My Week in Books (3/31/2019 to 4/6/19)

At the time that I was reading, I did not believe that I was having a particularly good reading week. However, I was shocked to realize that I’m ending the first week of April with five finishes. Not only that, but I really enjoyed each of the books that I read. Sometimes you just don’t realize what you’re reading at the time that you’re reading it!

purple hibiscus Purple Hibiscus tells the story of fifteen-year-old Kambili and her family. They live in a privileged upper class family in Nigeria, go to a private school, worship in the Catholic church, and are shielded from what every day Nigerian life looks like. Their house is rigid, and their father is a well-respected man, revered outside of his home and feared inside it. Kambili and her brother Jaja have an opportunity to spend a week or two over a Christmas break with their aunt Ifeoma in her small apartment in a nearby town. During these days with their aunt and cousins, Kambili and Jaja begin to see what life looks like outside their father’s control. Seeing this life changes everything for both children, and sends the world that they know shattering down.

This book is excellent. There is really no other word to describe it. The atmosphere at the beginning of the book is rigid and oppressive. It was so stifling that I almost put it down. The father, Eugene, controls every aspect of each of the children’s lives, and it is painful to see their fear when circumstances force them to go outside of the boundary lines that he sets for them. Then, life is breathed into the story through Ifeoma and her difficult relationship with her brother Eugene. She, over time, begins to see what Eugene is doing to his family and to use her influence to slowly bring the children into a normal atmosphere through their visits to her house.

Perhaps the most painful portion of the book for me to read was to notice how Kambili, in her first visit to Ifeoma’s house has no voice. When her father’s control of her is taken away, she has no voice of her own, much like a flower that has been crushed. It’s just distressing, and I am so relieved to see her develop as a character over the course of the novel. Each time I think that Kambili’s homelife and Eugene’s control and abuse of the family has only reached a certain level, I would find that Adichie both ratcheted up the tension (and the abuse) another level. If you’re sensitive to domestic violence, this might be one to skip, but otherwise, it is a beautiful and compelling novel.

princess academy Palace of Stone is the second Princess Academy book. This book finds Miri traveling from Mount Eskel with Peder and some of the other girls from the first book to spend the year with Britta, helping her to prepare for the wedding.  Miri also gets the opportunity to attend Queen’s Academy to continue with her learning, and Peder gets to apprentice with a stone mason, learning more artistic ways to carve the linder of the mountain. Unfortunately, when Miri arrives in the capital, she finds that the atmosphere is restless and the talk of revolution against the crown is in the air. Does she defend the crown? Does she join in with the conspiracy against the royal family? What is the right thing to do? Which road benefits Mount Eskel?

My twelve year old and I read the first Princess Academy book together, and began reading this second one together too. Then, Emalee got so involved in the story that she snatched the book away from me to read on her own. There’s intrigue in the story and Miri undergoes a real crisis as she sees the poverty and need that she assumed would not be part of the capital. She is highly influenced and manipulated by a couple of revolutionaries, and finds herself torn between whether or not revolution is the right thing. She also finds herself just a little torn in her loyalty to Peder as he is too busy to spend much time with her, and one of the revolutionaries is a very charming young man.

As an adult, I found this book interesting and the story well-written. I could see Miri being manipulated, but knew, since this is middle grades fiction, that everything would probably work out neatly in the end. My twelve-year old, on the other hand, found this completely unputdownable. She thinks the Princess Academy books are some of the best that she’s read, and that’s pretty high praise, since these are not the most traditional “princess” stories given the connotation of a “princess academy.”

animal farm The downtrodden animals on Manor farm have had enough of working for a human and receiving nothing in return. They plan a revolt. Upon executing the revolt, the surprising happens and the animals actually win. The animals create the seven commandments of animal kind, establish leaders, and begin to work towards a future were all animals will be free and equal. However, as time goes along, something seems to be changing on Animal Farm. Are things truly better than they were under farmer Jones? Are the animals truly equal or are some animals more equal than others? Is the philosophy of the seven commandments being kept or changed by the leaders the animals trust?

These and many other questions form the thoughts and themes of this classic novel. I had read  this book many years ago in either a middle school or high school english class, and I decided that this year was the perfect year to share it with my middle school aged children. Bennett really enjoyed thinking about the messages and ideas in the book. Emalee just said it was a boring book with a bad ending. (They have very different personalities.) There were so many things that I noticed about this book that I didn’t before.

I think that, even though it is written about soviet communism, the biggest notice for me was the way that Orwell attacks the separation of the classes. Those who were educated lifted themselves above the uneducated, and they did not look after the uneducated. That’s one of the many tragedies of this farm.

ex libris Fadiman, through a series of essays, writes about her lifelong love for books, and the family history of writing and books that she grew up in. The essays covered varied topics, such as those who cannot help but proofread as they read, writing in your books, her father’s blindness, her children as readers and the merging of family libraries with her husband.

