Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sacred Journey Review

Every so often, about twenty years or so, the church remembers her roots. She decides that maybe those so called “legalistic” practices performed in the medieval era had some merit. We waffle between legalism and liberation twisting back and forth from one emphasis to another. Naturally, these ideas are worth reiterating an new and unique ways. And so an industry of writing about spiritual disciplines is created.

When that pattern of waxing and waining on spiritual practices clashes with a cultural shift, we occasionally make decent progress in growing closer to God. That’s what the “Ancient Practices Series” is all about. It’s a series on the supposed 7 ancient disciplines, plus an introduction (the practices being those used by Christians, Jews, and Muslims). Utilizing mostly postmodern or emerging voices, Phyllis Tickle has organized an incredible but approachable library on things Christians do. Since it is written by postmoderns to postmoderns, this series emphasizes existential learning rather than systematic or doctrinal focus.

The last book on the series, “The Sacred Journey” by Charles Foster is much like the others. Difficult enough to contend with, it begins with the phrase “you won’t agree with everything in this book”. Unlike most reviewers, who think every book worth reading is one with which they will completely agree, I find his approach fascinating. It truly is a book with which the reader must wrestle. Sometimes you feel as though you have him pinned, only to find that Foster has already planned his counter move, obliterating your argument about his current point. I walk away from this book with a greater appreciation of the spiritual discipline called “pilgrimage”.

Another common complaint is that this book is not practicable enough. Reviewers tend to either say “I could never do that”, or “he’s talking about our day to day prayer lives. In fact, the book discusses a specific body approach to Christianity. The primary problem Foster has with modern Christianity is that we take the body out of it. We settle for Gnosticism (that is the belief that the body is evil). Practicing disciplines involves our body in spiritual matters. In this sense, Foster’s book stands firmly next to McKnight’s “Fasting” (also a part of the series, and my favorite of the group).

The best part of the book is that reading through it is a sort of journey on its own. As Christians, Foster writes, the difference in pilgrimage is that we focus on the journey rather than the destination. Certainly a contention for most of Evangelical Christianity. I agree wholeheartedly with this point.

While the biblical interpretation is somewhat dubious (Foster sees wandering in every episode of the Bible and argues it is the foundation of human nature and what makes us fundamentally different from animals), Foster’s use of personal experience, and exhortation to “just do it already” compel the reader to find ways to become a pilgrim. I know this reader will start this practice as soon as he can. Full of grace and truth, this book is not a treatise, not a journal, but somewhere in between (which makes it similar to the book in the series on fixed hour prayer “in constant prayer” by benson). By being an existential work rather than a purely theoretical or practical one, Foster blends the genres of devotional and academic literature.

Certainly I disagree with much in the book, but it definitely deserves to be read by many. Don’t read it if you want answers. Don’t read it if you expect to agree with everything. Don’t read it to figure out “how to do pilgrimage”. Like the rest of the books in this series, read it on its own merits. Anyone interested in spiritual disciplines can learn with this book.

I was often not a fan of his biblical explication, nor his inclusion of Buddhist and Hindu examples (which simply didn’t make sense to my western mind). I was a fan of his tone and humility. Consider this book, and when you open the cover, become a pilgrim, seeking to grow closer to God by sharing Foster’s story. Like a close friend, you will want to punch him in the face a time or two. Like a close friend, he will swing back.

5 of 5 stars for elegant prose, good arguments, conversational tone, and applicable challenge.

Full disclosure: i received this book as a part of Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program. They tickle my literary nose with free books, I blow out a review within a month. it does not have to be a clean, clear review and can be as green and gunky as I like. Take that FTC

Monday, December 20, 2010

From Tyndale to you:

One of the publishing houses for whom i review books is currently doing an NLT giveaway. Here are the deets:

I wanted to fill you in on an exciting contest that is currently being run and sponsored by the New Living Translation. We’re highlighting three ministries,Wycliffe Bible Translators, Oasis International, and The Dream Center, (click on the link to learn more details about these ministries) and by voting for one of these ministries you’ll be entered to win one of many prizes.

To enter, visit the NLT Facebook page by clicking here.

