A Few, and Those Very Deeply

A young apprentice once asked Dallas Willard,

“What books do you recommend reading?”

Dallas, after a long pause (there is always a long pause with Dallas), responded,

“I recommend a few. And to read those very deeply.”

The refreshing counsel of a sage.

We are all immersed in a culture bombarding us with content. Some of it very good content.  Perhaps to truly nourish our souls, it is not only good content we need, but less of it, and that content to be ingested, savored, considered very slowly and deeply.

As an apprentice in the ways of God’s Kingdom, I am a voracious reader and learner. But I also sense one of my Kingdom assignments is to curate and distill soul-centered content from far and wide, from which the hungry few might feast and be strengthened.

Part of that process, I believe, is to regularly recommend a few of the books I’ve dived into, pondered, and been deeply challenged and nourished by.

Particularly in the summer season, I make it a regular spiritual practice to pause more, linger more in a good reading of great books. Here are several for your consideration:

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (unabridged)

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean—the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread—Les Misérables ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it, Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose.

Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier, and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait that resulted is larger than life, epic in scope—an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.”

At 1466 pages, contending with its length is not for the faint of heart. But this brilliant novel is worth its weight in gold, truly unparalleled. The transcendent narrative plunges into the depths of the human soul. To see evil and goodness warring for the souls of men; to glimpse the heart of a good king, of a good father; to watch redemption in the face of personal and unspeakable evil; to be reminded what God is really like—it could save our souls.

A few quotes:

“He did not study God. He was dazzled by Him.”

“In passing we might say success is a hideous thing. Its false similarity to merit deceives men. To the masses, success has almost the same appearance as supremacy. Success, that pretender to talent has a dupe—history.”

“Can human nature be so entirely transformed inside and out? Can man, created good by God, be made wicked by man? Can the soul be completely changed by its destiny, and turn evil when its fate is evil? Can the heart become distorted, contract deformities and incurable infirmities, under the pressure of disproportionate grief, like the spinal column under a low ceiling? Is there not in every human soul—was there not particularly in Jean Valjean’s soul—a primitive spark, a divine element, incorruptible in this world and immortal in the next, which can be developed by goodness, kindles, lit up and made to radiate, and which evil can never entirely extinguish?”

“There are men who work for the extraction of gold; he worked for the extraction of pity. The misery of the universe was his mine. Grief everywhere was only an occasion for good always. Love one another. He declared that to be complete; he desired nothing more, and it was his whole doctrine.”


American Buffalo by Steven Rinella

“Steven Rinella won a lottery permit to hunt for a wild buffalo in the Alaskan wilderness. In a book that combines adventure with a quirky blend of facts and observations about history and the natural world, Rinella takes us across the continent—from the Bering Land Bridge, where scientists search for buffalo bones amid artifacts of the New World’s earliest human inhabitants, to buffalo jumps where Native Americans once ran animals over cliffs by the thousands. A captivating narrative of environmental and historical significance, Rinella’s tale is a fascinating examination of an animal that has haunted the American imagination for centuries.”

A few quotes:

“[We must be clear between when we are] being sold the illusion of something rather than the thing itself.”

“At once [the buffalo] is a symbol of the tenacity of wilderness and the destruction of wilderness; its a symbol of Native American culture and the death of Native American culture; its a symbol of the strength and vitality of America and the pettiness and greed of America; it represents a frontier both forgotten and remembered; it stands for freedom and captivity, extinction and salvation.”


Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Good Kings come in all shapes in sizes. The story of Jayber Crow is an intensely thought-provoking and enticing story that will challenge the soul of a man if he is willing to take the risk.

“Jayber Crow, born in Goforth, Kentucky, orphaned at age ten, began his search as a pre-ministerial student at Pigeonville College. There, freedom met with new burdens and a young man needed more than a mirror to find himself. But the beginning of that finding was a short conversation with Old Grit, his profound professor of New Testament Greek:


You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out—perhaps a little at a time.

