood Lake Publishing –
“Time – From Famine to Feast”
  http://tinyurl.com/zf29ypn

 

Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/z2eqtu6

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XI, No. 37,  May 8, 2016

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Posted on: June 15th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

 

RALPH WALDO EMERSON
Essential Spiritual Writings
Introduction by Jon M. Sweeney
Orbis Books, Maryknoll NW
2016. Paper. 153 pages. $32.00 CAD
ISBN #978-1-62698-177-5.

 

 

 

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst

 

My Thoughts:

To better understand some of the characteristics
of modern North American (and in many ways
global) religion today, I suggest a visit to the
beautiful town of Concord, Massachusetts. Many
of the ideas we contend with, seem to have
germinated there.

Here is the Wikipedia article about the town:
http://tinyurl.com/zrhrbz7

For a community numbering less than 20,000
today, Concord has had a hugely disproportionate
influence on human affairs  than its population
over the years might suggest.

My wife Marlene and I spent more than one day
here several years ago while visiting New England.
The magic of this place – for so many reasons –
continues to inspire and haunt us.

Marlene loved the Alcott family home (remember
Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”?) and I – the
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where so many New
England luminaries – like Nathaniel Hawthorne,
Henry David Thoreau, and of course, Ralph Waldo
Emerson himself – were laid to rest.

A culture all its own developed here during the
nineteenth century. It was created, I believe,
through a unique blending of nature, people.
and ideas. The resulting influence on the world,
however, has been incalculable.

The tall white spire of the Unitarian Church in
the centre of town indicates that this place was
not your typical Protestant early-American
community. While deeply rooted in New England,
dotted with lovely white-spired churches, the
history of this church is special. Emerson was
never the minister here, or a member, by his
own choice. He moved beyond institutional
religion. Yet his influence is inseparable from
the church building as well as the community.

I could argue that, in many ways, Concord – its
history, as well as many of its surnames and 
facilities – represents the heart of America.
(Please consult the Wikipedia article above
to help you understand what I mean.)

 

But now a little about the book.

Emerson wrote good material all through his
life, and that life has been well documented.
This book focuses mainly on his spiritual writings
and how his spirituality evolved over the years.

The editor provides dozens of literary selections
and groups them under themes such as: Introducing
His Thought,  After Christianity, Divinity and the Soul,
Stoic Values, To Cultivate Virtue, and Encountering
the Holy. The book closes with several worthwhile
pages of Memorable Aphorisms (selected quotes from
his oeuvre.)

I often grow weary of reading so much of the
New Age fluff that is in such abundance today.
While Emerson covers many of the same themes
as trendy New Agers, this author writes with vigor,
clarity and intelligence.  Moderns may mouth
Emerson’s themes but most cannot come close
to his substance.

A book like this helps us to understand a lot
of the inherent issues of the modern religious
quest. Even though Emerson has been dead
for 135 years, much of what concerned him
also concerns us – even though we may end
up following different spiritual paths than he.

 

Buy the book from Orbis:
http://tinyurl.com/zp4qchn

Buy the Book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/zd8bx47

 

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XI, No. 36,  May 1, 2016

Epiphany

Posted on: June 14th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

EPIPHANY
A Christian’s Change of
Heart and Mind Over
Same-Sex Marriage
by  Michael Coren

McClelland and Stewart; Signal
Release Date: April 26th, 2016
Hardcover. 221 pages. $24.00 CAD
ISBN #9780771024115

 

 

 

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst

 

My Thoughts:

To live is to change, and to be perfect
is to have changed often.

– John Henry Newman

I have always valued this statement by
Cardinal John Henry Newman, a wise
nineteenth century English Catholic prelate.

But I would have never until now applied
this insight to English-Canadian journalist
and writer based in Toronto, Michael Coren.
He is the notorious author of “Epiphany”
but, after engaging it, I would like to suggest
a change of heart in me as well.

Michael has been trying to influence public
opinion on many issues for some decades.
He is quite well known, at least in some circles,
for conservative, arrogant and intransigent
positions on religious and moral matters.

Because I tend to support softer and more
balanced arguments from those by whom 
I am influenced, Michael was never high on
my list of advisors. He tended to resort to
journalistic self-promotion and made his
points by articulately devastating adversaries
with his poisonous pen.

Now comes his latest book “Epiphany – A
Christians Change of Heart and Mind Over
Same-Sex Marriage.” While a leopard
can never fully change his spots, I am now
inclined to view the author differently.

True, his self-promoting exhibitionism is
still evident, but his dramatic articulation
is now used to describe detractors who
were his friends a short while back.

