16 November 2017

Book Review: Love Big. Be Well.

If it weren't for the high praise offered by John Blase, author of The Jubilee, one of my favorite collections of poetry, I am not sure I would have happened upon this remarkable book. Love Big Be Well (2017) by Winn Collier is such a warm and welcome gift. About two-thirds of the way through it, I wrote inside the front cover, "this whole book is a benediction."

Love Big Be Well offers a unique premise. A disenchanted man, Jonas McAnn, responds to a handwritten letter from a pastoral search committee from Granby Presbyterian Church, ultimately becoming this small town church's pastor. The book is a collection of pastoral letters, which routinely conclude with "Love Big. Be Well. Jonas."

In these letters, Jonas addresses several aspects of the Christian life, identifying what he sees as marks of true faith and those that seem to be counterfeits of what Jesus actually said with a raw honesty. One of the advantages of using a fictional story like this is the ability to describe one's convictions without seeming self-important.

Collier also accomplished what I think was an impressive rhetorical feat: I came to care deeply about the members of the church, and especially Don, through the pastor's descriptions in his letters. Fictional letters about fictional characters, and yet I was moved.

Several times, I found myself longing to read more about Port William, Kentucky, Wendell Berry's fictional small town because in many ways, Collier's book was reminiscent of Berry.

I certainly see why John Blase endorsed this book. And Eugene Peterson. I am happy to add my unknown name to that list. I will be reading this book again, and likely purchasing copies for others, because I won't want to share mine.

14 November 2017

Book Review: Recapturing the Wonder

I picked up Mike Cosper's Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World (2017) from the Intervarsity Press table at the AACC world convention along with a few other books. I tucked it in my briefcase and when I got home, shelved it. Thankfully, I didn't forget it was there because this book is excellent.

I found myself immediately engaged in this book. He writes of a modern faith that has somehow lost its sense of mystery and wonder, a supernatural faith stripped of the "super" and thus becoming mundane. He observes this trend and tells his readers "open your eyes!" I have been trying to communicate this message to fellow believers, and I don't know if the message ever lands. Often, I suspect I am regarded as either a religious nutjob, or simply as kooky.  Honestly, I'm okay with those characterizations, but once one has tasted supernatural wonder, he wants to invite others to the same. When one recognizes that God's kingdom is so much larger and more glorious than most people ever imagine, he wants to shout, "come and see! come and see!" 

I cannot commend this book strongly enough. If you find your faith boring, mundane, or disenchanted, please get this book and read it.  I don't think you'll regret it. The last page and a half of the book proper (149-150) are alone worth its price.

21 October 2017

Ten Statements about emotion

Ten statements about emotion that one will have difficulty supporting biblically:
1) Emotions are a sign of weakness. 
2) Life would be better if we learned to suppress our emotion.
3) One cannot be logical and emotional at the same time. 
4) People who express emotion are not thinking clearly. 
5) Emotions are unnecessary.
6) Emotions are dangerous.
7) Just like Spock, Jesus was unemotional.
8) God the Father is unemotional.
9) In the process of sanctification, we will become less emotionally expressive.
10) Church is not the place for emotion.

Soil of the Divine

In late 2016, I began working on a book of poetry based upon the Psalms. Each weekday morning, I would read one of the Psalms, meditate upon it, and see what stirred in my heart, with the goal of writing a poem inspired by each Psalm. Some mornings, words flowed easily; on others, I felt blocked, but each day, I wrote. After finishing the draft, I spent a few months editing and tweaking the poems. Some friends graciously agreed to offer editorial assistance as I neared the end (thank you Briana and Cindy!). I formatted the interior, designed the cover, and ultimately sent it on to publication.

Earlier in the week, I received my first case of books. They arrived while I was meeting with 7/8 of my life group. I gathered my children to the basement and subjected them to the grand unveiling. I am grateful they humored me. I sent copies along to a few people, but remained rather tight-lipped. I wanted my mom and my aunt Sandy to see it before I went public with it. They both have their copies, so I am glad to be able to tell you all about it.

I do hope you will consider reading it. Even if poetry "isn't your thing," my hope is that you might be edified by it. It's available on both Kindle and in paperback (if you know me, you are aware of my preference). You can purchase it directly through the CreateSpace e-store or Amazon.

If you are looking for Christmas gifts for everyone you know, I would also be happy to recommend it. 😊

*At times, I will post some of my favorite poems at my new blog, jasonkanz.com

11 October 2017

Altruism, Neuroscience, and Christian Psychology

I was contacted by a magazine editor to offer thoughts on an article from the Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences a few years ago. I ended up writing a treatise. 

I will try to offer several thoughts, that I hope will be cogent.  The PNAS study is an interesting one. Neuroscience, as you no doubt know, has advanced considerably over the last several years. This seems especially true following the advent of functional neuroimaging, such as fMRI, which allows researchers to get a glimpse of what is happening in a functioning brain. This fMRI research has progressed from understanding motor functioning (e.g., finger tapping) to cognitive tasks (e.g., memory) and now to issues of relationship and morality. Researchers continually push the edge in terms of figuring out how to administer tasks inside the scanner  to try to understand what is going on in the brain. This emotion recognition paradigm is a fascinating one. It is unsurprising that the amygdala shows increased responsiveness in those who are altruistic; the amygdala is one of the brain structures most closely associated with emotional expression, but also emotional memory. So, from a neuropsychological perspective, these results confirm what one might predict. 