And how long is that going to take?

I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.

That could be a long time.

I will tell you a further mystery, he said. It may take longer.

Eventually, after the flood of 1937, Jayber becomes the barber of the small community of Port William, Kentucky. From behind that barber chair he lives out the questions that drove him from seminary and begins to accept the gifts of community that enclose his answers. The chair gives him a perfect perch from which to listen, to talk, and to see, as life spends itself all around. In this novel full of remarkable characters, he tells his story that becomes the story of his town and its transcendent membership.”

A few quotes:

“As I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of the rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here. Well, you can read and see what you think.”

“To love anything good, at any cost, is a bargain.”

“Faith is not necessarily, or not soon, a resting place. Faith puts you out on a wide river in a boat, in the fog, in the dark.”


Adam’s Return by Richard Rohr

Much has been written on masculinity. Yet few other resources have helped to shape me more and to help me identify the core essence of what God is inviting me to shepherd in the initiation of my son into manhood. The Father has used this book to allow hope to rise in seeing how I am being initiated alongside my son, both of us recovering lost treasures and becoming men who, like Paul, can one day say with confidence, “Now that I have been through my initiation, I am ready for anything, anywhere.”

A few quotes:

“In the larger-than-life people I have met, I always find one common denominator; in some sense, they have all died before they have died. At some point, they were led to the edge of their private resources, and that breakdown, which surely felt like dying, led them into a larger life…Instead of avoiding a personal death or raging at it, they went through a death, a death of their old self, their small life, and came out the other side knowing that death could no longer hurt them.”

“For some reason young bull elephants were acting strangely out of character—antisocial and aimlessly violent; they were stomping on VWs, pushing over trees for no reason, and even killing other small animals and baby elephants. Park rangers came in to study the problem and, in the course of their investigation, they discovered that there were no older bull elephants in that area…They brought in some older bull elephants…Things soon turned to normal once the elders started operating as elders.”


The Native Americans An Illustrated History

It has been said that one of the most effective ways to prepare for the future is to become a student of the past. Did you know there were over 2000 languages spoken in America before a white person ever entered the land?

“Dispossessed of their ancestral homelands by successive invasions of Europeans, the first real Americans have long been cloaked in a veil of myth and legend that has hidden from us the true richness and diversity of Indian civilizations and cultures. This newly unfolding legacy represents an unparalleled body of untapped wisdom, which even now provides fresh perspective on modern problems. The astonishing reality of Indian history, presented here for the first time from the perspective of native Americans, will deepen our understanding of what it really means to be an American.”  

Presented in this great work from the perspective of the native American, it contains a vast treasure chest of insight which serves to shape, mature and integrate the masculine soul.

“[Spirituality] pervaded all of life and provided a sense of context. Everything in the world had its spiritual component and every action had to be accompanied by proper ritual. It was not enough to accept a new plant or artifact; one had to know the exact ritual that applied to its special characteristics in order to be able to use it effectively… The ritually established connections of crops to the larger cosmos of seasonal cycles changed their way of life, but it was a [spiritual] rather than agricultural development.”


Essentialism by Greg McKeown

“The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.  It is not  a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter…

Essentialism is not one more thing – it’s a whole new way of doing everything. A must-read for any leader, manager, or individual who wants to do less, but better, and declutter and organize their own their lives, Essentialism is a movement whose time has come.

A few quotes:

“Basic value proposition of Essentialism – Only when you give yourself permission to stop doing it all, stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution toward the things that really matter.”

“The way of the essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better.”

 


 

Enjoy…

For earlier recommendations go to the Books section in Dig Deeper

 

 

#031: 100 Miles with Dave Eitemiller [Podcast]

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.
John Muir


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Piecing together a string of single-track trails that meander through a dry, rocky, cactus-strewn landscape, it’s possible to make a 48-mile continuous trek across Zion National Park.

