All posts by Paul Nowak

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

What are You Afraid of?

As we start another week, what is it that you are afraid of? What is keeping you from doing the miraculous, the amazing, the incredible for the Kingdom of God?

Peter could step out of the boat and take a few steps, until he became fearful – even when Our Lord was right there in his presence doing the impossible!

There are always scary stories on the news. There will always be uncertainty and plans gone awry, especially on Mondays. There are always waves, big and small.

But what you fear is what you worship. When you hesitate, catch yourself and ask, “Am I afraid of falling short of what Christ called me to do, or am I more afraid of _______?” If the answer is ever the latter, do everything you can to switch your focus to your King!

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

The Purpose of Suffering in the Eternal Revolution

There are times when we go through deserts of life – the times when we feel that we have been cast adrift with no divine wind in our sails. There are other times when we suffer acute pain: mental, physical, or emotional anguish of a particular kind or from a particular source. Both of these periods in our lives are suffering, and I firmly believe there is a purpose to suffering.

There is meaning in suffering, but that is not what I am concerned with in this post. The meaning of suffering is more metaphysical, which in many cases, and for most people, is not the type of thing you have the mental energy to do while enduring suffering. Purpose speaks to a practical reason or explanation of why this, why now. Recognizing a purpose to your suffering can get you through each day, and then in looking back on a period of suffering you may find the meaning.

We endure suffering in this life to bring us closer to God. Pain curbs the dangers of pride. Feeling alone and powerless turns us back to the Powerful One who said He would not leave us. Pain and suffering remind us that we are not at home in this world. They make us focus on the promise of a life free from the ordeals we experience here and now. Suffering should bring us to hope.

We are not always hopeful when we are called to endure. Long periods of crisis, or painful chronic disorders can bring us to despair and envy instead of leading us away from pride. This happens especially when we thing that someone or something has the answer to “solve” our problem. Worst of all, we might think that there is something we can do to fix our situation, our aliment, our pain. What vice is it that makes us think we can solve our own problems? Pride. The very thing that suffering can help us conquer can be used by the enemy to make our spiritual condition worse.

Pain and suffering are weapons, but they are not just weapons of the enemy. They can be used against us, crushing us into despair, or they can be powerful weapons in our hands, guided by God, to shape us into better practitioners of His will, not ours.

The purpose of suffering is to test and to purify us. It is not a punishment, though it can be a correction. We all suffer, each to a degree that God knows we can endure if we rely on Him. Certainly, some suffer so that they might be miraculously healed for His glory and as a witness of His power. But the majority, most of us, are being called to endure the trials and hurt so that we might be refined, formed, and directed to give glory to God.

Will you be beaten by the hardships in your life, or will you, with the strength of God,  wield them as one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal of faith?

 

 

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

We Don’t Teach Children Justice

Think about this for a moment:

Do we really teach children – with the exception of the mine phase – what justice is? I mean, do we have to teach them about fairness?

With my own children, and the children I encounter is schools and other community functions, I hear adults and myself having to say “life’s not fair.” You hear that a great deal more of that speech than you hear people teaching young people that life ought to be fair, things ought to be divided equally, or people’s needs ought to be met.

We don’t teach youth justice, we teach them to endure injustice and inequality in and unfair world. Sometimes, without intending to, we teach them injustice, prejudice, and bigotry.

But the ideal of justice is apparent to us from a young age. The ideal exists in the human mind, even as our experiences as we grow older compound more and more reasons why it doesn’t, won’t, and can’t exist in our world.

That seems to reinforce the idea that the Kingdom of Heaven is a place where this ideal of justice must be realized. It also sheds some light on the fact that Jesus said we cannot enter the Kingdom unless we become like a little child.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

We Don’t Need Another Manifesto

As Christians, we know what we believe. It is expressed concisely in the Apostle’s Creed or more completely in the Bible itself.

We have a vision. It is that of the Kingdom of Heaven, of Eden and existence beyond the Judgement, where the ideals we desire, justice, truth, and charity are perfectly expressed.

We have a mission. The great commission at the end of the book of Matthew still applies: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

With all these things, why do we falter? Why do Christians everywhere seem lukewarm, compromising, and complacent?

We are not wanting of something to believe in, a vision, or a mission. We lack the courage to do what we must. We need to be reminded of what it is we are to do today for the glory of God. We need particular tasks to do.