This is a wonderful collection of essays, and I gorged on them, much as Fadiman herself describes the sensuous food writing that makes her hungry. I immediately dashed this one off to my permanent book cases with the idea of pulling it out and re-reading essays as the whim strikes. Delightful!

misreading scripture with western eyes Everyone approaches any text with assumptions that they do not even have to state. However, these assumptions sometimes lead a reader to get the wrong interpretation of the text. When a person approaches the text looking for what God says about a certain subject, getting the interpretation wrong means messing up the very words of God. Richards and O’Brien are writing to help interpreters be more sensitive to the places where their western preconceptions clash with the eastern culture in which the Bible was written.

This was really informative for me and helped me some places where I had “cultural blinders” on.  I think reading this book will make me a more sensitive interpreter. However, much of their case rests on anecdotal evidence, and while the anecdotes are helpful, I would like more concrete evidence to help see what the world that the Bible was written in actually looked like.

My Week in Books (3/24/2019 – 3/30/2019)

I found several good options of books this week, and I even read some fiction too. I was still more drawn to non-fiction towards the beginning of the week, but I’ve been easing my way back into fiction.  I did pass the threshold of 60 books read for the year, which puts me in great stead to have another 200 book year. (Last time I read at this pace, I had a 238 book year.)

If you’re wondering what my March stats were (because I doubt I will finish a book between now and Monday between church and my children’s recital), I ended up reading 23 books. My favorite book was A Ladder to the Sky.  However, Daisy Jones and the Six came in a fairly close second. I recommend you read both!!

humble calvinism Humble Calvinism  by J.A. Medders. Medders notes a growing danger to the new Calvinist movement, as most Calvinists are quick to defend their theology, but they are very slow to love other Christians. Medders ponders this phenomenon, suggests that perhaps Calvinism would be best served by a more humble and loving ethic, and goes through the five points of TULIP, explaining how each point is best served by a humble attitude.

Medders pinpoints a serious problem in the modern Reformed movement. Calvinism is trendy again (and I should totally write a blog post about the correlation between American Christianity’s feelings of loss of control over culture and their lives and the rise of Calvinism), but these Calvinists are often their own worst enemies, as they drive others away from Christianity and their own doctrinal realizations with their combative ways and their attempts to argue others into their point of view. Medders writes with much humor about Calvinism and how Calvinists often know their theology in their head but fail to live it in their hearts. This is Medders at his best.

A big portion of the book is focused on going through the five points of TULIP, with special given to how truly understanding the points will make the believer more humble.  In some ways this section was on his thesis, but in other ways it seems like just another argumentation of the five points. I am not sure that a book about humility needed yet another argumentation of the five points, and there’s a slight irony of a book on humble Calvinism having an explanation of the five points.

I also grow weary of all Calvinism being reduced to the five points, but that’s another topic for another day. I will admit that the title is what got me to buy the book, as the one thing I have never met, especially in discussions on doctrine, is a humble Calvinist. This is probably only a three star book, but the humorous tone of the author and his pointing out the “elephant in the room” of arrogant Calvinists definitely makes this one worth four stars. It’s a quick and easy read. (book 56 of 2019)

flourish Flourish by Lydia Brownback. We all want to get closer to Jesus and we all long for lives that are full of joy. However, many things stand in the way. These may include self-consciousness, self-help attitudes, self-indulgence, self-analysis, self-condemnation or self-victimization. While these can range widely in their guises, what all these obstacles to joy have in common are an undue and unhealthy focus on ourselves. When we focus on ourselves, we often find that we have crowded Christ either out of our lives or onto the margins of our lives. We find ourselves the star of our life, and we have no room for worship of anyone but self.

Brownback helps to gently correct these erroneous views, show how sometimes even Christian subculture helps to encourage these views, and allows us to put a right focus on Christ instead of ourselves. This is the most helpful book that I have read in a long time, as I find that I often struggle with several of the self-focused habits that Brownback outlines. This is an early contender for my best reads of the year, and I have thought about going back through the book with the 30-day guide and bible study questions that Brownback includes after the main text. It remains to be seen whether I’ll do that or not, but this is one that I could find myself re-reading on a fairly frequent basis, as I truly need some lenses to help me see beyond myself and to the glory that is Christ. (book 57 of 2019)

an american marriage An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Roy and Celestial are young newlyweds that appear to be on their way up the ladder. They’ve only been married 18 months, and their marriage still has kinks, but everything seems to be smoothing out. Then, Roy is jailed for a crime that he does not commit, and as time goes by with Roy in jail, the distance between him and Celestial progressively grows. Five years go by, and Roy’s conviction is overturned. He’s ready to pick up with their marriage where they left off, but does Celestial feel the same?

