Friday, May 27, 2016

The Blessing of Humility, by Jerry Bridges

Few writers have had the impact on contemporary Christianity that Jerry Bridges had.  I first encountered Bridges in college, when I read The Pursuit of Holiness.  Through that book and dozens of others, plus his work with the Navigators, he touched millions of lives.  He died in March, and NavPress has posthumously published Bridges's last book, The Blessing of Humility: Walk Within Your Calling.

Bridges reads the Beatitudes through the lens of humility, which "is the second-most frequently taught trait in the New Testament, second only to love."  I had never thought of the Beatitudes as a teaching on humility, but Bridges makes a convincing case.  He writes,
Only those who are poor in spirit and who mourn over sin will hunger and thirst after the righteousness we have in Christ.  And only those who are poor in spirit will recognize how far short they come in attaining experimental righteousness.  The awareness of our absolute dependence on the righteousness of Christ and of our failure to attain more experiential righteousness will produce humility in us.
One of the most powerful sections was the chapter on mourning.  "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. . . ." What are the blessed mourning?  Mourning over our sin.  When we mourn over our sin, we acknowledge our need for Jesus and his forgiveness.  That is one part of the humility we ought to have as Christians.  As we grow in Christ, we become increasingly aware of our need for him.

Bridges will be missed.  But he has left a tremendous legacy in his writings, not least this newest title.  The Blessing of Humility is a short book that packs a powerful punch.  Christian readers from any generation will be blessed by Bridges's work.

Thanks to the Tyndale Blog Network for the complimentary review copy!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Crippled America, by Donald J. Trump

A year ago, when Donald Trump announced his candidacy, very few people gave him a chance.  Many thought he was simply seeking publicity.  After a few months of primary elections, a Trump nomination seemed inevitable.  Now he's neck and neck in the polls with Hillary.  If you haven't been following his campaign, and wonder where he stands on key issues, pick up Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again.

Trump is the Republican nominee, and has been criticized by many for not being Republican enough or not being conservative enough.  But if you read Crippled America, you'll see that for the most part, Republicans and conservatives will be comfortable with Trump's positions.  He is more stringent on immigration than some Republicans, but many, many more Americans are on board with Trump.  On health care, he calls for a complete repeal of Obamacare, which most conservatives love.  However, I'm not sure how his health care solutions will sit with conservatives.

The big question is, no matter how good Trump's ideas are, can he get anything passed?  I'd seriously like to see him try.  While he's mostly conservative in his views, his positions in Crippled America are better described as common sense populism.  Trump is a guy who has gotten things done in business.  Now he's identifying problems in the U.S. and he's ready to offer solutions.

Is Trump a perfect candidate?  Clearly not.  He has lots of baggage, and has said some dumb things.  There are several Republican candidates I would rather have seen as the nominee.  I will admit that I would vote for just about anyone rather than Hillary.  But Crippled America encouraged me; there were many points at which I was nodding along with him.  I hope Republicans and other conservative voters will get past their offense at Trump's (unfortunately numerous) offensive remarks and pay attention to his positions.  A Hillary presidency wouldn't be the end of the world, but I dread the way she'll expand the government and I dread her Supreme Court appointments.  I can certainly live with a Trump presidency over another Clinton presidency.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book by a Presbyterian

Monday, May 23, 2016

How to Make White People Laugh, by Negin Farsad

Negin Farsad is a very funny lady.  An Iranian-American who grew up in Southern California, Farsad is a "social justice comedian" who believes making people laugh is far better than killing them.  In How to Make White People Laugh, Farsad tells stories of life as an Iranian-American Muslim female comedian-slash-filmmaker.  And really, when talking about race and ethnicity, I agree with her that "if people laugh, maybe they'll start fewer wars. . . . Laughter is the key to all sorts of conflict resolution."

