Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Graceful Creed @ScottStapp @christianaudio @caReviewers

Somehow I made it through high school and college without knowing the band, Creed. I discovered them after finding lead singer, Scott Stapp's solo album during grad school. The music and lyrics were very meaningful to me and helped validate the pain and struggles I felt as my aunt died of cancer. Creed's music was also powerful. I've looked a few times to see if he was releasing another album, to my disappointment.

But then last month, he releases his memoir, Sinner's Creed, and the lack of releases make sense. This incredibly courageous reflection on his life, faith, success, and struggles was quite powerful. I found it particularly relevant and moving from both a psychological and spiritual formation perspective.

I've written before about God image, the psychological concept describing how we view and experience God. Stapp's book is a wonderful example of how experiences in life and relationships with others impact our perspective of and relationship with God. If someone did not believe in the incarnational way God works and how we affect each other's relationships we God, I don't know how they could doubt it after this book.

Stapp's preface is particularly powerful, explaining how obtaining God's love required certain behaviors and work. Things had to be black-and-white clear. So clear that questions were banned. He goes on to say, "And yet the story of my life is profoundly unclear... What remains clear, though, is my passion for the God of love" (p. x). His life and story clearly demonstrate this process.

At the same time, the end of the book seemed a bit strange, going back to a sin-centered narrative rather than a love-centered narrative. While sin is clearly important in the Bible, do we see everything through the lens of sin or through the lens of love? It has some major implications. Stapp seems to move toward the love lens only to almost awkwardly end on the sin lens. I actually wonder if this is in part due to the influence of the 12 step approach in his life in the last few years. While not originally true, in many areas, the 12 steps have taken on a neo-Calvinistic sin-focused condescension. Perhaps this continues to be part of Stapp's journey.

The book is well-written (and narrated, although it would have been wonderful to hear Stapp narrating his own story). It was interesting to me, as a fan, but I'm not sure it would be as attractive to non-Creed or Stapp fans. It's another story of a celebrity's crash and redemption. At the same time, I think in our societal Cult of the Celebrity, it is important to continue to hear these stories to remember that not all is wonderful with fame. In fact, it can destroy life and faith more than anything else. I actually summarized part of Stapp's story in a parent education group a few weeks back when so many parents were more concerned about their kids' grades than their mental health.

One powerful message of this book that we all need to hear is remembering our priorities. This will make all the difference. Despite Stapp's weaknesses, I was quite impressed with how hard he tried to maintain his priorities and keep his son's needs first. In fact, all-in-all, I have so much more respect for Stapp after reading his memoir and am an even bigger fan. I listened to his solo album and the Creed records for at least a week. The meaningful music became all the most meaningful.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Glorious Fog @EdwardDobson @christianaudio @caReviewers

Every month during my year-long predoctoral internship, I spent a day with patients diagnosed with or being assessed for ALS. This is a tragic disease that killed baseball great Lou Gehrig and gave renowned physicist Stephen Hawking his electronic voice. This disease not only affects the individual, but also the families. Often the families were more deeply impacted by the losses than the actual patient.

A common thread among the patients and families was that they were forced to address existential questions. During our support group including both patients and family members, it was not unusual to get questions and comments related to faith, the goodness of God (or lack thereof), and the process, hope, and promise of healing.

ALS can be a great equalizer of people. We saw all races and socioeconomic statuses. Both genders were well represented. While it tends to hit people in the second half of their life, we had a good representation of the under 40 crowd. We occasionally got someone under 20. And the process of ALS is different for each person. Some die within months of diagnosis. Others, like Hawking, can live for decades.

Medically-speaking, there is virtually no explanation for the etiology or the reason for continued degradation of the body. There was one lady whose hands were essentially paralyzed. She explained she and her congregation prayed hard and the ALS stopped partway up her arms and has been stable for years. Others have just as much prayer, and the disease seems to move faster.

This can impact one's faith in so many ways, as anyone can imagine. So when I saw Ed Dobson's book, Seeing Through the Fog, exploring, in part, his journey with ALS, I was intrigued. I was even more interested in hearing reflections from this pastor who worked closely with Jerry Falwell and yet voted for Obama.

What I particularly appreciated about Dobson's work is his complete honesty. Emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually, he discussed the journey of his life pre- and post-ALS.

Ultimately, this is not a book about ALS, although I can be very helpful for those suffering with ALS and their loved ones. It's also not a book presenting a formula for how to deal with challenges in life. Rather, he beautifully explores how to see God in the midst of the mundane parts of life. And find joy in those moments, growing ever closer to Christ in the process.

It seems that ALS really helped Dobson particularly see the complexities of life and find the joy in the nuances. He does not minimize the challenges of the fog that so many of us face in different ways, but he also reflects on the beauty of God's incarnational love that takes us through that fog. There were many times I left the support group I was co-leading wanting to cry. Not out of sadness, but because of the beauty of the deep, sacrificial love these families display. Like so many tragedies, ALS can destroy a family, or it can bring them together more powerfully than ever, gloriously shining the love of Christ for everyone to see.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, October 12, 2012

Is There Always Meaning?