There are several levels of prizes you can win, here are the details:

With the Give the Word Bible Contest and Giveaway:
Ministries win: Each time the NLT Facebook Page reaches a fan count milestone, votes will be tallied and the three ministries will receive cash donations from the New Living Translation and Tyndale House Publishers.
Everyone wins: Everyone who enters on the Bible Contest website wins a free download of Matthew West reading the Christmas story.
Daily NLT Study Bible winners: Vote on the NLT Facebook page and you will be entered to win two NLT Study Bibles—one to keep and one to give away. A new winner will be chosen every day.
Weekly Give the Word Locally winners: Tell us about a deserving local ministry on the NLT Bible Contest website and they could win five NLT Study Bibles and $250 worth of NLT products.
One Grand Prize winner will enjoy a unique trip customized just for them and their family (or three guests of their choice), to Wycliffe Bible Translators world headquarters and the WordSpring Discovery Center where they will experience firsthand the exciting world of Bible translation. The Grand Prize winner could also choose to donate the value of the trip--$2000--to Wycliffe instead.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Then Sings My Soul Review

My most recent review for the booksneeze program (I get a copy in exchange for an honest review, doesn’t have to be good), is regarding a little book I, and the author, like to call “Then Sings My Soul”. That author would be Robert Morgan.

This fairly brief book is a collection of brief bios of some of your favorite songs. Want to know more about “it is well”? It’s there. In fact, the book tells the story of 150 different hymns. As a vineyardian, many of the songs I knew nothing about. Thankfully, most of the biggies are found within the cover of the book. Knowing the background of the song makes the lyrics themselves so much deeper in most cases.

Definitely worth a read, and a great resource for worship pastors, fans of hymns, or a reasonable devotional for the cool cat who won’t stop scatting along with “Ein Fest Burg est Unser Gott” (a mighty fortress is our God). A bio of the author is included with the song, a good index in the back to search by song, bible verses, devotional prayers, and lyrics are also included with each song.

If the book sounds like you would like to read it, you will. If it sounds dreadfully boring, pick up a copy of the Hunger Games series.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Heaven is for Real -a 4 year old told me so

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to go to heaven? Consider whether or not so many of these near death experiences are true? Hear about a book written by someone who has been there?

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo, is yet another one of those books. The main difference with this one, though, is that it is told from the perspective of a four year old. Incredibly innocent, supremely simple, horribly honest, this book is difficult to disbelieve. I wonder about some of the wording, and ponder whether the poor pipsqueak partied in paradise or just had a vivacious vision of visitation. But that does not prevent me from appreciating the book. Above all, it reminds the reader that yes, Nevada, heaven is for real.

The book is primarily the story of a pastor and his family going through an incredibly difficult period. Said period includes breast cancer, broken bones, horrible flu, and climaxes with an emergency appendectomy. An interesting enough story in its own right, but this part of the book is over half of the pages jammed within the bright yellow cover. A cover by which you should not judge the book.

The exciting part of the book occurs when the story shifts from family disaster to redemption. It turns out that in the midst of the confusion and chaos caused by Colton’s condition, Jesus is there. Colton visit’s heaven, does homework, meets Jesus, his Dad, his horse, and the Holy Spirit (along with some previously unknown family), talks with God, yada yada yada. I only yada here to not spoil the surprise. In fact, if the book sounds interesting, go buy or borrow it now before reading any other reviews. You see, the best parts of the book are in the (p)reviews. Sort of like the most recent shallow comedy you have seen. I know you watch them.

Ultimately, this hopeful book is far from a triumph of the written word. It is, an encouraging account of life beyond death. You will tear up upon reading it (you better, because I did). You will be encouraged that this God thing is for real. But above all, you will wish there was more. It is absolutely worth a read. The short length of it is perfect for a single evening beside the stove with a hot coco. If the book were longer or was less about the family vacation, it would get 5 stars. It is neither. Here are four slightly-used stars for you, Colton and crew.

