Monday, May 17, 2010

book Review: O ME OF LITTLE FAITH by Jason Boyett

NOTE: A copy of this book was provided me free of charge by the publisher for review purposes.

Fr Benedict Groeschel, CFR, said on one of his shows:

"Everytime I get annoyed with God, I pick up a crucifix and remember that Jesus went through it all before us."

Fr Groeschel, a priest psychologist, after writing several books, made it through a coronary bypass in his early 70's and then, in his late 70's got into a horrible car accident which left him in a coma for several weeks. He came out of that also but not without a lot of injury. He is disabled to the point of needing assistance for all daily tasks which must have been a bitter pill for him to swallow. And if that were not enough, he recently had a couple of strokes, one of which partially took away his ability to speak.

Let's face it, we all ask those questions like "What was God thinking of?" or "Why is this a part of God's Plan?" And "How can God's Plan be perfect when it seems to allow terminal illness in children, famine and starvation in the world and more?"

Jason Boyett, author of "O Me of Little Faith", who describes himself on Facebook, as a Dad, a husband, a writer, a musician and speaker and a grown man who still likes cookies and milk, is not a theologian or pastor. His bio mentions that he has written several other books and has been featured on the National Geographics and History Channel. And that he lives in Texas with his wife and two kids.

He made his commitment to the Lord when he was 10 years old in a fundamentalist church, but found he had a lot of questions and also found that those around him who may have had similar questions and doubts about God, were afraid to voice these, as many seem to feel that faith and doubt cannot co-exist.

He leads us through HIS doubts which I think all of us can relate to, and ends with an inspiring last chapter which details how he solves this dilemma.

The honesty in "O Me of Little Faith" is refreshing. Jason rips through the pretensions of some who claim constant communication with God but not in a uncharitable manner. Just that this did not work for him. Perhaps they are in constant communication with God, he writes but that's not where he's at.

Jason writes that to believe in God is more of a leap of faith than to simply say there is no God but because it's the path of least resistance doesn't make it the right way to go. (P 54) Actually in studying the order of the universe, cosmological constants and latest "Big Bang" Theories, for me it's more of a leap of faith to not believe in God but many feel that the famous Occam's Razer would solve that question as saying God does not exist.

He also wonders why do we have to ask God for things we want when God already knows.I confess I used to feel that way also but in my later years, I have been asking God for things I need. If nothing else, it feels good to make pleas of God and Jesus did point out that the pesky asker - the squeaky wheel is the one who gets God's attention. He asks if any parent would deny their children and if not how much more does God love us? I feel that God does answer every prayer though sometimes, much to our frustration, the answer is "No".

As Mother Angelica of EWTN has said:

"God opens a door for us and we must walk through in total faith and then wait for God to open the next door."

Jason concludes that the ideal way of praying is the prayer of the church i.e. the Divine Office (praying the psalms). I must agree with him here.

"O Me of Little Faith" is not a fast reading book but it is very worth reading and will, I feel, give anyone who endures, a stronger faith. It's not that faith excludes doubt but that doubt is a part of faith, Boyett concludes. There, I agree also and feel that if people do not acknowledge their doubts, it actually can weaken their faith.

Catholics will like Jason's admonishment that the sinner's prayer is only the beginning of faith - he quotes James 2 "Show me your faith without works and I will show you the faith which underlies my works."

Although Jason Boyett describes himself as an agnostic, I had a feeling throughout the book that he is really a very strong believer.

I would really recommend this book! I enjoyed it very much!

Here's where you get it:


Jason Boyett has a website and a blog.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Review: Present Perfect by Gregory A. Boyd

NOTE: a copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher for review purposes.

This book by Dr Greg A. Boyd, Pastor of an Evangelical church in Minnesota, promises to help the reader experience "true spiritual formation" by "inviting God's Presence" in one's life.

And yet the author openly admits that he hasn't really experienced this transformation:

"Brother Lawrence, Frank Laubach and Jean de Caussade each speak of experiencing a transformation after which “practicing the presence of God” was as natural to them as breathing. I thought I was getting close to this sort of breakthrough last year when I was writing a book on this discipline (called Present Perfect) but I now suspect this was simply because my mind tends to be totally occupied with whatever I happen to be writing about at the time. This year I’m back to being pretty much the same old atheistic-minded Greg."

Although Greg attended a Catholic church for several years, it was because of his stepmother whom he describes as abusive, and when she left, he and his father both became atheists. The following is from an interview with Greg:

"My mom died before I was 3. My father remarried rather quickly, mostly out of a desperate need for someone to care for his four kids. If there are marriages made in heaven, this one was made in the other place. There was almost non-stop warfare in my home growing up. On top of this, my stepmother was physically abusive. The day my parents divorced and the family split up when I was 13 was quite honestly one of my happiest memories I have growing up. Though we had been attending a Catholic church up to this point, as soon as my stepmother and her two kids moved out, my father and I declared ourselves to be atheists."