My preferred theoretical orientation in psychotherapy is existential, especially in line with Viktor Frankl's logotherapy (meaning through therapy or therapy through meaning). I find meaning very important in my personal life, as well. I don't see a reason to keep going and live without meaning. In one of my classes, we discussed different creation explanations (from young earth to secular evolution). One of my issues with the randomness principle in evolution is that if everything really is random, then what purpose is there in life? Why would I want to continue living?

Ultimately, I have faith that there is meaning. I assume there is a reason, a purpose, behind everything, even if I cannot ever figure it out. That is not the same as saying that God is responsible for everything that happens. I'm not an uber-Calvinist, like Piper (see some of my other posts on that :) ). But I do firmly believe that God works good through all things (as in Romans 8:28). This is a way of finding meaning.

However, I've had some struggles with that lately. From our first failed adoption, we lost some money (a good chunk more now that we had to hire a second lawyer for our current match). At the same time, we soothed ourselves by recognizing the failed match could have been far worse (and it's definitely true). Yet I still struggle finding the meaning in that. What good came of it?

I'm associating meaning with good coming out of the situation. Is that always the case? Perhaps it's an incorrect connection. Although I find meaning good.

The only thing I can come up with is that the mom hopefully experienced some love and grace from us. It was really complete loss for us, but if she needed that incarnational love, then there was meaning and good.

Another situation that has had me thinking along these terms is getting scammed with a home repair. Very long story short, we had our air ducts replaced (I do think that was needed). But now the company is failing to honor its warranty. It looks like they're a complete scam, lying about licensure, etc. Actually, the state contractors license board is going after them.

So human legal justice may be done (although I doubt we'll get our large amount paid to them back). But is there meaning? Legal justice doesn't provide meaning. And it doesn't promise "good." What good can come of this situation?

One thing that hit me in the last few days was that perhaps these people really needed the money more than us. While we're not rolling in the dough, most Americans are in the top 1% of the world's income, as our pastor noted this Sunday. We can pay the bills, which I am thankful for. While it was not the right way to get money, some people are desperate. Perhaps this was a way of feeding a child. Although I don't want this "company" taking advantage of others in the future.

I think in both of these cases, God is also teaching me to rely on him more to have faith that we will be financially taken care of. Money has been tight, especially with our adoption. Yet I keep getting adjunct teaching jobs (I've had to turn some down). We haven't had to skip a mortgage payment or even be late. Yet I'm still worried we won't be able to pay for everything. I think there's validity in the concern, but frequently worrying about finances is no way to live. Perhaps the meaning and good is God helping take that pressure off of me (it's not gone yet :) ).

Or perhaps some things are just random, crappy, and due to a fallen world. Maybe there isn't "good" meaning in everything.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Bored Wreck @christianaudio @caReviewers

One of my biggest personal and professional interests is in finding and encouraging meaning and purpose. Jeff Goins' new book, Wrecked, about finding fulfillment in life sounded interesting. Unfortunately, I really didn't experience this text as providing anything new to the current Christian publishing industry.

The subtitle, When a Broken World Slams into your Comfortable Life, really summarizes the book: Recognizing the need for healing and social justice and the lack of justice makes us "wrecked" and want to change the way we live. First of all, I just don't agree with this application of the term, wrecked. But ultimately, there is a plethora of books and blogs on exactly this topic. I can't say I really heard anything new in this book. Goins is a fine writer, and his tales are compelling, but no more so than any of the other things I've read on this topic.

In fact, this book seemed so redundant, I kept tuning out. I got bored enough that I just didn't finish the book. It's only the second time I didn't finish a book. The other time was because the content disgusted me so much. That was not the case here. There wasn't really anything I would disagree with (except the definition of wrecked). I just didn't experience it providing anything new.

In many ways, I'm glad the evangelical Christian publishing industry is encouraging people to look at and challenge their comfortable lives. But preaching the same message ad naseum isn't helpful.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Emotion of Grace @MaxLucado #MaxOnLife @LucadoTeam @christianaudio @caReviewers

Grace seems to be a theme in my life lately. It's been a topic at my church, at a Rob Bell event I went to, and has been on my mind a lot dealing with unethical behavior from a home repair company and an adoption lawyer (we've lost about $8000 on the two in the last few months). So when I had the chance to review Max Lucado's latest book, Grace, I was eager to do so, especially since I'm a Lucado fan anyway.

Lucado's book is short, which is actually nice. Rather than engaging in a deep theological treatise on grace, Lucado does what he does best: He tells stories. He makes the concept of grace come alive in a real human way that is not abstract or theoretical. Much of what I see written on grace is really more of the latter, which is ultimately grace-less. Without the dirt and grit and hard-core reality, grace is useless and worthless.

