Books: The Jesus Way

November 28, 2016

A couple of years ago I started a book by Eugene Peterson, author of The Message (a popular paraphrase of the Bible), Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, the first of a series of five books on spiritual theology. I also purchased The Jesus Way, the third book in the series, then set it aside until I had finished at least the first book.

But somehow the first book wound up in a pile of books I’m in the middle of reading, and hasn’t moved from that spot in a while. Then last month, when looking for something to read on a trip to a conference in Indiana, I noticed The Jesus Way and decided to read it. I read half of it during the trip, and finished it recently.

The subtitle of the book describes it well: “a conversation on the ways that Jesus is the way.” Evangelical Christians are familiar with John 14:6, where Jesus says “I am the way” (and “the truth and the life”). But what it means for Jesus to be the way is not usually explored, simply assumed: Jesus is how we are made right with God, how we get to heaven.

Peterson says, “Too many of my faith-companions for too long have been reducing the way of Jesus simply to the route to heaven, which it certainly is. But there is so much more.” Peterson emphasizes the meaning of “way” as a road to follow, not just for getting to the right destination, but for how to travel along the way.

Read the rest of this entry »


Thinking about Thanking

November 23, 2016

Recently I have been meeting weekly with an ESL student to give her practice speaking conversational English and increase her understanding of American culture. Naturally the subject of Thanksgiving has come up more than once.

The first time, she asked me what the word “thankful” meant. That surprised me, since this is not her first year in this country and her English vocabulary seems pretty good. I explained it meant “grateful,” which she did understand. (Which seems odd to me – I would have thought that the word thankful is used more often than grateful.)

(A Google search shows me that some people do distinguish between thankful and grateful, but there does not seem to be any consistency in how the two are distinguished, and other people use them interchangeably. It may be that, to some people, “thank you” is overused to the point of conveying less sense of genuine gratitude. Personally, I consider the two to be synonyms.) Read the rest of this entry »


Books: I Am Malala

October 1, 2016

The 2016 Reading Challenge I have been working on includes reading a political memoir. Several times I browsed the Biography shelves at the library, trying to find one that looked at least half-way interesting – and preferably fairly short. But all the volumes I saw with names I recognized from the political area looked quite hefty, and I found it unlikely that they had that much to say that would interest me. Looking through some online book reviews confirmed my suspicion that books of this genre tend to have little value or lasting appeal.

Fortunately I discovered that the same website that lists the Reading Challenge also lists books to read to meet the challenge. And in the political memoir category, the recommendation was I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. I vaguely remember news reports from 2012 when she was shot, and later in 2014 when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but I had not really followed the stories much at that time.

This sounded much more interesting than reading about some politician taking advantage of temporary fame to publish a book, perhaps in the hope of not being forgotten quite as quickly as most. Besides, I always enjoy learning about other countries and their culture and history, and learning a different perspective on the world and life in general.

Malala’s story is very interesting. Some reviews criticize the quality of the writing, but all agree that the story makes the book well worth reading. We learn about Malala’s childhood, her family, and her father’s commitment to education for both boys and girls. We learn about the beauty of her homeland and about various traditions that shape the people’s lives. And of course, we learn about the coming of the Taliban and the way most people were too afraid to speak out against them, even while realizing that they were not the champions of righteousness that they initially appeared to be. Read the rest of this entry »


Books: Counterfeit Gods

July 31, 2016

I came across a quote from Timothy Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods while doing some Bible study. I’m not sure now what that quote said, but it impressed me enough to get Keller’s book from the library.

I have often heard in sermons that idols are not just statues of gods that people bow down to, but anything that takes first place in our lives instead of God. Money is often given as an example of something that can become an idol. But while that makes sense in the abstract, it is difficult to identify specific examples in people’s lives where something has become an idol, except in some more extreme cases.

Keller provides a definition of an idol, or a “counterfeit god” as he calls often it, that is clearer to me. “A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” Or, even clearer: “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.'”

