Book Review: We Are the Beloved (Author: Ken Blanchard).

For years I never liked gift books or coffee table books. They were such small or large sizes and seemed like cheap and sentimental ways to say “I care.” More recently I’ve changed my tune…well, I’m still not huge on coffee table books, but the gift books – those small, short reads – I’m giving them a chance. Why? I won’t bore you here, but if you want, you can read the footnote.1I’ve come to the conclusion that there is at least two types of non-fiction reading which the individual can undertake – both of which is useful to the rounded development of the individual. There is a lot of cross-over between the two and I believe one should be able to pull from each type some of the other, but lets not quibble over semantics. The first type is the knowledge acquisition book. This tells us information which helps us. It may be a history book, a book on leadership, a science textbook, or any number of other works…but its primary goal is to provide us with information we can use to change our lives. The second type is the experiential book. These books provide us with information, by and large, we already know but oftentimes fail to implement. Sure, I know I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff – but I do. Sure, I know God loves me – but I don’t act like it, and so on. These books primarily carry us through the experience of truth, providing basic restatements of fundamental truths.

One of these little gift books is We Are the Beloved: A Spiritual Journey by Ken Blanchard. Blanchard is best known for co-authoring the successful business management book The One Minute Manager and its younger siblings. In We Are the Beloved we find a mixture of elements – auto-biography, leadership, management, and spiritual insights, and a good list of names and books Blanchard has found particularly influential in his life.

This books was published in 1994 – so it is quite old. At the time Blanchard had been a Christian for “only ten years” – but from what I’ve seen he continues as a Christian till this day and continues to write books on leadership, management, and spirituality.

This volume isn’t amazing. On a ten point scale I might give it a 6 or 7 – but it is an experiential book, not a knowledge acquisition book…and we generally need a large supply of these volumes (at least I do) so that I can constantly be reminded of basic truths…So this isn’t the first book I recommend you go out and buy, but it also isn’t a bad read.

I found the writing style a bit dry and he told me a bit more about various minutiae than I cared to know, but it still was encouraging and challenging to me. Blanchard’s honesty about his intellectual and volitional struggles in becoming and then living as a Christian will ring a tone – especially for those who work a normal work-a-day life.

Why I Talk About My Mental Health Publicly.

Darkness Explained…

Tropical Depression One-C
A tropical depression, somewhat similar in feeling to our internal emotions at times. Image via Wikipedia

I speak and post on a somewhat regular basis about my mental health in public forums. On Dec. 15th I wrote a status update on Facebook, “see it now with its foul stench, oozing black skin, rapacious talons. depression, a dark and vicious wraith, pulls down upon my soul…”

I don’t make these sort of dark and pained posts a daily habit, but you will see them occasionally as my status updates, read blurbs about them in my emails, and even hear me speak of them from the pulpit on a Sunday morning.

I’d like to take a few moments to explain why I have chosen to share these struggles so publicly…

It Isn’t Easy…

It isn’t because it is easier to share my struggles. In fact, the older I grow and the more responsibilities I assume – at work, at church, in the community – the less I want to be open about my struggles with others. I know there are people who judge me weak for my struggles – and that when I share them they question my ability to work or to lead. It would be easier to just clam up and pretend I wasn’t struggling – to keep my struggles silent.

For the Weak…

Yet I recognize that there are many who are weak and struggling who need permission to acknowledge their own weakness.1I call these weak b/c I am weak. I would suggest we are all weak…and if we don’t recognize it, perhaps we have some self-reflection to do. 🙂 There are many with deep inner turmoils who feel hopeless, lost, isolated, and judged…and unless someone stands up and says, “I will not be ruled by anyone’s  judgments of my spirituality and ability” they will remain quiet.2At the same time, I do not want to portray myself as some hero. I know the difference it made in my life that others spoke openly about their struggles – and so I imitate them. On the other hand, I know also that revelation of my own struggles sometimes secure me understanding and wiggle room that would not be given if I simply kept these struggles internalized. Admitting our weakness provides a certain freedom to fail which can become pathological. I struggle to maintain a balance, to share my weakness for the right reasons, and to recognize when I have walked down the wrong path.

For the Judgmental…

At the same time, I also know that many of those who bring the harshest judgments and incur the most guilt and disdain upon the weak and suffering are those who are most weak and suffering themselves. Oftentimes they are not even cognizant of their own weakness. Everyone else can see the flaws in their character, the weaknesses in their constitution – but they themselves are blinded, unwilling to see weakness within, choosing to highlight that which is without.3And if you agree with me on this statement, then you must examine your own heart – as I am examining mine – for the truth is as we say these truth we may fall into the same hypocrisy and judgment that we disdain in others.

So, it is necessary to stand against them. Not against them, but against this idea – this floating conception which we all partake in, this ballroom masquerade4Thank you Thousand Foot Krutch. We must stop pretending we are superhuman and instead acknowledge and wrestle with our humanity.

