Thursday, January 12, 2017

Finding God in the Waves

Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost my Faith and Found it Again Through Science by Mike McHargue

I really thought this book was going to be a dud.  I was under the impression that this was going to be another one of those 'find god through the particles' book that didn't really move anyone to believe or not believe.  Yet, as I read through Finding God in the Waves, it was different, very different.  Mike isn't really trying to sell you something in the book but tell you a story.  Really, the book is good at gathering Mike's story and telling it through the lens of a boy's curiosity.

Growing up in "husky" jeans and being that kid who didn't fit into most conventional groups, Mike felt the pangs of loneliness in his early years.  Even at that, his brain was hardwired for curiosity, he had to know how things worked.  Growing up as Christian at 7 in a conservative Southern Baptist Church, he was baptized early on and began to be involved in the events of a evangelical church.  As a high school senior, Mike met Jenny Frye and suddenly became enamored with her.  Mike at that time wasn't a regular church goer but his future wife was, and so the prodding continued for some time.

Mike begin to seriously investigate the bible to see what it had to say with regards to what science purports.  Why hadn't God said that Genesis 1 and 2 were written to address two things, one, the whole word being made, and second, the creation of the Garden of Eden?  Further, why is God killing the Egyptian firstborn and drowning people during Noah's time?  These questions Mike pondered as he went about his study.  And yet, throughout the book, Mike evidences times when even in his doubt he saw how Christian practices work.  He writes, "Most of all, I had seen prayer work...We all prayed for her (his mom), and in a few months her tumors were gone." (49)

There is nothing more freeing in this world than knowing someone will hear your secrets or confessional thoughts and care for you through them.  As Mike shared his non-belief in God anymore, she tried to evangelized him but kept his secret.  The thing that was really fascinating about this is that Mike sought to interact with his church friends the same way at times but invited them to star parties and other events.  And yet he came back to God, albeit a different route.  Mike writes, "How do you know God is real?"  I know God is real because I see the work of God via telescopes, space probes, and particle accelerators.  Instead of fighting science or trying to filter science through my understanding of God, I discovered that you can begin by accepting scientific evidence - (149)"

I really enjoyed Mike's story and I hope you will too.

Thanks to Blogging for Books and Convergent for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Martin Luther by Simonetta Carr

Simonetta Carr has written some wonderful christian biographies for younger readers.  The books capture the stories of faithful believers in their challenges and in their victories.  Troy Howell, illustrator for the Redwall series by Brian Jacques has teamed up with Simonetta to provide some amazing artwork for this new book on Reformer Martin Luther.

One of the startling things about the book was Simonetta's writing on the sale of indulgences.  I knew the story of Johann Tetzel from my prior study but she brings to life some of the details of this work.  She writes, "Tetzel from town to town preaching about the benefits of indulgences.  "Have mercy upon your dead parents, he said." "Whoever has an indulgence has salvation.  Everything else is of no avai." (18).  This practice of selling of indulgences really brought in a flurry of people from Germany and gave people a sense of hope that was not really that.  Luther was concerned that these indulgences gave people a false hope and decreased punishments from God that were already decided.

My favorite part of the book was Simonetta's focus on Luther and raising his family.  She writes, "Luther said he learned more about love and self-discipline in his family than he had ever learned in the monastery.  He also appreciated the children's cheerful confidence in their parents as a good reminder of the trust all Christians should have in God." (47)  We often get the picture of Luther as a rebellious reformer, sent to bring down the Catholic church for its aberrant practices, and yet we fail to see that Luther was a musician, a husband, and a father.  The love and discipline he learned as a father never went away from him, and he learned the real needs of people in his midst by seeing these needs in his own home.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and RHB for the book in exchange for an honest review.

The Paraclete Poetry Anthology, Edited by Mark S. Burrows

Bringing words to life on a page is hard work, and no work is harder than poetry.  Poets take the visceral, the mundane, and the disjointed and frayed things of life and put them on their head.  This new anthology of poetry put out by Paraclete Press and edited by Mark S. Burrows, takes the best poetry of today and brings together old and new poems from these gifted creators.  You find poems from Scott Cairs, SAID, Phyllis Tickle, and others.  The collection stems the span of 2005-2016 and includes both religious poems and themes, as well as themes covering a broad swath of topics.

