Practice Resurrection, by Eugene H. Peterson

I love the Church. I have loved the Church for decades. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and the gates of hell will not prevail against her. As far back as my college days, people tried to pull me away from the Church, saying that the Church is dying. I refused to acquiesce.

In my years, there have been many who criticize the church (small c church), and not without good reason. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it is imperfect. But it is still the Church, when taken in all together.

Eugene Peterson’s study in Ephesians in Practice Resurrection is stunning. He takes this little epistle and shows us how it applies to the Church and everything she does (or should be doing). At the same time, he shows us how God works, both in individual lives and in the life of the Church.

There is so much good knowledge in this book that I will most definitely read it again, more slowly, more studiously. On the first reading, though, the part that hit me the hardest was his discussion of Martin Buber’s book, I and Thou, as he discussed the role of the Christian in family and workplace.

Buber came up with three different types of relationships. I-It, Us-Them, and I-You. Most people deal with relationships in an “I-It” mindset. Other people are objects to be used to my advantage. There are far too many of us who are trapped in an “Us-Them” mindset, especially people who claim the name of Jesus in our current culture. The only proper relationship mindset is “I-You,” personalizing people, not objectifying them. We even tend to attempt to deal with God in an “I-It” mindset.

Obviously, I can’t even begin to do this justice. Eugene Peterson has such a beautiful way with words, that any attempt I make to paraphrase them would sell them short.

I’ll leave this review with my favorite quote (so far) from this book.

“The extensive commodification of worship in America has marginalized far too many churches as orienting centers for how to live a more effective life for God.”

I could not agree more.

TTFN, y’all!

Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks, by Dallas Willard, edited by Gary Black, Jr.

I gave this book three stars on Goodreads

It might seem strange that I would only give a Dallas Willard book three stars, as much as I love his work. However, this book is a compilation of, as it says, essays, interviews, and talks that were found as Gary Black and Dallas “rummaged through several boxes of other writings–as well as audiocassette tapes of sermons, lectures, and speaking engagements.” The variety of topics in this anthology is almost stunning.

The book begins with what most know Dallas for, spiritual transformation. As I began reading this work, I literally read the first essay four times before moving on. Not because I couldn’t understand it, but because it was so good!

The book moves on to interviews on various topics, articles on discipleship, writings on theology, and finally, on leadership.

Now for the reason I only rated it three stars. There were parts of this book that I loved, that I will, no doubt go back and read again. However, there were a number of articles, essays, speeches, and so on, that were much more philosophical than I care to get into. After all, Willard was a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern Cal. And, while those writings were quality writings, many of them just simply went over my head. I am not trained in philosophy. I think that I could, eventually, understand them, but that’s not the direction I am currently moving. I am more interested in discipleship and, especially, spiritual transformation.

I will, at some point, revisit some of those writings that deal with those two topics. And that’s one of the great things about this book. There are forty-one different writings, and most of them are short enough to be read in just a few minutes.

For anyone interested in spiritual formation and discipleship, I would recommend getting hold of this anthology. Some of the other works might surprise you, as well.

TTFN, y’all!

Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You, by John Ortberg

Soul Keeping is an interesting book. While it is largely about what the title suggests, it is also largely about John Ortberg’s evolving relationship with Dallas Willard. John talks as much about Dallas, I think, as he does about the soul. But it’s all relevant conversation, as Dallas Willard had much to say about the soul and its relationship with God.

I have to confess that I have not thought a lot about my soul. At least until I read this book. I find that I’m thinking more about it, now, even to the point of having conversations with my own soul.

Don’t call the men in the white coats, just yet.

One thing that is learned from this book is a definition of the soul. Most people believe that they have a soul, but few would be able to define or explain it, if you pressed them. I’m still not sure I could adequately do so, but, my understanding, after reading this, is that the soul is considered to be the “operating system” of the human being. It’s not the same thing as the spirit, nor is it the same as the heart (and I’m referring to the spiritual understanding of “heart,” not the physical one).

There is a wonderful story at the beginning of this book that illustrates the importance of the soul. It has to do with a mountain stream that provided clean, fresh water for a town. There was a man, who lived up in the mountains, close to that stream, who kept the stream clean. He was paid by the town. One day, the town decided that it could no longer afford to pay this man, whom they hardly ever saw, to do this job. So he stopped.

The stream began to get dirty. It began to get clogged by branches, leaves, and other forms of refuse. The town’s water got dirty. It wasn’t fresh any more and began to smell. People began to get sick. The town council got together again and decided that they could, in fact, find resources to pay the man again. So he started working on the stream again.

Eventually, the stream became clean again. The “keeper of the stream” did his job, and the town was revived.

The stream is your soul, and you are its keeper.