In his private notebook, G.K. Chesterton wrote that a soldier, a knight, a warrior does not want to be reassured that his commander has a plan. After all, Our Lord has an inevitable plan laid out for us and the world, repeatedly laid out in the Scriptures. What a fighter wants, remarked Chesterton, is a sword. A weapon or tool with which to strike, to struggle with, and with which he can make a difference for his cause.

We have such weapons, but too often we think they are irrelevant in our time, or too simple. They are found throughout the Scriptures too.  Pray. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless. Those are the acts of a soldier of the Kingdom of Heaven.

We do not need another statement of belief. We need to do.

 

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Why Chesterton and Revolution?

Someone asked me a question yesterday via the GKChestertonQuote.com site: If “revolution” is so often used as a leftist and communist idea, why would a Christian author like G.K. Chesterton issue a call to revolution like “Pray for Revolution?

To paraphrase Chesterton in Manalive, a revolution is always a  return. A revolution is a radical change, a re-turning to some ideal that was lost. As Christians, the idea is that what we have lost was Eden, what we hope for is the Kingdom of God. In our fallen world, to realize these ideals in the now, we must radically change ourselves in order for that to happen.

“To the orthodox there must always be a case for revolution; for in the hearts of men God has been put under the feet of Satan. In the upper world hell once rebelled against heaven. But in this world heaven is rebelling against hell. For the orthodox there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is a restoration. At any instant you may strike a blow for the perfection which no man has seen since Adam.” Orthodoxy

Revolution is not the sole property of any particular political ideal. Perhaps it is ultimately alien even for political ideals.

Near the end of Manalive, Innocent Smith has a conversation with a Russian revolutionist:

[Smith:] “I am a revolutionist. But don’t you see that all these real leaps and destructions and escapes are only attempts to get back to Eden– to something we have had, to something we at least have heard of? Don’t you see one only breaks the fence or shoots the moon in order to get HOME?”

“No,” I answered after due reflection, “I don’t think I should accept that.”

“Ah,” he said with a sort of a sigh, “then you have explained a second thing to me.”

“What do you mean?’ I asked; “what thing?”

“Why your revolution has failed.”

The more I read of Chesterton the more I see a revolutionary philosophy running through it; not a philosophy that is new and revolutionary, like independence in the American colonies or communism in the formerly imperial Russia, but a philosophy that is based on revolution itself as a fundamental truth of human history and philosophy. We cannot create an ideal heaven on Earth, so we must always be seeking to improve what we have.

To get started reading the revolutionary works of Chesterton I would suggest the essay “The Wind in the Trees” (From Tremendous Trifles), Orthodoxy (of which the seventh chapter is called “The Eternal Revolution,”) and Manalive.

There are hundreds more insights into Chesterton’s idea of revolution, but they are scattered throughout his works. Perhaps someday I’ll have a book actually on Chesterton on revolution, not just a book inspired by Chesterton’s idea of revolution.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Why I Write Short Books (and Blog Posts)

The Eternal Revolution can now be ordered from Amazon, and I am still awaiting my first shipment from the printer. As this latest books finds its way into people’s hands, one of the first things you will notice is that it is relatively short for a book.

At just over 6,000 words and 40 pages in print, it is short for what we have come to expect from a book. As someone commented a few months ago, my blog posts tend to be short too.

This is intentional. How many books of 200-300 pages do you read in a year? How many are published? How many 1,800 word articles posted on blogs can you read in a day, and how many are produced daily? We just don’t have the time to consume all the content – even all the free content – that is made available. Also, the early Church fathers and monastic rules constantly warned about talking too much, not too little.

Book publishing has change drastically in the last few years. I believe it is the biggest change since Gutenberg’s printing press. Since the invention of the press, duplication of printed matter has become easier, but it has not necessarily become open to everyone. Hiring a printer to set type required a return on investment for the time, and producing a modern book for publication required hours of labor, not only from the author, illustrator, editors, marketing team, advertising, printer, truck driver, and so on. A new hardcover book required a $30 price point and a print run in the tens of thousands to make enough to pay everyone a rate worthy of their time and effort. Which means that an idea that could be expressed in 50 pages has to, instead, be padded to make the book thick enough to be worth $30. As a result, non-fiction books especially can feel dragged out, over-fluffed, and appear difficult to read. Like Christianity (according to Chesterton) they are perceived difficult and left untried. The price-setting, page-padding practice is becoming outdated when small books can be printed just as easily as bigger books, and word of mouth can drive sales better than conventional advertising.

Hence short books. Something that you can look at and think “I can read this in an afternoon or evening.” And if you read it, it will actually have a chance to change your life, unlike that list of best-selling titles you just haven’t gotten around to reading.