Despite my profession as a psychologist, I can have a strong tendency to be very rational and cognitive, dissociated from my emotion. This can be especially true in theological and intellectual contexts, and particularly true when I'm extra busy. But the emotion is important. As I teach my adolescents and parents in group, without emotion, it's really hard to build a relationship. Faith without emotion loses the relational element with God. And grace without emotion is just theory.

Lucado's book helped me emotionally experience the power of grace again. There were several times I got teary listening to some of the stories (despite riding my bicycle on my commute). It made me think several times, "That's right, this is what it's all about." Lucado provided what in psychology we call a corrective emotional experience, emotionally experiencing something different than we have before.

Yet in Lucado's traditional style, it is not heavy-handed or preachy or even prescriptive. It describes what a grace-filled life is like and lets you figure out how it fits in your life, which is very appropriate for grace.

I remind my clients frequently to have grace for themselves, reminding them when appropriate, that this is what God does for us. Showing grace to others is one way, I believe, that God incarnationally gives grace to his creation.

Yet it is a struggle. Is grace always appropriate? Grace and forgiveness often go together, although they are not the same. We are often told to forgive everyone. But I'm not sure that's correct. Does God really give grace to everyone, or just the people who ask for it? He wasn't terribly gracious to the Pharisees. And where does restitution fit in? Can you give grace and still demand repayment? Are they paradoxical? These are questions I would love to see someone tackle...

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rob Bell's Modern, Graceful Hour of Power @realrobbell @CarltonCuse @godgrrl

Many people know Rob Bell left Mars Hill Bible church last year to move to LA and work with Lost producer/writer Carlton Cuse on some mysterious venture. Well, last night, I got a preview with a "beta test" of their new plans. My friend, Luthor, was able to get tickets to the show, and we wound up sitting in the front row, feet on the platform, literally three feet from Bell most of the night.

As Luthor and I were leaving and talking about the hour and a half event, I commented that it seemed like a modern, hipster Hour of Power. In many ways they were able to accomplish updates that Robert A. Schuller and others were trying to do while getting push-back to retain an outdated model.

I actually laughed inside a few times while observing some of the totally stereotypic hipsters in the audience. In one row, there were 3 or 4 guys next to each other, all with the same type of black, thick-rimmed Ray-Ban-like glasses on. I was amazed how many people seemed to have the same plaid patterned shirts, albeit in different colors. And the audience was rather white. And male. Well, there were women, but men were a bit more plentiful. Some of the production staff actually asked a few of the guys behind us to move so they could put women in because it was too many white males right in the camera's view. :)

Anyway, the night started off with a band (I don't remember the name, but they had a Southern folksy sound I liked) singing three songs. Then Bell and Cuse gave an introduction; followed by another song; an interview of Cathleen Falsani, a religion reporter; another song; a Q&A with Bell; teaching by Bell; then a closing rendition of Amazing Grace, with audience participation.

Looking at that format, it's a classic format for a church service, except for the band performing rather than leading a worship song (although there was some of that). And the Hour of Power flowed similarly, with an interview of someone about faith-related matters, followed by a message. The basic structure is there, but in a far more accessible manner for younger generations in Bell rather than Schuller (maybe it's a Robert thing that such programs can work well).

I doubt it would be officially called a church service or even Christian. From the introduction of the night and ensuing discussions, it sounds like Bell and Cuse are trying to help people see God all around them without the barriers that stop that observation. Unfortunately, "Jesus," "Christ," and "Christianity" have been given bad names due to the bad behavior of those of us who adopt his name. Sometimes we need to separate ourselves from the label in order to rediscover and re-experience the true beauty of the real Risen Christ.

One statement I really appreciated from Bell was that church is supposed to reorient people to be aware of God throughout the week rather than be just the one encounter of God during the week. While they will undoubtedly get criticism for not being explicit about Jesus and the Cross all the time (again, the Schullers have had their fair share of criticism on that front), Christ and his love were everywhere. Seeing Bell in person made me really believe that he deeply lives out his values rather than paying them lip-service like so many famous Christian talking heads. Ultimately, in my opinion, a person cannot have a full experience of grace and God without eventually encountering Christ, whether or not that person names Christ explicitly.

On the topic of criticism, one of my favorite lines of the night came from Cuse, who discussed some of the "vociferous naysayers" he encountered because of the ending to Lost. Bell laughed saying, "Is that what you're calling critics now?" I was surprised neither applied the term to Bell's detractors. Later, during the Q&A, Cuse read a question, "How have you dealt with the criticism from Love Wins?" Bell sarcastically responded, "There was criticism?" and then had a pause, seeming to consider a wise response. I impulsively responded, "vociferous naysayers," which got a nice laugh. I have to say it's fun making famous people chuckle. :)

One of the ways Bell has really earned my respect was by the way he has handled the plethora of criticism and sometimes flat-out cruelty following his writing. His lack of engagement in fruitless debate demonstrates, in my opinion, a maturity and faith not many people have. His discussion of trying to move to this and the struggle appeared so sincere and not just a PR response, which I appreciated.

