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The Place of Architecture

Whenever I introduce myself as someone studying architecture, the question that I get asked a lot is: what kind of buildings do you want to design? Even a google search of the word ‘architecture’ suggests that this is the most important question that anyone in the field of architecture must answer. The search results bear buildings that range from the Florence Chapel to slick contemporary buildings of Zaha Hadid: and in case you can’t find the particular ‘architecture’ you were looking for, you can take up the offer of suggested further searches, whether it be ‘traditional’ or ‘minimalist,’ a ‘house’ or ‘skyscraper,’ But regardless of the diversity in these definitions of architecture, one thing remains constant throughout all the images: that there’s a difference between the everyday buildings that we see and a “work of architecture.”

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Genesis 11:1 -4

One of the earliest examples of architecture in the Bible is the Tower of Babel. The passage in Genesis 11 tells us that the people of the earth artificially made building materials that would have a structural capacity greater than found materials. This new means of building stirred great ambition and collaboration among the people of earth, in the hope and excitement of a new architectural possibility that could stand as a hallmark of mankind. If there was anything for the future generations to remember this generation by, it would be through this monumental building.

Even though the tools and materials of the trade have changed since the biblical times, this desire has always remained the driving force of architectural development. Whether it be pushing for new materials, construction, form, or ideal, each new generation craves and produces a Babel that would embody the forward-moving geist of its time and people. As a result, the focus of architectural discourse has been the large-scale phenomena—of what is happening to the society at large—and its products landmarks that commentate on these broader shifts occurring in the ‘today’ of a present.

 

superstudio6_905A drawing from Continuous Monument and 12 Ideal Cities (1969-1972)

 

The landmark can be theoretical, physical, or both. In some cases, the architect writes manifestos on the social, political, or technological issues he or she finds important or problematic and pairs them with an architectural proposal, represented by visual aids such as diagrams, collages, models, etc. At times, the architectural proposal is architecture as an idea but not necessarily a building. Case in point is the works of Superstudio (1966-1978), a collective from Florence, Italy that did not have a single built project but produced a series of collages showing endless gridded structures that dominate the picture frame and engulf entire cityscapes as a critique to the megastructural developments that act “as a metaphor for the ills of globalization and unchecked proliferation of homogeneous modern architecture.”

In other cases, an architect’s landmark contribution is a physical construction as Babel was, offering a reinterpretation or a critique of an existing building type and its function. OMA’s Seattle Public Library is a building that is probably familiar to most architecture students of today, with its significance lying in the fact that the book stacks are not stored on floors but become a spiraling ramp hang like an orange peel, with event or sitting areas labeled as “living rooms” or “mixing chambers” filling up the space in between the ramps. Students are shown architectural works like these as exemplary works and are encouraged to create projects that also dare to be different and provocative, not accepting anything as a norm and challenging them to produce an alternative “solution.”

 

seattlelibrary_main_02

seattle_diagram  Diagrams and photos of Seattle Public Library by OMA

From these examples—though we do not explicitly say it—it’s clear that the pervading motto of modern architecture is “big ideas and/or big buildings.” With this motto, the greatness of an architectural work is based on its scale, whether it be the scale of its building or the scale of its impact in the discourse; there is little room for the mundane, the common, and the everyday.

 

1280px-pieter_bruegel_the_elder_-_the_tower_of_babel_vienna_-_google_art_project_-_edited

Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel

 

Even though it was painted centuries ago, Pieter Bruegel’s Tower of Babel is a painting representative of this tendency of ours and the impact it has on the existing city and its people. In the painting, the tower dwarfs its neighbors, the two- or three-story buildings with pitched roofs; the size of the new building comparable to the entirety of the existing city surrounding it. What strikes me about this painting is that it lays bare the intention of the building and the designer to create physical and social disparity both within the construction process and in the larger society. The building creates an enclave, a separate city in which its inhabitants can likely live and carry out their daily functions without having to step outside its walls (imagine how many CVS’ and Stop and Shop’s could fit into that thing).

Oftentimes the product of the building takes up so much of our attention that the interpersonal consequences the process brings (both pre- and post- completion) are left out of the picture. Even though what we make is a building, the decisions that lead up to its building is a series of choices on who we work for. The clients we choose to work with influences where we work, what type of building gets designed and built, and who we work with (contractors, consultants) in order to complete the project. As a result, the physical architecture is heavily dependent on the partnerships we choose to develop.

