Monday, October 5, 2015

Uncensored, by Brian Cosby

This year I have been reading the Bible in chronological order.  I admit, it's been a while since I have read through the Old Testament.  As I read the history of the Patriarchs, and especially the history of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, I get so frustrated with the stories.  There are times when the people of the Bible make ISIS look reasonable and the God of the Old Testament seems far distant from the character of Jesus.  I have to come to grips with the fact that I would rather cut some of those passages right out of the Bible instead of dealing with them as a part of my heritage of faith.

Brian Cosby, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America denomination, addresses this very struggle in his new book, Uncensored: Daring to Embrace the Entire Bible.  He writes that "many self-professing Christians cherry pick the Scriptures for a feel-good faith."  We like the scriptures that make a good bumper sticker or t-shirt slogan, but spend a little time reading the Bible and you'll find plenty that you don't want to see on your next youth retreat t-shirt.

Cosby leaves no doubt that he holds a high view of scripture.  He affirms that "God's Word is inspired, inerrant, and authoritative."  When there's something troubling in the Bible, "it beckons my trust in a God who is using His Word to take me to His intended destination."  Cosby shares R.C. Sproul's view: "When there's something in the Word of God that I don't like, the problem is not with the Word of God, it's with me."

After affirming the reliability and authority of scripture, Cosby addresses some specific areas in which Christians tend to be selective in their reading and use of scripture.  He discusses creation, God's justice, God's role in restraining evil while not being the source of evil, his intolerance for sin, and the reality of hell.  Cosby also delves into some expressions of cherry-picking faith: churches that emphasize entertainment as worship, and parents who outsource the development and teaching of their children to third parties.

Uncensored has helped me to reflect on ways in which I tend to gloss over or ignore passages that I don't like as I read.  It's a great reminder that "all scripture is God-breathed and is useful . . ."  His advice is perfect: "When we come to a Scripture passage that is offensive, we should pray and ask, 'God, why have You inspired this text?  What are You trying to teach Your church?  How does this humble me and glorify Christ?'"

Cosby addresses some of the "hard passages" that may come to your mind as you read, although not to an extent that will satisfy everyone.  He gives some good examples, but the strength of Uncensored lies in the encouragement to embrace all of the Bible with the attitude that God included even the embarrassing, unsettling, and downright offensive portions of scripture for a good reason.  That reason may not be evident to me, but, like Sproul said, my presumption must be that the problem lies with me, not with God.

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

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Deep Dark Fears, by Fran Krause

Fran Krause sees peril all around her, real, potential, or purely fantastical.  Based on some of her own fears, as well as some solicited from readers of her blog, she has created a collection of comics encouraging just a little bit more fear.  Deep Dark Fears will ring true with many readers.  Reactions will range from, "I am scared of the same thing!" to "That's ridiculous!" to "I never thought of that--but now I will!"

I don't worry so much about ghosts or a parallel world in the mirror or my loved ones being reincarnated as pets, who then see me going to the bathroom.  But I can see how some might!  More compelling are the fears that pretty much all of us can relate to, like being caught publicly doing something on social media, like "Facebook stalking" your old girlfriend.  And who can't relate to being afraid of becoming "an old person who makes kids afraid of getting old"?

Krause's humor is on the dark side, funny and thoughtful.  Her drawings are the sort that makes you feel like anyone could draw them.  I mean that in the best sense--the art conveys a sense of shared experience.  Deep Dark Fears reminds me of my friend who always seemed to imagine the worst that could happen.  Maybe you've never been afraid of being cut in half by the elevator.  But pick up Deep Dark Fears and you're sure to find some familiar fears--and maybe some new ones, too.

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

Friday, October 2, 2015

Behind the Ivy Curtain, by Aayush Upadhyay

As the father of a high school junior, I have a front-row seat for the pursuit of the college dream.  Like many kids near the top of their high school class, my son is a shoo-in for acceptance to the vast majority of colleges in the U.S.  But when it comes to competitive scholarships and acceptance to that small percentage of elite schools, the odds are not in his favor.  Truth be told, the odds are against anyone getting into some of the elite colleges, with acceptance rates in the single digits.

Into that fray enters Aayush Upadhyay, a recent Yale grad who has crunched some numbers and has valuable insights for high school students whose sights are set on the Ivy League. In Behind the Ivy Curtain: A Data-Driven Guide to College Admissions, Upadhyay breaks down admissions data culled from to give applicants some insight into what matters for those seeking to join the ranks of the Ivy League.

None of Upadhyay's conclusions will shock the reader.  The higher the rank, the higher the test scores, the better the chances for admission.  He sheds some light on some of the more subjective elements, like extracurriculars (multiple years in one activity tends to beat short tenures in multiple activities), but, again, nothing too surprising.

Upadhyay's analysis and conclusions are worth reading for applicants to Ivy League schools.  I was left with the feeling that unless GPA, class rank, and test scores aren't top-notch, the rest of the application will never matter.  Behind the Ivy Curtain feeds into the growing perception of ambitious high school students that admission to an Ivy League school is the only route to success in academics and life.  I hope my son and others like him will realize that while Ivy League schools may provide a great academic experience, there are plenty of other schools around the country where excellent academics, excellent professional development and networking, excellent character building, and excellent life experiences can be found.

Thanks to the author for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Lies Couples Believe, by Chris Thurman

Are you experiencing discord, disagreement, unhappiness, or discontent in your marriage?  Whether it's just a little, every now and then, or a permanent state, the reason your marriage is less than it could be is likely because you are believing a lie about yourself, your spouse, or marriage itself.  In Lies Couples Believe: How Living the Truth Transforms Your Marriage, Dr. Chris Thurman breaks down ten common lies that can diminish or even destroy a marriage.