Beyond these "lighter" topics, the theme for the night was grace. Falsani shared some amazing stories from her interviews with others, citing Phillip Yancey's definition of grace: "Justice is getting what you deserve, mercy is not getting what you deserve, and grace is getting what you don't deserve." I think it's an important reminder for many us. And when I get spare time again, I think I'm going to have to read some Falsani's stuff--I liked what I heard.

Bell expanded on the topic of grace during his "sermon." Ultimately, I really hope the video or a transcript of the message is released sooner rather than later. There were so many great quotes that I wish I remembered. As Luthor noted, Bell puts into word many things some of us find hard to say. And I think he did that last night.

One element that really stuck out to me was that grace lets go of having to be right and is not always logical. As Bell knows well, so much discussion in the Christian realm has to do with debate and trying to be rational and right. But as I'm learning more and more, what is right is not always rational. And letting go of having to be right brings great peace.

A couple of illustrations of this. I've been making my way through the Star Trek movies (I know, how can a Trekkie not have seen them all already). Laci and I just saw The Voyage Home, which has a subplot of Spock recognizing that the right thing is not always logical, confusing some of his Vulcan brethren.

Further, some of the psychological sciences is supporting that rationality is not always best. In DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), for instance, the ideal "wise mind" is a balance of emotion and logic, making decisions aware of both, but perhaps going with the conclusion by one or the other.

Finally, another point that stood out to me was a question in the Q&A asking Bell what one element from another religion he would bring into Christianity. He essentially explained Buddhist mindfulness, noting the importance of stillness. He had some great quote, which I'll butcher here about modern American Christianity having a "caffeinated business" where we fear a God who is "always pissed off and if we stay busy enough, he may not notice us." While our theology does not always reflect that, our lifestyle does reflect exactly that. He noted the importance of stillness to rest in God's grace.

Ever since I took a Buddhist psychology course in undergrad, I noted the similarities between many Buddhist and Christian values, namely mindfulness. From my training and experience in DBT, this is an area of concern for many Christians, but it is actually a deeply Christian practice. Ultimately, this concept does not need to be taken from Buddhism and applied to Christianity. It is already deep in Christian tradition, although we often forget "the still small voice" and "be still, and know that I am God."

Despite Bell's use of media, I find he utilizes media in a way that actually creates a stillness in me. It does not have a frenetic feel of many Christian outlets. Rather, Bell uses the arts to focus attention intentionally and mindfully on one thing, allowing a depth of absorption that would be impossible with regular American distraction.

I'm not sure what will come of the show. I have a feeling this was a pilot that will be shopped around. I hope something positive comes of it because we need more God-centered, grace-filled shows that point people to recognize the Incarnation in daily life.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Fictional Incarnation @christianaudio @BryanLitfin

I'm generally not a fan of Christian fiction. It's usually cheesy and/or heavy-handed with bad or lame theology. For some reason, when I got the chance to review The Sword, the first of the Chiveis trilogy, written by Moody Bible Institute professor Bryan Litfin, I was intrigued, albeit skeptical.

The basic premise is that the human race has largely killed itself, leaving small clusters of people without knowledge of technology or Christianity. It explores what happens when a Bible is found and Yahweh (known as Deu in the book) is introduced to the culture.

The audiobook is long (over 14 hours), but it was one that I didn't want to stop listening to. Litfin's writing is engaging, and he does a nice job making the reader/listener care about the characters. What I also appreciated is that the book was not preachy. Non-fiction can be preachy (under certain circumstances), but fiction generally should not be, in my opinion.

There was a section where it could have become preachy, when there was a debate among the fledgling community if the "Sacred Text" should be read with "plain meaning" or "hidden symbolism for the elite." The former was clearly favored by the heroes. However, I think the truth is somewhere in between, not with such dichotomy. At the same time, as the book progressed and the characters deepened their faith, their understanding of Deu and the Bible also seemed to become more nuanced.

In many ways, this particular struggle, along with the initial emphasis by the characters on seeing Deu's overt power mirror the developmental process of individuals and communities along the journey of faith. I was happy to see that Litfin decided not to have Deu demonstrate dramatic, spectacular miracles to bring the people to faith, but rather worked more smaller, incarnational ways.

I also really enjoyed powerful ways Litfin demonstrated the love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy of God while not minimizing his perfection and desire for holiness. What saddened me was the hostility and fear of the clergy from the gods of Chiveis reminded me very much of many Christian communities now and in the past. This book should not just be message for people to follow the one true God, but also to remember how to encourage followers. The message Litfin sends is clear: God transforms through love, not fear.