I think one of the biggest mistakes that any student or professional in the field can make is to think that design only occurs in the building, when in reality the design begins much before in the shaping of this social infrastructure: in the moment we choose to shake our hands and work for one person or group rather than another. Architects oftentimes try their hardest to divorce architecture from the socioeconomic and even political implications or role it plays. For instance, Léon Krier published a book on Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, asking the question: “Can a war criminal be a great artist?” Yale School of Architecture’s previous dean, Robert A.M. Stern, who wrote the preface to the book, had been quoted by a classmate to having said that one must be able to appreciate architecture for its architecture (not word for word and don’t know how reliable this is). For both men, the value in an architectural work should not be dismissed by the fact that they had been “tainted” by politics, suggesting that we should be able to look beyond the political associations of an architect’s work and evaluate its architectural accomplishment solely within the built work.

But the reality is, projects such as Albert Speer’s—perhaps especially those such as his—stand in history precisely because of the power of their clients. Because architects do not and cannot fund their own buildings, the capacity of a built project to reach a certain size and achieve a certain quality inevitably depends on this power, whether that power be political or financial. If there was no Hitler, there would have been no Cathedral of Light and other neoclassical works by Speer that would have been left for us posterity to reflect upon. And so architects stand in defense of the “architecture for architecture’s sake” philosophy; architecture must and does live on, and it doesn’t matter which lifeline we choose to support it on. This statement could have been intended as a message of empowerment but I think it actually works in the reverse and exposes it for the frailty that it is. As long as the definition of architecture or “great” architecture remains fixated on grand, interesting, or new forms, architects will always be chained to a client who is able to provide the means of doing so. Ironically, the pursuit of architecture for architecture’s sake becomes inseparable from the pursuit of a powerful client.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-11

So “who do we build for?” becomes a question that is just as if not more important than the question of “what do we build?”On one hand, the perspective mentioned above is an acceptance of the fact that architecture is perpetually weak, utterly helpless beneath its mask of grandeur. But what if we understood and sought great architecture as something else? The passage in 2 Corinthians 12 tells us that it is when we are weakest that we are made strong. What if the most powerful architecture happens in not the acceptance but the rejection of the powerful as our partner in the construction of our buildings? This is a scary question for a lot of architects, especially when money is in the picture. After all, architecture firms are private practices that stay afloat mostly through the margin of profit they gain from commissions. The more and expensive the commissions are, the better they are for the financial health of the company. However, at times I wonder whether this model is truly one of health or gluttony, inherently necessary or brought forth due to a firm’s desire to take on projects and to become better known in doing so. I wonder whether firms see themselves as the small houses or the Babelian tower but at the same time sadly know that a lot envision themselves being the latter.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12: 28-31

I bring up this passage from Mark 12 because it not only reminds me of the importance of asking the question of “who” but also reminds me of the answer that God calls me to give. In the passage, Jesus uses the word ‘neighbor’ rather than the generic word of the ‘other’ to describe those whom we should love and serve. In the past, the passage had a broad, watery application in my life where I understood the word ‘neighbor’ to mean anyone that I encounter in this word and Jesus’ message as a call to “be nice to everyone.” But reading it recently has led me to understand that the word ‘neighbor’ has greater specificity than that. First and foremost, ‘neighbor’ implies a location. Being a neighbor and having a neighbor means that I am a part of a neighborhood in which I am a neighbor to someone and someone is a neighbor to me. It means that there is a physical place that I am a part of, to which I belong and identify with. And even though our modern ways of living has long since transitioned from the communal lifestyle of villages to autonomous dwellings compacted in bigger and taller buildings, I think Jesus calls us to anchor ourselves once more to a place, if not physically at least devotionally.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

Genesis 12:1

This goes back to even the earliest parts of the Bible, from when God calls Abraham out of his nation to the land of Canaan, with the narrative of the people of Israel inextricably tied to the displacement from and return to this promised land, from a scattered to a collective whole. And so the question that has been lingering in my mind is: where is this land that God is calling me to return to? Who is the people of God that He is calling me back to be a part of or, perhaps even to lead?

Last morning I was talking with my father who had spent decades in the states before he returned to his small hometown in Korea to work with those there and to serve his parents. I asked him, “did you know you’d be going back one day?” to which he answered that he knew he wanted to, but didn’t know until the moment the opportunity came that this prayer would be realized. The years in the states was a time in which God tested and disciplined him, after which he was led back to the land of his forefathers; years in which he had made a name and place for himself there but always knew that he belonged elsewhere. Although some might read his resume and imagine him being someplace else, he knows that there is no other place to be than where he is now with those he is with.