What to make of this dramatic about-face?
I am inclined to think of myself as Ananias
in Acts 9:16-19 after Saul’s Damascus road 
conversation.

You will recall that the Lord appeared to
him and told him to go to Saul and help
him. Ananias protested “Lord, many people
have told me about this man, about all the
terrible things he has done to your people
in Jerusalem.” But the Lord persisted and
Ananias went. “The Lord has sent me in
order that you might see again, and be
filled with the Holy Spirit,” he told Saul.

The rest, of course is history.

Am I also ready to bless, and not curse,
Michael Coren for all the nasty things
he has written about gay people? (and
that’s just the beginning). He has written
that Catholics are right, and by implication,
I am wrong. He has been a darling of
conservative Catholics and Protestants
alike for some of his doctrinal, social
and moral stances – widely publicized,
but now also called into question by the
new “love” criteria he has discovered.

By the way, he now considers himself
an Anglican and not a Catholic. He has
suffered some real abuse from former
allies. Some might say he should expect
as much. To my mind, few Catholics are
the arrogant bigots he was and now
the chickens have come home to roost.

I, however, like the proverbial Ananias
am inclined to advise supportive caution
when dealing with this man. Coren has
taken strong stands in the past (as he
now does in “loving” support of gays.)
He has flip-flopped once, and can change
his mind again.

And yet again, I, like Ananias, have a
positive strong urge to believe Michael
and suggest we treat him compassionately
and give him a chance.

First, the author is very honest and 
apologetic about the hurt and abuse
some of his previous views have heaped
on people. I believe his remorse is not
grand-standing but authentic. He has
had to pay a big price for his change
of heart and mind.

Second, he chronicles carefully and
clearly this change of heart and mind.
At base, he does not now believe that
a loving God would create gay people
“in His own image” only to condemn
them. He offers a gut-wrenching story
of transformation and it is believable.

While hetero with wife and family, and
not gay himself, he  has worked hard to
identify with the reality and spirituality
of gayness.

Finally, he invites the reader to hold
him accountable, not only for his past,
but for his present and future positions
on the matter.

I will not promote Michael’s book as
testimony to his “seeing the light”
after all these years.

But I do encourage you to read it is
“a work in progress” – demonstrating
how one thoughtful and I believe –
sincere man – has “sought once more
to be perfect and has therefore
changed.”

I suspect that Cardinal Newman would
approve.

 

Globe and Mail review by John Semley:
http://tinyurl.com/jfn97h3

Buy the book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/z2ydmmf

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XI, No. 35,  April  24, 2016

A Light to the Nations: The Indian Presence in the Ecumenical Movement in the Twentieth Century

Posted on: June 14th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

A LIGHT TO THE NATIONS
The Indian Presence in the
Ecumenical Movement in the
Twentieth Century,
Edited by Jesudas M. Athyal

World Council of Churches, 2016
Paperback. 244 pages. $32.00 CAD
ISBN #978-2-8254-1670-9.




Introductory Words:

It would be a great mistake to think that this
book, which is about leaders in the church in
India, is only for Indian Christians. Anyone
who cares about the mission and unity of the
church will find much to reflect on in these
engaging studies.

In many respects, the ten individuals profiled
in this book are very different. Some are
Protestant, others Orthodox; some have written
prolifically, others very little… and yet readers
will likely be struck by the commonalities that
emerge from these very individual lives.

(They were all engaged locally, but they also
had a global vision. They were all committed
to the reformation of the Indian church as
well as to Indian society.)

Readers will see an integration of themes –
unity and mission, social justice and evangelism,
spirituality and social action, education and
worship… Interfaith relations is not, for them,
an alternative to a passionate commitment to
Christ, bur an authentic expression of it…

Ecumenism in South Asia was a protest,
initiated by Indian Christians, against 
the imported pattern of denominational
fragmentation and missionary paternalism…

The ecumenical movement was, and is,
extensively shaped by Indians from the
Indian sub-continent… I was continually
inspired by what God has done in the lives
of leaders from another part of the church,
even as I was helped in new ways about
my commitment to unity and mission in
my own setting.

– Michael Kinnamon

 

 

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst

 My Thoughts:

My first encounter with South-Asian
Christians from India and Sri Lanka
occurred fifty years ago when I was
a fellow student with a number of them
at the Graduate School of Ecumenical
Studies, University of Geneva, Bossey,
Switzerland.

Half a century ago I began to realize
some of the unique characteristics
of these Christians who came from
social, political and spiritual contexts
that differed considerably from my own.