For most people, this trek would be one of the epic adventures of their lives; if you’re Dave Eitemiller, you count it as a solid training workout for yet another 100-mile adventure race.

Nearing the sixth decade of his life with a frontiersman’s heart akin to the likes of Lewis and Clark, Dave is partnering with God in the corners of the globe to father leaders in the Kingdom.

With experiences spanning corporate executive roles in Shanghai to adventures with fly rod and skis in the backcountry of the West, Dave’s the kind of man with whom it’s good to share a campfire.

I had the privilege of hosting a conversation with him prior to his recent venture into the wild of Zion National Park. Join us as we savor a conversation sure to beckon each of us forward along the frontier of the masculine journey in unique and collective ways.


To connect with fathers in the Kingdom, consider applying for a future Become Good Soil Intensive. And for all of us, let this podcast be a reminder of this Kingdom reality: We are each invited to become what we did not have.

 

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#030: Coming to the Center (The Marriage Podcast Series – Part Four) [podcast]

“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.”Victor Hugo, Les Misérables


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Kelly and Phil are getting a divorce.

The email from a mutual friend sharing the news hit me like a punch in the stomach.

Brandon and his dad are in deep contention. It’s the kind of painful, two-sided misunderstanding that could finally sever the strained relationship.

Tragic stories of ruptured relationships continue to stream into my world, and I’m sure into yours as well. My heart never builds resiliency. Rather, it seems to break even more with every fresh story.

But increasing ever more are the stories of restoration.

Resolution.

Resolve.

And many, through the miracle of validation—a practice of coming to the center of the soul of another—through which God’s life seems to flood in like morning sun.

This practice of seeking experiential heart knowledge of another for her or his own sake is perhaps one of the most courageous and loving acts a spouse, a friend, a sibling, or a parent can ever take.

I will go as far as to say that the breakthroughs in our marriage over the past 16 years have often been directly proportional to the process that has begun with my capacity to come to the center of the present reality of my wife’s soul. And to offer her the same access to mine in crazy, risky love.

In Renovation of the Heart, Dallas suggests,

The hidden dimension of each human life is not visible to others, nor is it fully graspable even by ourselves. We usually know very little about what moves in our own soul, the deepest level of our life, or what is driving it. Our ‘within’ is astonishingly complex and subtle.

And within this complex, hidden dimension is the power and possibility of love.

The practice of coming to the center of another involves putting aside—for a time—my own pain, my need, my presumption, and my agenda in order to know and enter into the experience of the hidden dimension of another for his or her own sake. It is a participation in the Life of Christ, who does unendingly what we intend to do for a moment: enter into the internal experience of another.

That is the space of transformation.

Join Cherie and me as we head back into deep waters.

Let’s become the kind of people—the kind of marriages—where we can cause the world to believe, as Paul says, though much is not as it should be, the Kingdom of God is growing. The Message bears fruit and gets larger and stronger, in us and through us. (Phil. 2:15, Col. 1:5-8)

This is the fourth of a marriage podcast series. If you haven’t heard the first three, I’d encourage you to start at the beginning.

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She Has My Delight

It all started with one shimmering pair of pink cowgirl boots.

My then two-year-old princess, clothed in her leotard, would tug them on with a grin, then twirl with delight. And melt this daddy-heart of mine.

A tradition began, inspired by a row of cowgirl boots I’d seen in the home of a mentor years before. Each Valentine’s Day, my Abigail and I now head out on a date for her to select a new pair of cowgirl boots for the year. This last trip, I shared with her my request that when the day comes for her to leave our nest, she is welcome to take with her all the pairs that still fit. But the ones she has outgrown—those she’ll leave for me so that I might savor the years long passed, treasuring our memories of daddy and daughter in my heart. To relish with both ache and longing the reminder C.S. Lewis offers to us parents:

“Children are not a distraction from work. They are the most important work.”

Today there are already more outgrown cowgirl boots on the shelf than my heart can readily bear.

As a wise elder once said,

The days are long, but the years are short.

