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!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Beautiful You, by Chuck Palahniuk

Every Chuck Palahniuk book I read makes me sadder and sadder about his writing career.  The brilliance and social commentary that made him famous have either run out or gone bad.  Beautiful You may be one of the worst.

A billionaire invents a line of, ahem, tools of self-gratification for females.  "A billion husbands are about to be replaced. . . ."  His products take over the world, introducing an experience more addicting than any drug.  Women disappear from public life.  Of course he's being absurd, taking the story to ridiculous extremes.  But he doesn't make a worthwhile point.

Speaking of worthwhile, I don't anticipate that any future Palahniuk books will be worth my while.  If any future titles return to the level of Fight Club, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

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

Monday, September 21, 2015

Come Rain or Come Shine, by Jan Karon

For more than twenty years, through ten novels, fans of Jan Karon have followed the lives of Father Tim and his friends and family.  In her eleventh Mitford novel, Come Rain or Come Shine, Karon brings the whole gang together to celebrate Dooley and Lace's wedding.

I don't know whether Karon intends to close the book on Mitford--she has threatened to before--but Come Rain or Come Shine reads like the end of a series.  Characters from earlier books come together from around the country.  Relationships are healed and restored.  Nostalgic stories are told.  It reminded me of a TV series finale.

On the other hand, Dooley and Lace are celebrating all kinds of new beginnings.  Not only are they getting married, Dooley has graduated from veterinary school and opened his clinic.  They have brought a bull to Meadowgate to assist in adding to the herd.  They get a new puppy.  Last but not least, they adopt a little boy, who joins the family on the eve of the wedding.  So even though she seems wrapping up the Mitford series, maybe she's kicking off a new Meadowgate series.

Readers who have read some or all of the Mitford books will love Come Rain or Come Shine.  The reunions are sweet and the characters are their usual colorful self.  Those who are not familiar with all the characters may feel a bit lost.  Karon jumps between characters' perspectives frequently.  It was easy for me to get confused about who Karon was talking about.  (This is partly a result of my little bitty brain, but mostly because of the Kindle version, which did not give a visual cue when shifting to a new storyline.  The print versions of Karon's books have a design at each break.)

Come Rain or Come Shine has all the elements that Karon's fans love.  She writes with good humor, encouraging wisdom, and genuine faith.  The wedding plans, the wedding, and the potluck reception and dance afterwards offer lots of opportunities for grins and laugh out loud moments.  The reunions and intimate chats offer lots of opportunities for tears and "awww" moments.  Time, and Jan Karon's will, will tell whether we hear more stories from Mitford or Meadowgate.  In the meantime, Karon's fans will love catching up with their old Mitford friends in Come Rain of Come Shine.

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

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Way to School, by Rosemary McCarney

If your parents ever told you (or you have ever told your kids!) what a tough time you had getting to school, uphill both ways, ten miles in waist-deep snow, etc., even your exaggerations probably won't match up to the journeys to school taken by the children in The Way to School.  Rosemary McCarney, who works for Plan International Canada, has gathered images from around the world showing children on their way to school.

If these kids ever have kids, they will have stories to tell about getting to school.  "We had to crawl across a damaged bridge, in danger of falling into a river."  "I rode a water buffalo to school."  "We climbed a high ladder to crawl over a cliff."  "We climbed over mountain and went through a tunnel in the mountain."  "We walked across a glacier on the way to school."  "We had to carry our own desks to school."  Or, "You're lucky to go to school.  We were too poor for school." Or, "I couldn't go to school because our school was destroyed by an earthquake/typhoon/tsunami."  You get the idea.

The photographs are beautiful in the various settings.  The joy the children share in going to school is evident.  I love this kind of book, that makes the world seem bigger, by showing people from around the world, and smaller, by showing universal shared experiences.  My kids' schools are very different from the schools or the ways to school in The Way to School.  But I can see my kids and their classmates in the faces of these kids around the world.

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

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Free State, by Tom Piazza

Every now and then I'll read a novel that worms its way into my consciousness, quietly asserting itself immediately into my long-term memory, bypassing the spots taken up by more forgettable fiction.  A Free State is one of those memorable novels.  Tom Piazza masterfully captures life in the mid-nineteenth century, bringing to life a southern plantation, the filthy streets of Philadelphia, and a personal, unforgettable portrait of slavery.

