“Bread & Wine” – An Invitation to Life Around the Table … with recipes!

Bread & Wine: Finding Community and Life Around the TableBread & Wine: Finding Community and Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Shauna Niequist‘s new book, Bread & Wine, radiates joy and delight in life. Even as she recounts stories of pain, even of tragedy, her delight in God’s good world shines through. This is an honest book, about real life. Central to Shauna’s life, and to us all, is food. A revolutionary thought, I know. We all eat, but Shauna invites us to eat, and COOK, with intentionality. We are not just consumers–we are also creators, designed by the Ultimate Creator to imitate his divine Art in our own creative works. Each chapter is a short narrative around a theme, which closes with a delightful recipe. Shauna is a realist, so the recipes are filled with practical suggestions for making them, well, practical!

I’m actually still reading the book, because my wife started reading and put it in her stack of books and I couldn’t get to it!  Here’s Cynthia’s summary: “Bread and Wine is such a fun read! Rich yet practical, jolly yet vulnerable, the book was difficult to put down. Bread and Wine captures the heart of the table as it is meant to be, while helping us along the way with a smattering of recipes and a touch of structure. Far from demanding, Bread and Wine meets the reader right where they are, and invites them to come with hungry hearts and hungry bellies.”

Perhaps it’s best to end with Shauna’s own words:  “But I do want you to love what you eat, and to share food with people you love, and to gather people together, for frozen pizza or filet mignon, because I think the gathering is of great significance.

“When you eat, I want you to think of God, of the holiness of hands that feed us, of the provision we are given every time we eat.  When you eat bread and you drink wine, I want you to think about the body and the blood every time, not just when the bread and wine show up in church, but when they show up anywhere–on a picnic table or a hardwood floor or a beach” (17).

“Learn little by little, meal by meal, to feed yourself and the people you love, because food is one of the ways we love each other, and the table is one of the most sacred places we gather” (51).

Incidentally, Shauna mentions her musician husband Aaron, and he’s doing fine work in bringing ancient Christian prayers into a new expression.  Check out his projects at A New Liturgy!

[The publisher provided a free copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.]

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Pursuing Justice – Review

Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger ThingsPursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is simply an outstanding book! Ken Wytsma has brought theological and practical depth to the contemporary Christian “justice” discussion. Ken recognizes that justice is a fad for many post-modern Christians, but Ken spends the first few chapters crafting a theology of justice firmly grounded in Scripture. What I appreciate most about Ken’s book is his measured approach. While he is clearly a passionate advocate for justice (through his work with World Relief, Food for the Hungry, and Kilns College), he brings Biblical balance and wisdom to his passion. So many “service projects” and “short-term mission trips” are just one-night stands with justice & mercy. After the mountain-top experience, we return to the well-worn ruts of our evangelical sub-culture, obedient consumers in the Church/Industrial Complex. Ken’s book will sustain those who desire to radically alter the pattern of their lives, answering the call to participate in the world-transforming work of a God who defines Himself by “justice” (Psalm 146:6-9). This was one of the huge revelations for me in this book–despite being a graduate student in theology, I had somehow missed the fact that justice is an attribute of God (Psalm 9:16). If we really want to know God, and imitate Him, we must pursue justice (Jeremiah 22:13-16). Ken is a wise guide for the journey.

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(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. 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 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

Humility in the “Worship Wars”

In his outstanding book, Tempted & Tried:  Temptation & the Triumph of Christ, Russell Moore meditates on narcissism and humility.  He takes disagreements about musical styles in worship as an example of how we can exalt our personal preferences to the level of divine revelation …

“We need more worship wars, not fewer:  What is the war looked like this in your congregation–the young singles petitioning the church to play more of the old classics for the sake of the elderly people, and the elderly people calling on the leadership to contemporize for the sake of the young new believers?  This would signal a counting of others as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3), which comes from the Spirit of the humiliated, exalted King, Christ (Phil. 2:5-11).  When I insist that the rest of the congregation serve as backup singers in my own little nostalgic hit parade of back-home Mississippi hymns, I am worshiping in the spirit all right, but not   the Holy Spirit.  I am worshiping myself, in the spirit of self-exaltation.  The church negates the power of the third temptation [of Christ–to accept control of the world from Satan’s hands] when we remind ourselves that we all have this devilish tendency and cast it aside whether in worship planning or missions or budget decisions” (Tempted & Tried, 150).

Awakening of Hope – Review

The Awakening of Hope Pack: Why We Practice a Common FaithThe Awakening of Hope Pack: Why We Practice a Common Faith by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I respect what Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is doing through Rutba House in Durham, NC, and through the New Monasticism movement.  I pray that more church leaders will follow his courageous and provocative example. Most church leaders stay secluded from the communities they live in, but Jonathan is busy getting his hands dirty in the real world. We’re both engaged in similar work, in the same part of the country, so I would consider I him an ally and a mentor. I share his vision, in general, though I suspect we would differ in some particulars. For instance, I’m not convinced that Christians should be pacifists, though I did find it interesting that the medieval church had rites of penitence and confession for returning soldiers (pg. 134). On other issues, such as women’s ordination and homosexuality, I’m afraid I must remain theologically old-school and “intolerant”. But, though I’m not a pacifist, I share Jonathan’s critique of the American military-industrial complex. Just because our government decides to go to war, does not make it “just.” Just because I believe homosexuality is sinful, does not mean I hate homosexuals. Rather, I believe we should welcome them into the church, as the only place to find true healing and healthy love.