One of the beauties of this collection is the array of poems that the anthology includes in its pages.  One poem in particular stuck with me as read through the collection.  Anna Kamienska is a wonderful Polish poet who interacts with the wider lens of faith while looking carefully at the world we live in.  She says in her poem named Gratitude, (44)

A tempest threw a rainbow in my face
so that I wanted to fall under the rain
to kiss the hands of an old woman to whom I gave my seat
to thank everyone for the fact that they exist
and at times even feel like smiling

The weight of such thanks bypasses us most days, but Anna captures the grace of the matter here.  Not wanting to let go of such small moments, both the rainbow, the rain, and the old woman give way to a hearty bellow of praise.  There is a sensibility here in these words that speaks to a heart that is full of gratitude.  Further, the praise and thanks here does not distinguish between one group or another,but sees the whole of creation as worthy of thanks.

The meditation poem by Rami Shapiro entitled From Light to Light is brimming with hope.  He begins,

As I am enveloped in God's light,
so may I be a beacon of light
to those in search of light.
As I take shelter in God's peace,
so may I offer the shelter of peace
to those in search of peace.

The pattern of reflection is key here, as such that as a person is in God's light, he shares that light with others.  The key theme that Rami picks up on here is that people are altogether on a search, for peace, for light, for something that they don't presently have but fully desire.  Poems should do exactly that, by pointing out where our searching leads to and how the search leads to an answer.

I hope you enjoy these poems as I continually have.

Thanks to Paraclete Press for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings

All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings by Gayle Boss/Illustrated by David G. Klein

This new advent book captures the essence of the Advent season in a unique way.  Gayle Boss, poet, writer and lover of all things nature, has taken the sights and sounds of nature, including animals, and given life to them through these Advent meditations.  The illustrations created by David G. Klein, an award winning graphic artist, are black and white pencil drawings of each animal in its different habitat.  With laser focus on the way these animals burrow and get ready for the winter season, Gayle and David provide their readers with a truly amazing experience of God's wonderful creation.

The descriptions of the animals were quite extraordinary and caused me to want to engage these animals in my own neck of the woods.  Gayle writes about the chipmunk by stating, "I hear a chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp, pointed as a metronome.  Ticking items off some list, a chipmunk sits up tall on teh warming cement slab" (18).  The chipmunk is digging tunnels near the front door, giving him a place to hide and a place for warmth from the cold.  Gayle mentions near the end of the meditation that each chipmunk has to make several decisions about the winter months, including how is he/she going to endure these cold, frost-bitten winter months with enough food and warmth for the whole season.

The beauty of this book is that it digs into the intricacies of how the animals we see everyday endure this winter time, waiting for the expectation of the coming of spring.  We wait as well, as believers looking forward to the coming of Christ, and have to pray, fast, and learn to meditate on his coming.  I know this book will be a great encouragement to those who love God's good creation.

Thanks to Paraclete Press for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Glory in the Lord

A Spectacle of Glory: A Devotional by Joni Eareckson Tada with Larry Libby

The story of Joni Eareckson Tada is a remarkable one indeed, someone who has lived as a quadriplegic for over fifty years and yet been full of faith and trust in the living God.  This new devotional, A Spectacle of Glory, is a book that combines practical wisdom, scriptural insights, and application from a life given over to reveling in God’s light every day.  Yet, one of the greatest assets of this devotional is the way Joni uses her own experience through suffering to shed light on how God brings about his good work through it all, identifying with the certain struggles and sometimes literal pain of those who she’s writing about.

The parts in the book that fueled my spirit were Joni’s prayers at the end of each day.  One day after looking at the connection between sharks swimming with their mouth open and Christians being called to keep moving for Christ, Joni wrote, “Lord, forgive for dwelling on past hurts and disappointments – or faded tributes or long ago moments in the spotlight.  Fill me afresh with your Spirit and your Word.” (54)  We very often remember the past and bring it to mind as we experience life, especially the wrongs people have committed against us, but this kind of activity prolongs bitterness and anger.  Joni reminds her readers that forgiveness is both a continual thing for present sins and for holding onto the past too tightly.

Another aspect of this book that might seem very insignificant but is very key is the texture of Joni’s faith.  In one devotional day she writes, “Others may whine and gripe about the world “going to hell and a handbasket,” but honestly, we know better.  We know that good will ultimately triumph.  So let’s show what this ultimate good will look like by rolling up our sleeves and helping neighbors, feeding the hungry, and surprising people with courtesy and care in Jesus’ name.” (294)  We become cynical and whiny by looking to the headlines and not having the hope of Christ in our lives.  Joni reminds us of the beauty of the faith by reminding that God is the one who is steering the ship in the right direction.

Thanks to Handlebar and Zondervan for providing a copy of this book for review.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Christmas Carol

The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (original 1843 illustrations)

Every Christmas season the same carols are sung and the usually stories are told, especially those surrounding the nativity story.  Yet, as many people hearken back to a time before, some stories retain their never ending power.  Such a story as The Christmas Carol, by the brilliant English writer Charles Dickens, is just one of those enduring stories.  Paraclete Press has done a wonderful job in reprinting this story with the original 1843 illustrations that came with the original printing.  