As the son of a plantation owner and a slave woman, Henry Sims was never a typical field slave.  He learned to read, and played the banjo and sang for the master and his guests.  As he grew up and the life and abuse of the plantation became untenable, he made his escape.  He found his way to the minstrel shows of Philadelphia, at first passing himself as Spanish, but on stage wearing blackface over his lighter, mixed-race skin.

In spite of his incognito appearance, his banjo playing renown catches up with him when a slave hunter tracks him down.  In the hunt, the real ugliness and evil of slavery manifests, especially as personified in Tull, the slave hunter.  The stories of Tull's exploits, surely based on actual practices, will turn the stomach of any reader.

I thoroughly enjoyed A Free State.  Piazza doesn't make the slave owner out to be pure evil.  (Well, he's pretty evil.)  More notably, he doesn't present Henry as some pure, noble character.  He is very human, and not necessarily a great moral figure, but he is one with whom the reader can have compassion.  Perhaps the most moral figure is the abolitionist senator, but he was also a product of his times, even if more enlightened than most.

Piazza captured the views of slavery and slaves from several perspectives.  Even those helping him out wanted him to fit a certain mold: "To the abolitionists, Henry was a representative of a subjugated people, nothing less, and nothing more."  His friend in the minstrel show reflected on the idyllic plantation scene they used as a backdrop on stage: "I knew that Negroes we depicted so fancifully were, in real life, subject to harsh treatment and compulsory labor."  Getting know Henry, he realizes that "I had let myself be deceived, though I should have known better.  And now, from behind that beautiful, pernicious illusion, reality had come snarling."  As mentioned, Tull's attitude of Henry as property or contraband contrasts with the senator's beginning to see Henry as, if not an equal, at least as a peer and companion.

Through all of this, Piazza never seems to impose 21st century moral standards on 19th century characters.   I thought Piazza artfully captured the tone of the times.  In fact, I found myself wondering if A Free State was actually written in the 19th century.  Black slavery in the United States seems like ancient history, but the attitudes and history are still relevant today.  This is a novel I highly recommend.

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Woodlawn, by Todd Gerelds

Tis the season for football, so how about an inspirational football movie?  In a few weeks Woodlawn will be released, bringing to the big screen the story of an Alabama high school football team in the 1970s.  In case the place and date don't click with you, this is at the time of school desegregation in one of the most racially divided parts of the country.  Woodlawn follows the desegregation of Woodlawn High School and the response of the football team.

The Woodlawn football coach, Tandy Gerelds, didn't set out to be a trailblazer or revolutionary.  He was just a guy who wanted to be a football coach.  In the book Woodlawn: One Hope. One Dream. One Way, Gerelds's son Todd Gerelds, with the help of veteran sports writer Mark Schlabach, writes about his father's life and legacy as an Alabama coaching legend.

Two things make the story of Woodlawn worth telling.  First of all, this team managed to come together and build camaraderie on and off the football field across the deep racial divides of Birmingham.  The white players and coaches, including Gerelds, had plenty of hesitation and resistance to playing with the black kids.  The black kids suffered not only the racism of the white kids and teachers at Woodlawn, but also rejection from blacks in their neighborhood.

The second part of the story is what makes the first part work.  Against Gerelds's better judgment, at the time, he allowed an evangelist to preach the gospel to the football team.  Virtually every one of them gave their lives to Christ.  From that point on, a new sense of unity emerged on the team.  And for many of the boys, it stuck!  Several became pastors and continued to walk with Jesus into adulthood.

The story of this football team is really inspiring.  It does feel a bit like those fictional stories, where once someone becomes a Christian or starts taking their Christian faith seriously, everything works out great (see Facing the Giants).  But Woodlawn is a true story, and, in fact, once the football players and coaches became Christians and committed to "playing for the Lord," they really started winning more games.

I am looking forward to seeing this movie.  The book is nicely told, but it felt a bit emotionally detached.  I wanted a bit more drama!  The book hints at the drama, and touches on the powerful changes in the kids' and coaches' lives, but maintains a feeling of viewing it all from a distance.  Once the stories from Woodlawn make it to film, I have a feeling the emotional impact will be stronger than the book.

