Book Review: It’s Really All About God – Reflections of a Muslim, Atheist, Jewish, Christian

It's Really All About God

Book Review: It’s Really All About God – Reflections of a Muslim, Atheist, Jewish, Christian by Samir Selmanovic, Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, San Francisco, CA Copyright © 2009 by Samir Selmanovic.

Enjoy a video preview of the book here:

This book made me glow.

What would hope say, after silently holding its breath?

The book begins with the following insight:

“Our children are looking at us, holding their breath in silence. Their unspoken accusations and mute hopes are not only about the physical environment of the world we are leaving them; they are also about the spiritual environment they are inheriting.”

In this phenomenal work of the heart, Samir Selmanovic exhales and breathes life into words, capturing the essence of what millions have been silently hoping, holding their breath, unable to speak. This is a work of faith, as defined by Selmanovic; “to set one’s heart on and forge a working relationship with a mystery.”(p.270).

It is a profound invitation to reconciliation for all human kind. Samir weaves his own personal faith journey into the story that adds tremendous texture and legitimacy to the invitation he is extending. The writing is superb. The story-telling is tremendous. The prejudice piercing truths will rearrange the composition of your heart.

Over the past several years, my wife and I have had the opportunity to invite Muslim high school students from other countries to live with us here in our home for the school year. Our objective in doing so had nothing to do with proselytizing another. It was acting on a sense that perhaps “the other” might somehow change us. It was an act of opening our lives to embracing the living mystery of what God may have for us to learn, to grow, to understand, to change. Samir Selmanovic captures the essence of our experience when he writes:

When God visits us through the other, we are awakened and begin to feel what we could not feel before, we see what we could not see before, and we think what we could not think before. In the presence of the other, everything changes.” (pp.260-261).

This book is an invitation to experience the beauty of celebrating this life God has bestowed upon us as a gift – together. It is call for action dedicated to intentionally discarding the illusions and breaching the artificial boundaries that continue to separate us from “them.” It is a heart rendering summons to live the next dimension of human existence by embracing the beauty offered through how our faith persuasions “complement and illuminate one another.” (p.XVII).

This book made me glow with hope – a fresh, new hope: A hope worth living.

One of my Top 3 books for 2009. Buy it. Bask in it.

Cynclical – A New Word

Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/onkel_wart/542877013/
Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/onkel_wart/542877013/

I developed a new word: “Cynclical” – A recognition that cynicism is cyclical – You always ends up in the same place you started. Yet, this phenomenon possesses  an inertia and a trajectory, like a whirlpool…round and round and down. Whether you are the originator of cynicism or the recipient of it, it has an energy that negatively impacts all concerned…it maintains the dizziness essential to preserving the illusion that we cannot make progress, and retards the willingness to expend our energies toward the pursuit of the possibilities.

Book Review: Bo’s Cafe – Will Grace Finally Win?

Bo's Cafe

The Splendor of Surrender to Sunglasses After Sunset

I truly enjoyed this ride. You will too. Trust me. Real life. Real people. Rugged honesty. Wrenching reality.

A mosaic of granting permission to take ourselves less seriously, to confront the challenge of facing ourselves through the eyes of others, the courage to seek or stumble into relationships where the grace of God can work the miracle of transforming us into what we might be — it’s all here in Bo’s Café – Will Grace Finally Win?

Jesus really never told people what to think. For the most part, he attracted people to see life with new eyes. Sure, He reasoned with some folks. Yet, he truly appealed to their imagination versus their reason (or lack thereof) — Sunglasses after sunset (p.29) is a profound embodiment of the ongoing new era of storytelling that gives new life and relevance to the reality of Jesus presence and unrealized impact in our lives. Come as you are to this book. Bring all your stuff along. Reach for grace. What’s grace? Listen to the authors (John Lynch, Bill Thrall and BruceMcNicol):

“Grace is a gift only the nonreligious can accept. They’re the only ones who can get it. Religious folks see grace as soft. So they keep trying to manage their junk with their own willpower and tenacity. Nothing defines religion quite as well as a bunch of people trying to do impossible tasks with limited power while bluffing to themselves that it’s working.” (p.89).

It’s very important to note that this novel is not written for religious types (although those who consider themselves as such would definitely enjoy it). I am not going to spoil the plot, the characters, or the many poignant truths that will innocently harness your heart in this review. It would be a crying shame to do that. Speaking of shame, take note of the following excerpt:

You know what shame does? It takes a particular violation or several violations from your past, something that really got to you, and convinces you felt like in that violation is who you’ll always be, for the rest of your life. Sad,huh? — We don’t want others to see us for the person the lie has told us we are. We almost unconsciously create a lie to protect us from the lie. Bad combination.” (pp.146-147).

You can’t write those words without having lived it, and experienced the freedom that lies on the other side of this deception.

Ride with these guys. There should be warning label on the jacket of this book: Read with Sunglasses On. You’ll need them to peer into the timeless truths this story reveals in a new, creative, relevant light.

Book Review: The CUL-DE-SAC Syndrome

The Cul-de-sac Syndrome

In The Cul-De-Sac Syndrome – Turning Around The Unsustainable American DreamJohn Wasik provides a surgical strike into the heart of the socio-economic and social-structural challenges currently facing the U.S.

He begins with a characterization of the false economics that got us into this mess, a scholarly historical overview of the origins of suburbia in the U.S. and how debt and finance played a fundamental a role in the current conundrum.

As Wasik states, “The age of froth is long over. It’s a time for reckoning and renewal.” (p.174). This book focuses on re-imagining, re-engineering and rebuilding our communities…and a sustainable way of life for America.

Wasik spears the illusions and assumptions that fueled the unsustainable rise in residential real estate prices. He moves on to characterize how we must “clean up and move on.”

