Friday, May 22, 2015

Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker

The full title of this book is: Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity. It is the story of how God moved Jen and her husband out of a thriving ministry to start doing church a whole new way. It's similar to Hugh Halter's Flesh, which I reviewed a few weeks ago in that it describes the adventure of living their faith "out of the (Christian) box".

Hatmaker writes about her life-altering prayer, "God, raise up in me a holy passion." I meant "God, give me happy feelings." I was not seriously asking for intervention that would require anything of me. Hardly. "Holy Passion" meant "pull me out of this funk with Your magic happiness wand." Was that too much to ask? Can't a girl get some cheery feelings about her wonderful, prosperous life? Evidently not. (p. 9)

She goes on to recount how the Lord moved them from a comfortable church position to a no-job, no-church, no salary scenario. Since we couldn't rely on our default responses - planning, organizing, mobilizing, controlling - we did the only thing left. We prayed like crazy people... Never have we stood with such open hands, clinging to nothing, ready for anything... When we had nothing left to protect, no position left to defend, no reputation left to guard, and no one else to please, we got our marching orders. (p. 139-141)

I get a kick out of the next part of their testimony since it was a call from a Free Methodist (the tiny denomination of which I'm a part) superintendent that changed their course. He and 60 prayer partners had raised the funds to start a church plant in Austin, Texas. Could the Hatmaker's see their way clear to partcipate? Yes, they could! Then began a roller coaster ride of faith as they reached out to people in whole new ways.

Hatmaker feels there is an overemphasis on Sunday morning church as the "front door." Sharing our lives with dear people to win them to Jesus is the substance of Christianity. A pastor cannot effectively show love to his entire congregation as he preaches from the pulpit. A random group of stangers standing in the church lobby cannot offer legitimate community to a sojourner who walks in the door. One decent sermon cannot influence a disoriented person in the same way your consistent presence in her life can. (p. 205)

She goes on to talk about the cost of pouring yourself out for others so that they might be drawn to Christ (what Oswald Chambers calls "being broken bread and poured out wine.") Unlike many evangelistic methods, this relationship building takes time. "In our community, people are hungry to have a meaningful spiritual discussion, they just don't want to have it with a Christian weirdo who doesn't even know their last name." (p. 236) Indeed.

This book will give you lots to think about. Of all Hatmaker's books, this is the one she most highly recommends.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What's On My Nightstand

I'm sitting in the University library in my favorite small town in Michigan, basically in book heaven. I just looked at my Amazon "books to investigate" list and ordered the following books via inter-library loan.

The Scarlet and the Black - Gallagher (WWII)
Our Only May Amelia - Holm (children's lit)
How to be Idle by Hodgkinson
If You Want to Write by Ueland
The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders (about the trinity)
Becoming Orthodox by Gillquist
Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and The Rise of Raunch Culture by Levy (It's the subtitle that appeals to me.)

Already on my book pile: Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe by Lucado.

It's a cold, gray day. Perfect for curling up with one of these books! (I'm restraining myself from putting multiple exclamation points.) So happy to have access to so many books.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Benefit of Kindle Fire for Book Bloggers (and other Random Thoughts)

By the time this post goes live I'll be in the U.S. for our brief home assignment. I have pre-scheduled several posts because I don't know when I'll be back online.

First of all, I'm excited about living in a city in Michigan where I'll have access to many libraries. My Amazon wish list is really a list of 500+ suggestions for books and I'll be reading/exploring voraciously during our 8-month stay.

Secondly, for any of bloggers who use Kindle Fire, I want to share what I love about the color options for highlighting. I use the yellow for general highlighting, the pink for salient quotes (for the blog or for facebook), the blue for new vocabulary words and the brown for titles of books or points of history that require further investigation. Since research shows that our brains remember less of what we read on e-readers, I like to finish a book and then go back and re-read all my yellow highlights to fix the main ideas in my head.

Third, there has been some buzz on the internet on the book How Dante Can Save Your Life by Rod Dreher. Since I made it through Paradise Lost, I may just give this classic a try as well.

Fourth, my brother, Dr. Bill Ury is a wonderful thinker/teacher/preacher and has just had a book published on the important theme of forgiveness.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Paradise Lost for Dummies (like me!)

It's been two weeks since I finished Paradise Lost and I'm still speechless. It is a work of astonishing beauty and unforgettable imagery, which rightly deserves its place in the canon of the world's greatest literature.

But here I must make a confession: It took a tremendous amount of determination to finish it. And I only made it through with the help of several other resources. First, I found John Milton's Paradise Lost In Plain English which included a simple paraphrase along with the original text. I am pretty good at reading antiquated English, but even so I needed the "translation" about half the time.

As a child I was not fond of peas and was often sent to the basement to finish my meal. Reading Paradise Lost was a bit like sitting on those basement steps, struggling to get down each bite. But, lo and behold, I discovered an ally in Leland Ryken who encouraged me to keep going via his series, Christian Guides to the Classics

Ryken, an English professor at Wheaton College, has written a booklet outlining the major themes of Milton's masterpiece. He also supplies discussion questions and many insights into the book of which I was unaware, especially that PL mirrored all the great epic stories while at the same time turning them on their heads.

I could keep on gushing about the book, but luckily for you I have a bad cold and I'm leaving Brazil in less than a week (!) and don't have the time or energy to write more. I'll leave you with a few examples from the book.