For the same $30 cover price as the traditional hardcover, I’ll be able to sell 10 copies of a book to someone who will share my perspective and encouragement with 9 other people. Being short, the book is more likely to be read. That’s a lot more impact for the same price.

My blog posts are likewise short. You have other things to do than sit on the Internet and read other people’s opinions on things. Your time is precious, I just need enough words to present an idea, a concept, or a new perspective at let you think and pray about it means in your life, what God might want you to hear in it, and how, if at all, it will affect your life.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Learning to Hope Like a Bartledan

In Mostly Harmless, the final book in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, an alien race known as the Bartledans. They are described as being almost exactly like humans, except that they do not hope, wish, or dream.

Wishing a Bartledan a good evening is cause for confusion. They play games and sports, but never with a desire to win – the team or player that wins, has in fact won. Their literature is completely non-fiction, and always exactly 100,000 words. If the plot is too short, self help text is added. If the story is too long, it simply drops off completely, mid-sentence.

The Bartledanians’ brief place in the story, which is a whirlwind satire of our world conducted by dealing almost not at all with Earth itself, seems to highlight how we take for granted the fact that we spend so much time wishing and hoping for things.

Hope is a deeply ingrained part of human life. It is also one of the greatest three virtues, specifically when it is oriented to our hope in God’s promises of love, salvation, and eternal life. It’s not a virtue to hope for evil, of course.

However, we hope, and wish, and dream about a lot of things that are not God’s love, our salvation, or eternal happiness. We hope for worldly things, even good things, like financial security or better jobs, or great things for our children, friends, and family. These things are in the future, and largely, if not completely, beyond our control. We even dare to wish things were different in the past, or that certain decisions were made differently. This can be wistful or bitter, or somewhere in between.

As Christians, our hope should be oriented to God and his promises. One definition of the virtue is “the desire of something together with the expectation of obtaining it.” When we are hoping for something that is not guaranteed, and that is not in our control, and not promised us by our Creator, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. 

In worldly matters, perhaps we have something to learn from the Bartledanians. Will I get that promotion? Will the harvest be good next year? Will my son be a doctor? Those things will be what they will be, and no worrying or hoping (or vibrating or tapping or rain dancing) will change it. You cannot even will control over your hair, much less your life or those of others (Matthew 5:36). Hoping for worldly things and goals leads to worry, fear, and despair. Seek the Kingdom first!

Live with true hope in the promises that have been made by God, that you believe will be true. In everything else, take it one day at a time, living more and more each day as Christ taught.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Pigs, America, and Property in Revolution

This past weekend, we marked the anniversary of American independence, with much fanfare and perhaps some somber remembrance.  One of the items that tends to circulate is a list of the sacrifices faced by the signatories of the Declaration.

While some of the extreme losses are exaggerated, as Snopes.com points out, some of the more trivial sacrifices were left out. Serving on the Continental Congress was not a profitable measure by any means; the business and family life of the Founding Fathers suffered in their absence, while they directed their energy and attention to something they thought was more precious.

In our family, it is a tradition to watch the musical 1776 around this time, which attempts to portray the mental anguish of John Adams, among others, during the few fateful months in the summer of ’76.

In the remarkable timing that is God’s, I heard a challenging sermon on the driving out of the demons and casting of them into swine in Matthew 8. In the biblical account, Jesus cast out demons from two men that were terrorizing a region. So fierce were they, that passage on that road was impossible. Jesus allowed the demons to take possession of a heard of swine, which were destroyed. At this, the people of the area pleaded with Jesus to leave them.

The core of the sermon on this story was that the people feared the loss of their possessions more than what Jesus had to offer them. He delivered two of their neighbors from demons, liberated the area from the violent actions of the men which restricted travel, and who knows what else He could have brought them in the way of salvation. Instead, the people were afraid of what else they might lose, besides their herds of swine.

Are we afraid of the loss of our possessions, our welfare, and our material security as we try to follow Jesus? If we are, we risk pushing Him away. Like the American Founding Fathers, we must be willing to risk everything that we might give our all to following the greatest of causes – the pursuit of the Kingdom of God. The revolution to seek the Kingdom will cost us dearly, are we really ready to make those sacrifices?