Drawing on decades of counseling married couples, Dr. Thurman identifies ten lies that he has seen impact marriages.  No marriage is exempt.  He writes, "every one of us who are married believes all ten of the lies covered in this book.  We believe some of these lies more strongly than others, but we believe all of them to some degree."  I will leave it to you to conclude whether he is correct.  I will say that if you have never believed any of them at any time, you are a better spouse than I!

Here are the lies:
1. The purpose of marriage is to be happy.
2. My spouse can completely meet all my needs.
3. My spouse is a bigger mess of a human being than I am.
4. I am entitled to my spouse's love.
5. Our marital problems are all my spouse's fault.
6. My spouse should accept me just the way I am.
7. My spouse should be just like me.
8. I see my spouse for who my spouse really is.
9. My spouse has to earn my forgiveness.
10. We can reconcile without repenting.

Do you see yourself in some of those?  All of those?  Maybe depending on the day or month, you have bought into some of these lies.  Dr. Thurman's emphasis throughout Lies Couples Believe is fixing your own attitudes.  As tempting as it might be to blame marital unhappiness on your partner, you can see by the lies he lists that step one is acknowledging the lie and changing one's own beliefs and actions.

Each chapter (lie) concludes with practical steps to reflect, to apply biblical truth, and to take action.  Like I suspect many readers will do, I initially scanned the list of lies and thought I was exempt.  Surely this book isn't for me. . . . But I have to admit (as will, I suspect, will most readers), most of these hit home.  Newlyweds or old couples, blissfully happy or on the ropes, just about any couple can benefit from reading Lies Couples Believe. 

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

Monday, September 28, 2015

Man Enough, by Nate Pyle

Like many churches, my church has a men's ministry.  Starting with Promise Keepers and influenced by John Eldredge's books, men's ministries seem to have flourished, emphasizing shooting guns, eating wild game, growing beards, and thumping chests.  OK, I'm being a bit facetious; I know much good has come from these ministries.  But, as Nate Pyle writes in Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood, it may be that men's ministries are missing the mark when they characterize manliness by hunting and fishing, sports, cars, and cooking on the grill.

These men movements have been built in reaction to what is viewed as a feminization of the church.  Pyle argues that the emphasis on the "wild man" has "encouraged some men while emasculating and alienating others."  Not all men are into hunting and sports.  In fact, the image many men's ministries promote is more an American ideal than a biblical ideal, the self-made man, the independent hero, the star athlete.

Taking Jesus as our model, we see he was not a warrior, a fighter, or a football player.  He was humble, a servant.  We want to emulate him by exhibiting the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, traits that are typically viewed as more feminine.  Further, Paul writes that there is no longer male and female in Christ; both men and women are called to become more like Christ.

Pyle in no way diminishes gender differences.  Clearly men and women are different and have different roles.  His task is to remind us that "Jesus showed us that to be fully human is to embrace the masculine and feminine qualities that exist within all of us."  He concludes, "the world doesn't need a manlier man; the world needs a more human man."

Pyle writes with compassion while challenging the reader to be more like Christ and not aim to be more like a modern, American image of a "real man." There's nothing wrong with such an image, but it's not the primary ideal to which Christians should aim.

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

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Tiny Games for Work, by Hide & Seek

Sometimes you just need a little diversion to break up the work day.  The folks at Hide & Seek have just the thing for you.  Tiny Games for Work is full of ideas for tiny games that you can play at work, many of them while actually working!

I like the fact that many of their game suggestions can be played without completely detracting from productivity.  I also like that fact that the games are positive, i.e. not destructive or bullying.  For example, one game challenges employees to attempt to pour on compliments to customers, with extra points for every use of the word "very."  (That's a very, very, very lovely dress you have on!)

Many of the games can be played anywhere, not just in the workplace.  If you need ideas for car games or party games, you'll find some fun ones here.  Challenge yourself to use the "random article" feature on Wikipedia, then incorporate the results into your e-mails all day.  Or, challenge yourself to see how many times you can get your chair to spin.  Or, challenge your co-workers to see who can build the tallest tower of Post-It notes.

When traffic is slow in your place of business, or the afternoon hours are getting too lazy, brighten up the office with a little distraction.  Challenge the mind with some mental gymnastics. Participate in some team building.  Just be sure not to attract the boss's ire.  Have fun!

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

Friday, September 25, 2015

iRules, by Janell Burley Hofmann

iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know about Selfies, Sexting, Gaming, and Growing Up isn't really a book about technology; it's a book about parenting.  Jannell Burley Hofmann wants parents to recognize that, yes, there's lots of new technology out there, but that parents have a responsibility to keep up with their children, no matter the media.

Hofmann encourages parents not only to be aware of what social media and other communications their children have online, but to follow their Facebook, Instragram, Twitter, or other feeds, so they can see what their children and peers are posting.  Further, she asserts that parents' demanding to have access to password-protected sites is acceptable.  Just as we might allow our children to have a lock on their bedroom door, to allow for privacy when needed or wanted, we would insist that we have a key (and that they not lock themselves in with friends of the opposite sex!).

A good parent will have a good idea of who their child is hanging out with, what kinds of activities they participate in, and what their hobbies and interests are.  Electronic communications should not change that.  Even as social media, video gaming, and electronic-based relationships become more complex, parents have a responsibility to provide guidance and oversight.  Hofmann's suggestions are reasonable, knowledgable, and welcome.

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