Maybe right now is just the start of my own forty years in the desert, where I wander through trials and tribulations. At times, I might even yearn to go back to my own Egypt, my own Babel, rather than to yearn for a homeland that God calls me to be. But I hope that I despite these times to never give up that yearning for the place where I can finally arrive and remain: to be in and a part of a place where I’ve not only helped to build and fix some of its buildings but where I’ve seen it grow and change over time with its people—where I can testify to God that, indeed, I have found, loved, and remained with my neighbors with all my heart and my soul.

 

 

Emotions and following God

For me, and I’m sure many others, being a Christian is often not easy. I am often filled with fears and concerns and I daily struggle to live a life that is fully reliant on God. Personally there are a lot of reasons why following God can be uncomfortable, even though I know that God controls everything, continually provides for me, and answers my prayers. These reasons include, but are not limited to:

  • Loneliness
  • Lack of worldly status
  • Loss of control
  • Lack of financial security
  • Persecution, whether physically or in other ways
  • If you are called to go to a non-English speaking country, not being fluent in the language and stumbling around
  • Looking like a fool in the eyes of the world

In the past week, I’ve been struggling a lot with what it means to live wholly for God. How do I give my life to God in everything I do? I have a long list of worries, fears, and reasons I want to hold back. But as I’ve been thinking about this question of what it would mean to give up my life to God, I have been encouraged in my devotions by all the different stories of Daniel and how God was with him through all the different trials. Being set apart has a cost but God is faithful, whether it was with Daniel and the palace food (Daniel 1) or the lions (Daniel 6). Or if we think about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace (Daniel 3). Yet while being encouraged by the book of Daniel, I also felt very frustrated as I imagined the great faith and courage with which Daniel faced the challenges in his life. I think of passages like Joshua 1:9 (“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”) and I can’t help but feel that I don’t have enough faith and am not strong nor am I courageous in how I follow after God.

Today I saw a video clip depicting Daniel in the lion’s den. In the clip, we see Daniel thrown in the den and initially being overcome with fear as he fully realizes where he is. After standing and trembling in fear for a few moments, we then see Daniel fall to his knees and pray, asking God to save him according to His unfailing love.

As I watched the clip, I was thankful to be reminded that following God does not mean we feel no emotions. So often I imagine the heroes of the Bible following God with such faith and courage, never experiencing disappointment, fatigue, anxiety, fear, pain, hurt, or anguish. But watching the clip today reminded me that trusting in God does not mean that we don’t feel these emotions. Going through Daniel, I did not find many references to Daniel experiencing fear or the emotions I would have myself were I in his circumstances. But I’d like to believe that because he was human, he did experience some fear being in, for example, the lion’s den. Nonetheless, even if not in Daniel, throughout the Bible there are numerous passages about believers who do experience emotions (and often with vivid descriptions), whether that be David in the Psalms or even Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” -Luke 22:44). I believe that we are human and thus we do and will experience emotions, but often more important than the initial reactions to the given situation is how we respond following the initial emotions. In the clip, we see Daniel respond to his fear by calling out to God. With Christ, we see that despite his anguish, he still faithfully goes to the cross. In stressful times, do we turn to God and still follow Him with complete faith and obedience despite our fear, disappointment, anger, or frustration? And in our times of joy and happiness and peace, do we look to God and thank Him for how He has provided for us? Do we remember that we have something greater than ourselves to rely on? God protects us, stands by us, gives us hope, provides His peace that surpasses all understanding, and fights for us. At all times when we are overcome by the troubles of this world, we can rely on God who is big enough to handle anything we are facing and is worth following with our whole being. For me, it is also comforting to realize that the emotions I feel are part of being human and that often the more important question is how I respond to the emotions. And so the question remains, given how I am feeling today, do I still faithfully follow God and give my whole life to Him?

Faith & Advent, Angels, Superstition, Weed.

Advent season is upon us, and Jeremy finally returns to writing for the Gospel Worldview Blog. Perhaps it’s in anticipation of the New Year and those dreaded resolutions. (If I recall correctly, I think I had something purposefully vague like “write more often” in my short list last year…) Maybe it’s also that I feel like I’ve had something to say for a long time but haven’t had the discipline or mental energy to sit down and do it. It could also be that I’ve been inspired by discovering a friend’s posts about life here in the inner city of North Philly – posts I find hilarious, but also thought-provoking. I wish I could write like that.