Why does this story stretch through the decades while remaining such an important work?  For one, Dickens paints the portrait of Ebeneezer Scrooge as a dour soul who is hell-bent on profit and weary of any kindness as man easily identifiable (in a most universal way).  Early in the story, Scrooge brings to the foreground characteristics of a such a man.  Dickens writes, "Oh!  But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge!  a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!" (10).  The description of Scrooge as a covetous man clutching at every profit and looking in no direction at his fellow man is part of the beauty of Scrooge's character.  Just as Dickens describes London in such a crude way in his other work, the emblematic portrait of Scrooge as a old and greedy codger is seen here.

Secondly, the way that Dickens brings out the character of Bob Cratchit and the whole family Cratchit family brims with much literary force.  He writes, "Oh, a wonderful pudding!  Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage." (75  Dickens brings together themes of humility and simplicity here that catches Scrooge off guard, because although they had little (the Cratchits), they were fully thankful and blessed by the fact that they had each other, and certainly enough food.

The spirits that come to meet Scrooge are some of the greatest elements in the whole story of The Christmas Carol.  In turn, we see Scrooge not so much as a unique greedy soul, but as one who gets caught up in the sinful behaviors of someone set out on the right track and little by little going wayward.

Thanks to Paraclete Press for the copy of this wonderful book.!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower

Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower by Tom Krattenmaker

The title alone piques the interest of most people interested in Jesus with the knowledge that we live in a secular society that has seemingly moved past a religion or religious rootedness.  How does one both live squarely in the world, without the trappings of orthodox belief, and follow Jesus?  Reporter and Columnist for USA Today Tom Krattenmaker, in his new book, Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower captures that sentiment as he seeks to follow the way of Jesus without holding to the teachings of one church or denomination.  Many will know Tom from his other books, including The Evangelicals You Don’t Know, where he captured the spirit of evangelicals in a progressive world, highlighting the people working in Portland and the west coast.

In his chapter on Bad Company, Tom levels our gaze at those who Jesus ministered to and told stories about who were marginalized by their culture.  In a winsome sort of way, Tom writes, “What do we do with the very real possibility that our own kind sometimes does the wrong thing, and the “other” kind sometimes does what’s right? (28)  We too often don’t recognize that our kind does do the wrong thing, even in a habitual and continual way and the other, those who we deem evil or wrongheaded do the right thing.  Tom points to the story of the Good Samaritan as a story in which the outcast ends up taking it upon himself to help, care for, and house a very badly beaten man.  Tom goes onto quip, “…the Samaritan for us may be a young African American man in a hoodie, a Muslim woman wearing a burka, a redneck, a lesbian, a Southern Baptist, a transgendered person.” (28)  Jesus didn’t have wrong people on his list but attitudes and actions that were cause for his anger.  This kind of thinking and acting is important because it levels the playing field, seeing all people as made in God’s image and having inestimable worth, bringing to the table all kinds of talents, gifts, and resources. 

After aiming his words at men and their unchecked lust after women that many times lead to immoral and ungodly behavior, Tom then turns our attention to how Jesus viewed and acted among the presence of women.  He writes, “Jesus was downright profligate at times in his extension of love, warmth, and acceptance to women, even to women of questionable reputation.” (71)  The strict hierarchical or cultural lines of separation between men and women were not followed by Jesus, and he even welcomed prostitutes and widows in his ministry.  Jesus’ question of “Do you see this woman?”  points harshly at the Pharisees who saw this woman as unclean and not worthy of being in their presence.  Jesus acted in a fully compassionate manner toward woman that told them of their dignity and value despite what other thought about them. 

I enjoyed Tom’s book immensely and even the section on what we are saved from, the notion that salvation and its consequences in our life can’t be relegated to a heaven looking view only.  But, as we are saved, we are saved from a kind of material salvation where we nonstop run the race of gathering more, thinking that the accumulation of wealth, power, and stuff makes us who we are. 

I agree with much of Tom’s words from his concern about America’s incarceration problem to his understanding of those who live in poverty and are considered the invisible.  Yet, although I think it’s possible to seek a life of good and human flourishing without faith, I believe that the Jesus we find in the gospel accounts calls us to much more than justice and righteousness, but that he calls us to himself in a relationship and to others, i.e. the church.  The good news of Jesus Christ, the hope of the gospel that Jesus saves us from our sins and brings us into fellowship with God the Father is of primary importance. 

Thanks to Blogging for Books for this book in exchange for an honest review.