Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Starving Jesus

Authors: Craig Gross and J.R. Mahon
Type: Theology/Ecclesiology
Shepnerd Rating: 1 star

“Dangerous” is the first word I think of when it comes to this book. The authors will like that, patting themselves on the back for “offending” in the name of Christ. But this is not the kind of offense that should be spread around.

The book starts off well – with some spot-on critiques of the modern church. The premise is that American Christianity has become like the Pharisees – buildings that do internal programming for the “included”, and leaves the desperate, addicted and outcasts without the gospel. It’s true – in America we are far from the body Christ intended to create. Many of the ideas have been batted around emergent (a group they seem to love/use and hate/lampoon) and missional conversations for years. The solution – according to these two is three fold – Give, Fast and Pray. The give part goes okay. Then it all comes crashing down.

The authors advocate a 40 day fast (with water and juice – if you feel that is okay with God). It’s medically dangerous, physically damaging, and spiritually harmful. Let me count the ways:

1. The book doesn’t encourage a doctor’s help or advice even though that kind of starvation has potential harm written all over it. What about people with undiagnosed diabetes, hypoglycemia or other conditions? What about the fact the human body is not wired to go that long without food? Just because the author’s bodies are able to sustain this and they don’t die doesn’t mean it’s a good idea – it means God saved them from themselves.

2 The book ridicules anyone who thinks this “might not” be a good idea for people. Mahan writes “Our tendency is to listen to the doctors and health experts of the world. It’s an easy trap” (pg. 177) - My experiences is that a minister who tells you to ignore science, health and people who are trying to keep your body alive like doctors – is the trap.

3.The book uses weight loss (a vulnerability in many people’s lives) as a motivation for a “spiritual fast”. Weight loss is a medical/health pursuit – not a holy quest. Yet it keeps talking about the physical weight they lose.

4. The premise is flawed. The premise is that in Matthew 6 Jesus tells the Pharisees “When you fast, do not look somber…” not "IF you fast" – However – it may shock these “ministers” to discover that the Bible was not written in English – and the Greek text does not use a time indicative word like WHEN. It also does not say the fast has to be food. Christians for centuries have used lent as a fasting time without starving themselves.

5. The book makes fun of anyone who does not agree completely with the authors. It’s a very “my way or the highway” presentation. Anyone who disagrees is called “big-toothy-grin fake super Christian.” Which is the other sad part of the book = two Christians who claim the ability to love anyone in the porn industry where their ministry is focused – but cannot love the faithful who seek God in other ways.

Yes, the church is flawed and in many cases ineffectual. Yes we need to get into the world living the gospel message of freedom from sin. However, there are parents, grandparents and beautiful souls who pray with sincerity in church, believe with everything they have and raise their kids to know Jesus Christ is Lord. What do these people get for lives of goodness, love and devotion? From these authors they get ridiculed, talked down to and taken for granted. Driving around in an RV starving doesn’t make you more holy – just more mobile.

What starts out as a well intentioned voice for helping the church overcome apathy and materialism disintegrates into self-promoting (the last 3 chapters are all about their trip), and dangerous advice.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Lifting Our Eyes

Full Title: Lifting Our Eyes: Finding God’s Grace Through The Virginia Tech Tragedy: The Laura McCain Story
Type: Biography/Inspirational
Author: Beth J. Lueders
Shepnerd Rating: 5 Stars

I read this book because it was recommended to me by a source I trust, and I’m really glad it was. I would have probably walked right past it at the bookstore because I don’t often like books written purely to inspire. It would have been my loss to have done so.

Using the story and journals of VT freshman Lauren McCain, whose love for Christ emanates from her like a sweet fragrance, combined with other witness testimony including Lauren's Campus Crusade group and police accounts, Lueders explores the events of the Virginia Tech tragedy and tackles tough issues like God’s presence in tragedy and whether forgiveness is necessary and possible.

This is not the first tragedy where someone has asked “Where was God?” or suggested vengeance and blame were more probable reactions than forgiveness. The book covers well the accuracy of understanding God is with us even in the midst of the fallout from the evil humans choose to enact. As for forgiveness, it examples and guides a truth I have learned to live long ago and wish more people knew – with Jesus Christ in your life, true forgiveness is possible and life can go forward. Lauren's parents even find answers to prayer in the midst of losing their daughter. Their faith is powerful, and life changing.

The best parts of the book are taken from Lauren’s journals, her myspace page, and statements from friends and family which show Lauren not as a victim of violence, but a victorious inheritor of Heaven. The book gives you permission to grieve, and power to know what a difference God really does make when the relationship is real.