This is a sad book with a sad situation. There’s a lot of prejudice exposed in the book, and I think reading books like this helps me to understand better the racial prejudice that plagues our country. Everything is unfortunate and tragic, and the center that was holding the fragile sapling of Roy and Celestial’s marriage together just seems to come flying apart. I enjoyed Roy’s character so much, feeling what he’s going through and seeing how racial prejudice and jail changes him. Unfortunately, I felt like Celestial was a bad wife, and I did not understand how she could just draw back from their marriage the way that she does while Roy is in jail, especially given her knowledge that Roy is an innocent man. I also did not really like Andre, Celestial’s best friend. I felt like he took a little emotional advantage of Celestial’s drift while Roy is in jail, and so I was disgusted with some of his actions in the book. I did not like the neat and tidy epilogue that Jones put at the end, and I think I would have liked this book much better had it ended in a completely different way. (book 58 of 2019)

84 charing cross road 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. A charming book of letters exchanged between writer, Helene Hanff and the staff of a used-book shop over the course of twenty years. Some of the letters are very professional, but as the bonds of affection grow between Hanff and the staff, the letters take a very warm and personable turn.

This book is delightful, touching and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. I read it over the course of about an hour, and placed it directly on my bookcase so that I might go back and re-read it when I need a warm, fuzzy pick-me-up kind of read. (book 59 of 2019)

dangerous calling Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of the Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp. Tripp both understands and has lived through the high pressure environment that pastors are subject to as they minister. With such a high pressure environment and such high responsibilities, pastors are prone to many sins, and even more importantly, they do not receive the pastoral care and accountability that any member of his church might receive.

Tripp details the things that go wrong for a pastor. Many of these things boil down to misplaced pride and blindness to his own sin. Other sins boil down to lack of pastoral care and accountability to other Christians. In this day of megachurch pastors gone awry, the me-too movement and scandals among church leaders, these warnings sound timely. I find that in my own ministry life, even though I am not a pastor, that I can relate to many of these challenges, and some of them are ones that I do struggle with.

I find myself quoting this book in my own writing lately, and seriously pondering how to overcome these challenges for myself. My only issue with the book is that I found Tripp’s writing on this topic to be meandering and repetitive. While I appreciated the confessional style and how Tripp holds nothing back (in a good way), there are places that could have used a little editorial tightening. (book 60 of 2019)

the unsaved christian The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel by Dean Inserra. Sometimes (and in some places) in the United States an evangelist or pastor can feel that there is not much of a mission field. After all, we live in a strongly Judeo-Christian culture, one where most people seem to know at least a little about Christianity. However, according to Dean Inserra, that just makes our mission field more difficult. After all, cultural Christianity and growing up with a Christian heritage are not the same things as actually believing in the gospel of Christ. Inserra wrote this book to give pictures of different basic types of cultural Christians, including some key characteristics and points at which to be able to start gospel conversations. These pictures range from nominal Christians to heritage Catholics to more liberal mainline Protestant denominations. He concludes with some pointers on how to determine if your own Christianity is true or merely cultural.

Inserra raises some good points and begins a good discussion on determining the difference between what it means to be a cultural Christian and what it means to be a real Christian. However, by the end of the book, it seems that he’s pointed to almost every variety of Christian expression in the United States and labelled it as merely cultural. This reader was left knowing if Inserra truly found a real expression of Christianity at all other than his own. While doctrine is has essential areas where we often must be inflexible on, there are often wide varieties of people and beliefs that can qualitatively be called Christian. In this, Inserra’s book is exclusionary to the point of stereotyping, and I do believe that if taken to heart will find people judging good Christians and merely cultural Christians.

The last chapter of his book, determining whether or not you are a cultural Christian is also problematic. Rather than pointing to faith alone, Inserra seems to be adding several works-based indicators to judge someone’s faith by, while maintaining that people might do these very things and still be merely cultural Christians. I do not think that this is his intention, and I think he merely wants to say that a baptism or a magical special ritual prayer does not make one a Christian. Still it’s confusing to the point of being something that I would feel could be a stumbling block to someone who already struggles with uncertainty in their faith and could perhaps lead to someone attempting to attempt to do more works in order to assure their salvation. (book 61 of 2019)

a ladder to the sky A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne. Maurice Swift has one desire in the world, and that is to be a famous and acclaimed novelist. The only problem? He has no clue what to write about, but he’s not about to let that keep him from his goals. Instead, he decides to take an unconventional route to the top, a route that gets more and more horrific with each passing section with of the book. To say more would be “spoilers,” even though there are some things I would consider spoilers that are even on the jacket of the book!

I was totally mesmerized by this book. I started reading it about 7:30 on a Friday night, and even with other stuff I needed to do (like sleep and write for grad school), I struggled to put it down and finished it soon after lunch time on Saturday. Maurice is seen through the eyes of other people and eventually through his own eyes.  He is the ultimate user, the complete psychopathic, narcissistic charlatan, and I have not despited as literary character as I despise Maurice in a very long time. . . .and the section with the fictionalized Gore Vidal in it and superb! Actually, the whole book was superb, unputdownable, and extraordinary. And just like usual, when I read something I really like, I’m struggling to put it into words. Maybe some further reflection later on will help me to gain a little more perspective on the book. If so, I’ll write more on it later! (book 62 of 2019)

My Week in Books (3/18/2019 to 3/23/2019)

This week, I am beginning to lean into my research and writing for my hermeneutics class. It has me craving non-fiction reads, so you’ll see that most of my reading has been in that category.