I had been programed to think of such
people as some of the brightest and best
from our “missions” in foreign lands.
Frequently, however, their responses
to issues reflected a maturity and depth
– borne of innate experience much older 
and nuanced than we in the “First World” –
had ever imagined.

A book like this one confirms in many
ways what my initial impressions told me.

The first chapter outlines in a very
comprehensive way the Indian presence
in the ecumenical movement during the
twentieth century. The subsequent chapters
focus on the lives of ten Indian Christians
who contributed significantly to the
ecumenical process. Some are better
known beyond India than others.

A select bibliography and notes makes it
possible to read more deeply  in areas of 
personal interest.

An over-riding experience to be gained
from this study is that new models and
ways of thinking about mission and unity
are available to us from insightful and
devoted Christians who have much good
to share about their faith from real life
experience. These testimonials help to
convince me of the principle that the
better we come to terms with our own
particular circumstances – wherever that
may be – the more universally applicable 
our vision can become.

I am grateful that this book was
recommended to me by a friend 
who is a Canadian of Indian heritage.
The more I come to know him, the
better I feel I can understand many 
of those who contributed to this book.

Perhaps you might discover the same.

Buy the book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/zquh3zj

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XI, No. 42,  June  12, 2016

Not in God’s Name examines ‘altruistic evil’

Posted on: June 8th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

By John Arkelian


Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence
By Jonathan Sacks
Schocken Books, 2015
320 pages
ISBN 978-0805243345

 

“When religion turns men into murderers, God weeps…Too often in the history of religion, people have killed in the name of the God of life, waged war in the name of the God of peace, hated in the name of the God of love, and practiced cruelty in the name of the God of compassion.” The poisonous persistence of man’s inhumanity to man is inextricably rooted in our propensity, eagerness even, to see the world in terms of “us” and “them.” In Not in God’s Name, Jonathan Sacks examines altruistic evil—that is, “evil committed in a sacred cause, in the name of high ideals”—which turns “ordinary people into cold-blooded murderers of schoolchildren.” Hatred motivated by religion may be the most pernicious: it encourages us to demonize the other and to do monstrous things in the name of the good.

As a Jewish rabbi and scholar, Sacks’ subject is three great monotheistic religions that claim common lineage to Abraham. It’s an apt canvas to reflect on the psychological and sociological origins of evil—and to propose “a theology of the Other,” which posits that violence done in the name of religion is sacrilege and that we are instead called upon by our creator to love not just our neighbour but also the stranger: “It is not difficult to love your neighbor as yourself because in many respects your neighbor is like yourself. He or she belongs to the same nation, the same culture, the same economy, the same political dispensation, the same fate of peace or war…What is difficult is loving the stranger.”

Why are we so prone to fear and hate the stranger? Man’s loyalties originally attached to his blood kin, to his tribe, then to ever-larger units, leading up to nation state. The glue that bound such large number of peoples together was, historically, often religion. But, in the 20th century, we introduced modern substitutes: allegiance to a nation, race or political ideology—secular idols that spawned the wretched, murderous likes of Nazi Germany and Communism. Today, we try to dampen down the craving for tribalistic identity by embracing either universalism (we are all part of the family of man) or individualism (which seeks to dethrone “the group” entirely). Neither alternative provides satisfying answers to the questions “Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?” But “radical, politicized religion” offers easy answers to those questions: hence its return with a vengeance, and its appeal to those who crave “identity and community.” We live in a time of rapid change; change brings disorientation and a sense of loss and fear that can easily turn into hate. And “the Internet…can make it contagious.”

Sacks’ book covers a great deal of territory, exploring topics such as “dualism” (a pathological conviction that “we” are good and “they” are bad), scapegoating and “mimetic desire,” which is “wanting what someone else has because they have it.” And the theme of sibling rivalry looms large, with lengthy digressions into Old Testament accounts (Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah, Joseph and his brothers, Cain and Abel) that seem to depict one sibling displacing another, but that actually have a profoundly deeper meaning: that we are to seek God not only in the faces of our neighbours (those who are like us), but also in the faces of strangers (those who are different from us). In this cause, Sacks says that the Jews have an advantage: they have “memory and history” to remind them “that we were once on the other side of the equation. We were once strangers: the oppressed, the victims…In the midst of freedom we have to remind ourselves of what it feels like to be a slave.” The best path to seeing God (and ourselves) in the face of the purported Other is to have been the Other— enslaved, despised and oppressed—ourselves: “for only one who knows what it feels like to be a victim can experience the change of heart…that prevents him from being a victimizer.” On this point, Sacks ignores the elephant in the room, with nary a mention of the State of Israel’s protracted armed occupation of Palestinians against their will. Despite their terrible suffering in the Holocaust, Jews are nevertheless themselves capable of oppressing the Other. And, so, the fires of mutual antagonism are fuelled.