But enough self-conscious reflection about my actual sitting down and writing. Too much more of this, and it’ll feel like i’m trying to imitate a Dave Eggers novel.

Advent is a concentrated season of reflection on the incarnation. It’s also a season where we emphasize hope, and try to practice it. People also talk about love in this season – “Love was Born on Christmas Day,” as Christina Rossetti poetically put it (wait what? Hm…gotta think about that a bit…). Not as many people talk about faith. Faith seems to be more Hebrews 11 territory. Or maybe the book of John, or even Romans. We don’t teach about those passages so much during Christmas time in Christian churches. During and leading up to Christmas, we talk about the beginning of Luke or Matthew, maybe even pop open Isaiah 9 or Micah 5.

I want to talk about faith.

What does real faith look like? How is it connected to beliefs? If it is “by faith” that we are absolved of our sins and made right with God, what does “faith” mean?

This morning, a young guy came to our church’s morning Bible study and prayer time. He lives only about a block away, but we hadn’t seen him in a while – since about the middle of the summer. He’s a chill guy in his mid-20s (Ok, so I clearly need to work on my descriptions of people…). Came to Philly from Puerto Rico not long ago. As we were starting our Bible study, he told me why he was back:

“I wanted weed this morning but I couldn’t find any of it. Man, that was God talkin’. He wanted me to come back over here for church.”

He confessed that he’d been recently addicted to Heroine; honestly, only three days clean. I back-calculated: that means he’s been clean since Saturday. I had stopped by his place on Friday to pick up his little brother for a youth church event, and we had chatted a little bit. Maybe God used that short moment that we talked (as I waited for his little brother to put on his jacket and get out the door), to remind him of God’s presence, I thought to myself.

He continued:

“Last night I was prayin’ and I felt that flavor on me, you know. That flavor that’s like…God telling you something.” I nodded.

Yeah. I know that flavor, I thought to myself. I’ve experienced it before too. I experience it a lot. It’s that conviction that I receive as I pray that God would remove my sin – the conviction that God is pleased with my prayer. That ineffable thing I feel when I pray in hope for God’s kingdom to come, and I somehow just know that it is happening, that God has listened to my prayer. It’s that sense of God’s special love for me that I get sometimes when I’m doing something that’s really hard for me to do and that I really don’t like doing – “picking up the cross,” you could call it.

He felt that flavor. And somehow, he knew it was God. But not only did he recognize it was God, he responded – waking up early today to come to morning prayer.

He told a bunch of other stories about times he’s experienced God’s special touch, stories involving guns and cops, demons, drugs. I believed him about these stories – not just that he felt that he experienced those things, but I believed that he was right: those things were really God’s revelation of himself to him. God really was speaking to him in those experiences, I thought. Instead of responding with a default attitude of suspicion that relegates these types of stories to the “superstition”/folk religion box, I saw these stories as testimonies of authentic experiences of faith. Experiences from God.

Maybe part of it was that since the beginning of this advent season, I’ve been reading about a lot of “supernatural” (although I’d prefer the word “wondrous”) sorts of things that occur when God shows up to dwell amongst human beings: an angel appearing to a young virgin and telling her she’s going to conceive a son, and an awesome one at that; hosts of angels making an appearance to a bunch of shepherds grazing their sheep (Have you ever wondered: did the sheep see it too?), that spectacular star that guides a bunch of sages traveling from the East to come honor this baby with gifts worthy of a king.

Maybe I believed with this guy that those experiences were really experiences from God because of my own recent “touched by an angel” experience. In a time when I cried out to God and needed his confirmation of his presence, guiding hand, and protection, he assured me of his presence in a wondrous – yes, even angelic – way. Not angels singing in the sky, not an angel delivering me a message, but, I believe, angels nonetheless.

So I haven’t talked that much in this post about faith yet (maybe I’ll need to save that for a future post…), but suffice to say, it is these kinds of lived experience of faith that I see a lot here in the inner city – experiences which I would likely in the past have readily dismissed off-hand – that have gotten me thinking about the nature of faith. Not a lot of people here, I would say, have what I would consider a robust theological system of beliefs about God. In fact, a lot of their beliefs about Jesus are problematic. But, their experiences of God, I think, are real (or, at least, many of them). Of course, I’m not endorsing a blanket assumption that all peoples’ self-understandings of their experiences of God are authentic, but as I’ve listened to people here and lived here, I’ve come to see the need for me to refine my understanding of what authentic faith is. These people are following the same Jesus I’m following. They’re trusting the same savior I’m trusting, experiencing the same God-with-us that I’ve experienced. Some of their beliefs will have to change over time, and I hope my church is a part of that. But their relationship with God, I’m convinced, is one of authentic faith.