It's Not Supposed to be This Way It’s Not Supposed to be This Way by Lysa Terkeurst. I have already kind of talked about this book in my post three books on suffering. So, if you’re looking for more detail, definitely check that post out. This book is a book about disappointment with God, and about how we react when bad things happen. She goes through some of her personal story of crisis and she does her best to help and encourage those who are going through pain. There are parts of the book that were really beautiful and that I appreciated, but there were other things about the book that I found flawed and difficult.  Still, if you’re looking for encouragement and a reminder that, even when you’re disappointed with God, you are still loved by him, this is perhaps a worthy read. (book 52 of 2019)

growing with Growing With: Every Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in Their Faith, Family, and Future by Kara Powell and Steven Argue. Powell and Argue acknowledge that parenting, once considered an eighteen year endeavor, really stretches far beyond that. Most children growing up in the Millennial and iGen generations are not fully launching into their marriages, careers, and new households until closer to the age of 30. With that in mind, Powell and Argue in collaboration with a series of interviews with parents, have divided the teen and young adult years into three stages. These stages begin with learning (13-17), exploration (18-23), and focusing (23-29). As their children traverse through these stages, it should be the goal of adults to go through the stages of teaching, guiding and becoming a resource to their children. With that mind, Powell and Argue develop both general guidelines and some specific ideas of how to interact with teens and young adults along the way.

I think that this book is a veritable treasure trove in parenting the modern teen and young adult. More than anything, this a book of advice in how to let go of control over your child, letting go without becoming overly distant. It’s a difficult balancing act, and as my oldest child just turned fourteen this week, it is something that I expect will heavily figure into my next ten to twenty years of relationship with my children. Powell and Argue give much advice on how to build your relationship with your children and how to love and support, even when you disagree with their decisions and lifestyle choices. This was truly helpful. (book 53 of 2019)

the candy shop war The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull. There’s a new candy shop in town, and four friends come into the shop looking for some sweet treats. They get a little more than they bargain for when they meet Mrs. White. As they start doing some little jobs for her, she begins to give them candy with magical powers. Soon though, the friends begin to feel that some of the tasks are morally questionable and that maybe Mrs. White isn’t the sweet old lady that they thought that she was.

We listened to this on Audible and really enjoyed it. I do not think that the ending, the bad guy or anything like that was ever in question in my mind. However, I enjoyed the journey to the ending and how the author has them fight the bad guy in the book. Even better was when all four of my children said it was a five star book. (book 54 of 2019)

unraptured Unraptured: How End Times Theology Gets It Wrong by Zack Hunt. Zack Hunt spent most of his youth waiting on the rapture. He spent his spare time studying ends times prophecy, watching prophecy shows on Christian networks and arguing the rightness of his views with anyone who would listen to him. After suffering a crisis of faith in college, Hunt began to “unrapture” his faith as he learned to focus on the important things. Instead of focusing on the end times, Hunt began to focus his faith on the things that truly mattered.

I totally could get the first half of Hunt’s book, as he talked about his teenage years trying to prove himself right, his fears of being left behind and his own crisis of faith. In some respects, Hunt and I have solved our crises of faith in different ways, and I find myself in disagreement with his focus and exegesis of Matthew 25. However, I do agree with him that an unhealthy focus on end times prophecy is a recipe for an unforgiving and unloving theology. I also do not claim to know what my actual beliefs on the end times are beyond the fact that I know what was taught in my church growing up. It’s an area where I’ve outgrown my fears of being left behind, and other than being determined not to pass on that fear to my children, I have not made it a focus of my personal theology. This book also inspired me to write about my reading of Tim LaHaye, and you can learn more about my personal viewpoints if you visit that blog post and read it. (book 55 of 2019)

That’s about it for this week.  I’ll be back soon with a fresh back of books!!

Thinking about Tim LaHaye

Do you ever read a book that gets you started thinking about the intersections of different parts of your life? I know I do. Some authors have had a greater impact on me than others, and sometimes even a “new-to-me” author will remind me of another author’s impact on my life.

Some of my readers might recall author Tim LaHaye passing away 2 or 3 years ago. As a teen, I read both his super popular Left Behind series and his non-fiction works, such as The Coming Peace in the Middle East and The Battle for the Mind. (I’m pretty sure I’ve read several others too, but can’t think of them right now.) I also read his book The Act of Marriage when I was a young newlywed and his book Raising Sexually Pure Kids as a young mother.

I think it’s safe to say that LaHaye’s writings have had quite an influence in my life. I even have shared the Left Behind series with my teenaged son because, after his youth class did a series on Revelation last summer, he was curious about reading more about the “end times.” (My very sensitive daughter, at the same time was shocked and horrified, and had nightmares and worries over the rapture and the end times, proving that children can be exposed to the same things and raised the same way and have very different reactions.)