On other issues, such as racial reconciliation and caring for the poor, Jonathan is putting us conservatives to shame. We sit comfortably in our pews, listening to yet another screed on the latest hot topic in the “culture wars,” while we neglect the poor down the road and only hang out with others of the same race. The stories that Jonathan tells are inspiring and moving. They encourage, and should provoke many American Christians to return to the ancient practices of community, eating together, making promises, thinking about where we live, fasting, making peace, and proclaiming the Gospel. It’s ironic that so many Christians can give a theologically-correct statement of the Gospel, yet it has so little effect on our lives. This book joins Davidd Platt’s “Radical” and J.D. Greear’s “Gospel” as essential reading for Christians looking to put feet on their faith.

May this little book speed the awakening of thousands more communities of genuine Hope!

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Dirty God: Jesus in the Trenches (review)

Dirty God: Jesus in the TrenchesDirty God: Jesus in the Trenches by Johnnie Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m incredibly thankful for this new book from Johnnie Moore. I teach high school students, and I’m putting quotes from “Dirty God” on my whiteboard every week. With wit, humor, and an impressive array of international travel stories, Johnnie Moore reminds of what’s so “amazing” about grace, and why grace should utterly transform our lives. Moore leads a new generation of evangelicals who realize that God has a Mission in the world, and He expects the Church to leading the charge. I’m especially encouraged by Johnnie’s leadership at Liberty University, and hope this book is a sign of a re-directed focus for Liberty. For too long, conservative Christians have been dismissed as the “anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-liberal” faction of extremists. While I’m grateful for the courageous stand taken by Jerry Falwell and others, we need to get beyond that. We need to be known as re-builders of inner cities, rather than builders of huge churches.  We need to be known as extremists who befriend homosexuals and offer them the healing of the Gospel in a loving community. We need to be the radicals who come alongside teenage mothers help them care for their babies. We need to be notorious for our extravagant giving to the poor in developing countries, instead of giving millions to the “conservative lobby.” We don’t have much to show for decades of political pontificating. Johnnie calls us to join Jesus in the trenches, and I hope and pray that God would stir up His people to forsake the American Dream for the sake of the Kingdom Dream!

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(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. 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 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

Dreams and Visions – Review

Dreams and Visions: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World?Dreams and Visions: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World? by Tom Doyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an amazing book! I have to admit I was a bit skeptical at first. I typically don’t give much credence to “dreams” or “visions,” but the overall argument of the book is compelling. Doyle lists many examples of Jesus appearing to Muslims all over the Middle East, and the cumulative effect is astonished gratitude for how God is showing His face to people trapped in dark places. The stories of torture, persecution, and execution were heart-breaking, and stirred me up to pray more diligently for my brothers and sisters in Muslim lands. If my father, mother, brother, son, or daughter were being tortured in an Iranian prison, I’d pray for them every day! Sadly, we get so distracted by our petty problems in America (Land of Freedom and Plenty), that we forget the daily struggle and danger confronting so many thousands of our spiritual family. God is at work in the Middle East–will we join Him?

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(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. 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 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

I am a Sodomite …

… and so are you.  Now that I’ve got your attention, what arcane point am I trying to make?  I’ve been ruminating on the use of “sodomite” in certain conservative Christian circles.  The motive seems to be Christians not wanting to compromise on this important issue and wanting to call a spade a spade.  Since so many Christians have prevaricated and danced around the issue of same-sex attraction, we want to boldly call a sin a sin, and so some men that I respect deeply have taken to using the term “sodomy” and “sodomite.”  I believe the main target of this epithet is militant, politically-aggressive homosexuals.  In reaction, some Christians adopt the visage and manner of a desert prophet in order to meet this challenge head on.  I agree with my brothers in their concerns to be bold and courageous in these perilous times.  I believe Christianity and Biblical morality is under severe attack, and I support their desire to fight the good fight.  However, if they want to talk like Ezekiel-the-sexually-explicit, I hope they can also talk more like Ezekiel in chapter 16 of his magnificent book.

In Ezekiel 16, God pronounces judgment on Jerusalem through Ezekiel, and connections between sexual sin and idolatry are rampant.  But, in the midst of this grim sermon, God compares Jerusalem to Sodom.  Ezekiel says that Jerusalem has become “more corrupt than they [the Sodomites] in all your ways.  As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done” (Ezek. 16:47-48).  What did Jerusalem do that was so wicked?  “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did an abomination before me.  So I removed them, when I saw it” (Ezek. 16:49-50).

What is interesting is the almost total silence on the issue of homosexuality.

Continue reading “I am a Sodomite …”