So then, what is it that we have in common? What is authentic faith? Sometime, I think I’ll try to take a look at all the uses of the word faith (which Roy Clouser does a decent job of here), but for now let me take a stab at it here:

Authentic faith recognizes God’s very presence (Immanuel – “God with us”) in the person of Jesus. It hears the promises of God’s messengers, and takes them to heart, treasuring them. It recognizes when God is using certain things – like times when you can’t find drugs to get high on, or experiences of that Holy Spirit flavor – to wake you up Spiritually and get you back in church. It recognizes that when that drunk driver who was about to run over you narrowly misses at the last second, it wasn’t blind luck: it was because, for those who take refuge in the Most High, God’s angels won’t let their feet strike even a rock.

I think being here in the inner city has grown my faith and helped me to better understand this season of Advent.

What do you think?

Government, sin, redemption

Almost four years of working in the Government. Why did I choose to work here? Back when I was 18, I believed it was the best way to “help” the ill, the poor and the excluded in our society. I (thought I) had great ideas for what should be changed, and signed on for a free university education, in exchange for 6 years of working for the Government. 4 years of school + 6 years of service – I’m nearly at my 4 year mark.

How has it turned out, looking back? How does the gospel impact how I see and do the work that I’ve been called to do here? The understanding of sin helps me face realities and understand my role in the government.

Face realities: men are inherently inward-looking; they elect governments to pursue their interests on their behalf. In the course of my work, I often think about a text by Hobbes – the state of nature is the state of war. As a society, we wish to be kinder, gentler, more compassionate. But when a nursing home is built right next to our apartment block, we cry foul. We want quick, cheap housing, but we frown at those who labor for hours on end in the hot tropical sun, and are only seeking some solace from the sun as they hang out at the landings of our apartment blocks. This happens so often, that we even have a term here – the “not-in-my-backyard” syndrome.

There is growing distrust between government and citizens. The gist is that government consists of “rich people paying themselves highly while the rest of us suffer!” It can be demoralizing, to be honest.

How do these affect how I think about my work? I first have to realize the limits of any human institution in curbing this fundamental human nature. Then, I choose not to by cynical, but to hope. Daily, I am reminded that so much is not in my hands, nor any man’s hands (those “perfect solutions” I once dreamed of were not so perfect once I understood the range of perspectives, operational issues & sometimes, the problems of legacy and ego that get in the way. Real problems, mind you.). Only God can address the fundamental issues at play – fundamental issues of the heart.

And he does; he can. I am encouraged to see that men also have an innate sense of justice, which shapes their idea of what a country should be. Critiques of our welfare and healthcare systems come from the desire to have a society where justice prevails – where the widows, orphans, the elderly and ill are taken care of. Where we do not leave the market to assign value to people based on traits that we win through the genetic lottery. This is something to celebrate. One of the goals of government is not to shut down these critiques, but to cultivate them and create the space for people to take action together.

Knowing that we have a God who works on our behalf and cares about justice far more than we do, I’m freed up to think hard about what it is that I can do. Within my sphere of influence, can I speak up for those who do not have a voice? In my first job, it was on my heart to speak up for equality in treatment of kids with special needs (and do the analysis needed to support my proposals). I was given many opportunities to do so. I also think about what we can do to restore trust with the people – be more open about the facts, even if we don’t look so good; be vulnerable and admit that we don’t have it all solved, that some things really do take five or ten years to achieve – even in super-efficient Singapore.

It’s about creating authentic relationships between government and people, the space for us to build something together. That is, in itself, redemptive.

Let’s end with that for now 🙂

”Some of what Jeremy’s been reading and thinking about.”

For a while, I’ve wanted to share with other Christians, especially Manna people, about some of the books I’ve read recently. But I’ve been demotivated because 1) there’s so many books I’ve wanted to share it’s been hard to decide where to start, and 2) I felt like I wouldn’t do justice to any of the books unless I gave an in-depth review of them, and I just haven’t had the time or patience to sit down and write one of those kinds of essays.

Well, to get past those hurdles, I decided to just flat out ignore both those hindrances here. Instead of choosing one book, I’m going to write about several books. And instead of writing in-depth about each of them, I’ll make my comments highly summarized – just enough to get the gist for someone not super interested in the topic. But also, perhaps, just enough to whet the appetite of a more interested person to perhaps read the book. Think of this as a sort of pseudo-bibliographic essay, but also a window into my mind recently. I’m going to call this “Some of what Jeremy’s been reading and thinking about.” So here goes.