After being atheist for 4 years and getting into drugs, Greg said he found the Lord.

He went to school for theology and has an impressive set of credentials including a M.Div from Yale Divinity School and a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr Greg has also published 18 books and is a speaker on the international scene.

About 20 years ago, Greg encountered the writings of Catholic monk, Brother Lawrence, "THE PRACTICE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD". He also read a couple of other authors on similar subjects: Jean Pierre de Caussade who was apparently a contemporary of Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach.

Greg was intrigued and began to find a way to put what he had read about, into practice. And "Present Perfect" details his own way of striving to be aware of God in his own life.

One charming thing about "Present Perfect" is that Greg is very honest about his own struggles. In one place he writes:

"I often feel as if I'm on a train that's constantly picking up speed as it races toward a brick wall. I have no idea when I'll crash, but I know I won't survive. Each passing moment takes me closer to this inevitability at an ever increasing speed. I'm dying." (P 63)

But then adds that

"The fear is not just that we're going to die. The fear is that we'll never really live." P 64

Quite a bit into this book, I realized that Greg's beliefs are very earth centered. He did state that he believes what Catholics call "Heaven" will be here on earth. I wondered how he dealt with the words of Jesus about His Kingdom being "not of this world".

My sense is that Greg with his struggles in being aware of God, may be speaking from an agnostic point of view. (He quipped to CNN that when one "Googles" his name, the word "heretic" comes up quite often!)

That being said, there is much merit in a person who has not received the "gift of faith", in working so diligently to approach God.

One of many intriguing things about "Present Perfect" is that it offers many practical ways of becoming more aware of God's presence that all of us can use in our own lives. These methods use both psychological tools like what Weight Watchers refer to as "anchors" (innocuous gestures or items which remind of what we want to be reminded of) and "positive self talk" or "affirmations" and, imagery.

Although Catholic spirituality should center around powerful channels of grace like the Holy Mass, the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy as well as ejaculatory prayer as Robert Spitzer, S.J. suggests - short prayers like "God help me" and "Holy Spirit, push away the darkness", we still can benefit a lot by supplementing these with many of Pastor Greg's suggestions in "Present Perfect".

Pastor Greg tells us to not be bothered by something we did for God imperfectly advising us to just "let it go". However, I find it the best for me in such situations to pray "God, please fix it!" Pastor Greg does offer an interesting method of letting things go, using an anchor (I won't tell you about it - you'll need to read the book, but I'm planning to try it myself!). :)

I could relate to a lot of what Greg wrote about. For example, have we all not been here:

"I realized that my trivial, self-centered mental chatter about the past and future - like a dark cloud blocking the sun - had kept me from seeing the Glory of God that surrounded me every second of every day."

I found many of Pastor Greg's observations to be rather profound - like how the world tends to program us and many of us live as "semi conscious slaves" as in "The Matrix".

And things which intrigued me such as his reporting that the core values of most Christians do not much differ from those of pagans. (I think this may not be true of Catholics and possibly members of other mainstream churches like Lutheran or Southern Baptist though). He also quoted a statistic about only 4 percent of those who come up for an altar call and "accept the Lord", continuing in the Christian walk. I looked for a cite for this which was not provided and again I wonder which congregations Pastor Greg was referring to. I suspect not Catholic and this possibly illustrates that putting people through a rigorous course in religion before they make the commitment such as our RCIA program, might be a wise idea.

I disagree with Pastor Greg about the earth based Heaven (probably referring to a literal interpretation of Revelations but ignoring many other passages which suggest something different).

Greg also seems in places, a bit anti religion, making a sharp distinction between religion and spiritual walk, a definition which is loved by the world but is erroneous in my POV. Greg writes in a blog:

"the religion of Christendom dies a slow death (praise God!)"

In this, he ignores that Jesus founded a church (REF Matt 16:14FF) with a leader (and I even felt that when I was a Protestant reading the KJV).

Truth is, Greg quotes very little scripture in the book although he does quote Brother Lawrence and mostly the non Catholic, Frank Laubach. I missed there not being more Scripture because in places, things he writes, seem to contradict Biblical teachings.

Would I recommend "Present Perfect"? I believe I would, with the caution that you keep in mind that the writer may be writing from an agnostic POV. That being said, the book is profound and clever and very interesting reading and I personally, found it helpful to me. I think anyone reading it, may discover not only, how to pray better but also how to live life more fully.

You can obtain a copy of "PRESENT PERFECT" on Pastor Greg's website or on Amazon.