Living and Dying with Purpose and Grace is one of those books you can open to any page and find something of value. Author James Armstrong, former President of the National Council of Churches and longtime Christian minister of faith, shares within these few pages a vast treasury of knowledge and life experiences.
His mind, sharpened by the ageless pursuit of wisdom, has accumulated a multitude of life lessons through his positions of leadership and decades of service that span the globe.
This is not a book for the meek, the fence sitters or the doubters. It is a serious book that identifies what we need to do to improve our lives. It surpasses others of its type in its richness of examples of real people whose lives serve as role models: some are positive examples and others are warnings. The author explains in specific detail the things we must do to grow beyond ourselves and find true happiness.
Mr. Armstrong teaches that if we leave behind our selfishness, cruelty, hate and despair and replace it with other-centered love we will be on the road to recovery as individuals and as a society. What will deliver us from moral failure and self-worship? He explains that we are the master of our fates and that what we believe is a key factor. “Not a one of us is a finished product.”
He writes about putting our suffering into perspective. He speaks of people who have surpassed the worst sorts of treatment and conditions to rise above it all, filled with an enduring sense of gratitude and love for others. He touches on things that are absorbed from studying the lives of people such as Victor Frankl, Elie Wiesel, the spirituality of the Dalai Lama and the life of Gandhi.
He highlights examples in former prisoner of war US Senator John McCain held captive and tortured for five and a half years in Hanoi, and Tammy Duckworth, a helicopter pilot who lost both legs in combat and compares the fact that though they differ radically on political issues they share “the purpose – the love of country - of what drove them to this risk and sacrifice”. He suggests that “Why we suffer may define our person hood more eloquently than the fact that we have suffered.”
Mr. Armstrong says we will not grow until we "move beyond merely accepting Christ” and actually '"apply the principles". We are taught, in what Rick Warren calls "the greatest sermon ever preached”: The Sermon on the Mount, that by applying the “love ethic” and “personal wholeness” and “other-centered living” that rings out in the message of that sermon, we move away from unhappiness toward becoming a “fully-functioning person”.
In essence, “You won’t be the person you can become unless and until you outgrow self-worship.” He teaches that “Our highest purposes are to cultivate our inner worlds while helping meet the needs of those about us . . . love others even as we love ourselves.”
As we come into maturity, we take notice of the things around us often missed by our younger selves; we begin to feel the burn of our poor choices of the past. He says it is never too late to change course and travel in a different direction.
The writer suggests that “the prayers we pray are the overriding interests of our lives” and reflect our ambitions, perhaps even our obsessions. He asks what kind of God we have; whether we have chosen one like the Reverend Jim Jones or the one of David Koresh? Or have we chosen a God like Albert Einstein’s? He describes Albert Einstein’s humble nature and life of self-less simplicity as one whose “gentle spirit and concern for others gave special meaning to his scientific endeavors”.
He asks us to consider the Dalai Lama who “proposes that happiness is a by-product of spirituality and suggests that our unhappiness as individuals may be rooted in a 'shallow and self serving definition of happiness based primarily on physical pleasures'.” The Dalai Lama states that in order to achieve happiness we must “be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit: Love and compassion; patience; tolerance; and forgiveness”. We must become in essence “good human beings”.
The author is a personal friend of Fred Rogers, known across the world as Mister Rogers, who believed that it was our job to help foster “the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings”.
Through Mr. Armstrong’s extensive worldwide travels, which he believes opens up our sphere of consciousness and changes our world view, he met Fidel Castro, Lee Tai-Young, and a host of others who deeply affected his beliefs. Their stories are a shared part of his own development from studying people like Lee Atwater, Carl Adkins, Randy Pausch and others. He is a close personal friend of 1972 Democratic nominee for US. President retired Senator George McGovern who penned a stirring foreword to this thought provoking manuscript.
The author draws from a life enriched by experience and practice, providing important clues to set our lives in the direction that will ultimately be all that matters. In his brief and upbeat chapters on Dying he talks about the importance of savoring the good memories of our lives and blotting out the bad; tearing up the lists we've each made of the times we've been betrayed or deeply offended and about looking at old age as a gift – the time of our lives when we can be “the person I always wanted to be”.
This book holds within its slender volume of one hundred pages words that can change lives. These are methods that can help us travel beyond our own needs, align our moral compasses and take us forward in a new direction.