 

 

”Some of what Jeremy’s been reading and thinking about”

“Existential Reasons for Belief in God” by Clifford Williams

The reason I read it this summer was that the title caught my attention. Esoteric book about God? COOL. I WANT IT. But also, it got to something I’ve always wondered about: Is it OK for a person’s reason for believing in God to be simply that they feel a need for God? Is trusting in Jesus without having thought deeply through rational arguments for or against God’s existence foolish or even sinfully irresponsible? Feuerbach said that God is simply the longing of the human soul personified; Freud said human beings project their repressed desire for an exalted father onto the idea of a personal, Heavenly Father. Religion is wish-fulfillment. Marx: it’s a crutch, an opiate for the needy masses. Are they right?

Clifford Williams, I think, makes a very convincing case for the legitimacy of even some of the most seemingly illogical (or at least the embarrassing ones that we Christians would usually blush at) existential reasons for faith. He argues that not only is paying attention to our feelings of need for God an important part of making sense of Christianity, but that having merely “rational” reasons for believing in God doesn’t make sense. The ideal (and, I would add, the only authentic) way of acquiring faith in God, he says, is through both need and reason – a faith that consists of both emotions and intellectual assent. In other words, we should definitely use our mental faculties to weigh the evidence to make sure that our belief in God isn’t merely a crutch, but we should also recognize that if God has indeed created us with a need for him in our inner being (Pascal’s famous/infamous “God-shaped” hole), our existential needs are something we’re supposed to pay attention to! I know I didn’t do the book justice here, because reading over what I just wrote it doesn’t seem that awesome. But it is. You should just read it. (I have it on kindle if you want to borrow it for 2 weeks!)

“Heart and Soul: A Christian View of Psychology” by William Ouweneel

Speaking of our inner feelings, I’ve been fascinated with thinking through how our heart-relationship with God/spirituality relates to our psychology. There’s a lot of complex, difficult questions that arise when you open up this can of worms. To what extent do psychological problems originate in our spiritual relationship with God? How do we tell when a psychological issue is a presenting problem arising from physiological imbalances? How do we tell when it originates in improper spiritual relationship to God? How do our thoughts relate to our emotions, and our thoughts to our beliefs? What about psychosomatic disorders? While this book (free PDF here!) didn’t provide a clear-cut answer to all these questions, it did give me some tools to start with, beginning with its treatment of how the different levels of our human functioning relates to our psychology. He explained how our human psychology arises as a composite of our physical (relationship between sensory stimulation and perception, psychopharmacology, etc.), biological (neuropsychology, physiological psychology), perceptive (psychology of sensation/perception/conditioning), sensitive (psychology of our feelings), and cognitive (psychology of thinking, deliberation) structures, but also touched on social, economic, ethical, and even religious psychology as other interrelated fields. What I found the most helpful in reading this was that it gave me a starting point to see how interconnected our psychological functioning is and to recognize that helping someone who is suffering from psychological dysfunction requires a multi-faceted approach. Even if Christians may rely on truth from God’s Word to give us wisdom for living psychologically faithful lives, it’s also important to recognize the way our psychology is interconnected with the many layers of our human existence so that we don’t naively think that helping people focus on truths about Jesus will fix all of their psychological issues. Our human brokenness and frailty extends deep into all of the structures of our human existence; while we are called to help each other live as faithfully as we can with whatever psychological constitution we’ve each been given, short of a miracle, many people will only finally experience full psychological healing when Christ finally arrives to renew all things. Thank God he is coming again. How awesome will it be when we’re no longer beset with this constant struggle in inner self? How awesome will it be when our intentions, thoughts, motivations, desires, impulses, fears, loves all work properly for God’s glory?

“Christian philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction” by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen 

Zooming out a bit, let’s talk about GOSPEL WORLDVIEW. Do you remember when you first got the expansiveness of Manna’s Gospel Worldview? When you became excited about how God cares about everything, not just only our individual spirituality? Well in a way, the shift that was happening there was a philosophical shift – from viewing Christianity through some implicit form of dualism (e.g. viewing the “Spiritual” as more holy than the “material” world) to seeing that the Gospel opens us up to a more holistic way of seeing everything – a way that is consistent with the idea that Jesus is the one in whom all creation holds together – things in heaven and on earth visible and invisible, etc. etc. (Colossians 1:15-23!)