It’s a fast read (took me 6 hours), and you won’t want to put it down. Her writings took me back to a college journal I wrote years ago when I expressed my enthusiastic love for Jesus every time pen hit page. I realized when I was reading this book how lucky I am to have found that love, how faithful Jesus has been to keep the relationship vibrant, and how very blessed I am to be writing about Christ’s love again. On a rainy October night, it was so good to be reminded.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Metamorpha: Jesus as a way of life

Author: Kyle Strobel

Type: Spirituality, Spiritual Formation

Shepnerd Rating: 3. 5 Stars (good but not great)

“We create a box to put God in, and spend the rest of our lives meditating on how impressive a box it is.” (page 182).

“Metamorpha: Jesus as a way of life” is a book that wants to help you take God out of the box and live in a unique and real relationship with God. There is much wisdom between its pages about the need for people to stop following “rules” about what they think Christianity is, and start living a life in Christ that is transformed and passionate.

Sadly, there is too much Kyle Strobel in Strobel’s Metamorpha. He makes a point toward the end about churches relying to heavily on leaders and their personalities but ironically most of the book is based on his personal experiences (from growing up spiritually empty in a megachurch, to confessing his sins of disbelief and lying about his own wisdom, to his own enlightenment). It is a very white, upper-middle class, western sanitized crisis of faith and encouragement to change. Most people don’t’ get out of college and obsess on their spiritual worldview – they need to get jobs, apartments, and qualify for a car loan. His faith precepts live in a vacuum where real life is put on pause so we can all start thinking about Jesus. However most of us must do our thinking WHILE we do our living – and he really doesn’t address that.

He presents something most Christians in our age can relate to:

“My idea of the Christian life was going to church, doing good things, and trying to be nice…shortly after I started college I came to realize I had no faith of my own and I knew nothing about the God I supposedly “loved”, whatever that meant.”

This is the strength of this book -- helping people see that being a Christian isn’t about being dutiful to church and following the God we “believe” – but its about learning (through the bible, the Spirit, and mentors in community) who God really is, loving that God with passion and living in a unique Christ-journey through this world.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Eat, Pray, Love

Type: Non-fiction/Travel

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Shepnerd Rating: 4 stars

I think one of the blessings of the Christian community is our common strength and encouragement. However, one of the pitfalls is that we become so surrounded in our community we forget how other people view God, tragedy, each other and self. Elizabeth Gilbert is like millions of people who describe themselves as Christian (sorta) but do not go to church or have any daily relationship with God...until she discovers she needs a divorce.

With the pain of that separation, and a lost love affair afterward Elizabeth Gilbert spends a year seeking healing, self, balance and God. Her journey through the pleasures of food in Italy, the sacred discipline of prayer in India, and the balance and possibility she finds in a romance found in Bali are the focus of this very funny, human book.

Although its not a book you'll find in the Christian bookstore - it is a very spiritual experience to see someone's healing and connecting take place. Its honest, and revealing of the internal dialogue millions in the world go through every day - asking God are you real? God are you here? God why do I feel so sad, lost, happy, trapped....

Quick read, and worth looking at.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Sopratos

Type: Comic Strip Collection

Author: Stephen Pastis

Shepnerd Rating: 5 Stars

The Sopratos is a "Pearls Before Swine" collection from comic strip artist Stephen Pastis. It contains some of his funniest material ever - including:

More attempts by the crocs of Zeeba Zeeba Eata to catch our friend Zebra, a hysterical series with Pig and his Girly-men viking action figures, Goat's gentle wisdom and blogging, Rat's myriad of jobs he is too rude to keep and Pig's grace.

I was slightly devastated when Bill Amend stopped putting out daily Foxtrots (I am Jason Fox!) but Pearls Before Swine has lessened to blow and given me lots of enjoyment. I have spent a lot of good working hours sitting in my recliner laughing loudly over The Sopratos. Laughter is a sacred sound. As for the wasted time -- in the words of my brother crocs:

"Peese shut mouf. Me no want lecture."

Until I Find You

Type: Fiction
Author: John Irving
Shepnerd Rating: 3 Stars

Until I Find You is a fun and typical John Irving book. What I like about Irving is how deeply he researches his topics and presents such a full picture of them that you feel like you understand a culture or idea completely when its done.

The best part of the book is the history of tattoo culture. The protagonist, Jack Burns, grows up with a single mom who is a tattoo artist in the 1960's. "Daughter Alice", as she is called, takes Jack on an amazing journey to find his womanizing, abandoning father. From "sleeping in the needles" to the interesting history of the "Sailor's ruin tattoo" - the information and world she inhabits is fascinating.

Traditional "Sailor's Ruin" Tattoo

Sadly, also like Irving's later books, the story collapses under a slew of sexual romps and odd encounters, barely making the point by its end. I enjoyed the way Alice explains to 5 year old Jack that the kind-hearted prostitutes who help them are "women who give advice to men" and the wisdom from the "Grey Ghost" he discovers as one of the few boy students in an all girl's school. However, by the time adulthood hits Jack, the sex is as meaningless as his rambling pursuits and the interest wanes.

If you are starting with Irving - get "A Prayer for Owen Meany"
If you love him enough to forgive him - try "Until I Find You"