As a Christian neuropsychologist, the question of biological markers and altruism is an important one to consider. As you might imagine, for a non-theistic materialist, the assumption might be that the larger amygdala causes increased altruism, but what if the direction is reversed? What if those who exhibit consistently other-centered behaviors develop improved amygdala function? I shared with someone the other day that I believe Jesus, in his humanity, had the most exquisitely integrated brain of any person ever; there was no malfunction, there was no disintegration. His brain functioned the way all of our brains should function. But the New Testament also calls each of us to wholeness. I am particularly fond of John 13 to 17 where Jesus practically demonstrates other centered love and tells us to love one another like he loved us. Then in his prayer, he prayed that “they would be one as he and the Father were one.” Jesus was highly altruistic, the perfect picture of wholeness, and calls us to relational integration or what my friend Larry Crabb might call “relational holiness.” Neuroscientists are increasingly recognizing the brain as not just as the organ to make our bodies move and think, but that it is a relational organ. So when Jesus tells us to love one another like he loves, or when Paul tells us to put on the new self, we are being called into a life not only of greater other centeredness and greater love, but I would argue, deeper neurological integration. 

In terms of the reconciling power of God’s grace and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, God absolutely has the ability to change our hearts, but in so doing, he also equips us for greater neuropsychological health and wholeness. Unfortunately, it is all too common that Christians don’t live into that reality and we continue to live disintegrated.


I might also anticipate another question: why is it then that non-believers might be more altruistic, kind, charitable, etc. than non-believers. I would offer a couple of thoughts: first, those one time snapshots fail to account for one’s progressive sanctification. John Newton said once, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” God’s ongoing grace has a role in our sanctification, which I believe includes other-centeredness. The second observation I would offer is that God’s common grace allows remarkable may allow for compassion even amongst non-believers. The question that falls to us as believers, though, is what do I do with the gift that I have been given? Will I choose to live toward wholeness in Christ or not? 

10 October 2017

Book Review: Immeasurable

A good friend of mine has often spoken fondly of Skye Jethani, though until now, I have not taken the opportunity to read anything he has written. When I saw Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc. (Moody, 2017) I decided to give it a go. Jethani does his readers a welcome service by providing a number of essays addressing the modern church, helping to reveal blind spots and suggesting ways forward. For example, he offered push back on the celebrity church culture, viewing church as transactional rather than relational, and, ironically, reading the latest Christian books.  I especially liked his chapter, Illumination, in which he explored the differences between preaching and teaching. Another friend and I have been talking about the differences between these two things recently and after reading this chapter, I am going to work hard to call what I do on Sunday mornings preaching rather than teaching. I am there to proclaim.

On the whole, this is a really good book full of welcome insight. The chapters vary considerably in length which tripped me up perhaps more than it should, but whether two pages or a dozen, each section contains something beneficial to ministers of the gospel.

09 October 2017

jasonkanz.com

I have opened up a new site over at jasonkanz.com  I plan to use that blog to share original creations, especially around the ideas of goodness, truth, and beauty.  Please consider following that blog if you are interested in my art, poetry, photoraphy, or essays.

Thank you.

04 October 2017

Poem: Rustling Leaves

So many rustling leaves
brittle and devoid of life.
They congregate in piles 
not long for the earth. 

Their burial clothes--
crimson, yellow, and burnt umber--
are beautiful
but retain no power for life. 

It is those leaves
who remain connected
to the Branch
in whom life dwells
and who, in return
breathe life into the world. 

30 September 2017

Poem: Pick the Flowers

In a world of LOLs and LMAOs
of baes and YOLOs,
we have not lost our vocabulary,
we have bastardized it.
Each of us
has rolling fields from which
we choose our words.
Though some fields
may be larger than others,
all contain verbal blossoms
ready to unfold in beauty
and bless.
Yet we choose weeds--
thorns and thistles--
who not only inhibit goodness
but actively corrupt it.
In a world
of so many weeds
pick the flowers.

26 September 2017

Kindness, Not Controversy

Cease to do evil
learn to do good
seek justice
correct oppression.
Isaiah 1:16-17

The world is filled with so much hate,
     anger is not what makes us great.
We rant and rave, we disagree,
     forgetting God who sets us free.
We look for ways to criticize,
     echo chambers providing lies.
The New York Times or news from Fox,
     we all live in a slanted box.
Closing our mouths, opening ears,
     a great idea unrealized here.
But there is too much damnable pride,
     hubris abounds, humility's died.
God hides His eyes from those who oppress,
     religious words fail to impress.
Cease to do evil, learn to do right,
     seek after justice, for people denied.
Here's an idea: get off your phone,
     battling strangers in angry tones
will never amount to culture's improvement
     it only divides with negative movement.
Look to your neighbor, say "tell me your story,"
     seek understanding, all for God's glory.
You may disagree, you might even be right;
     but harming another, is not worth the fight.
Also consider, you could be wrong;
     your skewed perspective, false all along.
God honors those who live with mercy,
     pursue kindness and love, not controversy.