Well, this book tells a sort of history of philosophical thought unashamedly out of this very gospel worldview. The authors are forthright that their history is not unbiased; they intentionally are telling the story in a way that highlights how philosophical thinking throughout history has reflected more and less faithful articulations (in their view) of what we at Manna call this “Gospel Worldview.” For the more theologically inclined, you could say that this book is a tracing of philosophical thought as a historical examination of the relationship between common grace and idolatry in the world of…ideas. Not for everyone, but I think anyone who wants a better picture of how philosophical ideas are embedded in our worldview, this was helpful for me in sorting through that. I would put it above Creation Regained on difficulty level, but below Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism.

 

I wanted to write about a bunch of other books, but I think I wrote too much already. So I guess I’ll have to do a second installment! For all you nerds out there (and let’s be honest…we’re Princeton grads…all of us are), be looking forward to..

“Books Jeremy owes library fines for: Recommended Christian books, Part Deux.”

And to whet your appetite:

  • Purpose in the Living World by Jacob Klapwijk (Evolution, Creation, Emergence theory, Intelligent Design, etc.)
  • The Economy of Desire by Daniel Bell (Spiritual disciplines + Economics, Spiritual evaluation of Capitalism)
  • Reading Revelation Responsibly by Michael Gorman (How the heck are we supposed to understand all that bizarre imagery? And what’s with the Kill Bill-esque violence?)
  • Loves me, Loves me not: The ethics of unrequited love by Laura Smit (Think: God as our pursuing lover…etc.)
  • Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America by Robert Lupton (Urban ministry is where it’s at. I’m learning about all this stuff more through my church in North Philly. Poverty, justice, God’s Kingdom, all that jazz.)

Until then, read more! And love Jesus. And love the poor.

The gchat that started it all…

Daniel:  did you see my article on calvin’s wall?
me:  yeah, reading it now
i love wendell berry
haha
one of the st modules this year was actually supposed to be an introduction to environmental justice via an introduction to wendell berry, but it got removed when Sam had to leave
Daniel:  ah…
that’s sad
wendell berry is a prophet
me:  when I read him, I became a Marxist, haha
which 3 long years with Jon Lin could not do, haha
Daniel:  lolll
me:  he is able to espouse Marx’s principles in a way that is very concrete
Daniel:  this is the only thing I read by him
me:  oh really?
Daniel:  so far
but i’m sure more are to come
I’m reading “life is a miracle” next
me:  i’ve read an essay collection
Daniel:  which is a response to a Harvard academic about reductionism
me:  and a few other things
but I’d love to read more
Daniel:  he has suprsingly a lot to say about health
me:  do you have a lot of time to read at your job?
Daniel:  well
it’s outside of my job that i read
it’s only a 40hr workweek
so yea
lots of free time outside
i’ve already read lots of things
finished ‘habits of the heart’
read this book called ‘medicine as ministry’
then ‘reclaiming the body’
all very nice books
me:  jeremy just recommended me this book called “Ecstatic Existance” which is trying to articulate a new foundation for theological anthropology
maybe you’ll find it interesting, too?
 Sent at 10:06 PM on Tuesday
Daniel:  maybe
what does it mean
by theological anthropology
me:  roughly speaking = “what does it mean to be human”?
the central thesis is that to be human is to be in relationship with God
Daniel:  ah
me:  he uses three primary categories to talk about that relationship: Creation, Redemption, and Reconciliation
that’s about the extent of what I got from the Amazon review, haha
Daniel:  hahaha icic
i like berry’s take
me:  man, we should totally make a Manna Gospel Worldview blog
Daniel:  as defining being human as being whole
we should…
me:  for alumni to be able to post in
and to share books and whatnot
Daniel:  isn’t that what revisions is supposed to be haha?
me:  haha, it’s not mainly for alumni
it’s mainly for reaching the campus
I’m thinking more of a community blog
that lets us talk amongst ourselves
Daniel:  ah ic
me:  like, pseudo-private
Daniel:  that sounds cool
but then…
idk
i would love
people like calvin
to have access to this stuff too
nahm saying?
there’s a lot of things we’re talking about here that needs to see the light
me:  well, it could be good for undergrads to be able to listen into the discussions of working ppl
Daniel:  right
they don’t need contributing capacity
necessarily
greg would love to contribute to something like this too…
greg lee ’00 that is
me:  Greg Lee?
oh, do you see him often?
 Sent at 7:00 PM on Wednesday
Daniel:  yea
and for sure jack gang
all though i’m not sure how he theologically ties his work
every now and then yea
i love berry’s jab at efficiency in that article
somebody once told me
very insightfully
if God valued efficiency, he wouldn’t have given us freewill
me:  berry bashes HARD on efficiency
in his works on the economy
and on farming
Daniel:  yea
more and more
i’m starting to think efficiency is a value that works against the Kingdom
me:  man, this blog idea was just random
but I’m starting to think it would be a really good idea, hahacropped-mustardseed1.jpg
Daniel:  dude for sure
me:  maybe we could just informally start one
and invite everyone we think would be interested
Daniel:  yea i think just us two
and yea
snowball as we go
or people will read it
and they’ll want to say something about it
so we’ll tell them
instead of going to the comments section
write a response
me:  b/c the questions we are asking are BIG QUESTIONS, which will need lots of people working together on
 Sent at 10:16 PM on Tuesday
me:  well… gospelworldview.wordpress.com is available, haha
Daniel:  haha
can we buy that domain?
i’m just curious
not actually saying we should
it’s available!!
haha
me:  $18 bucks a year
Daniel:  maybe later
me:  I’ll just reserve the spot for now
Daniel:  kk
although
idk…
the term gospel worldview
sounds too tame
me:  oh, got another idea?
Daniel:  it just seems like another intellectual framework alongside a shelf full of other frameworks like marxism
i mean this is the truth man
me:  well, I thought it would just highlight the Manna connection
Daniel:  and the kingdom is doing battle against evil
i was telling sam this
last year
sam chez
i told him manna’s buzzword
shouldn’t be gospel worldview
but ‘Jesus blowing up in your face’
me:  hahah
that could mean… a lot of different things, haha
Daniel:  hahaha yea
but you see what I’m getting at
anyway
that was more of a rant
than an actual suggestions
me:  well, i’m open to suggestions if you can think of one
FrontlinesoftheKingdom?
Daniel:  too long…
what is latin for kingdom?
me:  regnum
Daniel:  you know what let’s just go with Gospel Worldview haha
me:  latin is sort of pretentious, though, haha