I think the best summary of my review is that I went ahead and purchased the two sequels from christianaudio (the last one is due out at the end of the month). I'm liking the start of book 2 already.

The Sword is currently available free on christianaudio, and the sequels are available for only $4.98 each for a limited time.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, June 22, 2012

Are all things for the best?

As some of you know, my wife and I had a match for our adoption last month that fell through. It was a short match, and we didn't even see the baby, but it was still very challenging.

In the midst of dealing with it many people, including Laci and me, would say something along the lines of, "Well, it must be for the best. God has other plans." When I said, "It has to be for the best," a friend of mine challenged me on that, asking if it really was for the best.

Through virtually all the disappointments in my life, I can say that in hindsight, they usually have been for the best, with something more positive resulting from the closed door. Plus, I always remember Romans 8:28: "We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose" (CEB).

I realized I was living by an assumption that everything occurred according to God's will. Calvinists, like John Piper, would argue that every little thing is determined by God. I reject his level of determinism. The Bible (and a lot of life) actually discuss many situations where people do not live in accordance with God's will. If we did, there would not be any need for salvation, which is obviously central to the biblical story.

When I thought about Romans 8:28 again, it has not promise that all things are according to God's will. It is simply that despite what happens, God will work good for those who love God. Life is full of problems, and those problems are not necessarily ordained by God nor for the best. Yet God can work beauty through them.

I don't know right now if the status of this match was in accordance with God's will or the best. I will probably never know more details about that baby, but I pray the best for that whole family with no ill will. In some ways, it is actually validating to know that not everything is necessarily for the best. If it is for the best, it can feel bad to grieve, yet grief is important.

I don't know why my aunt died of breast cancer at a young age several years ago. I can't imagine saying it was for the best. But I can say God worked a lot of good through her struggle in my life (I would have rather not had to deal with that pain).

So what do you think? Are all things for the best?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Basic Theology of Eric Liddell @christianaudio

Many people know Eric Liddell from the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire. What many people don't know is  he also gave up the life of an athlete to be an overseas missionary.

In the short, The Disciplines of the Christian Life, Liddell presents a fundamental (not to be confused with fundamentalist) theology and encouragements for basic spiritual disciplines. I was impressed with his knowledge of biblical scholarship and historical-critical methodologies. At the same time, I found myself tuning out a lot while listening to the book. That may have been because there was a lot on my mind or because I can't really say there was much in the book I hadn't heard elsewhere.

I don't have any complaints about it, and it's probably a good introductory resource to theology and how God relates to the world. I enjoyed some of the preface history of Liddell. Simon Vance's (the narrator) Scottish accent was also a nice change from many audiobooks. It was an understandable accent (some Scottish accents are incomprehensible to non-Scots) and brought a bit of authenticity to the work, as Liddell was Scottish.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Destructive Power of Shame @TBBMediaGroup @ccef @newgrowthpress

Shame is something that is discussed in a therapeutic context frequently because of its constant presence in the lives of those who seek therapy. I've written about shame before, differentiating it from guilt as the latter saying, "I did bad" while shame says, "I am bad." Shame pervades people's identities, creating a sense of worthlessness and rejection.

In Shame Interrupted, Ed Welch, a psychologist, addresses the topic of shame head-on. The first few chapters paint a very real and in-depth picture of the potency of shame and its effects in daily life. Welch then proceeds to illustrate the history of shame throughout the Bible.

I was very impressed with Welch's psychological and theological treatment of such a sensitive, hidden, and pervasive topic. He brings to life the impact of shame and the power of Christ over shame. However, he doesn't argue for a simple, "Have faith, and you'll be healed approach." Rather, he actually stated, "The most promising response is that Jesus loves you, which is certainly true. But, believe it or not, that usually doesn't work either" (p. 61). Earlier on, he explains why recognizing Christ's love doesn't instantly heal shame: "When you receive such reproach from the community, you can easily believe that God himself joins these many voices, though he certainly does not" (p. 21).

Many Christians minimize the impact they have on people's perceptions of God, good and bad. However, our interactions with others can become the foundations of people's experiences of God. We literally need to be the hands and feet of Jesus, incarnating God's love to those around us.

While there were times when Welch said it was appropriate to feel shame (I'm not sure I agree--I think it's normal, but not really accurate), he also made it clear that these messages are not from God. God does not shame. Many Christians need to hear this message and remember that shame is not a motivator and does not lead people to God. Rather, it leads them to hiding (remember Adam and Eve?). Ironically, one of the most shame-enhancing pastors in the US, Mark Driscoll, endorsed this book.

Shame Interrupted reminded me of Bruce Narramore's No Condemnation, which addresses a similar concept, arguing that God never condemns people, but seeks restoration from human-made condemnation. However, Narramore's tome was more of an academic text. Welch's book stands up to strong academic scrutiny, but is more of a popular press book, making it far more accessible to the general population, which is really needed.