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

Monday, September 14, 2015

INCI, by Mike Resnick and Tina Gower

Given the vastness of the universe, I have always thought that either humans were destined to expand to other planets, or there is life on other planets.  And if there is life on other planets, I have wondered, as a Christian, if we are destined to take the gospel to other beings, or if God became flesh and lived among life forms on other planets.  Mary Doria Russell explored the question of Christian missions to other planets the in The Sparrow.

In Mike Resnick and Tina Gower's novel INCI, they get into both questions.  Rev. Joshua Barker joins a scientific mission to Kaus, a newly discovered world.  He tells Bible stories to the natives, who have a rudimentary understanding of his language.  Soon he befriends on he calls "Click" and begins to send more time among the Kausians.  As he tells the story of Jesus, the Kausians respond with stories of "the steam." As Baker looks into the steam stories, he learns stories that strangely parallel Christ's crucifixion, not only on Kaus but on other planets as well.

INCI is a strange little book.  I enjoyed the depiction of evangelization among the Kausians.  But INCI didn't go deep enough to satisfy my theological interest, and the story wasn't compelling enough to satisfy my sci-fi interest.  It was just OK on both counts.

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

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Landscapes for the People, by Ren and Helen Davis

I think we can all agree that our national parks are a great national treasure.  We owe a debt of gratitude to those visionary Americans who set aside the land that became national parks.  One of those visionaries, in a literal sense, who captured the vision on film, was George Alexander Grant.  From the 1920s to the 1950s Grant, a veteran of the Great War (WW1), criss-crossed the country capturing on film not only the distinctive beauty to be found in the national parks, but a chronicle of the development of the parks.

Ren and Helen Davis have compiled many of his photographs, ranging from sweeping landscapes to intimate portraits and detail studies, in Landscapes for the People: George Alexander Grant, First Chief Photographer of the National Park Service.  Besides the photographs, they have included very nice historical and biographical background in accompanying essays.  Grant's own writings are included as well, in which he discusses the technical side of his photography for students of the art.  That alone is worth reading, especially as a reminder, in the age of digital, iPhone photography, of the techniques that for so many photographers, are in danger of being completely forgotten.

To be honest, Grant's photography, while impressive, doesn't have the emotional and artistic brilliance seen in Ansel Adams's work.  That may be an unfair comparison.  What I loved about seeing Grant's work was the history.  He didn't simply photograph the parks, he photographed people developing and enjoying the parks.  The clothing, cars, camping gear, tools all show a slice of the outdoor life in the first half of the twentieth century, while emphasizing the timelessness of nature.

(Here's my suggestion for the Davis's next book: using Grant's photographs as a guide, set up the camera in the same spot, and have people in modern dress and modern camping equipment replicate the poses and scenes.  That would be fun to see.)

Even though these pictures are all at least 60-70 years old, they capture life in the national parks in such a way that readers will be inspired to start planning their next visit.  It's time for a road trip!

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

Friday, September 11, 2015

Mama Needs a Do-Over: Simple Steps to Turning a Hard Day Around, by Lisa Pennington

Lisa Pennington has nine children.  How's that for a resume?  I know there is more to being a good mother than quantity, but when someone has chosen to have a large family and is able to write about parenthood in a positive, entertaining, and helpful way, she's worth listening to.  Mama Needs a Do-Over: Simple Steps to Turning a Hard Day Around is a fun book that moms will enjoy reading.

Mama Needs a Do-Over isn't really a parenting book, although most of the stories she tells revolve around her life as a mother and home-maker.  Pennington home schools her children, but she doesn't talk about home school very much.  Mostly she offers encouragement for all of us that when life doesn't quite work out the way we plan it, we can endure much better with joy and fun.  She tells silly stories on her family and encourages the reader to think of creative ways to "add joy and humor to an unplanned sidestep that are uniquely you."  She writes, "Going through life with a purpose to enjoy yourself right where you are is a beautiful gift."

Nobody's perfect.  Pennington doesn't mind getting a laugh out of her imperfections and even writing about them.  Mothers (and fathers) will appreciate her transparency, but more than that will appreciate her willingness to share her foibles as a reminder to all of us to relax, take it easy, and laugh a little.