A large part of her mission in social justice comedy is to assure Americans that Muslims aren't all that bad.  She made a movie called The Muslims are Coming! (check it out on Netflix).  In the book, she describes some of the "street theater" they filmed.  My favorite was standing outside the Mormon temple with a sign reading "Hug a Muslim."  She got some great hugs, with a couple taunts.  I think it's safe to say that despite the loudmouth critics of Islam, everyday Muslims (like the ones who live on my street in the Bible Belt) are welcomed and embraced like anyone else.!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_750/poster28n-1-web.jpgI also enjoyed reading about her subway poster campaign.  When an activist group ran a series of ads critical of Islam in New York's subways, one reaction would be anger and demands that the ads be removed.  Farsad chose a different route.  She created a series of posters light-heartedly pointing out contributions of Muslims and, more importantly, showing that Muslims are regular folks.

Like many Muslims in America, Farsad has learned to live among her neighbors in this mix of people that is the U.S.  In How to Make White People Laugh, however, she comes across as someone who still considers herself Muslim as cultural identity, but whose life reflects little adherence to actual Islam.  I was reminded of many Jewish friends I have, who identify as Jewish, but whose lifestyle, diet, moral code, and attendance at worship services does not indicate strong adherence to the Jewish faith.  Far be it from me to evaluate Farsad's religious beliefs based on this book, but I would say in general there is a big difference between someone who is nominally Muslim and someone who follows some of the very conservative groups.

Farsad also sent some mixed signals about Iran.  Of course Iran is a developed nation, with high levels of education, even among women.  The contrast to some of the Arab Muslim nations is stark.  But she still admits that in Iran "repression is in the air" and that "people in Iran are waiting for regime change."  Plus, if Iranians are so nice, it would help if they didn't say things like this:
Mohammad Khatami, the former president of Iran: “If we abide by real legal laws, we should mobilize the whole Islamic world for a sharp confrontation with the Zionist regime … if we abide by the Koran, all of us should mobilize to kill.”
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map of the region.”
Hassan Nasrallah, a leader of Hezbollah: “If they [Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.
So on the one hand, I completely embrace Farsad's message that we should laugh together and live together, no matter our faith, culture, or skin color.  Further, we should make a point to do so: "simply meeting people is the microrevolution that is  your mission."  However, I'm reluctant to accept that Islam is never a threat.  Would I go full Trump and preemptively keep all Muslims out of the U.S.?  No.  But if a devout Muslim from a country known to be supportive of terrorists wants to come to the U.S., I think he or she deserves extra scrutiny.

Sorry, Ms. Farsad, if that offends you.  I really think I would enjoy hanging out with you, and I'm sure I would enjoy your show.  I certainly enjoyed your funny, thought-provoking, and stereotype-busting book.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Founding Fathers Funnies, by Peter Bagge

I have long enjoyed Peter Bagge's comics in Reason magazine.  Those typically comment on contemporary issues.  In his new collection, Founding Fathers Funnies, he applies his goofy illustrating and political insight to the Founding Fathers. 

Bagge isn't so much interested in a retelling of American history, but in telling stories from history that we might be less familiar with.  Some of the characters are ones we recognize--the Founding Fathers themselves.  But he also brings in lesser known figures from the Revolutionary Era, like John Laurens and Nancy Morgan Hart.  I particularly liked Hart's story.  She and her daughter Sukey slaughtered six redcoats in Georgia in 1779.  Bring it!  I also enjoyed the story of Ben Franklin's dueling with words against his rival almanack writer, Titan Leeds.  This must have been hilarious to their readers at the time.  It wasn't so hilarious to Franklin's wife, who thought "Poor Richards's" wife "Bridget" too nearly resembled her. . . . She did not appreciate the depiction.
Bagge assumes a basic knowledge of the Revolutionary Era by his readers.  But these comics can certainly be enjoyed by someone who remembers little from their history classes.  They are fun to read, but I should point out that Bagge does not whitewash the historical record; hagiography these are not.

By the way, when I picked up the book, I thought, "I'll share this with my kids!"  Then I opened the book and saw the title of the first selection: "Let's F--- Sh-- Up!"  As accurate as that may be of the revolutionary attitude, I prefer less profane language. . . . But that's as bad as it got.  The rest of the collection is not rife with profanity.

