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From preliminary reviews, I expected this book (by George Weigel, a writer whose works and articles are must reading for me) to be a series of vignettes which highlighted stories the author witnessed (or heard about from others) during his eyewitness times with Pope John Paul II.  I also expected there to be lessons, if you will, in the hope that resulted from these stories as well as insights into John Paul’s character — what he valued, what “made him tick.”

This book, however, did not meet these expectations.  That does not mean I didn’t enjoy the book, but if you are desiring a book that does what the first paragraph above outlines, this book is not for you.

What Mr. Weigel does do is offer, really, his own “mini-autobiography” as it relates to how he came to know Pope John Paul II and how he ended up writing his biographies of the Pope (“Witness to Hope” and “The End and the Beginning”).  In this sense, he offers “autobiographical sketches” which show a fascinating and well-lived life.

The author assumes his readership is very familiar with Catholicism, Catholic history and the Catholic church which can make some of the reading something of a slog for Protestants such as myself.  However, ultimately, I gained a deeper understanding of the Catholic Church’s roots, its formation in the likeness of a nation, its bureaucratic shortcomings and, most enlightening, the contents of some historically important papal encyclicals.

Of the greatest importance, however, the book offers a penetrating look into what many Catholic Church leaders thought of the pope and the inner workings of the church itself, particularly since Vatican II.  It offers insights into John Paul’s thoughts on the relation of the gospel and religion to culture (it is foundational and without it culture decays and devolves) and the importance of objective truth (it is a necessary condition and understanding it/living by it essential to liberty), as well as what he viewed as challenges to be faced in the 21st century and how Christianity should prepare and offer answers.  We also see a John Paul who continually sought God, whose relationship to God formed the core of his being and informed his purpose and peace in this life and resulted in a historically impacting pontificate.

The engaged and perceptive reader will find insights, truths and wisdom on the importance and potential impact of the gospel in history — both epochally (with the fall of Communism being the prime example) and in individual lives.  And in finding these truths and their impacts, one finds indeed, a rich store of Lessons in Hope.

 

 

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I recently finished reading “Out of the Ashes” by Anthony Esolen. Wow, what a fascinating, challenging and convicting read! I encourage any and all to read the book — but beware, it is not for the faint of heart nor those easily offended. Dr. Esolen is a man of learning and conviction, and his tone and some of his thoughts on culture and divine truth will put off some. He also tends to interrupt a line of thought for another line and it is up to the reader to determine how the thoughts are related to the immediate subject he is on at the time. Having said that, the author is largely accurate in his broad cultural analysis (if not always in the remedy, particularly regarding generalities on manhood and womanhood). The book has much to offer, and boldly and accurately state, regarding truth, beauty, education, God and man, how we rationalize evil and ugliness, and the need for ordinary people to be willing to resume the humanity that has often been lost (and how to do it). The last two chapters are classic and timeless! While the book is meant for more than the church, the universal church would do well to adapt what is discussed into how to recover its true mission and how to engage and influence by being distinct and thus true light.

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With the passing of John Glenn yesterday (Dec 8, 2016), this write-up by Jim Denison is very appropriate:

John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, died yesterday at the age of ninety-five. Author Tom Wolfe called him “the last true national hero America has ever had.”

His successful circumnavigation of the globe in 1962 came when our nation was locked in a battle with the Soviet Union for superiority in space. The Washington Post notes “In an era when fear of encroaching Soviet influence reached from the White House to kindergarten classrooms, Mr. Glenn, in his silver astronaut suit, lifted the hopes of a nation on his shining shoulders.”

Mr. Glenn went on to serve four terms in the Senate representing the people of Ohio. In 1998 he joined the crew of the space shuttle Discovery, returning to space at the age of seventy-seven.

John Glenn was revered for his courage, morality, and commitment to service. But there’s another factor that explains all three, one that many of today’s obituaries are omitting.

Glenn told the world during his 1998 shuttle mission, “To look up out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.” He told reporters that he was praying every day in orbit. He made public his faith across his career in the military, NASA, and public service.

His experience was not unique. Buzz Aldrin’s first act when he landed on the moon was to celebrate communion. When Frank Borman commanded the first space crew to travel beyond Earth’s orbit, he radioed back a message quoting from Genesis 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” After James Irwin walked on the moon in 1971, he became an evangelical minister. Charles Duke followed Irwin to the moon and later became a missionary.