This review, as with most, was conditional. I received the book for the price of reviewing it. It did not have to be a good review. I would like to note, however, that this is the first book to gain the coveted 4th star from my booksneeze account. Thanks Thomas Nelson for the freebie. If you have read this far, and would like a copy of the book . . . buy your own! (just kidding, maybe it will show up in a family book exchange or something). Or, you could just submit a comment requesting it and see what happens.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Responding to book burnings

Today a pastor picked up a new car, and it was on the news. What does it take to be so significant that acquiring material goods becomes a headline? How do we go about attaining such fame and acclamation that the world pivots according to our decisions?

The pastor is famous. Famous for planning on burning Korans. His car, the ill-gotten reward of tugging on a true Christian’s heart strings. Some athlete or another offered the pastor a car in exchange for promising not to burn the books. I’ve spent long enough not dignifying the pastor’s antics with a response. So here it goes:

What does it profit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his soul?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Slap my cheek and call me sucker

Why am I such a sucker for perceived deals. i know all the marketing gimmicks. I understand that perceived urgency creates a false desire for a product. I understand that greater income overwrites the paltry sums given out in a sweepstakes.

And yet, I can’t stop buying McDonald’s with that small hope of winning 10,000. I’m not greedy. I know it’s nearly impossible to win the million bucks. But 10k seems somehow achievable. It’s like the judgment center of my brain switches off. The id takes over (which, consequently, is a great name for a punk nuveau band). I stay up late waiting for that next wootoff gem. I can’t believe my calamitous circumstance when my body’s need for rest has robbed me of a steal. Especially if that includes a 6 pack (or 3) of flexible grilling skewers. Sure they are just glorified quarter inch steel cable, but they were cheap! Or I consume empty calories for the sake of winning some for free.

Where did that winning game token that promised me the adventure of a free beef sandwich go, anyway? Ah yes, in my wallet next to it’s glorious bride who bids me to consume a free mcflurry.

They say it’s not a deal if you don’t need it. I say have your mc cakewich and eat it too! You will have to excuse me, as I am now the instant proud owner of 30 coke points, whatever those are. I must go sell my personal information to obtain it’s high fructosey goodness.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why i do it

This is why i'm in the business of bringing hope:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

another review: transforming church in rural america

I meant to have more than just book reviews on this blog, I did. But i burned through my latest booksneeze book (wherein Thomas Nelson sends me free books covered in mucous if I write about them), and want to get my next one in the mail.

“Transforming Church in Rural America” is Shannon O’dell’s new book about his escapades in viewing the sticks as a mission field. In it, he basically says that We should not have to settle for mediochre, dying churches in Rural America.

He begins by describing common myths of rural churches, which is a fantastic essay in and of itself. Next, he talks about his church and how they have gone from being a small church to a multi-site megachurch using a clever acronym. This, primary part of the book is so-so. Finally, he encourages pastors to not settle for mediocrity.

Overall, the book is a decent enough read. it has moments of literary brilliance when he brings humorous personal examples into the story. Otherwise, the writing itself is okay. Conversational in tone, easy to understand, vanilla in style. Not unlike this review, the book is a straightforward read.


1) Lists- There are a huge number of bulleted lists, acronyms, pneumonic devices, etc. It’s like a giant sermon with dozens of memorable action points. The problem is that so many lists make any of them hard to remember.

B) Literature- Like i said, just okay writing. Decent enough content, but not memorable

iii. multi-site mixups- The big problem with this book is that the solution is the same as everywhere else: grow a bigger church. I appreciate his love for the rurals, but that does not mean a giant rural- based megachurch is the answer.

IV) the book tries to be too cute. hard to explain it any other way. Also, i disagree with much of the biblical interpretation that occurs in it.

While I don’t disagree with the premise, and loved parts, this book is just an “okay” overall score. Full disclosure: I received the book for free in exchange for this review

Quikbooks review

Ironically, this is not a review about a piece of software called quickbooks. I was just thinking of my bald friend, Pete, who seems to be smitten with the software. I guess you’d have to be if you wanted to be an accountant. No, my friends (bald and otherwise), this is a quick review of multiple books.