He had read another dystopian/apocalyptic series the year before, The Hunger Games, and I knew he enjoyed the genre. I thought that, given its classic 1990s Christian fiction and culture status, that he might enjoy it more than any book of prophetic interpretations that was purported to be Bible study or non-fiction.

He’s read a couple of books in the series, but complains that the chapters are long and that there is not enough action. Too many of the chapters are taken up with conversations and not with action, as LaHaye and Jenkins give great blocks of end-times prophetic interpretation through conversations and speaking. He might have even used the words “a little boring.” I guess it’s a completely different experience for someone in the iGen reading twenty years later, than the experience that I had reading them as they came out, knowing that my sister and my mother were both reading along too.

After re-reading a book and a half of the series so that I could talk to him about them, I have to agree with his assessment. My reading tastes have changed, and I’m not as interested in having long blocks of theology included in my fiction reading.

Anyway, I was reading a book recently with some alternate interpretations of end times prophecy, and my attention was drawn to one of LaHaye’s obituaries where Publisher weekly talks about LaHaye’s impact on the publishing industry.  My jaw completely dropped when I saw the quote where the CEO of Tyndale House says,

At the height of its sales, the revenue from the Left Behind series represented more than 50 percent of our total sales revenue.

That’s more than a little amazing. The other statistics of the article were just as amazing when discussing how many sales his books have had. According to this article, the Left Behind series alone has sold over 80 million copies. No wonder you see them at every single used book sale and store that you ever go to. They’re just everywhere.

There are also the movies that Kirk Cameron were in, and I can remember watching at least the first one of them. Growing up, my father was a youth pastor, and I can’t remember if we watched it as a family or with the youth group. Sometimes family and church things blend together when you’re a ministry kid/pastor’s kid.

I tried to convince my son we should try the movie, but he wasn’t interested. He also wasn’t interested in the Nicholas Cage movie remake, which as I understand, wasn’t all that Christian. I guess he really doesn’t get the appeal.

It’s kind of sad to think that a series of books that you loved so much as a young person are not of interest to you anymore. They didn’t stand the test of time, but in many ways are something that I think of when I think of growing up Baptist in the 1990s.

I wonder now, as a product of the 90s, if the impending millennium was some of the appeal of the Left Behind series. Some of the more allegorical methods of interpreting Genesis led to theologians, including Jewish thinkers, to believe that the earth would only exist for 6,000 years.

James Ussher had calculated that the earth was created in 4004 BC, so those of us living right at the end of the millennium were perhaps in the best position to believe that, if Ussher was correct, that Jesus would be returning any second. After all, we even had Y2K theorizing to back us up that things were going to go crazy as the millennium ended. I even took a millennial theology course in college, to examine various end-time beliefs in light of the coming millennium.

When I was younger, I often had a panicked feeling that I would be “left behind,” that my doubts and my fears meant that my faith wasn’t truly strong enough for me to be raptured with the rest of the believers. Much of that urgency has left me. I still identify as a dispensationalist, and I still believe Jesus could return at any minute, but I, thank God, have left some of that emotionalism behind in the steady growth of my own faith.

Perhaps that’s why the Left Behind series no longer holds the same appeal for me. I have no desire to revisit that fraught and worried stance on faith that made up my youth, and I truly have no desire to bring that “edge-of-your-seat” insecurity upon my own children. Instead, I hope for them to rest in the security of their relationship with their savior and for end-times theology be in the background and not the forefront of their faith.

So, I guess I’m okay that my older two children didn’t love the Left Behind books the way I did. (Who knows what kind of response my younger two will have?) I know they both have a love for God that embraces his return, but that doesn’t constantly look to the sky or worry that they aren’t good enough, and that’s what truly matters in the end.

Did any of you read Left Behind and its sequels? What impact did these books (or others by LaHaye) have on your faith?

Three Books on Suffering

Today, I finished reading a book called It’s not Supposed to be This Way. It’s my fifty-second book of 2019, and quite coincidentally, my third book on suffering in the Christian life this year. I’m going to share just a little bit on Terkeurst’s book, and along the way the other two as well, sharing which one was my favorite, and hopefully, giving you enough information that you can make a decision about which one you might read if you’re looking for a book on this topic.

It's Not Supposed to be This Way It’s Not Supposed to be This Way by Lisa Terkeurst. This is a book about disappointments in life and about our response to those disappointments. Terkeurst weaves and bobs throughout the chapters, sharing some of her life’s disappointments, her realization that we are living “between two gardens,” and some encouragement for living a life where our disappointments turn us toward God instead of away from him. She shares openly, but discretely about marital problems, a medical emergency and cancer in a way that makes the reader quickly realize that, if not for God, she’d be completely knocked flat by life. She shares not just her suffering, but the lessons that she feels like she’s drawn from that suffering.

everything happens for a reason Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved is a cancer memoir. It’s not really chronologically based, but Bowler is detailed in her emotional response and her struggles with the realization that stage four cancer, even for a young mother, is a terminal illness. She is very emotional, and does not attempt to make sense of her diagnosis. She simply trusts that God is and that, even a world that does not make sense, God loves her and that’s enough.