Sacks tackles these big subjects from a scholarly, occasionally somewhat esoteric, approach. But, even in the midst of his close theological interpretation of biblical stories, he never loses our rapt attention.

This is a deeply fascinating look at a subject that’s (sadly) in the news daily. Sacks’ message is one that all people of faith should embrace: “Civilizations are judged not by power but by their concern for the powerless; not by wealth but by how they treat the poor; not when they seek to become invulnerable but when they care for the vulnerable.” And we must never forget that “we are loved by God for what we are, not for what someone else is. We each [neighbor and stranger alike] have our own blessing.”

John Arkelian is an award-winning author and journalist.

Copyright © 2016 by John Arkelian.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Anglican Journal News, June 08, 2016

‘God is on the side of the oppressed’

Posted on: May 16th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

 

In the wake of racial unrest and recent police violence in America, the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas wrote her latest book with “the crying heart of a mother and the restless soul of a theologian.” Douglas serves as an associate priest at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., and she is professor of religion at Goucher College, near Baltimore, Md. Essence Magazine has named Brown Douglas among America’s “most distinguished religious thinkers.”

Your most recent book, Stand Your Ground:  Black Bodies and the Justice of God  is deeply personal. You write in the book that you asked yourself how you were going to raise your son to cherish his black self in a society that told him he had no value. What would you tell minority mothers today? In Canada, there is a high incidence of suicide among youth of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario.  

When I was writing this book, I was truly wrestling with my faith. What is the message of God in times like these? How can we protect our children? The statistics project a life of death for our children. These are the images we need to fight so they don’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I told my son Desmond [now age 23] from the day he was born, “There’s nothing greater than you [except] God. You are a sacred child of God.” While the world may call him many things, God will always call him God’s child. Nothing can change this. My son’s task is to live into that, and to always know and believe that. We need to anchor our children in God and in their own rich histories.

You talk about a black faith. Can you explain?

In America, slavery didn’t introduce blacks to God. Oral traditions kept alive knowledge about the nature of God. Storytelling helped black slaves recognize the God of the Exodus story as the God they already knew. Black faith isn’t about “I’m going to wait for God to rescue me.” The Christian faith has always been a narrative of resistance that empowers black people. Blacks have always known that God is on the side of the oppressed.


You state that faith communities must lead the way in confronting the “myth of Anglo-Saxon/white superiority” in order to bring about racial healing. What can institutions such as the Anglican church do today?

Have your race conversations between yourselves. You should have that conversation among yourselves, but it should flow out of your struggle for justice. First, let me [as a black woman] meet you where I am already fighting in some way for justice. Just do the work of being church. Then, don’t worry about minorities feeling welcome in your church. White people say it isn’t easy to become a welcoming church. Right—it’s not easy. But first, do the work that isn’t easy. Jesus went to the cross. Now that wasn’t easy. Jesus didn’t go to the cross because he prayed. He went to the cross because he fought injustices. Faith is not what you believe, but what you do.

You are a priest in a denomination widely recognized for its deep Anglo-Saxon roots. What can your personal experience teach us?

The Episcopal Church has to continue its struggle “to live into” what it means to be church. If the institution were to give up on living beyond itself, on doing better in its struggle for greater racial equality, I would need to leave. It may be a contradiction to be a black priest in this denomination, but just living in America is living with contradiction!

You talk extensively about “moral memory,” which you say demands that we recognize the past we carry within us, the past we want to carry within us and the past we need to make right. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada recently released its final report. Do you think this type of exercise can develop moral memory?

Reconciliation is about going into the pit, telling the truth and finding each other on the other side so we can meet again. Reconciliation also means repentance. This means we need to turn around and change systems that promote white supremacy. The commission’s work can only develop moral memory if it leads to just actions that change structures and violent systems.

You say your latest book is your “refusal to be consoled until the justice that is God’s is made real in the world.” What keeps you hopeful?

I believe in God. That’s what keeps me hopeful. I truly believe racial inequality isn’t what God wants to be God’s justice.

Nandy Heule

Nandy Heule is a writer and communications consultant in Toronto. She can be reached at @nandyheule 
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Anglican Journal News, May 13, 2016