After Adam and Eve sin, Christ says to his Father:

I go to judge on earth these thy transgressors, but thou knowst, whoever judged, the worst in me must light, when time shall be, for so I undertook before Thee; and not repenting, this obtain of right, that I may mitigate their doom on me derived. (Lanzara's paraphrase: I'll go judge the sinners. But you and I both know I'll be the one who gets the worst of the punishment. I promised it so they wouldn't have to die and I have no regrets.)

Examples of Milton's lovely prose:

Nor love thy life, nor hate; but what thou livst, live well. How long or short permit to Heav'n. XI-553

Satan mocks God's angels by saying they praise Him with "warbled hymns" and "forced hallelujahs." (II-243).

Contrast that to Milton's view of angels in heaven who "eat, drink, and in communion sweet quaff immortality and joy." V-637

This is another favorite book of mine for 2015.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

Batman has Albert. Wooster has Jeeves. And Wimsey has the amazing Mervyn Bunter as his butler sidekick.

Lord Peter Wimsey is a bored aristocrat who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder related to his experiences in WWI. One of the "cures" is to keep his mind busy by solving crimes. He especially enjoys beating the slow-witted inspector Sugg at his own game.

I loved this first in the Lord Peter Wimsey novels. Aside from some light profanities, it is chock-full of British witticisms and had me smiling from start to finish. A wealthy financier turns up missing on the same night that a naked stranger is found in Mr. Thipp's bathtub. They are not the same man, but Wimsey is determined to show that they are connected.

The two men who help are his manservant Bunter and Chief inspector Charles Parker. Both these men are endearing. Bunter is pure snob, but manages to pull it off beautifully. Parker is a more humble man who reads theology books for pleasure. He is the "slow and steady" foil to Wimsey's more flighty character.

Whose Body? pretends to be a light-hearted mystery, but asks important questions. The scientist in the story sees piety and concience as chemical/physical responses. "The knowledge of good and evil is an observed phenomenon, attendant upon a certain condition of the brain cells" (p. 91) Lord Peter and Inspector Parker have a long conversation about the the morality of detective work. Plus there are a lot of literary allusions. So it's a fun book if you like to think even when reading lighter fare.

Unlike the pricier books in the series Whose Body? is only 99 cents for Kindle.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Inmates are Running the Asylum by Stephen Altrogge

When my work load is overwhelming, I don't want my reading to be heavy too. So I was happy to stumble upon these essays by Stephen Altrogge.  I must have been in the mood for Atrogge's quirky humor, because I had to keep myself from laughing out loud on the subway when I read, "There are certain things that parenting books can't prepare you for, such as dealing with real, living children."

This short book (68 pages) is light and witty, yet not "fluffy." Altrogge gives you lots to think about as he pokes fun at parenting experts, Amish romances, reality TV, and organic food. I really appreciated what he had to say about the present popularity of bucket lists:

If you were to only look at our bucket lists, you would conclude that my generation is the most ambitious generation to ever walk the face of the earth. Everybody wants to accomplish a lot of awesome things. Now, I'm all for ambitious goal-setting and for trying to acheive great things, but the whole concept of a bucket list kind of bothers me. When you think about it, the whole concept is profoundly selfish. [The Bible says,] "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." If anything, I should be making a bucket list of ways I want to serve others before I die."

Where's the excitement in that? Wheres the fun and thrill in that? I mean, holiness doesn't exactly give the same adrenaline rush as dropping out of a helicopter and skiing down the slopes of a mountain. The thing God cares about and honors is faithfulness, not famousness. Faithfulness looks like creating spreadsheets and changing diapers and caring for aging parents and setting up chairs on Sunday morning. Nobody gets a standing ovation for faithfulness. Nobody even notices, except God.

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum is an odd combination of goofy humor and clear thinking. Worth a look.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Movies about Faith

It's a rare thing to find a movie that deals with Christianity in a responsible and respectful way. So I was intrigued by these two lists that surfaced recently.

Relevant Magazine highlighted 8 Underrated "Christian" Movies. I've only seen a couple of them. Although The Book of Eli was way over my comfort level for violence, it was a remarkable movie. I'll never forget the scene when Solara wakes up and sees Eli reading the Bible and asks him why he would bother reading the same book every day. Good question. And of course the final scene when he reaches safety and "hands  over" the book is powerful.

The Imaginative Conservative lists 10 Movies Every Conservative Should See. While, not overtly Christian, they deal with the important themes of hope, mercy, free will, and family. (I've only seen one of the ten.)

Let's face it. Most Christian movies are cheesy and I'd be embarrassed to show them to anyone. But here are a few other films that handle Christian themes with care:

1) A Man for All Seasons (1966)
2) Babette's Feast (1987)
3) The Scarlet and the Black (1983)
4) Unbroken (2014)
5) Chariots Of Fire (1981)
6) Secretariat (2010) - Though not technically a "Christian" movie, it includes voice-overs of scripture being read and seamlessly includes the gospel song "Oh Happy Day." Powerful without being obtrusive.
7) Person of Interest (TV series) deals with many ethical issues. (Are bad people worth saving? How far can man go in trying to play God? etc.) In spite of the violence, I appreciated the repeated redemptive themes in this program.

Do you have suggestions for other movies?