Saturday, 15 August 2015

Books that changed me

My niece tagged me on Facebook a year ago to share the Top Ten Books that has somehow left an imprint (good or bad) on me. The thing that has prevented me from taking up the challenge is that it feels like such a daunting task. How do I choose from all the hundreds of books, and how do I limit the list to only ten? I decided, however, that I have put this off far too long—that my niece has waited far too long—and that I should just list the books that has made a paradigm shift in me; books that have changed how I look at the world and how I live my life.

1. “Mere Christianity” – C. S. Lewis
2. “Steps to Christ” – E. G. White
3. “Ministry of Health” – E. G. White
4. “Tao Te Ching” – Lao Tze
5. “The Mozi” – Mozi
6. “I Saw Satan Fall Like Lighting” – René Gerard
7. “Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution” – Shiri Eisner
8. “Arts & Ideas” – William Fleming
9. “The Five Love Languages” – Gary Chapman
10. “The Naked Ape” – Desmond Morris

“Mere Christianity” – C. S. Lewis

Although I grew up in a relatively Christian home, by the time I was a teenager I was not a Christian anymore, and had become a pantheist, and had adopted New Age spirituality. When I went to university, I somehow happened upon this little book by C. S. Lewis. His clarity of philosophical argument persuaded me of theism. I am to this day a C. S. Lewis fan and has read many of his works. I love his philosophical books, enjoyed his fantasy novels—the Narnia series, and have read many of his literary essays. His essay “The Abolitionism of Man” and his book “The Four Loves” are fantastic.

“Steps to Christ” – E. G. White

 If “Mere Christianity” caused me to become a theist, then “Steps to Christ” caused me to become a Christian. No other Christian book that I've read explain the gospel in such simplicity and beauty. I don't know if my own theological understanding is still precisely in line with this little book as the book is quite conservative and I'm somewhat liberal, but it is nevertheless a book that has affected the way I approach Christian theology.

“Ministry of Health” – E. G. White 

 As a young adult and new Chrstian, this book became for me a lifestyle manual. It affected much of how I do this thing called life. I definitely do not follow this book's teachings strictly, but many of my more peculiar habits and interest in healthy living that are an expression of my spirituality was inspired by this book.

“Tao Te Ching” – Lao Tze 

 To the distress of many Christian family and friends, and to the confusion of many non-Christians, I call myself a “Taoist Christian”. To say that I am a Taoist-Christian is purposefully confusing. Most people have certain assumptions and prejudices to the terms “Christian” and “Christianity”. I honestly dislike calling myself a Christian, because what most people think of as “Christianity” is not the religion I believe and practise. In fact, I often associate more with atheists and their dislike of religion—and Christianity—and usually for the same reasons as they do. I do believe in the Tao. In fact, I believe that Jesus is the Tao manifest. I am however, not a Taoist in the religious sense. One can divide Taoism into philosophical Taoism (sometimes called proto-Taoism) and religious Taoism. I'm not a religious Taoist, but a philosophical Taoist. I'm sure that some Christians might consider it heretical to think of Jesus as the Tao manifest. Nevertheless, when the gospel first reached China via Syria, it was the Taoists that first became Christians because they recognized Jesus as the Tao. I was surprised to read in C. S. Lewis' writings that he too came to the same conclusion. I don't believe that the “Tao Te Ching” is pure, so I read it through my understanding of Jesus and His character, but the same is true for how I read the Bible too, and particularly the Old Testament.

“The Mozi” – Mozi


I call myself a Taoist-Christian, but I can just as well call myself a Mohist-Christian. Mozi was the first great teacher on record to have taught the principle of loving your neighbour as yourself. I personally believe that Mozi was a prophet. I can't say that reading “The Mozi” was truly paradigm shifting for me, but do resonate with most of its core teachings tremendously and feel particularly passionate about two of them, namely “universal love” and “opposition to offensive wars.”

“I See Satan Fall Like Lighting” – René Gerard

 René Gerard's theory of mimetic desire and the scapegoat has changed the way I look at both society and literature. This was undoubtedly a paradigm shifting book for me. It has altered my theology and has opened my eyes to understand the world anew. The title might make it sound like this book is theological, but it is in fact anthropological and literary analysis. After having read this, the world is a different place for me.

“Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution” – Shiri Eisner

 Few books have challenged so many basic assumptions I had, as Shiri Eisner's “Notes for a Bisexual Revolution”. It has opened my eyes to things I hardly ever think about such as the fluidity of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation; it has made me aware of all kinds of privileges that I take for granted: being a man, being white, being cisgender, being literate, having been born in the “West”; and it has awoken me to the plight of many types people that I haven't thought of in the past. It is a book I still struggle with. It is definitely revolutionary—in that it challenges much on what contemporary society is based on, particularly the hegemony of patriarchal, cisgendered, monosexual values.

“Arts & Ideas” – William Fleming

Fleming's famous History of Art textbook, “Arts & Ideas” has done more for my understanding of world history, than most any other historical book I've read out there. Instead of seeing the world simply as a series of wars, bloodshed and power struggles (which is the approach of most history books), this book presented the world to me as a series of changing ideas (and art) and I love it.

  “The Five Love Languages” – Gary Chapman

Chapman's book, “The Five Love Languages”, has given me tremendous insight in myself and other people. While the book was written specifically for couples, I have applied it to all my relationships. It has helped me to better understand my own needs, and also better interact with friends and family. It has also brought me some insight into the problematic relationship I had with my father as a child, and some therapeutic understanding and closure regarding my “daddy-issues”.

“The Naked Ape” – Desmond Morris

 Desmond Morris looks at humans from they perspective as a zoologist. Imagine aliens from from another galaxy comes and observe the human race, such is Morris' approach. This book has taught me so much about human behaviour. Morris often makes parallels with other animals and their behaviour to shed light on many of our own behaviours that are so natural to us, that we hardly see it for what it is—fighting for dominance, territory or mates (something like road rage for instance); mating and sexual displays (fashion styles); feeding and rearing habits (why we like fast-food); etc.

Unfortunately limiting this list to only ten books did not allow me to include a discussion of many other literary books that has affected me. I think of, for example:

1. “Catch-22” – Joseph Heller
2. “Lord of the Rings” trilogy – J. R. R. Tolkien 
3. “A Tale of Two Cities” – Charles Dickens 
4. “Elizabeth Costello” – J. M. Coetzee 
5. “A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” – Douglas Adams 
6. “My Name is Asher Lev” – Chaim Potok
7. “Slaughterhouse-Five” – Kurt Vonnegut
8. “'n Ander Tongval” – Antjie Krog
9. “King Richard III” – William Shakespeare
10. “Catcher in the Rye” – J. D. Salinger

But what about all the essays that has opened my thoughts to great new possibilities, or the many poems that have shaken me to the core?!

Also, considering that I've been practicing martial arts for over 20 years, any honest book list for me should include a list of martial arts books too, as at least a third of my home library consists of martial arts books, but I think I'll post that list on my martial art blog on another occasion instead.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Some things I did in May 2015

In May I went on several adventures. The biggest highlight of the year was probably my visit to Russia where I presented and academic paper and posture during a symposium. I also got to see Russians celebrate the 70th anniversary of their victory over Nazi Germany. Back in Korea I went on a nice exploration of Cheongnyangni Produce Market. A weekend trip with a friend to Dangyang was also a really nice way to enjoy the end of spring. In Danyang I visited some famous cave -- Gosu Donggul. Back in Seoul I met the new Ambassador of South Africa to Korea, and enjoyed some dance performances ad the MODAFE 2015 (Modern Dance Festival).