If you're interested in the topic of shame, this is a good introduction to understanding its power and pervasiveness. It doesn't provide strong solutions, but there are a variety of psychological texts that address the treatment of shame. I think one of the most powerful and important parts of this book is not minimizing the potency of shame and recognizing that its resolution is not simple.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hearing God @christianaudio @DallasAWillard

Hearing and recognizing God's voice is one of the most confusing, challenging, and central parts of life. Arguably, all people try to find and understand God's voice speaking to them at some point in life. Even for the most spiritually devout, God's voice is not always clear.

Dallas Willard wrote and recently re-released Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God to address the complexity of connecting with God. He starts the book by addressing the many misconceptions about hearing God. But he doesn't stop there--he spends a significant majority of the book exploring the various, powerful, yet subtle ways God speaks us on a daily basis.

What I love about this book is that Willard really emphasizes that there is no formula for connecting with and hearing God. Willard very clearly notes that God can use whatever means he would like to speak to us, but that there are particularly tendencies in how he sends us messages, which are often some form of what I would call Incarnational.

I'm fairly familiar with Willard's work and the topic of hearing God, so there was not much new here that I had not heard before. However, it was validating, reminding me of how I am connected to God. This was particularly meaningful, as during the two weeks I listened to this book on my commute to and from work, we were matched with a birth mom for an adoption, which then fell through.

During the emotional roller coaster, I questioned my recognition of God's voice to us about the match (and even adoption in general, at times). When we were first offered the opportunity to talk to this mom, I had this clear sense of peace (which is unusual for me, who is usually anxious), with a message that it would all work out fine. As the adoption fell through, I questioned if I had really heard from God. Quickly after that thought, I experienced a response that I was not "told" that this particular match would work out, but that all would be fine and we would handle it.

That did not make the process easier, per se, but it did give me a peace about the process. And as I mentioned before, that's not my normal state, making it fit being a message from God all the more. Plus, the characteristics of God's voice, as Willard says, includes stillness, peace, and calm.

I pray we all continue to recognize God and his voice in all we do, both in providing peace and passion for life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Deep, Final Words of Christ @christianaudio @RevAdamHamilton

In Final Words from the Cross, Adam Hamilton explores seven of the final phrases Christ spoke on the Cross. Hamilton's book, while concise, still conveys a understanding and respect for the emotional and intellectual depth of Jesus' last words.

Hamilton does not simply tell readers (or in my case, listeners) what to believe or how exactly we must understand and interpret the words. Rather, he provides a realistic, human-yet-divine picture of the impact and meaning behind the words. He clearly understands the scholarship on these biblical passages, but does not drone on in intellectual boredom.

One of the elements I particularly valued was the stories he developed for each phrase. Hamilton wrote first-person narratives from the perspectives of various individuals in the biblical story to flesh out the words of Christ and really bring them to life.

Books like this can be cheesy, superficial, and intellectual without heart, all missing the bigger picture. Yet Hamilton does a phenomenal job of balancing all of these elements, creating a devotional, emotional, and intellectual book that really deepened my faith and appreciation of Jesus' final words on the cross.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Role of the Resurrection

This post is part of the April synchroblog, the Resurrection Hoax. It is adapted from a prior post I wrote in 2010.
Many people emphasize the importance of the resurrection in their theology. They have said that if Christ did not rise from the tomb, their whole faith would be lost.

Honestly, I don't really understand this.

Is the resurrection central to Christianity? Of course. Is it a defining variable? I'm not so sure.

It's distinctive, but how different is Christianity from ancient, pre-Christ Judaism? In specific practices and culture, it's of course different. And people could argue a focus on the law. However, a focus on the law was really within certain Jewish traditions. And there's plenty of Christian traditions that focus on the law just as much.

In my studies, I have seen a rich and vital faith in ancient (and modern) Judaism that really connects with God, seeing God transforming lives. God is involved in the present, changing lives now.

However, that is often not as emphasized in a lot of modern Judaism. There is a big trend of seeing God less involved. That is a power of Christ--Christ came to bring life. Not just in the future, but now.

When we forget about the now, we only focus on life in the future (i.e. eternity). And if there is no resurrection, then of course we should be afraid of our life after death. However, when we see our faith and experience with God transcending more than just death, then we can value many more things than just the resurrection.

Would the absence of the resurrection make my faith different? Probably, and likely in ways I don't even realize. However, my faith is also not rooted in historial facts. It's rooted in faith. Belief that God exists and transcends not only death, but life itself. I have experienced that. And if someday I find out the resurrection did not historically occur, I think (and hope) I would still have a vibrant faith in God...

One of the interesting questions the synchroblog provided as a possible prompt was what religion (if any) would you be a part of if the resurrection did not occur. I believe I would still be a follower of Christ because his teachings are true. Further, considering options for epistemology, my experience and what I would interpret as my relationship with God (and each person of the Trinity) reinforces my faith.