Terkeurst, on the other hand, is writing about both marital issues and about her own struggles with her health. She is not facing a terminal diagnosis, but is under the weight of multiple crises. Any one thing that she’s gone through under the past few years would be enough to make us buckle. She sometimes writes a little emotionally, but mostly writes in an upbeat and encouraging manner. She is definitely attempting to make sense of her struggles, even calling some of it satanic attack. She’s giving verses to cling to, affirmations, and really wanting to use her suffering as a way to encourage others. I think that’s how she’s finding meaning in her suffering.

hope in the darkCraig Groeschel’s Hope in the Dark was not born of his own personal struggle. He wrote a first draft of this book specifically for a secretary that was going through some intense personal suffering. He picked up the manuscript again and decided to revise it and to share it in book format because of his own sorrow over his daughter’s medical suffering.

Groeschel’s primary aim is to encourage others to continue in their belief in God even when the world does not make sense. In so doing, he hops through Habakkuk, sharing some of Habakkuk’s story and how that is an example for our faith in times of suffering. He is not attempting to give advice or affirmations, and he does not clearly have lessons spelled out that we can learn from suffering. However, his book is invaluable for those who feel that faith may not be worth it in their times of suffering. He explains why we should not give up on God.

Terkeurst, on the other hand is full of advice beyond holding on to your faith. She does not stick with a biblical character or book of the Bible, but instead cherrypicks through the verses that she finds most helpful or meaningful for those who are looking for promises from God and for comfort in the midst of their sorrow.

As a theologian, I do find that, at times, Terkeurst’s pushy and cheery exegesis is like nails on a chalkboard. I struggle with it, but I also realize that her primary audience probably appreciates the immediate sense of meaning-making and scriptural affirmations. It gives them something to do and something to cling to when life just does not make sense.

Groeschel and Bowler, on the other hand, are perhaps a bit of a tougher read emotionally because neither one of them is worried about satanic attack, punishment for sin or what we might have done to bring our sorrows on ourselves. There are places in Terkeurst’s book where she, quite frankly, is in danger of making the reader feel like their sorrow is their fault. Terkeurst gives the person in pain something to do, something to occupy themselves with when they feel that God is distant or has turned his face from them.

In the final summation, I must admit that Terkeurst is not really for me. There are places that I just love her writing, like where she says that we cannot trust our emotions. We have to run our emotions through the prism of biblical truth to see if they are actually true. I deeply admire and respect the way that she and her husband have used their story to encourage others to keep going in their faith, even when the times are tough. She’s not sensationalist, and I believe, after seeing her live, that she’s truly here to help and encourage. Still, I did not like the feel of this book, and there are times when I struggled to continue to read it.

I tend to prefer Groeschel and Bowler. Groeschel is the middle of the road writing in this set of three books. He is reflective, and he is not encouraging anyone to do anything more than to remember that faith is a mystery and that our suffering has meaning and that it will make us into the people that God would have us to be. His exegesis is a little flat, and at times he meanders around and is a bit repetitive.  This book would have been better had there been more of Habakkuk and less of Groeschel. I still believe that it was helpful.

Bowler’s book is more of a memoir style book than a self-help book. Groeschel and Terkeurst are both undeniably self-help. Bowler, on the other hand, is more reflective and seems to have less of a need to convince any one of any thing. Perhaps that’s one of the ways a terminal diagnosis can change you. She also, quite honestly, reacts with scorn to the idea of analyzing her suffering to see why God might have allowed it in her life. I find myself drawn back again and again to her thoughts and to her words.

I just don’t think that we should place the burden of positivity on ourselves, and I don’t think you should have to make sense of your suffering. I do not believe that other people have a right to tell you what your suffering should mean either or what is even suffering. Even if God has a reason for everything that happens, I do not believe that it’s our job to make sense of it or to do anything more than cling to our faith that God loves us and that sometimes healing in our health, our relationships and our circumstances does not look like how we pictured.

Now, I’m going to see if I can read some books on other topics and stay clear of this topic for a while.

My Week in Books (3/10/19 to 3/16/2019)

I was on break from grad school this week, so I used the time to do some relaxing fiction reading. I read some great books!  I also passed the fifty book mark for the year, so I found that to be pretty exciting.

coddling of the american mind The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. Lukianoff and Haidt took an article that they wrote for The Atlantic and developed it into a book-length piece exploring the “three great untruths” that iGen believes, the effects of these beliefs, how they came to believe these untruths and what parents and universities can do to reverse the current trend of untruth.

There is good information to be had in this book, and the authors admit that they’re targeting some extreme cases in what is, while a concerning trend, something that they do not expect to spiral out of control. They also admit that many of the behaviors and attitudes that seem so extreme among these college students are “problems of progress.” In other words, our society has become such a good society that we find ourselves dealing with the problems made by that society. Truly minor irritations in the scheme of things.