John Ortberg has a wonderful writing style that is unpretentious and even entertaining. Admittedly, he gets a little silly, at times, but I don’t mind. He is much easier to understand than Dallas Willard, and manages to communicate some of the same truths. His homage to Willard is moving, to the point that I was in tears as the book concluded. Which is bad, because I was driving. Remember? I was listening to it on Audible.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the condition/state of their soul, which could very well be the most important part of you.

TTFN, y’all!

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Written in first person from the perspectives of three different women, The Girl on the Train maintains intensity throughout the tale. I like the style in which it is written, jumping from Rachel to Megan, back to Rachel, and then, eventually, to Anna. It turns out that all three of the women have something in common.

Rachel’s part of the story takes place in current time, while Megan’s starts up about a year before. Rachel was once married to Tom, but they got divorced, partly because Rachel started drinking when she couldn’t get pregnant, and then Tom began having an affair with Anna, the woman to whom he is now married. Tom and Anna live in the same house that he and Rachel lived in.

Rachel lives with her “friend” Cathy. She is currently unemployed, although Cathy does not know this. She lost her job because of her drinking problem. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that she is a “black out” drinker.

Even though she has no job, Rachel continues to put up appearances by taking the train into town every morning. The train passes the house in which she used to live. It also passes Megan’s house, and Rachel watches Megan and her husband, Scott (although she doesn’t know their names and calls them “Jason and Jess” as she watches them), every day.

One day, she sees “Jess” intimately kissing a man who is not “Jason.” This upsets her terribly. So much so that, one night, after having too much to drink, she goes to that neighborhood, planning to confront the couple about this. But she blacks out. She wakes up, in her own bed, with blood everywhere and a nasty bump on her head. She remembers nothing of the night before.

Shortly after, the news hits. Megan Hipwell (Rachel’s “Jess”) is missing.

That’s all I will divulge in this review, as going any further would be considered spoiling. The rest of the story is a whirlwind of deceit, plot twists, and more, as Rachel gets way more involved in things than she should. It all comes to an intense finale when we finally find out what has happened.

I will say that I figured out who did it, but only shortly before that truth was revealed in the story. Paula Hawkins keeps us guessing all the way through this thriller.

I haven’t seen the movie, yet, but am looking forward to seeing how it compares to the book.

TTFN, y’all!

Day Shift, by Charlaine Harris

Day Shift is the second book in Charlaine Harris’s series about Midnight, Texas. And I have to say that it is every bit as good as the first book, Midnight Crossing.

Day Shift begins with some big trucks rumbling into Midnight. That, in itself, is not so odd. But, apparently, these trucks were bringing supplies and equipment into town to renovate the old Rio Roca Fria Hotel, at the intersection of the Davy Highway and Witch Light Road.

All of the residents come out to watch. Manfred, the local psychic, who only recently moved into Midnight; Fifi, the witch; Bobo Winthrop, the pawn shop owner; Teacher Reed, who is temporarily running the “Gas N Go” store (the people who ran that store had to make a hasty exit at the end of Midnight Crossing); Madonna Reed, cook and owner of “Home Cookin’,” holding their infant, Grady, in her arms; Joe Strong and Chuy Villegas, Antique Gallery and Nail Salon owners; and “the Rev,” a somewhat mysterious character who runs a pet cemetery behind his chapel.

Only Olivia and Lemuel are missing. Olivia’s out of town on a “job,” and Lemuel is out of town, doing research on some rare books that Manfred found in the last book.

Fast forward a few months, and Manfred is checking into a hotel in Dallas to have some personal sessions with some of his clients. He runs into Olivia in the same hotel, but they pretty much pretend not to notice each other, at least at first.

Then the couple Olivia with which Olivia was having dinner turns up dead, an apparent murder/suicide. Then Manfred’s client dies in the middle of their session. The world turns upside down for Manfred, at that point.

In Day Shift, we learn a lot more about Manfred, Olivia, and the Rev, who is part of a side plot that develops during the story. Not all that we learn is “good.” But, then, that’s to be expected from the residents of Midnight, Texas.

I enjoyed the various plots that threaded throughout this story, and I believe it came to a satisfactory ending. The character development is, in my opinion, rich, even though Lemuel remained pretty much out of the picture throughout this story. I’m hoping he is featured more in the next one, which is, not surprisingly, called Night Shift.

TTFN, y’all!

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

I absolutely loved this book!!

As Jacob Portman is growing up, his grandfather, Abraham, tells him stories; stories about a magical place on an island off the coast of Wales, where he allegedly grew up as a refugee from WWII. The house where he lived was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

As time goes by, and Jacob becomes a teen, he begins to lose faith in the truthfulness of these stories. He is especially discouraged from believing them by his parents.