Therefore, ultimately, a lack of the resurrection would have to change the way I understand Christ, but not necessarily the way I love him. I don't think the resurrection made the disciples love Jesus any more or any less. They probably cognitively understood him better (or simply acknowledged the awesome mystery). And I think one of the primary effects of the resurrection was God having the final word in dramatic fashion. But even if he didn't take the final word, that doesn't make him less powerful or less God.
Here are the other synchroblog participants:

  • Marta – On Faith Seeking Understanding, Truth, and Theology
  • Carol Kuniholm – Risen Indeed? The Hermeneutic Community
  • Tim Nichols – How Would Life be Different if Jesus did not Rise?
  • Glenn – Kingdom Come or Kingdom Now?
  • Sonja Andrews – The Resurrection and the Life
  • Josh Morgan – The Role of the Resurrection
  • Abbie Watters – What if the Resurrection were a lie?
  • Minnow – Resurrection Impact
  • Leah – Resurrection – Or Not!
  • Hey Sonnie – The Resurrection Hoax
  • Liz Dyer – The Resurrection I Firmly Believe In
  • Ellen Haroutunian – Is There a Christianity Without the Resurrection?
  • Jeannette Altes – What if…
  • Christine Sine – If the Resurrection did not happen, how would the world be different?
  • KW Leslie – Supposing Jesus is Dead
  • Travis Mamone – If the Resurrection was a Hoax
  • Kathy Escobar – Jenga Faith
  • Jeremy Myers – What if Jesus Did not Rise?
  • Monday, April 9, 2012

    Protecting an Institution

    In a conversation with someone recently, she stated there are different ways of dealing with problems--patiently, working within the system for change, or impatiently, going outside the system to attack it. Her point was that it was always best to work within the system.

    Some would argue this is biblical, as even Jesus said he did not come to overthrow the law, but to fulfill it. He explicitly did not want to usurp the authority of the Roman or Jewish governing bodies. But did he really work within those institutions to evoke change?

    This issue was a central debate in the Protestant Reformation. For many people who agreed with Luther's criticisms, they recoiled at the thought of separating from the Roman Catholic Church, saying it was better to change it from within. Virtually all of Luther's reforms were adopted by the Catholic Church, albeit a century later. Most Protestants today, though, are quite happy about the Protestant split, thinking it was necessary.

    Last week, I talked about the balance of peaceful dialogue versus active criticism. I think, once again, that there is balance here. Using the example of Luther, he did, in fact, try to work within the Catholic Church's systems to create the appropriate and needed change. When he no longer believed that was possible, he then led an assault on the institution, calling for a split.

    I personally agree with this approach. It is great if we can reform institutions from within. There is so much manpower, capital, organization, etc., that can continue to be used for good (and not have to be redone for developing something new). Yet there comes a point at which an institution has gone so far in the wrong direction that it is beyond hope of salvation and the reset button needs to be pushed.

    A while ago, I wrote a personal reflection on the events surrounding the Crystal Cathedral. I saw its implosion from the inside. And while several us tried some things to fight for it from within our section of the Cathedral, I got to the point where I predicted and hoped for its demise. The Penner-Coleman group had become so focused on maintaining the institution that they lost sight of the true purpose of the organization.

    When an institution is more focused on self-preservation than its true purpose, then major problems have arrived.

    I cannot imagine loving an institution as much I had the Cathedral, yet I voted for our group to leave it and become its own congregation. I continue to follow the news and proceedings of the Cathedral with sadness, but with a sense of comfort that the dangers of institutional self-preservation are no longer wrecking havoc.

    While I continue to desire to hold internal reformation as the ideal, I am willing to see institutions close when they no longer live according to their values and purpose.

    What about you? When, if ever, would you vote for an institution to close?

    Monday, April 2, 2012

    Saying It Like It Is

    "He says it like it is." This can be a compliment or a cursing criticism, depending on the person saying these words. People like Mark Driscoll get praise for their no-holds-barred approach to confrontation. They also get criticized for being rude and wrong in their content.

    When it comes to Driscoll, I tend to be the latter camp. Yet when some ethical issues have come up at work lately, I found myself being praised by others for "saying it like it is." And criticized by others for not being serene.

    I found myself questioning my actions and wondering what the right approach was. Was Jesus outspoken and angry? Or was he a pacifist? Ultimately, he was both. There are a couple of excerpts from John Eldredge's books that I think really summarize these issues quite nicely.

    However, I find it interesting how people really struggle with finding a balance of both. Where I am currently is that the ideal is to be calm, serene, and cooperative. This encourages cooperation, collaboration, and growth within an institution. It also can encourage people to feel safe to grow and face their own challenges.