There’s something about experiencing the majesty of God’s creation that puts our lives in proper perspective. Every human is tempted to be his or her own god (Genesis 3:5). Autonomy is the creed of our culture. Many think they can define marriage, sexuality, and life itself with no reference to the God who instituted marriage, designed sexuality, and creates life.

But when we recognize that the universe is more complex and majestic than we can possibly comprehend, we are forced to recalibrate our self-sufficiency. As Louie Giglio says, “I am not but I know I Am.”

The Bible is clear: In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Not “some” but “all.” If you’re seeking wisdom and knowledge today, don’t look in the mirror or even to the stars. Look higher still.

When John Glenn’s tiny space capsule began liftoff at 9:47 AM on February 20, 1962, his backup pilot said on national television, “Godspeed, John Glenn.” Nearly five hours later, parts of his capsule broke off during reentry and burst into flame. Glenn later told reporters that he was aware of the danger but that he was committed to his mission.

Now he has embarked on the greatest mission of his life. Godspeed, John Glenn.

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The below is a repost of an article by Ken Wytsma which I thought worth sharing:

A friend … wondered if, at the end of the day, it’s possible to actually change the world. Doesn’t history show injustice and sin are intractable and constant?

I’ve faced this question many times. Many people believe the talk we hear about changing the world is simply triumphal and idealistic cheerleading designed to make us feel more important than we really are.

The truth is, those who believe we can’t change the world and those who believe we can are both pointing at deep truths in the nature of reality. One sees the fact that no matter what our efforts, we can’t permanently and fundamentally fix the world and eradicate evil from the human heart, while the other sees the fact that we can and do change the world every day in both small yet significant ways and, sometimes, in large and weighty matters. How are we to understand these two realities?

Back in grad school, studying philosophy, the whole exercise of clarifying an argument always hung on a distinction—separating out a conflated idea into two clear and distinct truths.

The distinction here is: Although we cannot fix the world, we can certainly change it.

My friend Keith Wright, International President of Food for the Hungry, has spent his life helping to grow healthy families and communities in the developing world. Recently, he shared with me a study by the World Bank that found extreme poverty, for the first time, has declined in every region of the developing world. Though that doesn’t mean we can fix every economic need in the world (after all, Jesus himself said we would always have the poor with us), it does mean, however, one significant and large element of the world is slowly changing for the better.

Another friend of mine is a very busy Urgent Care doctor in town. In spite of the demands of his career, Randy uses his own money and personal time to drive around a fully equipped medical van, ministering to homeless folks who have no other access to health services. Sometimes he treats frostbitten fingertips, and sometimes he literally saves a life.

Randy isn’t trying to fix every health need in town. He knows even the folks he helps will have more medical needs in the future, but he serves knowing, in that moment, what he does somehow fundamentally changes the world, if even in a small way.

Multiply these examples as more and more people heed the call to justice and love for fellow man and the amount of change that happens in the world can grow exponentially. This is why God commands us to do justice and why in the Old Testament he punished his people for neglecting justice, because what we do does make a significant difference for good or for bad in the world.

We don’t have to remake the world.

Just because we can’t control nature, eradicate all evil or ensure the hard-won gains of justice will last, does not mean we cannot bring about worthwhile positive change in the world. Change is fluid; cultures evolve and devolve.

Changing the world doesn’t guarantee our victories will be permanent. And that’s OK.

There are always those who will react to idealism and the ever-prevalent change-the-world language today by choosing to adopt a pessimistic outlook on the potential for deep and lasting change in the structures of the world.

We can be hopeful, without being triumphalistic, however, and we can be realistic, without being pessimistic.

Only God can fix the world; but as we fulfill our calling and carry God’s good news of salvation and healing and justice into the world, we become a very real part of changing it.

My friend Dave, who spends his life rescuing young girls from the sex trade, recently had a telling conversation along these lines while at the gym.

Dave was on the treadmill, and the guy beside him asked him what he did for a living.

“I save girls from the sex trade by ransoming them out of brothels and slavery.”

The man responded: “Isn’t that kind of futile? If you save one girl, won’t they just grab another one to replace her?”

Dave replied, “I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that.”

The man looked confused.

Dave continued, “I’m not qualified to say whether it really made a difference—you’d have to ask the girl I ransomed from the brothel if it made a difference to her.”

The world changes every day in both big and small ways. I want to watch where God is moving and join him there, recognizing changing the world is less about being heroic and more about being faithful.

The distinction is necessary: Just because we can’t fix the world, doesn’t mean we can’t—and don’t—change the world every day in significant ways.

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