Never has a truer word been spoken.

It’s been said we only become the fathers we long to be by fathering. In the wise words of Dan Allender, it’s children, after all, who raise parents.

I’m not yet the father I long to be. But I am the father she has today. And I choose to be here.

On this day, I still have her. She is nearly 10, and radiant. Brimming with life, beauty, wonder, questions, and emerging shoots of wisdom set to burst forth.

Several months ago, Abigail confided in Cherie that she wanted a “promise ring.” We are still not sure whence the inspiration came to her. Though I too had a ring in mind, my original intention was for this day to wait a few years. But I have learned too slowly,

“Many are the plans in the heart of a man. But is is the purposes of God that prevail.” Proverbs 19:21

To be a student of her heart is one of the great invitations and sacred trusts of my life, and the life of every dad.

Her heart is now asking deeper questions, wondering deeper things about the heart of her dad and the heart of her Father in Heaven. So this day has come upon me. And I choose again to roll the dice of parenting and venture along the frontier of mystery and risk. Perhaps, in the words of Roosevelt, I may fail as I often do—but at least I will fail by daring greatly.

Father, come.

What is the promise this ring is intended by Heaven to signify? I have heard of girls who are given a “purity ring” when they come of age. A ring that seems to carry a sense of their pledge to keep themselves sexually pure until they are married.

But that is not the ring I have in mind for Abigail.

The ring that I want to bestow upon her is not an effort to make her promise something to me. Rather, I want to give her a ring that would communicate my promise to her. What am I promising? After prayer and inquiring of my wife’s wisdom born of the decades, I sensed this was my promise:

I choose to never, ever revoke my delight in her.

No matter what. I will not conditionally wield my delight in an effort to conform her choices to my will. No, I offer her my delight and extend to her a sacred place in my heart without condition. I promise that my favor and delight will always be hers.

The day came for me to present this ring to her. And as I looked into her not-yet-10-year-old eyes, I glimpsed a flash of future moments reflecting back to me. I felt warm tears on my face. Then, with the rush of whitewater rapids, the scenes cascaded through my imagination:

The first was her driving away in a car with a young man I barely knew, heading off to a school dance.

The next was an aisle at a wedding. Her wedding…and an aisle the end of which I never wanted to come.

Then I saw her at my bedside. I was an old man. She was radiant, the splendor of her maturity altogether lovely, offering me care beyond words.

I was nearly overwhelmed by the emotion of these unexpected glimpses around the bend of time. I did everything to come back to the present moment. Storing these up as treasures in my heart, I endeavored to simply offer the portion that was for this moment on this day.

Abigail, this ring is the symbol of my promise and devotion.

You are the delight of my heart,

and I promise that I will never withdraw my delight from you.

Nothing you do or don’t do,

nothing you say or don’t say

will ever justify me withdrawing my delight from you

or closing my heart to you.

With this ring, I give you the promise of my delight.

You are the delight of your father’s heart.

And with this ring, I give you permission and invitation.

I invite you to tell me if you ever experience me withdrawing my delight.

I promise to listen to you and to respond.

It is my hope that God will one day provide a husband for you who will nourish and cultivate your feminine heart in all its depth and wonder.

Yet today this is my promise:

With my sword and my strength,

I am with you to the very end.

I will always protect and always provide.

You are safe.

You are loved.

You are known.

And you will never be alone.

You are the delight of your daddy’s heart.

Though my flesh and my heart at times will fail,

Our Father will always be the strength of our hearts and our portion forever.

May this ring be to you a symbol of my enduring delight and the place you have in my heart that is yours and yours alone.

And with it, I pledge to always point you to our Father, who is the Father of us all.

May you experience Him chasing after you.

He has you, Abigail.

Your soul will always be safe in Him.

Boots and Ring-4

Hours later, I came into the house from a project in the garage to find her at her art table, creating another piece of beauty. I caught a sparkle from her ring in the afternoon light. Its shimmer compelled me upstairs to her childhood room to look at her collection of outgrown boots yet again.