You are not a gadget: Jaron Lanier. 3/5 stars, probably 4 if I understood it all

What it is: a manifesto about the potential future of the internet and how we must change it for the better

What it is not: a quick or easy read, in spite of the meagre 195 pages.

Who it’s for: nerds with a lot of time and energy on their hands.

In the book, an apparent pioneer of all things virtual reality (from video games to surgical tools) describes the problem with web 2.0. This book will really only be appreciated by various technophile/philosopher mixes. I thought I was one, but it turns out the philosophy of technology is incredibly complicated and, well, boring. The guy has a major beef with the anonymity so many websites allow, and how it devalues human life. While many technologists believe an ever expanding web will create a massive singular consciousness, Lanier questions whether this is a) possible or b) a good idea.

A very intriguing read, at least the parts an average person can understand (and I don’t say that lightly); most people will probably prefer almost any other book. Sometimes this work makes Kierkegaard look positively elementary. If you pick it up, prepare to snooze off a few times while reading. Also, have a dictionary on hand, and your english-klingon lexicon won’t help. It is nice to see, though, that at least some people in the industry care about more than the capitalist possibilities of technology.

Me, Myself, & Bob: Phil Vischer 5/5 stars

What it is: an incredibly entertaining and emotionally evocative account of the rise and fall of the Veggie Tales empire.

What it is not: boring, difficult to read, or fascist (aka the opposite of the above book)

Who it’s for: everyone

If you missed my previous post, scroll down. If you still don’t want to read it, I will sum up. Phil Vischer is as good a writer as you would expect, considering he inventended the Veggie Tales platform. Not only did he invent and run Big Idea, but he wrote most of the early movies. In other words, it’s incredibly well-written. Engaging, free of cliches, brutally honest, and based in reality, Vischer explains how he tried to create the Christian version of Disney.

The middle part is a little slow, but full of necessary details and woes. The beginning is absolutely hilarious. The end, poignant. The moral of the story: “WIthout vision, people perish”. However, it’s a correct interpretation of this proverb, unlike what most of the church teaches. A better translation is: “without a message from God, people run amuck”.

Vischer takes on the idea that Christians are meant to create an idea and run with it. Vision here isn’t about inspiring people, but hearing from God. Perishing is not dying of boredom or stagnation, but dying because of sin. The entire book is a parodied parable of this principle (uh oh, here comes the alliteration again).

The Heavens Proclaim His Glory: Thomas Nelson Publishers 3/5 stars (5/5 pictures, 2/5 quotes)

What it is: a great picture book with some inspirational quotes that often times get in the way of the great pictures from Hubble. An attempt at pro-Intelligent Design subtlety. A tribute to the Hubble Telescope as the sun sets on it’s luminescent lens.

What it isn’t: a book with a plot. an unbiased look at the stars and how they proclaim God’s glory. a high-gloss, high resolution amazing coffee table book (many images are grainy). Considering the subject matter would take many months of driving to reach, I’ll let it slide.

Who it’s for: people who want to look and not read. or those who once dreamt of becoming an astrophysicist as a child

This book was given to me as a part of the booksneeze program. Basically, I get a free copy of the book if I read and review it within a month. I received the book about 3 weeks ago, and due to the nature of it took about 10 sittings to burn through. Each page has at least 1 picture, and most of them are absolutely stunning. They are pictures taken of various stars, nebulae, galaxies, etc from the Hubble Space Telescope. On top of the pictures is an inspirational quote, bible verse, or excerpt from another work.

While the pictures were remarkable, the layout was often times awkward, with the words covering the most exciting part of the picture. Some of the pictures were awfully small. A few were uninteresting. Many would have been better with an explanation of what was going on rather than just an explanation of the star/galaxy/nebula’s title. Don’t get me wrong, I love characters in a book to have unique names like “XC-0098A nebula” as much as the next guy. I would have preferred to learn a little more.

The quotes are pretty mediochre. Most of them have nothing to do with the picture behind them (as far as I could tell). One quarter is a reference to God’s greatness/size. One quarter a reference to how He reveals himself in nature, and one Half about how this picture magically disproves evolution. Part of the problem is that few of the contributors are scientists. Another part is that an otherwise inspiring book becomes more ammo in the dung-slinging culture war of evolution vs early earth creationism, a fight I prefer to stay away from.