Pennington maintains a website that you might enjoy:

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

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Jesus, Pope Francis, and a Protestant Walk into a Bar, by Paul Rock and Bill Tammeus

``Pope Francis has broken new ground, as the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere, but has also brought a new feeling of openness, inclusiveness, and relatebility to the papacy.  He has found admirers and popularity within the Roman Catholic Church as well as among secular and Protestant groups.  Count Paul Rock, pastor of Kansas City, Missouri's Second Presbyterian Church, among Pope Francis's fans.

In his new book Jesus, Pope Francis, and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church, which springs from a sermon series Rock and two of his fellow pastors preached at Second Presbyterian, Rock sings the praises of Francis.  I'm not sure Rock has a negative word for the new pope. . . .  The heart of Rock's message is Christian unity, and Francis has certainly reached out to many groups as well.  However, Francis gives no indication that he is ready to acknowledge that Protestant churches are part of the The Church.

I find it interesting that so many Protestants and unbelievers have embraced Pope Francis.  I also find it interesting that Rock and other mainline Christians sound so much more willing to reach out in fellowship to Pope Francis than they are to reach out to their "dumbed down" or "shallow" brethren in more conservative, less stately congregations.

The real subject here is Francis and the Catholics.  I don't disagree that Francis seems like a great guy.  But I don't see that he's bringing Catholics and Protestants together any more than his two most recent predecessors.  Time will tell on that count.  In the meantime, we can learn from Francis as he models the character of Christ and the love of God for all of us.  I love this assessment: "The beauty of what Francis reminds me is that not only does God die for me but God delights in me."  Amen to that.  That is good news for all of us.

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

Monday, September 7, 2015

Why We Work, by Barry Schwartz

Why do we work?  Swarthmore College psychology professor Barry Schwartz explores that question in the TED book Why We Work.  Mostly he wants to object to the notion that we work for material rewards alone.  Put more precisely, he wants to change the fact that most people's primary motivation for work is material rewards.

I have frequently heard people say, "Find something you love, dedicate yourself to it, and don't worry about getting paid."  Which is fine for some people, if they love something that actually pays.  Love running?  There are a few jobs out there, in retail, training, or publishing related to running.  But people in those jobs are a tiny minority of people who love running.  Love to sculpt?  Good luck making money with that.  Love playing video games?  Dream on.  So I was encouraged to see him acknowledge that "Ninety percent of adults spend have their waking lives doing things they would rather not be doing at places they would rather not be."

This does not have to be a bad thing, though.  It's not the jobs themselves that have to change.  The marketplace creates a demand for the jobs performed, after all, or those jobs wouldn't exist.  He wants to change the way the jobs are structured.  "Just how important material incentives are to people will depend on how the human workplace is structured.  And if we structure it in keeping with the false idea that people work only for pay, we'll create workplaces that make this false idea true."

Management science and workplace habits have put us in a "deep hole" of "misconceptions about human motivation and human nature."  Schwartz wants to "foster workplaces in which challenge, engagement, meaning, and satisfaction are possible."  That sounds great to me!  Schwartz's message will primarily be for those in management, but he also emphasizes the role of the individual worker.  Hairdressers and janitors can also "have a hand in creating a human nature that is worth living up to."  Schwartz has given food for thought for that 90%, challenging all of us to shift perceptions and "seek higher ground."

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

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Stay!, by Alex Latimer

Buster is a pretty good dog--for the most part.  When it's time to go on vacation, though, Ben's parents decide that Buster won't be coming along.  He gets to stay with Grampa for the week.  Ben is quite concerned about Buster's care, and leaves lots of notes for Grampa, as well as sending postcards from vacation with tips and reminders.

The one thing Ben forgot: Don't take Buster to the post office!  After their visit to the post office, Grampa decides that Buster could use some training.  By the time Ben gets back from vacation, Buster has learned a few lessons from Grampa.  Ben's parents even let him go on the next vacation.
Latimer's illustrations are colorful and fun.  Several of the pages feature Ben's artwork and notes to Grampa, adding variety and interest.  I think just about any dog owner can relate to Ben.  Dogs are fun, but can be a pain when the tear things up.  Even when they tear things up, we can't help but love them! Stay! is "A Top Dog Story."  Maybe we'll hear more from this "top dog" in future stories!

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

Friday, September 4, 2015

Suburban Christianity, by Keith Miller

I think Keith Miller wrote Suburban Christianity for me.  Ever since my exposure to urban ministry on a trip to Chicago and a subsequent trip to Houston, as well as years spent working with an urban ministry in a medium-sized city, I have looked with disapproval on suburban churches.  I say this even as for the last ten-plus years I have lived in a typical suburban neighborhood and attended an even more suburban church.  The self-disparagement has been stifling.