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I felt the paradox of grief of years lost and the hope of what time I do have. I consecrated my life to God again, quietly and simply, as a daddy. And I asked Him to lead me, as if He were me, living my life. Asked His life to flow into me and through me to my daughter’s heart.

On this day and in this decade, I ask you, Father, would you guide me in bringing Your heart as Father to the heart of my little girl?

Father, I confess how often I blow it as a dad.  Father, I ask that where I lack maturity I might excel in affection and pursuit of her heart. I am deeply in need of growing as a student of her heart. Cultivate in me an increasing capacity to see her as You see her, to delight in her. Father, apprentice me to become the kind of father who is no longer capable of withdrawing my delight.

So that she might receive time and time again the miracle of validation—the gift of being known and received for who she truly is.

So that through me she might know You as Father, and in every circumstance, find rest and restoration for her vast and ever-expanding feminine soul.

Through my pursuit and my delight, by day and by decade, may her heart grow to know,

“There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring to a flourishing finish on the very day God appears again in his fullness…” (Philippians 1:6 MSG)

Abigail, may you and every daughter be able to say, from the depths of your being, far deeper than words,

I am the daughter of a King.

My Father is with me

And goes before me.

I will not fear.

Because

I am His.

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We are not yet who we will one day become. Yet we are the fathers they have today.

What will you do to communicate, to model your unconditional delight in your daughter?

What will you do to become the kind of father in a decade who offers even deeper delight to your daughter?


Justin – A special thanks to you for making these pictures possible. You capture soul with your camera and work in the unseen spaces in the lives of so many to bring light into darkness and to give voice to the sacred in all things. Thanks for your strength. It’s changing the world…

#029: Plank and Speck Wrap Up (The Marriage Series – Part Three) [Podcast]

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The offer is Life.

Yet that abundant life is often found in the least likely of places.

What is the most effective path toward the much looked-for restoration in the heart of your spouse?

Join Cherie and me in this second half of a conversation in which we reflect on the particular elements of Reality as Jesus reveals what can bring more life to our marriages than we ever thought possible.

Jesus, we choose to pause.

Jesus, we open the gate of our soul and trust that You are reliable and fully capable of providing a way where there is no way.

In this episode we offer some reflection questions for deep consideration. Take the time to stay with God in those questions until you are led into the more He is making available.

With deep anticipation,

Cherie and Morgan

Note: If you haven’t listened to the first portion of this conversation on The Plank and the Speck, you’ll want to start here first.

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#028: Plank and Speck (The Marriage Series – Part Two) [Podcast]

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Jesus and His words… are essentially subversive of the established arrangements and ways of thinking. That is clear from the way they first entered the world, their initial effects, and how they are preserved in the New Testament writings and live on in people. He himself described his words as “spirit and life” (John 6:63). They invade our “real” world with a reality even more real than it is.

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

Where are Jesus and His words subverting your established arrangements and ways of thinking? How are His words and way invading your “real” world with a reality more real than it is?

A mentor encouraged Cherie and me to immerse ourselves in the four Gospels, taking our places as Jesus’ apprentices, attentive to what He said and taught. We are discovering much treasure, including Jesus’ teaching on what is wonderfully Well in the Reality of the Trinity; and we are discovering much challenge, including sobering insight into what is still unwell within and between us, where is it not “on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Yet even in the revelation of what is unwell, Jesus’ words insist on the Good News that the Kingdom is open to us right here and now, even in these places.

Particularly, Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7 on “the plank and the speck” has revealed something unwell in our marriage and illuminated a way back into the joyous Kingdom-Among-Us.

Join Cherie and me in this second episode of conversations reflecting on the particular elements of Reality as Jesus reveals that are becoming the new and reliable foundation for the house of our marriage.

Jesus, we give You permission to subvert us. Open our eyes, subversive Christ.

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