But one day, he gets a frantic call from his grandfather. As he and his friend drive to his grandfather’s house, they find the place completely torn apart, as if it had been ransacked. They find a trail, out the back door, into the woods. The follow the sounds that they hear, culminating in a scream. Eventually, they find his grandfather, bleeding and dying. When Jacob follows the noises he hears, he sees something unimaginable, something monstrous. The thing runs away. Abe dies.

Jacob is later inclined to believe the eventual police report that his grandfather was killed by wild dogs. But then he finds a letter, supposedly written to his grandfather by Miss Peregrine. It was postmarked from Cairnholm Island. But it was only fifteen years old. Abe had been at the home in 1939-1940. That would put Miss Peregrine in her nineties.

Dr. Golan, his psychiatrist, convinces Jacob’s parents to let him take a trip to Wales, and to this island, and when Jacob’s father finds out that the area is replete with bird wildlife (his dad is an aspiring ornithologist), he readily agrees to take him.

They book a room at the only pub on the island. On Jacob’s first trip to the old home, all he finds is a partially demolished shell of a building, with rooms containing old stuff that probably belonged to the children. He does find what he believes to be his grandfather’s room. But that’s all he finds. Nothing magical. Nothing mysterious.

He is not satisfied, however, and makes a return trip, inspired by a visit to his bedroom by a peregrine hawk! He finds an old trunk that turns out to be filled with photographs similar to the ones that his grandfather showed him. One thing I like about this book is that it includes this photographs, which are authentic photos found by the author at places like flea markets. Only a few of them have been retouched for the purposes of the book.

It is at this point that Jacob finally encounters some of the “peculiar children.” From this point on, the book takes a fantastic turn that is, indeed, magical and mysterious. Miss Peregrine and the children are in a manufactured time loop, so that they are always on, I believe, September 3, 1940. There are monsters that are after them, though, and one of these was what killed Jacob’s grandfather.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and am anxious to read the second book in the series. As for the movie, I saw it first, and enjoyed it, but they added so much that wasn’t in the book. For example that whole bit about the amusement park was nowhere in the book. The book, in my opinion, is infinitely better than the movie.

A truly fantastic read!

TTFN, y’all!

The Shack, by Wm. Paul Young

The first thing I want to say is that this book is dangerous. Dangerous, most especially, for someone who has recently become a Christian, or whose faith might be weak. I would never recommend this to anyone unless I felt that their biblical knowledge was strong and their faith mature.

After hearing so much about this book over the past few years, and then the movie arriving earlier this year, I decided to read the book to determine what I think of it. I read it with as much of an open mind as I could, having seen opinions all over the place. So here’s what I think.

The first third of the book is a pretty good thriller story, as Mack and his family suffer a tragic loss while on a camping trip. His daughter is taken by a serial killer. Previous abductions by the same perp have never been found. All are assumed dead. The period of time following the loss is called The Great Sadness.

The story begins with Mack going to his mailbox during an ice storm. All he finds is an envelope with only his first name on it. No stamp. No postmark. No return address. Inside is a slip of paper with the following note: “Mackenzie, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. ~ Papa.”

It is only after the discovery of the note that we get the story of what happened with his daughter. “Papa” is his wife’s name for God. The only evidence of his daughter that was found was her dress on the floor of a run-down shack in the middle of the forest where they were camping.

At first, Mack is angry, thinking that the note is a joke. Then he decides that he’s going to travel to that shack. He borrows a jeep from his friend “Willie” (we are supposed to believe that this is the author of the story) and, not telling his wife, drives to the “scene of the crime.”

What happens next is where most people begin to struggle with the story. Mack encounters the Trinity at this shack. Things are said about God throughout this entire scene, which, allegedly was all a sort of “dream/vision” while Mack was passed out on the floor of the shack. I made quite a few marks in the book from this point on.

The first thing I would say is that we must remember that this is fiction. Even though there is a foreword and afterword, in which the author tries to deceive us into thinking that he really met Mack and this is a real story, it is pure fiction. We should never try to build theology from fiction. Not even Narnia-type fiction. It is analogy for what is the author’s belief.

As the dream portion begins, the chapter titles get super-cheesy. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” “A Piece of (symbol for Pi).” “God On the Dock” (“God In the Dock” is a book of essays by C.S. Lewis). “A Breakfast of Champions.” “A Long Time Ago, In A Garden Far, Far Away.” I mean, c’mon! Enough already! “Here Come Da Judge.”

As I began marking places, the first place dealt with creation and Eden. Oh. I almost forgot. “Papa” presents as a matronly black woman. Personally, I had no issue with that, but I’m sure a lot of people went ballistic over it. Anyway, regarding the “Fall,” Papa said, “But then Adam chose to go it on his own, as we knew he would, and everything got messed up. But instead of scrapping the whole creation, we rolled up our sleeves and entered into the middle of the mess–that’s what we have done in Jesus.” In my mind, this kind of puts forth the idea (as Watchman Nee also does) that Jesus was “plan B.”