I enjoyed it, but would not buy it for myself. I am, however, looking forward to sharing the book with my son Malachi as he grows due to the wonderful color pictures.

Favorite part: a moving tribute to the Hubble space program that has helped us better understand the cosmos near the end of the book.

Monday, August 30, 2010

On Vision and Dreams - an alliteration

I just finished Me, Myself, and Bob, by Phil Vischer (Amazon). This is a beautifully written book about the beginning brilliance and ultimate break-down of Big Idea, which was subsequently bought by a bigger company and labeled Big Idea Inc.

Vischer dreamt to displace Walt Disney. Desiring a Disney undiluted by modern humanism, Vischer deemed the Divine was a more dignified director. He dreamt a world changed by delicious dietary dissiminators of discernment to displace daily dose of depravity.

An admirable goal, and one that appeared attainable at apex of the the beginning of the association. Ultimately, the aggregation attended more to it’s auspicious accomplishments than its archetypal antecedents.The aftermath of this application assembled an atomic accident that ate the Tales of Veg.

Definitely a hunky dory herald of hubris. The book is humorous, humble, and inspiring. That is, until your hands hesitatingly heed the turnable hind pages of the hardcover.

I cannot remember such an unassuming book that unearthed my intentions with such an uncompromising ultimatum. In the ultimate pages, Vischer unfolds our universal problem: idolatry.

Certainly idolatry is the wellspring of all sin, most agree with these words. And yet, we welcome it weekly into our way of life.

How do these un serendipitous splinters slither into the stillness of a simple life? Slyly, by sneaking onto our splendid schemes of significance.

Currently, I will close. The consequent post is coming down the pike, to be considered by my contemporaries upon its completion.

In other words: great book, I’ll write more about how it challenged me when I don’t have the urge to alliterate.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Youth ministries have one major advantage over regular church ministries. We do not have the ability to demand excellence. Most teens simply aren’t that talented, and every teen needs acceptance. So our programs tend to reflect progression of talent rather than arrival.

On the other foot, somewhere along the line a church growth expert decided that excellence was the key to attracting new people. And so churches began to compete to be the most excellent. If my program is louder, hipper, and shinier than yours, people will come.

. . . Let’s forget about any consumerism connotations for a brief moment, though that is one of my favorite topics . . . (speaking of elipses, do you say “dot dot dot” or “period space period space period space” as you type it out? I, surprisingly, say the latter) . . .

Meanwhile, back at the church, we created a need for expert programers. Suddenly the main requirement for a head pastor was to be an excellent speaker. The main req for a worship leader is to be an excellent musician, and sure it’s nice if you love Jesus too. When we judge everything through the lens of excellence, normal people get excluded.

Perhaps we should pursue participation and shoot for excellence rather than demand it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

reviving a dead horse again

I have edited my previous post because it could be read with a tone of spite. That was not my intention, though statistically about half of the two people who read this blog assumed it was angry/negative/hurtful/etc. Since i knew it wasn't spiteful, I assume you, dear other reader, thought it was.

My apologies to the blog I linked to, I did not realize he would take it personally. The purpose of my writing is simply to express myself, share my thoughts, critique culture (esp Christian pop culture), etc. without tearing others down. I admit the post was not loving, and so it has been changed. Everything I said was true, though it could have been expressed more kindly.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Captive and Free: a story of pens

There are two types of pens in this world. Those which are captive, and those which are free. They are easy enough to tell the difference: captive pens cost more.

We pay a premium to purchase pens that don’t seek every opportunity to be free. Like humans, a pen’s first inclination is one of independence. And, like humans, a pen’s will must be thwarted for the greater good. ’Tis truly a loving pen who whispers into your ear “your will, not mine be done”. I have one such pen. She is a Waterman Phileas. Medium nib. Font of wonderment. I yearn to feel my hand glide across the page with her smooth strokes. This feeling is only intensified by the fact that I am frequently forced to use a cheap pen because I did not treat my philly well.