Perhaps the most troubling thing that Lukianoff and Haidt point to is the rise in anxiety and depression in teen girls that correlates with their excessive social media use. I find that I struggle with anxiety, depression and the “need for more” as I spend more time looking at Facebook and Instagram, so it only makes sense not to have that as an option for a young girl in her formative years. If I, at forty, had to close myself off from social media as a hard boundary, perhaps teens (especially girls) should not be given the burden of dealing with social media.

Overall, however, this book is interesting in seeing trends, but it is not doomsday, and I think that some readers of the article and the book have taken it to be so. I also think that Lukianoff and Haidt’s suggestion to young people to take a gap year and work or serve during that year between high school and college would be a great trend that would reverse some of the extreme behavior of privilege seen on college campuses, as many college students who have swallowed the “great untruths” are ones who have been academically shepherded by parents from high school to college without ever really having a chance to play a role in the “real world.” (book 47 of 2019)

queenie Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. Queenie is going through a “break” with her boyfriend. She has a supportive group of friends, an out-of-touch family, and a boss that just doesn’t seem to give her any good stories to write for their publication. She also has habit of spending too much time on an app called OKCupid, finding what amounts to a string of hookups. Will Queenie confront the pain that she has buried within? Will she get her life sorted out? Will her break with Tom led to a reunion or a break-up?

This book has its moments. It’s funny.  I loved the interplay between her and her friends. Some of the skeezy encounters that she has with men are funny too. Others are just plain uncomfortable, and on occasion, violent. This is a book that has been compared by the publisher’s blurb with Bridget Jones’ Diary, so I was expecting lighthearted dating misadventure. I was not expecting someone with real pain, who was dulling that pain through a series of increasingly random and violent sexual encounters. In fact, I almost put down the book at one point because I was concerned that the content might get worse.

I am glad I didn’t stop reading though because the journey into Queenie’s darkness was worth it when I was able to read her coming into herself, dealing with her demons, and becoming the woman that she was always meant to be. This turned out to be a really good and really empowering story of a young woman dealing with the mistakes and traumas of her past and becoming stronger and more able because of those mistakes and traumatic experiences. (book 48 of 2019)

little town on the prairie Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This book covers about 18 months of the Ingalls family on their homestead and living in town for winter. Laura and Carrie going to school and Laura’s studies and social life are the focus of this novel. The children and I read this one aloud and I think this one is one of my favorites of this series. (book 49 of 2018)

reid_9781524798628_jkt_all_r1.indd Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Daisy Jones and the Six was the megastar band of the 1970s, and they suddenly broke up with no one knowing exactly why. The narrator in this story is a journalist, telling the story of the rise and fall of the band, attempting to piece together the why behind the breakup. With several strong characters, and sex, drugs and rock and roll abounding, this book is quite a fascinating read.

I really loved this one, and I enjoyed the format of book as well. This is a mock documentary, told in a style very reminiscent of the old VH1 show, The Story Behind the Music. I spent hours watching that show, so getting the story of this band through contrasting interviews was so fascinating. It was hard to believe I was reading a novel and not a real documentary as I read the book. I also was completely pulled into Billy and Daisy’s story. I really just loved the whole book, and wanted to sit around and read it.

I also do need to stop and say that I have read all three of the books from my Book of the Month box in the month it came in for the first time ever. Great selections this month!! (book 50 of 2019)

Uprooted Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Last year her book Spinning Silver made my top ten list for 2018, and it was the first book that I’ve read by her.  I’ve been looking at Uprooted for months, and finally decided that this week was the time to read it. This story is perhaps a very loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast, at least that’s what I heard when I was looking for reviews and things on the book. So, I thought I knew what to expect, but I was wrong.

Every ten years a fearsome wizard, The Dragon, takes a girl from one of the villages under his domain. This story is told from the perspective of one of the girls he has taken as tribute. There’s interesting interactions, magical powers and a malevolent wood that seems to be stealing people for evil purposes in this one. I don’t want to say more about this book because I don’t want to give too much away, but this one has a good shot at making my list of favorite books for 2019. I’m debating whether I love it or Spinning Silver more. Seriously. I also purchased a kindle copy of His Majesty’s Dragon to see if I would like some of her other writing as much. (book 51 of 2019)

That’s all my reading for this week. I started reading for class towards the end of the week. (My new favorite topic is the history of biblical interpretation.) I also started Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage, but as much as I’m enjoying it, I’m not really feeling fiction right now (too much research reading has my head firmly locked into nonfiction), so we’ll see what I end up reading for next week.

Hoping you have a great week, and if you live here in the US that you’re wearing your green for St. Patrick’s Day!!