On the same page, Papa tells Mack that Jesus “has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything.” Further, when Jesus healed the blind, “He did so as a dependent, limited human being trusting in my life and power to be at work within him and through him. Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone.” I can’t agree with this at all. I believe that Jesus had all the power within him while he walked the earth. How else could a woman have been healed just by touching the hem of his garment, without him knowing about it?

On page 105, is that idea that makes me cringe every time I hear it. You know the one. Jesus would have died even if you were the only one.

There are some good things in the book, even if they still fall a little short of the mark. I did enjoy the depicted relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They enjoyed each other’s company immensely, and there was perfect, untainted love between them. I have believed, for a number of years, now, that this relationship between the members of the Holy Trinity is what fuels our relationships with each other. Or at least, it should be. The Spirit, depicted as an elderly Asian woman, says, “Relationships are never about power.” This is truth. Our relationships should never be about holding power over one another. At one point, Mack’s reaction to the Trinitarian relationship is this: “He had never seen three people share with such simplicity and beauty. Each seemed totally aware of the others rather than of himself.” I like that.

At one point, Papa says, “We created you, the human, to be in face-to-face relationship with us, to join our circle of love.” And then the Spirit says, “Broken humans center their lives around things that seem good to them but will neither fill them nor free them.” Again. Good truth, here. “They are addicted to power, or the illusion of security that power offers.”

The chapter about judging, where Mack encounters the embodiment of Wisdom, is tough. There are some good things said regarding our propensity to judge others, as Mack is told to sit in the judge chair and judge God and everyone else. He hesitates, saying that he doesn’t have any ability to judge. Wisdom counters with, “Oh, that is not true. You have already proven yourself very capable, even in our short time together. And besides, you have judged many throughout your life. You have judged the actions and even the motivations of others, as if you somehow knew what those were in truth. You have judged the color of skin and body language and body odor. You have judged history and relationships. You have even judged the value of a person’s life by the quality of your concept of beauty. By all accounts, you are quite well practiced in the activity.”

Ouch.

And then, “Judging requires that you think yourself superior over the one you judge.”

OUCH!!

However, then, the author makes the mistake of trying to tackle God’s thoughts on predestination. He falls far short of understanding God (who among us can, right?) and assigns purely human emotions to the concept of election. A pastor that I know said this, “When we tinker with anthropomorphizing God we diminish His true glory.” I’m not sure “anthropomorphizing” is a real word, but you get the drift. At some point, it is necessary to use anthropomorphism to help us understand God. But when it comes to something as tricky as eternal election, we dare not. At some point, we simply have to accept what Scripture tells us and not deal with it emotionally. Mr. Young has failed miserably at this point.

At the end of chapter 12 is probably the biggest thing that most people have issue with, and I have to question it, myself, as it is not quite clear what Young is trying to say. At first, it seems to say that all roads lead to God, but then he even refutes that statement. But it insinuates that all religions love Jesus equally, or at least that people from all religions love Jesus. We have to be clear, though, that Jesus, himself, said that he was the only way to God. Young never exactly speaks against that truth, but what he does write is very vague.

There are some emotional moments. But I believe that I failed to feel the emotion that I think I was supposed to feel when Mack had an opportunity to reconcile with his dead father (whom, if I read the first part of the book correctly, he murdered and was never called to account for that?). To me, the climax of the entire story is when, in a conversation with Jesus, Mack is forced to come to grips with the thought that he must forgive the killer of his daughter. In this case, I think Young did very well.

So there you have it. I could write a lot more, but that’s a good summary. Again, I believe this is a dangerous book. I came away with some food for thought about the Trinitarian relationship. I was also forced to look at my own propensity to judge unfairly, a problem that I deal with on a regular basis.

To finish up, I want to add some words that my pastor gave me, regarding how he felt about the book. “I thought in trying to deal with the ‘problem of evil’ it did a mediocre job. The relationship of the Trinity was fun and at times insightful. The depiction of the Trinity doesn’t quite do Trinitarianism justice. But it was an enjoyable and emotional read. I think the controversy over [it] is largely based on interviews the author did where he essentially claimed those were based on a ‘conversation’ with God. The author saw it as ‘more’ than a fictional story, and large numbers of readers seem to also [be] getting more theology from The Shack than Scripture and Creeds. But to me, that’s more their fault than the book’s fault.

“I agree that it’s dangerous for people who aren’t already firm in their faith and theologically trained enough to discern the heretical aspects of it. But if you can do that, it is an enjoyable book and the emotional wrestling with a very real philosophical problem that we all go through can be helpful taken with the proverbial grain of salt. I don’t recommend the book unless I’m sure the person can handle it well.”

TTFN, y’all!