Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff by Stephen Altrogge

Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making StuffAre you creative? According to Stephen Altrogge, the answer to that question is always “yes.” Not convinced? Then Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff is for you.

This is one of those rare books that not only entertained and informed me but blessed me. At the time I read it, I needed to be reminded of my role as an image-bearer of God and of the creative potential present in even the most ordinary job.

Altrogge reminded me that each of us is made with a desire to create things – art, literature, an informative spreadsheet, furniture, etc because we are made in God’s image. No matter my profession, it can be a creative outlet used to help those around me and make the world a better place. Not only that but such work glorifies the Creator. He says:

Our motive for doing any sort of creative work, whether that’s writing a novel or creating a Power Point presentation or planting a garden, should be the honor and glory of God.

The overarching message of the book is found in the title, we (Christians especially) should stop finding excuses not to be creative and get to work. Altrogge covers several of the  most common reasons we don’t create such as fear of failure, perfectionism, lack of time and inability to properly process criticism. All of these boil down to putting myself ahead of God and others. My fear of failure means I’m putting what people think of me in line before what God thinks of me. My perfectionism is the outgrowth of my belief that I should be able to do something without having to practice or without any kind of learning curve – and what is that but sinful arrogance? And my perceived lack of time? That is often the result of busyness used to cover laziness. Strong words but words I needed to hear and I suspect that many others do as well.

One of the most helpful things in the book is the idea of making creativity a habit and keeping at it, little by little. He smashes the notion of the inspired artist having an epiphany and going away for a weekend and coming back with the next great American novel. Most creative work he maintains is done by people snatching 15 minutes here or a half-hour there.

Each chapter ends with a question to drive home the point of the chapter and get the reader moving in the right direction.

I highly recommend this book, certainly to those who see themselves as creative types but especially to those who don’t. We’re all capable of creativity, we just need to take the bull by the horns and get on with it, or put another way:

The muse does not descend upon those who wait. The creative muse descends upon those who grab hold of it, put it in a headlock, and force it into submission.

Read this book, then grab the muse and get going!

Islam – Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper – Part IV

Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, Islam
Portrait of Abdul Hamid II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (1876-1909). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Islam made it’s appearance in the seventh century, it’s humble beginnings belied it’s future influence. By Abraham Kuyper’s time, under the Ottoman Empire, Islam was practiced over a large portion of the world including many places, such as Syria and Asia Minor, that had been Christian for hundreds of years earlier in history. Though the Ottoman Empire was in it’s final decades by the time Kuyper delivered these lectures, Islam would live on.

As we continue to look at Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism given at Princeton University in 1898, we’ll now consider his views on Islam and how that belief system answers the three life-system questions.

How Does Man Relate to God?

In paganism we saw that God is indistinguishable from the creation. Kuyper sees Islam as the antithesis of this. In Islam, there is no contact between the creature and God. As Kuyper puts it, in Islam God’s role is to “avoid all commingling with the creature.” This leads to Islamic beliefs about heaven or paradise being a place of personal sensual indulgence and pleasure rather than a place where man is in the presence of God.

How Does Man Relate to Man ?

One need only look around to see that there are many differences among men. According to Kuyper a belief system must explain why that is and their explanation of that translates into how other people are treated. He says of Islam:

Under Islamism, which dreams of its paradise of houries, sensuality usurps public authority, and the woman is the slave of man, even as the kafir is the slave of the Moslim.

In other words, if heaven is a place where sensuality is king and that is achieved by subordinating some people to others, the same attitude will reign on earth. If it’s going to be a woman’s job to cater to my sexual needs for eternity in paradise, why should I see her as my equal here and now?

How Does Man Relate to the World?

Islamism places too low an estimate upon the world, makes sport of it and triumphs over it in reaching after the visionary world of a sensual paradise.

It was a bit difficult to draw out Kuyper’s beliefs about Islam in this work since he deals with it less than any of the other belief systems. However,he later wrote a more extensive work dealing with Islam. If you’d like to explore Kuyper’s teaching on this topic some more, it can be read at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library:

The Mystery of Islam by Abraham Kuyper

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The Secret to Maximizing Shelf Space – Book Triage

Secret to maximizing shelf space - book triage
Van Gogh Museum – Three Books, 1887

If you have unlimited shelf space in your personal library, you can stop reading now. But, if you’re like most of us and reach the end of your shelf space before the end of the book stack, this is for you. There’s one simple approach that’s helped me more than anything else in maximizing shelf space – a book triage system.

Triage was developed on the battlefields of France during the First World War as way of classifying injured soldiers into three categories by urgency of need. The system saved many lives by ensuring those who would most benefit from medical care received it as soon as possible. When organizing books, admittedly a much less serious matter than battlefield injuries, the idea is to categorize them by frequency of use. I use these three categories:

  • Archive Collection
  • General Collection
  • Reference Collection

Archive Collection

These are books I rarely reference. These don’t get precious shelf space. I’m not talking here about collectible, sentimental or rare books that may be displayed but not often used but “regular” books you don’t want to get rid of because they are occasionally helpful. For these books, I store them out of sight (mostly!) somewhere. Just be sure the place you store them is climate and humidity controlled and that they are stacked or packed carefully. Under a bed works well  when space is at a premium but be sure to put them in something to keep them dust free.

