Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review of Noticing God by Richard Peace

Noticing God
by Richard Peace
ISBN 978-0-8308-3821-9
Intervarsity Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

When I was a youth pastor, I often went on mission trips with teens. Most often, I went with a group called Youthworks. During the evening worship service, the leaders are trained to lead a time of reflection called God-sightings, designed to lead the congregation in sharing times where they saw God's presence manifest among them. It is really quite meaningful for those teens and the adults with them, who often think they have come to serve others when they have really been on a service-based pilgrimage to encounter the power of God in their lives.

Noticing God by Richard Peace is a more adult, contemplative way of helping people discover the presence of God in their lives than what Youthworks does, but with a similar aim. Peace wants to help people experience the "habitual presence of God" (p. 13) in their every day lives. As he writes, he walks with his readers as a tour guide through the experience of life, pointing to the different ways that God is present with human beings. Some of the ways that he describes God showing up are more mystical mountaintop experiences, and others are more ordinary than that. The book is designed to teach people to encounter the divine both in the ordinary and the extraordinary. It accomplishes its goal.

After Peace describes several time-tested ways that people notice God's presence in the world, he offers considerable effort toward describing the process of discernment. The process of discernment is essential in the work of spiritual formation, and using it well is what separates people who use mystical tools as self-affirmation and therapy, and people who truly encounter God through the discipline of noticing God.

Of all the chapters, I was particularly intrigued by the discussion of encountering God in creation, culture, and the creative process. Personally, I have often sensed God's presence through the art forms of music and cinema. Yet, I have rarely heard persons who speak or write about spiritual formation go into much depth on how this happens or why it happens. Richard Peace does a little bit of this work, and for that I am personally grateful.

The book has a few helpful tools. It has a bibliography for further study. It also has a very well put together study guide for groups or individuals who want to dig into this book in an in-depth manner. This book will be a great primer in spiritual formation for church classes and introductory academic work as well. It is an asset to the literature on spiritual formation, and something that I will keep as a resource for years to come.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Review of The Choice by Robert Whitlow

The Choice
by Robert Whitlow
Published by Thomas Nelson
Reviewed by Clint Walker

The year is 1974, and the setting is a small town in rural Georgia. It is fall. Football is starting, and the cheer team has begun to prepare for the season as well. Sandy Lincoln is a senior in high school, and a brilliant student from a good family. As the book begins Sandy is with her mother in the doctor's office. It turns out she is pregnant, and her boyfriend Brad Donnelly is the father.

Since it is 1974, all options have been placed at Sandy's disposal in dealing with the pregnancy. She can stay home. She can go away to her aunt in the big city and finish school at a place designed for pregnant girls. She can give up the child for adoption, or abort her unborn child. Or, Sandy can choose to keep the baby and raise it the best way she knows how.

The story revolves around this choice to keep a child, to abort it, or to put it up for adoption. The narrative keeps gaining momentum because for every one decision that is made, several others come into play. How will the boyfriend's response and his family's wishes play into the decision? What about the difference between the father's ethics and the mother's concerns? How will this all effect the future of this promising young lady?

The story is both moving and fast paced. The author does a splendid job of contrasting the "little girl" still present in Sandy's personality with her very adult situation and decisions. People in the story do not always act the way you would expect, which adds a little bit of drama to the whole story. The whole novel challenges the reader to ask themselves how they would respond given the situation Sandy Lincoln faced, and in the time and place that she faced it.

There were a few things I struggled with in the book. I thought the whole "bad boy" from the city/"good girl" from the small town was overly stereotypical. It reminded me of the movie Footloose. As a pastor, I was disappointed that the author chose to identify a pastor that was pro-choice in the beginning of the book. I never like it when a pastor seems to be a villain.

Having said that, I think this would be a good book for many to read. It might be especially helpful for mothers and teens to read before a situation like this arises, so that a family can have dialogue about pre-marital sex and teen pregnancy is a more natural and less confrontational way.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Review of Spiritual Rhythms in Community by Keith Meyer

Spiritual Rhythms in Community
by Keith Meyer
ISBN 978-0-8308-3561-4
Intervarsity Press
Formatio Imprint
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Intervarsity Press is quickly becoming one of my favorite publishers. They publish many well-written thought provoking books. My favorites of the books they publish, however, come from the Formatio Imprint.

The Formatio imprint is a line of books focusing on matters of spiritual formation. They have great, well-known writers, and they cover a number of issues in the discipline.

