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Thursday, February 15, 2018

"Make a List" (Marilyn McEntyre)

TITLE: Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts
AUTHOR: Marilyn McEntyre
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2018, (208 pages).

One of the important things we do to help us remember is to make a list. We have shopping list; book list; grocery list; stationery list; school list; homework list; blog list; name list; and so on. Once we have the necessary items on the list, we would be assured that even if we forget some items in our heads, we have a dependable list written down somewhere. Most of the time, these lists are simply to help us remember stuff. What if the lists could do more? What if the lists:
  • Mirror something about us;
  • Works as an educational device;
  • Help us listen to ourselves;
  • Enable us to love;
  • Teach us how to let go of anxieties;
  • Facilitate our practice of prayer;
  • and many other uses?
What's really interesting is how the author is able to turn such an ordinary list activity into a device to practice spirituality. Part One is about the purposes and pleasures of making lists. This is the part that we are most familiar with. McEntyre takes us through the process and teaches us to discover small little opportunities for personal growth. She brings together a list of ideas with regard to the use of list making. Besides the practical lists, there are also lists to help us express our emotions. Why are we upset? What are the things we need to let go of? Why am I afraid of? What makes forgiveness so hard? What gives me joy? What could I pay more attention to? What are the risks worth taking? What are the things to do when down? Lists could even work out as a better "punching bag."

There are lists for poems, for instructions, for litanies; for writing down thoughts to help us make sense of our feelings and our reactions to things around us. McEntyre guides us along with her own lists of things she had written. On more than one occasion, such lists inspire the creation of other lists as well. Just like the way we use Microsoft Word's bullet features, lists help us put down long thoughts in short pointers.

My Thoughts
Allow me to list some of the powerful ways this book has inspired me.
- Write down a list to help me remember
- Write down my feelings about a particular person or about a specific event
- Making sense of big projects with bite-sized points
- Discovering details in the most ordinary and mundane things
- Thinking in small spurts rather than being bogged down by details

In a communications culture that are increasingly limited within a tweet of 126 characters; a text message; or a FaceBook quip; we should be quite comfortable about the concepts mentioned in this book. We have heard of the classics such as "Ten Commandments;" "Nine Attributes of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit;" "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People;" "Five Love Languages;" "Four Quadrants;" and all kinds of list-driven books. Even pulpits could be reduced to a 3-point or multi-point sermons. We all live by some kind of a list everyday, consciously or unconsciously. The difference is how long or short the list we live by. This book is based on a simple idea but practiced with lots of creativity and insight. It is not just a book about doing things. We could use lists like a microscope to zoom into greater details about something; a telescope to outline the broad picture of where we want to go; a stethoscope to detect the emotional pulses of our heart; a gyroscope to anchor ourselves on a big idea while we let ourselves loose in brainstorming topics around that idea; etc. We can even create prayer lists. The lists are endless because ideas have no limits. Do not be deceived by the simplicity of this book. Putting the ideas into practice would lead us to places we have never known or gone before. That's the power of lists. Yet, we must be careful not to go overboard, lest one day, someone comes up to us and say: "Thou shall not live by lists alone."

Dr Marilyn McEntyre is a Professor of English at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. One of her books, "What's in a Phrase?" was a winner of Christianity Today 2015 Book Award.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of William B. Eerdmans and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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