You see, a part of her fell off (the back endcap), not my fault, and I foolishly thought it was stuck inside the cap. My hasty solution: grasp at the apparent gold inset ring I thought was stuck with a dentist hook. Sure this would have pulled it out were it there. But it weren’t. Instead, I scratched the bejeebies out of her cap. And so, she plugs. If I choose not to write with her for a couple hours, I am assured an ink-stained tongue due to my feeble attempts at freeing her precious spout of the scratch-induced clog.

There are cheaper pens, of course. But they are wont to evade your every grasp. Even now, my normally-full pen cup only holds three of these utensils. Even the nicer disposable pens wander off, though they seem to be semi-domesticated, and last a while longer. More like a feral pen than the wild ball point stik, my second choice (pilot G-2) have all fled from my desktop. I have searched my office for any remnant of their presence, but they are gone, seeking shelter in the hands of someone who considers them to be a “good” pen. That is, worthy to be stolen from a church.

There is no real point of this post, other than to describe the nature of pens. Only a slight recommendation: try a good pen sometime. Not a cartridge pen, not a ball point, but a true fountain pen. They will not leave or forsake you, you will not let them. They will be predestined by their owner for good works. You must learn how to guide them across the pages of their long lives, maximizing the inkflow and minimizing their wear. A good, submitted pen is worth its weight in gold.

p.s. feel free to read into this post as much or little spirituality as you like.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reviving a dead horse

Some people have recently asked me why I haven’t blogged in a while. There are multiple reasons, but one of the main issues is simply that I am scared to. I read lots of blogs. Far too many, I’m afraid. Most blogs point to other blogs. I click on these links with timidity and awe. How did a complete stranger cause me to visit another stranger’s site? And so, like this beguiled paragraph, my workflow gets bounced across the interwebs down a tangential path of infinity.

The problem with the blogosphere is that it is far too large. Anybody can post content, and most of it is not worth reading. Various folks guy trying to make it as bloggers, posting on all sorts of sites, and doing it with very little writing ability. So much blogging is stream of consciousness rather than thought-out, edited writing. It’s the sort of first draft drivel one might expect to come out of a persons mouth, not through the written word. Or worse, that one might expect to come from a blog called nojrotsap.

And then there’s the oneupsmanship, of blogging. Particularly on religious/youth blogs, we try to make ourselves known by spewing out words, posting them, and pretending it’s writing. This causes the material itself to degrade into the TMZ style literary gulag that seeks spectators and helps nobody. Our goal becomes making it on the top 20 blogs of the year rather than creating art, celebrating Jesus, or sharing ourselves. It’s almost as bad as a regional church conference, where everyone tries to be noticed with witty insights that don't contribute to the conversation.

So why don’t I blog often? I have plenty of material I would like to explore, and have considered going through someone else’s list of topics. But here are my reasons why not:

1) I don’t want to be “that blogging youth pastor guy”

2) I don’t make writing a priority

3) I am afraid my material is the kind of writing that makes for great blog fodder like others are for me

4) When I do blog, I become needy for comments.

Ultimately, I’m shallow.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Cost of Winning

Do we ever consider what winning costs us? In the wonderful capitalist society of these united states, winning is a way of life. By allowing the market to decide, we effectually pick winners and losers at life. Those who make money win. Those who do not, lose.

but it moves beyond that.

When winning becomes the frame of reference for all life, others become competition, no longer humans. We perpetuate the lie that there isn’t enough for everyone and play the game of domination. On a micro level, we refuse to help co-workers because they might get our promotion. We obliterate the dignity of our spouses for the sake of winning the argument. On a macro level, we promote American superiority, force our way of life on other people groups, suggest our politicians stop giving money to other nations, and then blame corporations for our personal plight. All while we continue to join in the competition that started it all. In many ways, this has become the new American experiment.

And then there’s Jesus.



What if, in stead of lambasting gays and those who have abortions, we counted the cost of winning. Is it worth the effort? Where would winning the legal argument take us? Is winning the legal action worth losing the relationship? Questions most Christians haven’t answered, and questions that need to be thoughtfully considered.