Keller goes on to use various Bible stories to illustrate ways that people make an idol of children, romantic love, money, success, or political power. I’m not sure I agree with his interpretation of these Bible stories in every case, but he provides a new way of looking at some of them and of relating them to modern life.

Finally, he suggests ways we can identify the idols in our own lives. He suggests that we ask ourselves

What do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?

  • How do you spend your money?
  • How do you respond to unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes?
  • What are your most uncontrollable emotions?

I might have preferred that he spend more than the last five or so pages discussing how to replace idols with Christ. But the book, after all, is about “counterfeit gods,” not about how to know and worship the one true God. People have to recognize the counterfeits before they can turn from those to the truth, and there are certainly abundant resources out there for people who want to know God better.


Guest blog post: Could it be?

February 7, 2016

[Today’s blog post is written by my husband]

In several articles I have read recently, I have seen “true Christianity” equated with a liberal/progressive ideology (see below for links). In the course of article, they make certain assumptions about the understandings and motivations of “conservative” Christians, make broad generalizations, and seem (to me) to take a morally smug/superior view – very like what at least one author accuses the “Christian right” of doing. Only one author – Paul Prather – even admits to the possibility that the real truth lies in between in a balance between the two, and that is done in a throw-away line that is essentially ignored the remainder of the article.

It is not my goal to impugn the authors, or point up the shortcomings of the progressive Christian theology and ideology. Rather, I want to try to help these folks understand the where many (and dare I say “most?”) conservative Christians actually come from when they make their statements and support their causes. I will be using the article by Paul Prather the most, since his is the only one that does not dismiss the conservative understanding outright, and actually gives a comparison. Read the rest of this entry »


Books: Palace of Darkness

January 18, 2016

I was recently introduced to the novels of Tracy Higley by a comment on one of my recent posts. The library didn’t have the book he mentioned, perhaps because The Incense Road was just published last year (it is a collection of novellas, individually available only on Kindle as far as I can tell).

But one of the libraries in the system did have Palace of Darkness: A Novel of Petra, and I just finished reading it yesterday. As historical fiction it is an absorbing read. It begins in Rome for Julian, in Damascus for Cassia, and as a result of the death of someone important in each of their lives, they both flee to Petra, where of course they meet. Read the rest of this entry »


Books: The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass: Adrian Plass and the Church Weekend

January 16, 2016

Looking at my 2016 Reading Challenge, I had wondered how I would find “a book guaranteed to bring me joy.” There are books by favorite authors that I know I will enjoy, but that’s different from books that bring me joy.

As it happens, I had already ordered the latest book in Adrian Plass’ Sacred Diary series, as a Christmas present for our whole family. We’re read – and re-read – all the previous books in the series, and I was happy to discover he had written a new one.

If you haven’t read Adrian Plass before, you might want to start by reading the previous five books, starting with The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass Aged 37 3/4. Some reviews say his latest is not as laugh-out-loud funny as some of the earlier books, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to my husband while he was reading just the first chapter.

I find it more quietly amusing – but then, I rarely laugh out loud. What I appreciate about Plass’ writing is how well he weaves together humor with wisdom and with a view of God who loves us more than we can imagine.

A lot of what passes for humor these days is just making fun of people, but while Plass gently pokes fun at human foibles, it is always good-natured fun. People do such foolish things, but it’s not a reason to despise or disdain them. (Though I don’t think I could stand spending much time around Minnie Stamp, a new character in this volume.)

There is always an assurance that we are loved by a God who not only loves us but actually likes us. I know I find that hard to accept, though I’m not sure exactly why. Because I don’t think someone who knows all there is to know about me would like me? Because I think I need to want to work hard for God’s approval, otherwise I’d take it easy? Or because so few Christian books seem to convey that same message?

If I tried to convey what Plass’ books are like, I’m sure I’d fall far short. So if you have a chance to read some, find out for yourself.