 

Photo Courtesy Timothy J on Flickr

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

The Wind, The Trees, and Revolution – G.K. Chesterton Guest Post

This essay, which appears in the volume Tremendous Trifles, is an important one to me and the idea of Eternal Revolution for (at least) two great reasons. First, it explains the idea that revolution is never the actions of mankind, for the revolution must always start as a spiritual movement towards an ideal. Second, it reminds us that it is right and just to pray for revolution. 

 

I am sitting under tall trees, with a great wind boiling like surf about the tops of them, so that their living load of leaves rocks and roars in something that is at once exultation and agony. I feel, in fact, as if I were actually sitting at the bottom of the sea among mere anchors and ropes, while over my head and over the green twilight of water sounded the everlasting rush of waves and the toil and crash and shipwreck of tremendous ships. The wind tugs at the trees as if it might pluck them root and all out of the earth like tufts of grass. Or, to try yet another desperate figure of speech for this unspeakable energy, the trees are straining and tearing and lashing as if they were a tribe of dragons each tied by the tail.
As I look at these top-heavy giants tortured by an invisible and violent witchcraft, a phrase comes back into my mind. I remember a little boy of my acquaintance who was once walking in Battersea Park under just such torn skies and tossing trees. He did not like the wind at all; it blew in his face too much; it made him shut his eyes; and it blew off his hat, of which he was very proud. He was, as far as I remember, about four. After complaining repeatedly of the atmospheric unrest, he said at last to his mother, “Well, why don’t you take away the trees, and then it wouldn’t wind.”
Nothing could be more intelligent or natural than this mistake. Any one looking for the first time at the trees might fancy that they were indeed vast and titanic fans, which by their mere waving agitated the air around them for miles. Nothing, I say, could be more human and excusable than the belief that it is the trees which make the wind. Indeed, the belief is so human and excusable that it is, as a matter of fact, the belief of about ninety-nine out of a hundred of the philosophers, reformers, sociologists, and politicians of the great age in which we live. My small friend was, in fact, very like the principal modern thinkers; only much nicer.
In the little apologue or parable which he has thus the honour of inventing, the trees stand for all visible things and the wind for the invisible. The wind is the spirit which bloweth where it listeth; the trees are the material things of the world which are blown where the spirit lists. The wind is philosophy, religion, revolution; the trees are cities and civilisations. We only know that there is a wind because the trees on some distant hill suddenly go mad. We only know that there is a real revolution because all the chimney-pots go mad on the whole skyline of the city.
Just as the ragged outline of a tree grows suddenly more ragged and rises into fantastic crests or tattered tails, so the human city rises under the wind of the spirit into toppling temples or sudden spires. No man has ever seen a revolution. Mobs pouring through the palaces, blood pouring down the gutters, the guillotine lifted higher than the throne, a prison in ruins, a people in arms–these things are not revolution, but the results of revolution.
You cannot see a wind; you can only see that there is a wind. So, also, you cannot see a revolution; you can only see that there is a revolution. And there never has been in the history of the world a real revolution, brutally active and decisive, which was not preceded by unrest and new dogma in the reign of invisible things. All revolutions began by being abstract. Most revolutions began by being quite pedantically abstract.
The wind is up above the world before a twig on the tree has moved. So there must always be a battle in the sky before there is a battle on the earth. Since it is lawful to pray for the coming of the kingdom, it is lawful also to pray for the coming of the revolution that shall restore the kingdom. It is lawful to hope to hear the wind of Heaven in the trees. It is lawful to pray “Thine anger come on earth as it is in Heaven.”
The great human dogma, then, is that the wind moves the trees. The great human heresy is that the trees move the wind. When people begin to say that the material circumstances have alone created the moral circumstances, then they have prevented all possibility of serious change. For if my circumstances have made me wholly stupid, how can I be certain even that I am right in altering those circumstances?
The man who represents all thought as an accident of environment is simply smashing and discrediting all his own thoughts– including that one. To treat the human mind as having an ultimate authority is necessary to any kind of thinking, even free thinking. And nothing will ever be reformed in this age or country unless we realise that the moral fact comes first.
For example, most of us, I suppose, have seen in print and heard in debating clubs an endless discussion that goes on between Socialists and total abstainers. The latter say that drink leads to poverty; the former say that poverty leads to drink. I can only wonder at their either of them being content with such simple physical explanations. Surely it is obvious that the thing which among the English proletariat leads to poverty is the same as the thing which leads to drink; the absence of strong civic dignity, the absence of an instinct that resists degradation.
When you have discovered why enormous English estates were not long ago cut up into small holdings like the land of France, you will have discovered why the Englishman is more drunken than the Frenchman. The Englishman, among his million delightful virtues, really has this quality, which may strictly be called “hand to mouth,” because under its influence a man’s hand automatically seeks his own mouth, instead of seeking (as it sometimes should do) his oppressor’s nose. And a man who says that the English inequality in land is due only to economic causes, or that the drunkenness of England is due only to economic causes, is saying something so absurd that he cannot really have thought what he was saying.
Yet things quite as preposterous as this are said and written under the influence of that great spectacle of babyish helplessness, the economic theory of history. We have people who represent that all great historic motives were economic, and then have to howl at the top of their voices in order to induce the modern democracy to act on economic motives. The extreme Marxian politicians in England exhibit themselves as a small, heroic minority, trying vainly to induce the world to do what, according to their theory, the world always does. The truth is, of course, that there will be a social revolution the moment the thing has ceased to be purely economic. You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution.
I get up from under the trees, for the wind and the slight rain have ceased. The trees stand up like golden pillars in a clear sunlight. The tossing of the trees and the blowing of the wind have ceased simultaneously. So I suppose there are still modern philosophers who will maintain that the trees make the wind.

