Finished reading this great book last week. Published in 2004 this is a fascinating, philosophical, and often comical, look at humanity’s concern with personal status. De Botton argues that although anxiety about our status can often spur us on to better things, it also has the capacity to cause us tremendous sorrow. He argues that the best way to overcome the problems caused by status anxiety is to understand it and speak of it. He outlines five causes of anxiety… lovelessness, snobbery, expectation, meritocracy and dependence; Then he reflects on five ways in which we, historically, have tried to overcome this anxiety, philosophy, art, politics, christianity and bohemia. Lots of very interesting stuff in this read, very enjoyable… De Botton certainly makes some interesting observations and suggestions, and indeed his book feels strangely ‘prophetic’ as it speaks of the global economic situation and what might happen if it all ever fell apart!! Even though De Botton does not write from a Christian perspective, I as a follower of Jesus, felt challenged about what I seek in life and who I seek it from. Well worth the read!
After a busy January it has been a quiet couple of weeks. I’ve done a fair bit of walking and some reading. Managed to grab a few geocaches whilst in Sligo for the Re:Call retreat… including a drive through the sea on the causeway over to Coney Island. Really glad to find this one as you have to get the tidal timings right! I also had a good walk around Cairn wood in the Craigantlet hills and this week a day around Carrickfergus when I made 16 cache finds in a day… including a great wade through snow at the Woodburn Reservoirs.
On the reading front, I am nearly finished Alain De Botton’s ‘Status Anxiety’ – fabulous read, and I’ve started ‘Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most.’ by Bruce Patton et al. I will offer some thoughts on those in due course.
Busy times lie ahead with a week London at the end of February, including a University Chaplain’s study day, I am going to ski in Bulgaria for 5 days (never done that before… am I mad?) and a few days in Manchester in the middle of March for a meeting of the ‘Music resource group’ of the British Methodist Church which is looking at a replacement for the ‘Hymns and Psalms’ hymn book.
It’s scary how time flies so quickly. Another 6 weeks and Sabbatical will be over, then we will be into Easter and it will be only 3 months until we move house and start work in Queens!
Here are a few pics of/from the lovely Coney Island just off the coast from Sligo:
Quite simply one of the best books I have read. MacDonald brings his years of experience and wisdom to bear on to the theme of staying strong in the journey of faith. In recent years I have heard a number of people refer to the idea of ‘ finishing well’, i.e. continuing to grow spiritually, rather than leveling out, or settling for second best, or becoming cynical. This book is about building the ‘resilience’ needed to finish well .
MacDonald jumps off from Hebrews 12:1-3:
‘1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’
Then he addresses five themes:
- Resilient people are committed to finishing strong.
- Resilient people run inspired by a big picture view of life.
- Resilient people run free of the weight of the past.
- Resilient people train to go the distance.
- Resilient people run in the company of a ‘happy few’.
Refreshingly, this is not a ‘how to’ type guide. This book is filled with MacDonald’s honesty about his own struggles, his humility and his wisdom about the challenges of keeping in step with God. The key issue appears to be ‘discipline’… not a popular word nowadays, but to survive this life and to walk with God requires a daily willingness to discipline ourselves, to walk close to God, and to obey his commands. Those who went before us might describe this as ‘growing in holiness.’
There seems to be a ‘school of thought’ within some parts of the church today that says ‘I can do what I like… sure it’s all about God’s grace anyway. I have been forgiven.’ I am not one to deny the power of God’s grace and forgiveness, I definitely need it in my life. However if we live without any sense of discipline… doing whatever we like, giving in to our whims and feelings at particular times, we destroy the graciously given God potential within us. MacDonald gets right to the heart of this issue and I would thoroughly recommend his book.
This book is required reading for the Arrow course that I am presently engaged in. I had heard of ‘Bill Johnson’ through the ministry of www.new-wine.org – he has been a main speaker at the festivals in England and is a well known pentecostal/charismatic church leader from the states. He is senior pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California. His basic premise is that God has given us the strength and the help to come through all the daily challenges we face. The key is understanding the tools that God has given us to help us, and to remember who God is in all his greatness and goodness. It is refreshing that Bill does not present a type of ‘seven step’ guide… ‘do all these things the way I have done them and all will be well.’ Instead he simply points to some of the things that he has found helpful in his spiritual journey. His set of tools centre round ‘Keep sight of who God is’, ‘the power of thankfulness’, ‘remembering God’s promises to us’, ‘associating with people of faith, being encouraged by those around us’, and ‘living a lifestyle of obedience’. Here are three things that I found particularly encouraging:
1. Remembering that God by nature is ‘good’ – sometimes when we face hard times…. we think everyone, including God, is out to get us. He isn’t because by nature He is good and loves us… We gotta hold on to that when it all hits the fan!
2. The power of thanksgiving. I love praising, I love music… but this book reminded me of the need to keep on praising God for who he is and the wonderful things he has done.. even when I don’t feel like it… even when i have to ‘grit my teeth’ and do it. Stick on the CD/MP3 and turn it up loud…. for me.. it helps get things in perspective.
3. Being determined to be ‘physically’ obedient… not just to give a ‘spiritual’ nod in the direction of what I know I am supposed to do and how I am supposed to behave.. but to be determined to not as Paul puts it in Romans 7 ‘do the things I don’t want to do and not do the things I do want to do.’ As I observe myself, sometimes instead of engaging in the struggle with sin I settle for second best… I say ‘I am a sinner’… and ‘God has forgiven me’… when I do this I am abusing God’s grace. Sadly I have to say I don’t just see in myself… I see a lot of it amongst God’s people, and I say this without prejudice or judgement cos I do it myself. We settle for second best!
This was a good and encouraging read. I suppose that the only caution I would have is that for someone reading it in the midst of really challenging circumstances… they might be tempted to throw it across the room. When you can reflect back on hard times it is easier to see that God in his goodness has brought you through.
Right… I’m off to Tenerife early in the morning… so gotta go… I am of course bring a couple of books with me!
Had a great 6km walk today and found 3 geocaches. Newtownards is famous for ‘Scrabo Tower’ which on a clear day can be seen from miles around. There is another similar tower close to Newtownards hidden away in a forest on a hill close to Conlig, between Newtownards and Bangor. The tower is visible from the road that runs from Newtownards to Crawfordsburn. Helen’s tower as it is known was completed in 1867 and was dedicated to Helen, Baroness Dufferin by her son Lord Dufferin. It was in the grounds of the estate in which the tower sits that troops from the 36th Ulster Division trained on the outbreak of WW1. A replica of Helen’s Tower was built on the Somme battlefield as Northern Ireland’s national war memorial. I have attached pic of both towers below, and of a frozen lake that I found on the way to the tower.
As for some reading, I am half way through ‘Strengthen yourself in the Lord’, by Bill Johnson. Intend to have it finished by the end of the week and hope to offer some thoughts to chew on!