Monday, March 5, 2018

Make Friends with your Problems

The classic daily devotional book Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young, has become daily reading for me. On today's page, "Jesus" recommends making friends with my problems. Which sounds counter-intuitive. Especially considering the admonishments to not worry in other parts of the book. But the concept makes sense under examination. In life we only improve by learning from adversity, both that which just happens to us, and that which is self-inflicted. By doing so, we can approach the perfection of God, in whose image we were created. And more importantly to Jesus, we approach him.

This brings to mind the problem of evil, an idea discussed and debated often in the circles of philosophy and theology, despite the plain simplicity of it. The problem of evil begs the question "Why did God create a world in which evil can exist?". Some use this as a reason for not believing in God, which is a problem in itself and beyond the scope of this post. But imagine a world without evil. As I've discussed in my podcast Running: A Fever, evil does not exist, but is the absence of God, the ultimate good. Still, this absence is the problem.

One answer is often given as another question, "Would you prefer a perfect world?" A world with no challenges, a life with no problems to overcome, would be no life at all, a world with no meaning. It is by overcoming challenges and dealing with the absence of good in ourselves and the other evils of the world that we encounter that we define ourselves. We are aspirational beings by nature. Each struggle gives us meaning. It is the journey itself, not the destination, that provides our utmost enjoyment in life. Without problems, there would be no need for a journey. Life would be meaningless. For more on this concept, see my book on nihilism.

Every problem is a friend because it is a stepping stone on the journey to God. Thomistic philosophy aside, doesn't that make sense?

Friday, July 21, 2017

A Review of "The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong"

 “Every employee rises to his level of incompetence.” This is the principle introduced in this classic work of humorous but often true insight into the hierarchies of business. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Review of Raymond L. Atkins’s Sweetwater Blues

“Sloppy luck.” It’s when fortune saves an individual from a terrible fate, only to make surviving it almost as bad. Like a young man emerging alive from an almost certainly fatal auto accident, only to find his closest friend dead at the scene, and himself facing a prison sentence for his negligence. Palmer Cray believes he and his family are doomed and blessed by sloppy luck. He accepts it and perhaps embraces it. Raymond L. Atkins’s novel Sweetwater Blues follows Palmer through ten penitent years of his young life in the town and prison of Sweetwater, Georgia.

Sweetwater Blues (Mercer University Press, 2014, 340 pages, $18.00 paperback) is Atkins’s fourth novel. Raymond L. Atkins is a professor of English at Georgia Northwestern Technical College and member of the Creative Writing faculty at Reinhardt University.

Something about this novel spoke to me. Reading it was like meeting a stranger and finding out we grew up just miles from each other and knew all the same places, or passed through some significant shared experience, like being in the military or working at the same place, even if separated by time. It’s a kinship almost. Possibly it is Atkins’s slow description of life in Sweetwater, even through the thoughts of an inmate remembering the town. It takes me back to my own youth in a small Southern town, where everybody knew me and my whole family, and years passed around us all like water flowing around rocks in a creek bed.

There is a charming humor about the voice of Atkins’s writing that brings to mind Twain or Faulkner. But there is a pace to it that makes it enjoyable in a different way. It’s a walk through the scenery, not hurried or even brisk. It’s more of a saunter or a mosey. It’s not belly-laughing humor, but a chuckling look at what just is and maybe always was. Like this description of funeral arrangements for one of Palmer’s friends:

Otis Lee had gone to visit Genuine Owen not long after receiving his diagnosis and prognosis, and over a quart jar of corn liquor and a pair of Swisher Sweets they had hammered out the pertinent details of his eternal sleep. He had wanted to be buried at the junkyard, under The Death Car with his father, but Genuine had informed him that, lamentably, due to town ordinances that had been passed almost immediately after that original automotive interment, this would not be possible (308).
Otis Lee and his demented wife are two of the key characters that bring out the medicinal qualities of humor in this book. Another is Cheddar, Palmer’s cousin and cell mate, a life-long professional prisoner whose main problem is his wife “Bay-Annette”. As readers we laugh, even if we feel a little guilty about it, and that makes it easier to deal with the heavy issues of prison, betrayal, and the end of life.

Sweetwater Blues is a sweet read whose literary value sneaks up on the reader, taps him on the shoulder, and introduces itself with a friendly smile. I shall read more of Mr. Atkins’s work and I look forward to his next novel with great anticipation.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Cloudosaurus Haiku

Jaws dripping with steam
Stalking prey in the open sky
Time is running thin

More Haiku

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Review of Lee Child’s Gone Tomorrow

When a drifting veteran finds a nervous woman sharing his subway car, he can see that something is wrong with her. Why? Because he is trained to see things like that. But when she takes her own life, he has no idea that she is the key to a mystery involving politics, terrorism, and very dangerous women. Jack Reacher once again finds himself in the middle of troubleville, and as usual, he’ll have to fight his way out, both mentally and physically. There’s no way he’d rather do it.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Forward . . . March! A Review of Living Forward, by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy

Life Planning is not just about finances. It is a purposeful look at where you are, where you’re going, and how to get there. Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want (Baker, 2016, $21.99 hardback) is a guide to writing a life plan with specific instructions and more. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Bad Choices, Bad Usage: A Review of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am

Presence is the theme of Jonathan Safran Foer’s new novel Here I Am. It is the story of a family’s journey through birth, growth, school, marriage, divorce, war, and death. It is a more or less complete life of the Bloch family, saturated with their Jewish culture and their self-obsession, and dominated by particularly self-obsessed son, father, cousin, and husband Jacob Bloch, whose journey in this story is from nowhere to nowhere.