I could read Bagge all day.  He's so funny, yet so smart and insightful.  I only wish there were more of his political and historical oeuvre to read!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

It's Not a Perfect World, but I'll Take It, by Jennifer Rose

Jennifer Rose is a college student who has high-functioning autism.  She has written a delightful book, It's Not a Perfect World, but I'll Take It: 50 Life Lessons for Teens Like Me Who Are Kind of (You Know) Autistic.  Rose, a bright, self-aware young lady, has much to offer for other teens who are living with autism.  I enjoyed her personal, practical insights.

A solid, fun-loving family gave her a strong foundation on which to grow.  She has confidence and self-assurance, and the ability to take life as it comes.  Her mom was a great advocate for her.  Rose's comment about her mother, after meeting "glamorous" autism advocate (and former model and Playboy playmate) reminded me of my wife: "All autism moms are glamorous in their own way because they work hard for their kids."

Rose discusses the mixed messages about "overcoming" autism in It's Not a Perfect World.  She seems to be aware of the movement celebrating the gift of autism, but adds a dose of reality.  She writes, "While it's great to celebrate the talents of autistic kids, you also have to deal with the hard issue of autism itself and its less pretty features."  We love the stories of autistic kids who have unique talents, "but we can't forget about the autistic kids who don't have special talents."  In other words, autism may be wonderful for some kids, but we shouldn't forget that "autism is very difficult for most kids."

Rose herself says she has "overcome" autism, to the extent that she now is enrolled in college.  Her target audience is other high-functioning kids like herself, to whom she offers a ray of hope and a path to a fulfilling future.  She writes with good humor and fun.  (Speaking of humor, I thought it was funny that this Jewish girl has fond memories of watching Veggie Tales, a favorite of evangelical Christians.)  The structure is a bit random, but isn't that how the minds of teenagers work?  Teens with autism and their parents will enjoy this uniquely insightful book.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Seven, by Jen Hatmaker

Is it possible to write a self-indulgent book about fasting?  Jen Hatmaker has done it.  Hatmaker, a popular author, conference speaker, and pastor's wife, chose seven areas in which she imposed on herself a month-long fast of sorts.  In 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, she describes her chosen fast, keeping the seven theme.  For example, for the food month, she limited her diet to only seven foods.  For the spending month, she chose only seven places to spend money.

Most of 7 is spent with Hatmaker humorously yet annoyingly talking about what a challenge it is to live this way.  Yes, I understand that only wearing seven pieces of clothing for a month can be a logistical laundry and fashion challenge.  But she spent much more time talking about the challenge than the lesson.  This was the pattern for the book.  Each chapter was about 80-90 percent Hatmaker's chatty, self-indulgent reflections, and (maybe) 10-20 percent spiritual reflection.

To her credit, some of the reflections and lessons learned were worth reading, if a bit shallow.  For someone who's never read a word about justice, fasting, or self-sacrifice, I'm sure 7 will be full of profound revelations.  Mostly, though, it's a blog-style memoir of some arbitrary life choices that will make you laugh a little while asking, so what's the point?

2016 Reading Challenge: A book by or about a pastor's wife

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Weighted Blanket Guide, by Eileen Parker and Cara Koscinski

If you have autism, or have a child who is autistic or who has sensory issues, you know the importance of deep pressure.  Eileen Parker, an adult living with autism and sensory processing disorder (SPD), and Cara Kosinski, an occupational therapist who specializes in autism and SPD, have written The Weighted Blanket Guide: Everything You Need to Know about Weighted Blankets and Deep Pressure for Autism, Chronic Pain, and Other Conditions.

This is a very practical guide for someone considering using a weighted blanket.  While they are proponents of the use of weighted blankets, they acknowledge that their use is supported by anecdote and preference, not scientific evidence.  "There is no scientific proof that weighted blankets work.  But a great deal of anecdotal evidence supports that they do work."  The authors provide a great deal of anecdotal evidence, as well as guidelines for the use of a weighted blanket.

Ms. Parker has owned a company that sold weighted blankets.  She provides guidelines for buying and selecting an appropriate blanket.  They also give detailed instructions for making a blanket, should the reader have some sewing skills (and some time).  I was convinced to consider trying a weighted blanket with my son who has SPD, and tempted to try it myself.  They say "many patients who used the blankets feel calmer, more grounded, safe and secure, with improved concentration and decreased stress and anxiety, as well has having improved sleep."  How's that for an endorsement!

Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!