In the Moment…

At times I have thought about moving to a past tense form of sharing. It is true I have struggled with x, y, and z in the past and I can share with you my victory over them…but this is only a half-truth. Surely, I have learned much about conquering and resisting and coping with my weaknesses over the years and I have had many victories and many defeats.

Yet, the truth is, I still struggle. Some days are good and some days are bad. Sure, I can act as if everything is okay and you won’t know. Us OCD folks are renowned for that – our ability to perform rituals for hours each day, to suffer extreme internal mental anguish, and yet to go on functioning as if life is normal – with no one knowing any better.

I was not weak in the past – I am weak now. So, I continue to share that I am weak now…and I assume when you hear me preach you know that I speak the truth as best as I am able while recognizing that every truth I am also wrestling to make true in my own life.

[Note: I have written a second page as well which contains a few caveats and delves into some important miscellany. Look below the footnotes below for the link to page 2.]

Movie Review: 9 (Tim Burton).

Introduction

9 is a new animated film based upon an Academy Award nominated short of the same name. The film attracts attention for a intriguing preview, an all-star cast, and (perhaps most importantly) the attachment of Tim Burton’s name to the film (as a producer). But don’t expect your normal animated tale – not even your normal abnormal tale from Tim Burton (ala The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride).

For Children?

While the merits of allowing children to watch Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas or The Corpse Bride may be questionable at best, 9 seems to push far beyond the macabre and dark humor of these films. We should have known when the MPAA chose to rate 9 PG-13 while Nightmare and Corpse had both received only PG ratings.

The entire premise of 9 is dark – a post-apocalyptic world in which humanity has been utterly destroyed and only stitchpunk dolls imbued with a soul survive. The stitchpunk dolls stumbling over the dead bodies of humans – soldiers, women, and children – is disturbing enough but the real scares are reserved for the horrifying mechanical monstrosities the stitchpunk dolls must face.

But Is It Good?

In spite of Tim Burton’s strangeness many thoroughly enjoy his films – and his repeated pairing with Johnny Depp – but this film is so different from Burton films that one has to consider it on its own merits. It should not be considered a Burton film (and it is not, though he participated Acker is the main brains).

The film is beautifully rendered (even the dark and morbid aspects are done with artistic finesse). One is drawn into the world and with a little imagination the film world takes on a reality all its own. That said, after twenty minutes I was fidgeting and wishing, “When will this film end?” The storyline consists almost entirely of stitchpunks fighting monsters – defeating or semi-defeating monsters – and then repeating the cycle. The fight scenes are amazingly rendered, the explosions and conflicts engrossing – but while the enemies vary it feels somewhat like an old-fashioned nintendo video game in which the levels repeat over and over with little variation.

Further, the film is painful to watch – not because of the elimination of humanity but because of the constant and growing suffering of the stitchpunks. While one never gets extremely attached to the stitchpunks the minute rendering of the terror of the suffering and the mourning of those left behind is agonizing. At times I wondered, “Will this film end with defeat?” For most of the film its defeat piled upon defeat. Hope is smashed repeatedly and the world draws ever closer to oblivion. Each chance at victory is spoiled and with it another character is heart wrenchingly destroyed.

But Does It Teach Us?

A film can be painful and boring and yet still have a deeply powerful message. Unfortunately, while 9 had great potential to engage us on important cultural and spiritual topics – it falls flat. It tackles a number of interesting ideas but with such brevity and amidst so many distractions that the opportunity for discussion is nearly lost. Here are a few implications I drew from the film (I am not indicating agreement with this ideas – personally I hold a Protestant Christian worldview):

  • The stitchpunks creation/existence correlates with human creation. In this sense, we are god and god ceased to exist as a separate entity in order to create us.
  • god was/is not a greater intelligence but rather another intelligence. The act of creation was an act of survival rather than an act of infinite wisdom and grace.
  • 1 represents institutional religion/political order. These are safe but prevent us from experiencing progress.
  • 9 is a post-modern revolutionary who attempts to move humanity forward. 9’s attempts result in great suffering for mankind. While revolutionary and de-construction may result in gradual advancement, the costs are extremely high.
  • A dystopian view of technological/scientific advancement. Our advancements will one day destroy us.
  • At the same time, an endorsement of radical innovation and rebellion (as 9 epitomizes), yet seemingly with less of a focus on technological/scientific advancement.
  • The death of stitchpunks and the release of their souls is the food to renew the world, to start the evolutionary process again from the beginning.

Concluding Remarks:

9 is well-done artistically and may be viewed on these merits with enjoyment. Those looking for deep, thought provoking storylines and a enjoyable viewing will be disappointed. The worldview presented by the movie – or the extrapolations which one may carry from it – will be disconcerting to many audiences. The film should be watched with a contemplative eye that understands the worldview presented and adequately responds to the truths and untruths presented. The film is certainly not for children. It is not unnecessarily gory, but it is continually suspenseful, frightening in its tension, and dark in its portrayal of death and life.