Miller resists the idea that God's work in urban areas, which he narrows down to "pre auto urban core in a big metro area," specifically with a high concentration of multi-family housing and where walking and mass transit dominate, is somehow superior, more spiritual, or more important that suburban and rural work.  A movement has arisen, particularly among younger evangelicals, toward focusing ministry in these urban cores.  The reality, though, as Miller writes, is that this is simply a reflection of shifting cultural trends.  Just as the post-WW2 movement to the suburbs spurred the growth of suburban churches, so has the movement to new urbanism, gentrification, and downtown revivals led to growth in urban churches.

Miller addresses common criticisms of life in the suburbs: lack of influence, lack of diversity, lack of sacrifice, lack of authenticity, lack of community, and lack of beauty.  He shows that these criticisms are unfounded and stereotypical.  In my opinion the new urban evangelicals are making as aesthetic, lifestyle choice by choosing to live and worship in an urban core.  Far from being a sacrifice to "move to the heart of the city," they choose to live in hip, newly renovated housing, taking advantage of shorter commutes and cultural amenities, while couching their lifestyle decision in spiritual terms.

Miller's point is "No matter where you are and no matter where you want to live--live there on purpose." I think about my neighborhood, in the city limits of a big city in a major metropolitan area.  The neighborhood is quintessentially suburban, surrounded by green space, but filled with similar homes, all distant enough from schools, churches, shopping, and commercial areas that walking is not an option, except for a bit of exercise.  It is diverse, with whites, hispanics, blacks, and Asians.  Community is rich: my kids call our next-door neighbor their second mom, and kids from the neighborhood knock on the door to play and feel just as comfortable hanging out in our living room as their own.  Several teachers from the neighborhood school live in the neighborhood.  These are features that are supposedly absent from suburbia, according to the critics.  But they are just as likely in dense urban areas and in suburban areas like mine.

In no way would Miller say that Christians shouldn't live in the city.  Ministries such as the one I was involved in and that I observed in Houston and Chicago play an important role in the body of Christ.  He wrote this book "to demonstrate that evangelical Christians can live lives in suburban locations without compromising their commitment to biblical ethics."  Every area has opportunities for ministry.  Needs associated with "inner city ministry" can be just as prevalent in pockets of the suburbs.  On the flip side, materialism, self-centeredness, and status seeking are just as prevalent in urban areas and suburban areas.  (In other words, anywhere human beings live!)  I appreciate Miller's balance and insight.  I won't be so quick to criticize Christians who live and worship in the suburbs--including myself!

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

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Ancient Path, by John Michael Talbot

Like many Christians of my generation (I'm in my mid 40s), my teen and college years were shaped in part by the worship music of John Michael Talbot.  I wore out his albums (vinyl, of course!) from the 1980s both for general listening and for times of worship.  At some point I heard that he had become Catholic and I didn't really follow his career after that.  (This wasn't out of anti-Catholicism; it was mostly because the 1990s saw such a huge revival in worship music that there were tons of new bands and worship leaders to listen to.)

So I was interested in Talbot's new book, The Ancient Path: Old Lessons from the Church Fathers for a New Life Today.  Talbot writes about how the Desert Fathers and Mothers "deeply influenced his spiritual, professional, and personal life."  For those unfamiliar with Talbot's story, as I was, for the most part, The Ancient Path serves as a nice autobiography.  I was interested to read about his life and the formation of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, the neo-monastic community he founded.

I was not as impressed with the selections and readings from the Church Fathers.  As I read I had to keep in mind that the book is lessons that Talbot has gleaned from the Church Fathers for his life.  That is, of course, the subject of the book.  The goal of any spiritual biography is for the author to impart lessons he or she has learned to the readers.  That is what Talbot does here, and he does it well.  I guess I was looking for something a bit more systematic or generalized.

So, bottom line, read as a spiritual autobiography, written by someone who has studied and been influenced by the writings of the Church Fathers, The Ancient Path delivers.  For many readers, it will serve as a springboard to inspire further exploration of the Church Fathers to see what lessons they have  for us.

Thanks to Blogging for Books and Image for the complimentary review copy!