    Yet when that no longer works and major problems continue to manifest, I believe being feistier is warranted. Sometimes we need to stand up for our rights, the rights of others, and right conduct. That means we need to fight at times. There are, of course, better and worse ways to fight, but at times, fight we must.

    The problems occur when we stay in one extreme all the time, regardless of circumstances. This creates a lack of a change (with complete serenity) or unsafe, instable environments (with constant condemnation).

    What do you think? Is there a balance? Is there a time to say it like it is? What does that even mean?

    Saturday, March 31, 2012

    The Basic Road to the Resurrection @greglaurie @christianaudio

    Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Church in Riverside, CA, and host of the Harvest Crusades, released Road to the Resurrection as an exploration of the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Laurie is a dynamic speaker who has a strong focus on evangelism, and this is not missed in his Lenten tome. I actually really appreciated his acknowledgement in this book that traditional evangelism is not the only important element of the Christian faith.

    But that is not the point of this book, which was only 2.5 hours in the audiobook version I reviewed. His goal was really to walk the reader/listener through some of the facts around the last days of Christ's life. If someone is looking for a very basic Bible study into the end of the Passion Week, then this is a good introduction.

    I can only recall one new thought I gained from the book (a clever and realistic explanation of why John arrived at the empty tomb prior to Peter). The rest was rather basic. While Laurie attempted to engage in some critical thinking on elements of the biblical narrative, the arguments were pseudo-scholarly. For instance, in defending the fact of the resurrection, Laurie depending almost solely on the Bible. Unfortunately, most critics of the resurrection have no faith in the Bible, so his rebuttals would be worthless. This perspective is analogous to a Latter Day Saint using the Book of Mormon to convince a Southern Baptist about the nature of Jesus. It just doesn't work.

    In summary, there was nothing wrong with this book, but I found it neither thought-provoking nor moving.

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

    Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    The Danger of Empiricism

    I recently finished teaching a course entitled, Epistemology and Worldview. My nerdiness is emphasized in that I was excited to teach it and loved every moment of it (well, except the grading).

    Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. In this course, we addressed three ways of knowing: revelation (basically God speaking to us directly), reason (using logic to know), and empiricism (looking at hard facts).

    So much of society today is driven by empiricism. Church structures want to know how to prove what works in gaining people. Numbers mean that growth has occurred. Christians want to prove God and his ways beyond any shadow of a doubt. Psychological interventions are increasingly driven to provide hardcore evidence that change has occurred.

    The benefit of empiricism is that it's hard to argue with it. We know the sky is blue. To argue otherwise indicates problems with perception. This model works well (in many cases, but not all) in a traditional medical setting. Was the heart surgery effective? Well, is the heart beating? Is the patient alive?

    Empiricism becomes further entrenched in society with the increasingly litigiousness of our culture. Someone sues you, and you each need to prove your case. Revelation does not stand up because there is an element of subjectivity. But does that mean it's untrue? In a court of law, it's essentially inadmissible. But something you can touch and measure is perfect.

    So we increasingly try to measure and objectively describe all aspects of life. But it doesn't work in all aspects. Truly measuring one's spiritual life is impossible in my estimation. There are things we can point to, but it's like measuring and proving how much your spouse loves you. Even if you could measure it, it takes the life and essence out of the object.

    The same thing is true in mental health. Using my primary patient population, I can measure how often the teen self-injures. But is the presence or absence of self-injury a true marker of health or illness? Few would argue that its presence marks health, but its absence also does not mean health.

    This is the problem and danger of empiricism. When we try to focus on symptoms and measuring, we miss the true goal: Human flourishing as we put on the character of Christ.

    Empiricism has its place, but we need to not overemphasize it or put it higher than other epistemologies. All are useful and important in gaining a full, holistic picture of life.

    Monday, March 5, 2012

    The Danger of Good Enough

    As many of you know, my wife and I are adopting. We had our second and longest homestudy visit on Saturday. The social worker mentioned the work of Ira Chasnoff when exploring in utero substance exposure. The video below addressed the issue of "good enough" when it comes to policy decisions and life. It's something I've heard many times before, but it really hit where I think I'm struggling with frustration in many institutions.

    So often, particularly in the mental illness institutions, decisions are made for what is good enough. But as my dad frequently told me (especially in the dating arena), the good is the enemy of the best.

    When people's lives are stake, why do we advocate for good enough? Why do we feel satisfied with just meeting the good enough goals in our own lives?

    While it is important to know limitations and be realistic, I have been increasingly appalled at the lack of motivation and decisions to really challenge to raise the bar and standards higher. How are we ever going to become more like Christ if we always settle for good enough?

    Sunday, March 4, 2012

    @CommonEngBible Lenten Readings #CEBTour

    The Common English Bible, my newest favorite translation, is offering a free Powerpoint presentation (embedded below) with Lenten readings for anyone to use. My church has been using the CEB for several months, and I have been quite impressed with how useful and accessible it has been. So check out the presentation if you're interested!


    Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).