My Week in Books (3/3/19 to 3/9/2019)

This week, I finished first year Greek. This is a very exciting personal accomplishment for me because now, with a lexicon (for unknown vocabulary) and some patience, I can translate (with technical skill) any passage in the Greek New Testament, the Septuagint or the Early Church fathers. I’m still missing some knowledge of grammar that would aid me in classical Greek, but I have the basics of Koine. The rest is just understanding syntax, learning exegesis and polish. And, of course, building fluency. It’s still a long road, and I need what I’ve learned to sink into my brain a little more, so I won’t be taking any more Greek until May.

I do have a whole week off of school before hermeneutics starts. A wise person would use it to get ahead on the hermeneutics reading (because there’s a bunch of it), but I’ve never been a wise person, so I’ve been reading for pleasure instead. Here’s what I finished this week.

basics of biblical greek Basics of Biblical Greek by William D. Mounce. This has been my textbook for two semesters of Greek at seminary. Using it, I have really learned the basics of grammar, and can pick up any passage and technically translate it. (I’m still missing some nuance, but will pick that up in second year Greek.) Mounce’s textbook is user friendly, and he provides amazing support through his website. Don’t just buy the grammar though, if you’re buying the textbook. Buy the DVDs and workbook to really dig in and learn this language. There’s a new fourth edition that just came out last month, and I’m sure it’s probably the way that you want to go, but the third edition is great. (book 42 of 2019)

alienated america Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse by Timothy P. Carney. Carney was inspired to write this book because of the wellspring of agreement that Donald Trump tapped into when he claimed that the American dream was dead. He wanted to see where the American dream was alive and well, where it was dead, and who these early (primary) supports of Trump were. In this journey, he sets forth a plausible theory for why so many of the blue collar and white middle and lower middle class communities have died.

I was drawn to this book because it taps into a conversation that was really publicly displaced in the memoir Hillbilly Elegy (a great book if you haven’t read it). I read that book when it first came out, and found that it explained a lot about the people that were on the fringes of my life, my family and my husband’s family. However, I didn’t know why some branches of family succeed and some fail, and I felt like this book provides some pieces of the puzzle. I also felt, upon reading about the close-knit community of faith that Mormons have, that I understood the memoir Educated, and Tara and her brothers’ upward mobility, a little better as well. I found myself surprised at times by the statistics, and I was certain by the end that the American dream was alive and well. This was a read that really made me think (book 43 of 2019).

the municipalists The MunicipalistsSeth Fried. A paper pushing bureaucrat. An artificially intelligent computer projection with personality. A Metropolis in serious need of saving from an anarchist plot. Combine this all together in an investigative plot and a secret mission, and fun and hilarity ensues.

Or at least it should. Unfortunately, I really struggled to care about the first person narrator in this book. I was thinking about not finishing this book when OWEN, and his hilarious personality burst onto the book and saved it. Through OWEN, I grew fond of the narrator and enjoyed the story, but I would have liked to be able to have had more of his interactions with OWEN. I also would have liked to have seen a little more backstory and world building. I think if I had been more interested in the world that the characters inhabited, I would have enjoyed this book more. (book 44 of 2019)

Paul Paul: A Biography by N.T. Wright. This is scholar, and apostle Paul specialist N.T. Wright’s attempt to write a popular level biography of the beloved apostle. It is well done, interesting reading, telling the life of Paul in a way that, for scholarship, is quite conservative. Wright is part of the “new perspective” on Paul, so if you don’t appreciate that line of thought, you will not appreciate this book.

I enjoyed this book, but I sometimes put it aside for days at a time because Wright has a rambling style in his popular writing that I can only enjoy when I am relaxed enough to give it my full attention. My Greek class was kind of giving me fits at some points in reading this book, so my enjoyment level was a little bit lowered from what you might expect. Still, it was enjoyable and I learn some things along the way.

I find it slightly ironic that, the more I age, the more I find myself emerging and becoming the person that I always was. I have a deep love for Wright’s work, but found myself putting aside his books for several years because I was attending a church that frowned on his theological leanings. Perhaps I allowed my true self to be smothered in some ways as I attempted to try on a persona that wasn’t really me. Either way, I’m who I was and yet not, and find that I have come full circle back to Wright and several other writers that I had put aside. There are too many things about this book (and about being comfortable in your skin with who you are) to love. (book 45 of 2019)

family life of a christian leader The Family Life of a Christian Leader by Ajith Fernando. This book is the advice of Fernando, who was a national director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka for thirty five years, to how to focus your personal life as a Christian ministry leader. He has chapters devoted to personal flaws, such as our excessive self-love and lack of desire to deny ourselves, as well as chapters on marriage and children.

Fernando is best when he is discussing his actual family life and giving examples. At other times, he sounds preachy, and like he is resorting to Biblical platitudes. The advice is good, and I gleaned much from his wisdom, but this advice really wasn’t as personal as to leadership and family life as I would have liked. This is probably more in the vein of Brothers, We are Not Professionals and less in the vein of Sacred Privilege, if you have read either of those books. I liked this book, but didn’t love it. (book 46 of 2019)

So, how about you? What have you been reading lately? Any suggestions for me based on my current reads?