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Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: "Deepest Thanks, Deeper Apologies"

TITLE: Deepest Thanks, Deeper Apologies: Reconciling Deeply Held Faith with Honest Doubt
AUTHOR: Stephen Shortridge
PUBLISHER: Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2011.

Is it possible to reconcile one's deeply held faith with honest doubts? Stephen Shortridge says yes, but through the eyes of art, creativity, love, and God.

This journey to God's love is all that Stephen Shortridge tries to address in this book. The author is a self-confessed poet, a painter, as well as a paradoxical writer. He writes:
"In my life of faith, I prefer impressionism to realism, trusting God in mystery rather than my own understanding. That preference puts me at odds with those Christians today who seem to imagine there are no mysteries about God. Which is quite a mystery, at least to me." (xi)

This paradox of faith and doubts, is then described through a journey and framework first taught by St Bernard of Clairvaux's "Four Stages of Love." Shortridge describes the purpose of this book as follows:

"Deepest thanks, deeper apologies is the difference between who I am and who I am becoming, as well as who I'm not and possibly never will be. Gratitude (deepest thanks) and regret (deeper apologies) measure the distance between who I am now and who I will one day be." (xviii)

This journey of bridging the gap is made through the four stages:

  • Stage 1 - "I love myself for my sake."
  • Stage 2 - "I love God for my sake."
  • Stage 3 - "I love God for God's sake."
  • Stage 4 - "I love myself for God's sake."

The rest of the book then describes the author's personal journey through this stages, using his paintings, his poetry, and his own life reflections. In Stage 1, the author admits that his own effort to love God and people is not enough. He suggests a paradox of needing to go through certain human sinful states before appreciating God. He describes a need to know foolishness (in order to know wisdom); pride in order to know humility, despair in order to find hope; loss in order to find gratitude; and risk in order to find faith (11). He even calls the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 as 'God's Manifesto of Paradox' (33).

Stage 2 is a recognition that free choice is both a 'blessing' as well as a 'curse' (40).  When selfishness comes in, man starts to use God for his own ends. While his first response to God's love is gratitude, his second response is 'selfish hope' (41). Remaining in this stage is a form of self-sabotage, and makes one guilty of self-righteousness. His paradox theme comes out again that before one appreciates gratitude, one needs to suffer loss (53). He brilliantly questions:

"We all struggle with our desire for balance, that place of imagined security. We all admire balance; we even envy it when we perceive others are living a more balanced life than we. But this balance we see and the balance we desire, is it from God? Is it from a need for God? Or is it personal, prideful gymnastics?" (60)

He then discovers the paradox of finding God in a state of imbalance.

"Eventually, in exhaustion, God offers me merciful futility. I fall down. Gratefully defeated. There is an unbalanced balance that pleases God. You see it throughout the Bible. It's only when I accept my imbalance and acknowledge how weak and crippled I am, that I become dependent on God. That's where I find the paradox of balance, leaning totally on Him." (61)

In Part three, the author shares about his transformation from self-awareness to God awareness. This is his 'second repentance' (76). This is the stage where hope overwhelms doubt, reality over fantasy, patience over demands, and more of God. He then goes through 7 hurdles:
  1. Joy through sorrow;
  2. Brokenness through betrayal;
  3. Sacrifice through selfishness;
  4. Peace through fear
  5. Repentance through sin
  6. Forgiveness through forgiving
  7. Love in God.
He then calls Art the signature of man. This act of creation creates us. He learns to love himself. This prepares him for the final stage 4, to love self for God's sake. This kind of love is not self-love, but the self shrouded in God's love. It is in letting God love man. The pressure to perform is lowered. One triumps over the greatest foe: Self.

My Comments

This is a book that is destined to be a classic. It borrows from the classical four stages of love from Bernard of Clauvaux. It learns from the wit of GK Chesterton. It faces not only the highest love of God, but also the lowest sinfulness of man. Through deliberate use of images, prose, poetry, and prayer, the book is an invitation to readers to join in the journey to true love of God. It may be difficult reading for those who are not familiar to Bernard's Stages of Love. Readers used to how-to books may struggle to apply the lessons from the book. This is because readers need the help of the Spirit to understand and to practice the steps in the book. There is only so much that the author can share. The rest is up to the Spirit leading the reader along the stages of love. Only the reader's willingness can enable the progression toward the highest stage.

I appreciate Shortridge's personal application of Bernard's stages. In embracing mystery, one is less frustrated by the constant need to solve life. In embracing doubt, one learns faith. In accepting the paradox of life, one learns about how God can accept man in order to love. In creative art, one becomes more in tune with what one is created for, instead of constantly wanting to perform something that is not what we are made for. In moving toward God, one learns to overcome many obstacles, chief of all, the self.

Ratings 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Worthy Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments above are freely mine.

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