Monday, July 30, 2012

Popular Culture and Each of Us!

We live in it, work in it, experience it all around us—the culture in which we live and move and have our being, the place where God has placed us! How do we cope with it? How do we critique it? Do we need to critique it?

In his new book, Pop ologetics, Popular Culture in Christian Perspective, (P&R, $19.95, Ted Turnau says, "Yes, we do." For many reasons. We need to help our children understand what is good or bad about the movie they are watching, the video games they are playing, the book they are reading, music they are listening to, whatever.

We need to examine and critique popular culture for our own attitudes about it. We need to look at it from our worldview or basic beliefs, as we consider how to take part in many of the opportunities in our culture. And we need to be ready to talk with our friends and neighbors about those same opportunities and experiences. Popular culture is all around us and it "has the power to influence our beliefs," says Turnau.

Turnau, who has studied popular culture for many years and who teaches cultural and religious studies at two universities in Europe, says he wrote it not for scholars, but for "thoughtful, everyday Christians," who are interested in serious reflection. He notes that his book is "for all who are interested in considering non-Christian popular culture from a Christian perspective"; and for those who would like to be able to discuss and present "intelligent, biblical answers back to worldviews presented in popular culture."

In Part 2, Turnau critiques five different Christian worldviews that have responded to popular culture but perhaps not in the most helpful ways.

In Part 3, he offers what he hopes is a more "balanced approach" with suggestions and how-tos on how to listen, read, or watch elements of popular culture. He says that popular culture "threatens to press us into its God-rejecting mold," and we must resist "by engaging and wrestling with it, we must respond with a Spirit-guided Christian-critical imagination."

Turnau offers ways to practice critiquing popular culture, including five questions we might use in learning to critique some aspects of the popular culture. He suggests conversations with friends and family members as ways to discuss the good and bad in the culture and how we might respond to it. Another way is to host group discussion nights with friends. And, of course, talk with your children, and share opinions with them.

There is a huge amount of material to digest here. If you read this book, you will be thinking about it for a long time. No doubt, it will help you follow St. Peter’s advice to "always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence (NRSV)."

—Lois Sibley

Friday, July 13, 2012

God is near and we need to notice!

book coverSometimes in the midst of our distractions we may wonder: where is God in all of this? Richard Peace, professor at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, in his new book, Noticing God, (IVPress, $15, offers answers as he calls us to notice God’s presence and activity in our lives every day.

Peace says that we may find God in mystical encounters; in the ordinary; in the still, small voice; in the power of community; in the written word; in creation, culture and creativity; and in church. These are his chapter titles and he guides the reader, offering his thinking on how we may discern God’s presence, both in all God has created and in our own corner of the world; and how we may know God’s voice in our lives.

In his chapter on mystical encounters, Peace reminds us of C.S. Lewis’s explanation of a deep longing that no experience in this world can satisfy, and Peace thinks that many of us have felt such a longing. He calls it "brushes with God." And he asks, "If we have such experiences, what did they teach us? What was God telling us? What did God want us to do then?"

Peace also says we need a God of ordinary life and in chapter two he discusses how we may come to know God in daily life. He writes about spiritual disciplines and practices such as the prayer of examen or, as Ignatius called it, "examination of conscience." He also explains Ignatian contemplation and spiritual exercises.

In chapter three, Peace recommends retreats. We must listen to God, and a retreat may be the right place for us to sit quietly and listen to God’s still, small voice.

In the chapter on the power of community, and Peace reminds readers of St. Benedict and his Rule. The first word in the Rule is "Listen...." Benedict taught that the presence of God is everywhere, and two spiritual practices to make us aware of that are the use of the daily offices of prayer and lectio divina. Benedict also taught the importance of hospitality and that Christ is to be met in other people.

On the written word, Peace discusses how the Bible helps us notice God, how it serves as an avenue to God and how we access the written Word in ways that lead to God. In the Bible, we meet Jesus. In this chapter, Peace gives more detail about the process of lectio divina. It is a process of four steps: reading or listening, meditating, praying, and contemplation. Peace says, "the Bible is the primary means by which we encounter the voice of God."

There are two more chapters and more good stuff in this book. Peace offers his Conclusion and A Guide to Personal Reflection and Group Discussion, as well as a good list for further reading, and extensive notes on each chapter.

As Dr. Peace tells us: "God is near. He is not hiding. We don’t know where to look or what to expect. We need to learn to notice." This book helps us do that.

—Lois Sibley

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Give Me a Word...

It's summertime, time to pack for a few days of vacation. What shall I bring to read? When I'm sitting by the water catching some rays, or on the porch of the cabin in the shade, what do I want to think about, learn more about during this quiet time I cherish? What would you choose?

Maybe something about meditation or spiritual direction? Maybe you already have a spiritual
friend, someone with whom you meet once a month and talk and pray through your concerns. It's a great blessing to have a friend like that. I know.

But, if you are interested in learning more about spiritual direction, perhaps you have questions such as: how is it done, how does one find a spiritual director, how much time is involved, how does one open up to a director one hardly knows? And you may have many more questions besides these.

A new book on the market called Abba, give me a word, the path of spiritual direction by L. Roger Owens (Paraclete, $15.99, might be just the one to add to your Nook or Kindle or whatever you use. It is also a real book that will fit easily into your carry-on or suitcase.

Owens thinks of his book as an "introduction to the practice of receiving spiritual direction," and he shares his experiences of "finding the God who has been there all along," while he learns to "live well in the mansion that is God's love."

His director, Larry, reminds him of Mr. Rogers (because he sits down and takes off his shoes before they begin to pray) but Larry always seem to have the appropriate comment or question for Owens to think about and apply to his situation.

After his introduction, Owens' chapter titles are: Longing (for God), Finding, Releasing, Offering (ourselves), Trusting, Attending, and finally, Go Well.

He quotes from the Scriptures, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, St. Benedict, Thomas Merton, Kenneth Leech, Denise Levertov, Margaret Guenther, Henri Nouwen, Parker Palmer, Julian of Norwich, and others. Even Dr. Seuss gets a word or two in.

I just finished reading this book and found it helpful and interesting, funny and wise.

---Lois Sibley