Also, don’t forget the old adage “out of sight, out of mind.” It will be very easy to let this collection balloon to an unmanageable number. This really should be books you sometimes need. I know this is blasphemy for some bibliophiles but you don’t have to keep every book forever. Don’t hesitate to pass volumes not fitting this description on to others – a used book shop, your local library, etc. After all, just because you never use the book, doesn’t mean someone else won’t. Make it possible for them to do so.

General Collection

These books are the ones I use frequently. These get the most shelf space.  With the exception of collectible books, the majority of my bookcases are stocked with volumes in this category – things like Bible commentaries, favorite volumes of poetry, Christian apologetics, and history. It also includes books on things I’m learning or need to learn such as teaching skills, foreign languages, writing, etc. These are organize by type, as I covered in a earlier post.

I usually find myself using the books in this collection several times a year. Periodically, it’s good to review your general books to see if any of them need to be moved to the archive or reference collection.

Reference Collection

The title here is a bit deceiving. This is not just reference books in the pure sense, dictionaries and the like (though several in this category will be that), but books that are referenced frequently. If I tend to reach for a book multiple times a week or even a month, I put it in this category. These are kept in a small bookcase within arms length of my desk.

Currently this collection contains:

  • The Oxford Large Print Dictionary (getting older is no fun)
  • Roget’s Thesaurus
  • Two systematic theologies (Grudem’s and Horton’s)
  • How to Read A Book by Mortimer Adler
  • A couple of investing books
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen
  • The One Page Project Manager by Clark A. Campbell
  • Strunk & White’s Elements of Style

A final book in this category is my Bible but rather than being on the reference shelf, it stays on my desk or in my book bag since it is used more places than just my office.

One final thing. These categories are by no means permanent designations for your books. Feel free to move them among the categories at will. The main thing is to be sure you have available to you the books you need when you need them.

What are some ways you organize your books for maximum usefulness?

4 Ways the Advent of Ebooks is Like the Advent of Paperbacks

Have you heard about the new approach to publishing that is transforming the way people read books and is possibly the end of the book as we know it?

We’ll if not, here’s a great post laying it all out for you – as it happened over 70 years ago:

HOW PAPERBACKS TRANSFORMED THE WAY AMERICANS READ

4 Ways Paperbacks are like ebooks

Reading this brings to mind many fascinating parallels between the advent of paperbacks and the advent of ebooks. Among the ones I noticed:

  • Increased affordability. In an era when many people could not afford books, the new paperback industry made them affordable to the masses. In a similar way, ebooks in most cases are cheaper than their print equivalents.
  • Eventual market dominance of the new technology. By 1960, paperbacks were outselling hardbacks. Recently in the UK, it was reported that ebooks outsold print books.
  • The Upscaling of the new technology. Paperbacks started out as simple cheap affairs but soon became more colorful and more sophisticated, just like ebooks.
  • The report of the demise of the earlier technology was greatly exaggerated. Just as hardbacks have survived the paperback onslaught, I believe print books will survive the ebook revolution.

What other similarities are there between the move from hardback to paperback and the move from print books to ebooks?

What are the differences?

Paganism – Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper – Part III

Paganism

What comes to mind when you hear the word “pagan?” Maybe someone in a more primitive time or place prostrating themselves before the an idol? While there is some truth to that – such a person would be a pagan – there’s more to it than that. Paganism is not just idol worship but a world-view that, as we’ll see in a moment, confuses two very important things – God and the creation.

As we saw last time, Kuyper says a life-system is defined by the answers to three questions:

  • How does man relate to God?
  • How does man relate to man?
  • How does man relate to the world?

This time we’ll look at how he says paganism answers those questions.

How does a Pagan relate to God?

In paganism, man worships God in the creature. Any belief system that doesn’t have a concept of the independent existence of God apart from creation is pagan. As Kuyper says, this is true of the lowest animism and the highest Buddhism.

In our day, this can be said of the many belief systems that enshrine nature and ecological concerns above all things. These groups are sometimes called neo-pagan but they are really just a resurgence of the garden variety paganism of centuries past.

This would include any belief system claiming man contains the divine or that man has the ability to become divine or has within himself all that is needed for redemption. This too fails to separate God from His creation and is therefore pagan – because ultimately what is worshiped in such systems is man.

How does a Pagan relate to his fellow man?

If there is no differentiation between the creation and the creator, then men will equate the “good” they see in creation with divinity. So, if I’m healthy, wealthy & wise, it must be because I’m more god-like than those who aren’t so fortunate. According to Kuyper, from this line of thinking comes the caste systems of India & Egypt. Those who are furthest from god-likeness (as evidenced by their low station in life) are inferior and therefore to be subordinated to those who are of higher caste. The more god-like something is, the more right it has to rule over the unwashed masses. Roman emperor worship was in this category. The Third Reich was in this category as well. Much has been written about their fascination with paganism and I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to view their belief in a “master race” which had the power of life and death over their “inferiors” as a consequence of that.

We see this today in the radical environmentalism that weeps over the felling of old growth forests while treating as sacrosanct a woman’s right to kill her unborn child.

How does a Pagan relate to the world?

Kuyper says, paganism has too high an estimate of the world. Paganism says the world is to be worshiped. The planet is not a resource to be used for the betterment of mankind but a god-like living thing to be preserved in it’s pristine state, even if that means human beings have to suffer and die to accomplish that.

Next time: How does Islam answer the three life-system questions?