This is not one of those books that simply summarizes and criticizes a crisis in hindsight. It provides  terribly important insights into the correction required to stabilize and grow this nation.

Listen to Wasik. After devouring this work, I’m convinced he is a thinker legitimately worth paying attention to.

One of my favorites for 2009.

Book Review: Tales of Wonder – Adventures Chasing The Divine

Tales of Wonder

This is an autobiography of Huston Smith.  Smith has written 14 books, most notably, The World’s Religions. During his career, he taught at Washington University, Syracuse, MIT and U.C. Berkeley.

This is an extraordinarily well written book. Jeffrey Paine of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (formerly a judge on the Pulitzer Prize committee) writes this amazing story of Smith’s life.

A fascinating read. Huston claims the soul of Christianity as his faith and became a practicing Muslim, Hindi and Buddhist during his lifetime. The metaphor Smith uses to provide a framework for understanding human existence is the cross:

“Our life in historical or chronological time, measuring and minding, cautious and comparing, forms the horizontal arm of the cross. Our experience of the unqualified, of inner, immeasurable time (or timelessnesss) is the cross’s vertical pole. We live in two kinds of time or perspective simultaneously. The horizontal and the vertical are at once quite distinct and entirely overlapping, and to experience their incongruity and confluence is what it means to be human.” (p.41).

Huston’s life can be characterized by the following phrase:

to think of how to think the way I do not think,” (p.130)

His life explored the dilemma whereby “Once different religions knew about each other only enough to kill or convert one another.” (p.51). Smith’s life exemplified that the exploration of a varierty of faith persuasions allowed him to tap dimensions of the human experience that he was unaware of. His life illustrated the observation that, “The great changes in history occur, I believe, not through argument but through seeing things differently.” (p.106).

This autobiography of Huston Smith provides tangible evidence that great changes in human beings occur, not through argument, but through seeing things differently.

This is truly a divine adventure. I recommend it.

Cost(a) Accounting & The Homeless

Costa Editorial Sunday September 20th 2009 – Bend Bulletin- Who’s Really Harming The Homeless?

Homeless

Sunday September 20th 2009

Mr. Scott Cooper – Director of Public Policy

Partnership To End Poverty

521 SW 6th Street – Suite 101

P.O. Box 147

Redmond, Oregon 97756

Scott:

I would like to share with you the dismay I felt in terms of John Costa’s unfortunate editorial on page F-1 of the Bend Bulletin today (Sunday September 20th 2009) entitled “Who’s Really Harming The Homeless?

We typically don’t have any problem counting money. Yet, when the equation involves people, that’s when the math gets murky. Unfortunately, we have developed a tendency to forget/argue how to count people accurately when it comes to socio-political issues…particularly one’s like homelessness, where the persons being counted do not have an Editorial page platform to expound from.  It really boils down to counterfeit counting or, counting only the folks that somebody defines as worth counting, the ones that truly matter, or disparaging the number of those (particularly the needy) identified as counted. The figures we throw around depend upon the position we are attempting to support (Costa’s carefully crafted defense of his newspaper came off just that way — defending his count). This is what I refer to as arbitrary arithmetic or arbithmetic: the rules for counting change depending upon the reason underlying your count. Whether people count or not is dependent upon some pre-defined subjective definition that somebody makes up and translates into a quantifiable form.

We have arrived at a critical juncture in our region that demands that we revisit the madness of our arbithmetic, as characterized by the following author: “The first step is to measure whatever can be easily counted. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that which can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that which can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.”[i]

Counting can be considered, cold, cruel and calculated. When we immerse ourselves in this routine activity, we can become desensitized to the essential compassion and character required of one who embraces a citizen’s responsibility for ridding our region of the scourge of homelessness. As one author points out, “At the end of the twentieth century, many millions of refugees and displaced persons are victims of “compassion fatigue.”[ii] We human beings have a history replete with centuries of evidence documenting our tiring about the care of the less fortunate. Yes, we continue to suffer from this insidious malady today.

Total assets minus total liabilities equals net worth.  Is diminishing human beings to arguments over counting them vs. addressing the fundamental deficiencies that feed the burgeoning divide between the haves and the poor, the needy, the marginalized, the displaced and the homeless something that detracts from the net worth of this region? Is it possible that, “In the process of being against something worth being against, one often becomes for something not worth being for.”[iii] When the outsiders view of central Oregon appears to be at an all-time low, is it time to examine whether or not Mr. Costa’s editorial is evidence of the possibility that The Bulletin has succumbed  to becoming for something not worth being for? I hope not. I think that is taking things too far.

My wife came home exhausted and heartbroken after volunteering (with hundreds of others) serving the thousands of the less fortunate at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds on Saturday September 19th. I wish Mr. Costa could have been here when my wife returned. He would have garnered a vastly deeper appreciation of what truly counts in central Oregon. He could have experienced a woman with a broken heart. Broken hearts are difficult to count.

Mr. Costa’s editorial broke my heart. He could have chosen a vastly more constructive expenditure of his energy and his platform. I forgive him. I’ve made the same mistake myself.

Then again, who’s counting?

NOTES


[i] Handy, Charles The Age of Paradox Harvard Business School Press © 1994 p. 221

[ii] Power, Samantha & Allison, Graham Realizing Human Rights – Moving From Inspiration to Impact, (c) 2000 by Samantha Power and Graham Allison, St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY. p. 30.

[iii] Campolo, Tony and McLaren, Brian Adventures in Missing the Point – How the Culture Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel, Emergent YS Books – Zondervan Publishers, Inc. Grand Rapids, MI., Copyright © 2003 by Youth Specialties p. 242.

"How might words, images and ideas open minds, warm hearts and inspire imagination? May you find them refreshing and share them among your people."

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