we can change the title of the blog to “Jesus blows up in your face” lol

right now, I just have “the news that changes everything”
Daniel:  hahaha
sounds good

me: man, i have such a great idea for a gospel-worldview restaurant

I want to pitch it to ed and see what he thinks, lol
Daniel:  lol
you should write about it
that restaurant should also be at my hospital
per Berry’s opinions
me:  or rather, the hospital should have a farm, lol
haha, the basic idea behind the restaurant is to make it less a “commodity”-oriented business but a “community”-oriented service
Daniel:  wow
that’s awesome
me:  like, the underlying assumption behind all food industry right now is that chefs are delivering a “product”, a dish
what if we challenge that assumption?
 Sent at 10:50 PM on Tuesday
Daniel:  that sounds amazing
interestingly
atul gawande
do you know him?
new yorker contributor
me:  not off the top of my head
Daniel:  health policy expert
he’s the one that wrote “better”
and “complications”?
anyway
people listen to him
and interestingly, he wrote an article not long ago
saying how the healthcare system should deliver health more efficiently and with better standardization
just like how cheesecake factory delivers its cakes
exactly the way you want
every time
i say ‘interestingly’
because in our discussion
we both have a feeling that neither healthcare nor food should be described in those terms…
me:  yeah, it’s our wendell berry influence, haha
a move away from mechanistic metaphors to organicist metaphors
interestingly enough (philosophically) it’s what happened in the shift from the Enlightenment to Romanticism in 19th c. German philosophy, haha
Daniel:  huh
i wonder what happened…
we should just post this IM conversation
as our first post
me:  the industrial revolution happened, haha
Daniel:  true dat…
me:  the romantics already saw it coming and protested against it, but their solution was insufficient
they had a communitarian ideal, but it just does not hold up when faced with the forces of capitalism
the question of how to regain that ideal… is arguably still a live one
Kuyper, interestingly enough, has an interesting essay on this called “Our Instinctive Life” in which he tries to grapple with the realities of heading up a rapidly expanding political party that was now more democratic than aristocratic
haha, we totally should just post this convo
Daniel:  im not sure
if we can philosophically recover from the industrial revolution
me:  well, there’s no going back, that’s for sure
Daniel:  probably just Christians being faithful to their calling
and living out the Kingdom despite these worldly forces
me:  knowing that all power and authority has been given to Jesus
and God’s in the process of making all his enemies a footstool for his feet