 

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Cheap Entertainment: First World Temptations?

One of many popular memes these days is the “First World Problems.” A frustrating issue for a particular minor problem that frustrates someone in our modern society that really is pathetically irrelevant to most people in the world. For the visually inclined, these are usually delivered on a graphic of a woman crying.

Some examples would be: “Went to the store, they were out of organic apples,” or, “Want to go to the store, but its raining,” or, “Got iPhone for Christmas, but it was only a 4S.” You probably get the idea.

For most of the billions of people in the world, these are not problems, but complaints from spoiled people. Hence the laughable nature of the “First World Problem.” The sad fact is people let such problems ruin their day, or throw full-fledged tantrums – even adults – over the hassle and disappointment.

Not only do we have superfluous “problems” in the modern world, we have detractors from the spiritual life that would have been unheard of a few generations ago, and that would boggle the mind of other who happen to live in other, less developed countries.

As I write this, the minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25. A month of Netflix is $7.99. A month of Amazon Prime (with streaming movies, free ebooks, and free MP3s) is $8.25 per month. For less than an hour and a half of work, you can have more movies and television shows than you could possible watch in a month – possibly even a year – without neglecting work, sleep, and everything else in life.

Binge watching and Netflix marathons are becoming a regular topic online. Just a few years ago, TV and movie marathons were occasional program events conducted by theaters or networks, or a family activity that would cost $5 per movie at Blockbuster. Now you can do it every weekend and evening, for the cost of less than 2 hours of labor.

The video game community has experienced this too. Several years ago, I used to flip video games from Gamestop, buying rare games during “Buy 2 Get 1 Free” sales and selling them on Amazon. On the online communities that tracked those and other sales, the term “backlog” became common, and members would post pictures of dozens, even hundreds of unopened video games they had purchased dirt cheap but did not yet have time to play.

Today, Humble Bundles, Steam Sales, and other digital distribution channels for PC and mobile games have made the backlog a reality for even the most casual of gamers. This week Steam is wrapping up one of two major seasonal sales where top-tier games that were $60 last year are sold for as little as $5. Message boards around the internet are full of people bemoaning how much they spent on the sale, and how many hundreds, or thousands, of unplayed games still reside in their digital libraries.

In the last nine years, costs for entertainment have plummeted, even has costs of necessities have risen.  Even the most impoverished in America can have all the media they can consume, and still not afford food or housing. Is not spending $8 on Netflix really going to buy you much more food? It will, however, help you forget your troubles and is a tremendous value.

If Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin & Hobbes) was correct and TV, not religion, is the opiate of the masses, what does it mean now that it is cheaper and more accessible than ever?

To make matters worse, a recent study has found that just two hours a day of television is enough to reduce the life expectancy of a person, especially young adults.

The spiritual life, too, suffers under the burden of so much cheap and free entertainment. It is all too easy to fill the silence and downtime in your life with shows, movies, and video games than prayer. It is too easy to sedate yourself with entertainment than to acknowledge and do something about the needs of others in your community – or in your own home.

The saints and mystics had little no idea of this (although Teresea of Avila, a 16th century mystic, nun, and Catholic saint prophesied that “a little black box” would destroy the family). People today with no access to the Internet do not bear the burden of this “First World Temptation.”

You cannot fight what you do not first identify as something working against you. The next step is to do something about it.

Disturb us, Lord.

Pray for Revolution.

 

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.