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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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?

Review – The Poetry of Wilfred Owen

Poetry of Wilfred Owen
Portrait of Wilfred Owen, found in a collection of his poems from 1920. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came across a poem by Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est, and was so impressed by it that I looked up the author. I found he’d written many poems about the First World War – a war in which sadly he was killed just before its end. That led me to read this collection of his poetry.

To be honest, I found some of his poems confusing or difficult to follow. However, others were powerful presentations of the horrors of war. More than a book of poetry, this is an historical record of the experiences of the young men of England in “The Great War”. It’s a view of the War you don’t find in history books, which tend to focus on campaigns and battles and strategy without much insight into the personal lives and thoughts of those who experienced the War on the ground.

Owen’s poems are sobering reminders that behind the glory and weapons and strategies of war are individuals suffering and dying. One of the most powerful is Disabled about a young man who lies about his age to enlist in order to impress a girl and comes home legless and missing an arm. As with many of his poems, the enthusiasm and bravado of the enlistee is contrasted with the ‘reality check’ he receives when war is experienced. Real war, it turns out, is not what’s portrayed on the enlistment poster.

Another of the best is The Parable Of The Old Man and The Young. Here Owen takes the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac from Genesis chapter 22 and casts Abraham as the “Old Man” of Europe’s leaders and Isaac as the “Young man” of her youth. Given the opportunity to stop the sacrifice of the young with a substitute of, not a ram, but their pride, they refuse to sacrifice their pride and stop the slaughter.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the First World War or poetry in general. I warn you it’s not an uplifting inspirational read but it is also not depressing and somber just to be so. It’s an important historical record and carries within it an important reminder for all of us living this side of the “War to end all wars.”

What Is Your World View? – Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper – Part II

Abraham Kuyper on world view
Abraham Kuyper in his study (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We live in a world that compartmentalizes life. I’m not the same person at work as I am at home, as I am with my friends – or on social media. This is, sadly, often true in the church as well. While the excuse many people give for avoiding church, because it’s full of hypocrites, is just that, an excuse, there is some truth in the accusation.  Our faith is often not in evidence past the threshold of the church on Sunday.

Abraham Kuyper would have had none of that. For him, Christianity impacted all of life. This is the second in a series of posts that looks at his Lectures on Calvinism. You can read the introduction here.

In this first lecture, Kuyper’s point is that belief systems have consequences. It is our actions and reactions Monday – Saturday that show what we really believe, not what we claim on Sunday. We all operate out of what he calls a life-system (we’d probably say world-view) that is grounded in our beliefs. Taken to a cultural level, the life-system adopted by a culture, influences how that culture is governed, views religion, art, science and all of life.

According to Kuyper, life-system is revealed by answers to these three questions:

  1. How does man relate to God?
  2. How does man relate to man?
  3. How does man relate to the world?

Every belief system answers those questions somewhat differently.

Lecture one is an overview of how five major belief systems answer these questions:

  • Paganism
  • Islamism
  • Romanism (Roman Catholicism)
  • Modernism
  • Calvinism

The Struggle

Kuyper saw the struggle of his day being between the life-systems of Christianity and modernism. This modernism sprang from the soil of the French Revolution in 1789 and was fertilized by Darwin some 70 years later – a crop which continues to bear fruit in our day. France after the revolution was the first nation in the western world to adopt a consciously anti-God philosophy. Kuyper, rightly I believe, attributed the tyranny of the French Revolution to this godlessness and he believed that tyranny in general resulted from having an incorrect view of God. He argues that the best counterbalance to tyranny is found in the Christianity of Calvin which he credits with being responsible for the expansion and embrace of liberty and constitutional statesmanship in the western world – something he explores in more depth later in the lectures.

How would you answer Kuyper’s three life-system questions?

Next time: What is paganism and how does Kuyper say it answers the three life-system questions?