In the last few months IVP has published two quite interesting books on the nature of spiritual formation in community. The first one I have studied is Spiritual Rhythms in Community by Keith Meyer. It is a phenomenal book that I am going to have to read again in partnership with others.

In this book Meyer leads his students through disciplines of disengagement, followed by disciplines of engagement. The rhythms of disengagement are designed to help the readers take a step back from the hurry and hustle of life to intentionally relate to God in a meaningful and intimate way. The dance of engagement disciplines are designed for us to engage our friends, family, and the world in a more meaningful and gospel-centered manner.

Each chapter begins with a psalm. Each Psalm has a brief reflection from the author, which then leads into his teaching on some challenge or issue in the spiritual life. Then, after the author's teaching, the text leads the readers in a spiritual practice of some sort. After this there are questions for reflection on what the experience of this practice was like. I love the way this is laid out. The Psalm slows me down. The chapter engages my mind. The spiritual exercise engages my heart.

This book is designed for use in small groups. So, if you are planning on using this in a small group and/or leading it, it is essential that you both read the group guide in the back of the book, and the introduction at the beginning of the book. Both will give you helpful hints on how to lead a discussion on the book and to get the most out of the book for you and your group.

Meyer's writing is enjoyable to read. It provokes thinking and reflection without being overly heady or wordy. The author is open and honest about his own experiences. He is a good story teller. Even if you are not able to use this book in a group as intended, it is a great resource for the spiritual journey. Some spiritual formation books can make the reader feel small and unaccomplished in the journey with Christ. Meyer helps his readers feel empowered as disciples to do the growth they need to do as apprentices of Jesus.

I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Book Review of Journeys of Faith by Robert L. Plummer

Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism
ed. By Robert L. Plummer
ISBN 978-0310-33120-9
Reviewed by Clint Walker

A generation or two ago people were grounded. They lived in the same town as their parents. They may have even worked in the same place much of the rest of their family did. Today, people are more mobile, and thus less loyal to the institutions that may have defined their lives 50 or 100 years ago. One place where we notice this change is in the church. People are not as defined by their denominational heritage, nor are they as committed to specific religious labels. Journeysof Faith chronicles the journeys of four people away from the expression of their Christian faith they begin their spiritual journey in, and their journey to a different church community within the Christian family.

Three of the converts left evangelicalism for more “liturgical” traditions. The fourth person left their Catholic upbringing to become and evangelical. Each of these people shares their personal perspective on what led them to move to another branch of Christianity. Then, each person has another Christian thinker that responds to their decision from the tradition that they left behind, offering another perspective on both traditions. The dialogue is rich, and allows the reader to think through their own faith through listening to another’s journey.

What is truly unique and intriguing about Journeys of Faith is its balance of head and heart. On one hand, each person shares their own personal journeys from one faith tradition to another, and they share the nature of their personal need, desires, and hopes from a Christian community, and the emotional journey of leaving “home” for a new church “family”. On the other hand, both the people who share their journey, as well as those who listen to them are top notch thinkers. So, one comes to understand the apologetic for each expression of the Christian faith, and the reasoning that each one has on why they are best or right.

Another distinguishing mark of this book is the grace that each person treats the other with, even if they are coming from differing perspectives. People make their points and share their opinions, but there is very little in the way of personal attacks or demeaning language.

Personally, I was challenged by the language, especially in the opening, that contrasted evangelical faith and liturgical practice. As someone who belongs to a mainline church, I believe it is possible to honor much of a traditional liturgy, and yet still have some sense of an evangelical theology. In other words, I think of liturgy as a style of worship, and evangelical as a theological system, and fail to see why they have to be mutually exclusive. I know evangelical Catholics and liturgical Baptists. I felt that, at times, this book neglected this possibility.

This is an excellent book to help people understand how some folks come to their faith, and how other folks find a way to leave their group of Christian believers. I would recommend readers come with an open heart to this book, an awareness of their own spiritual journey, and a willingness to examine how they have come to the Christian convictions they have adopted. If anyone does so, they will be blessed richly, as I was.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Book Review of Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes A Day by Garry R. Morgan

Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day: Learn the basics of:   Islam  Buddhism  Hinduism  Mormonism  Christianity  And many more...
Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day
By Garry R. Morgan
ISBN 978-0-7642-1003-7
Bethany House
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Just yesterday, I was leading a Bible Study on the book of James. Somewhere, from out of the blue, a discussion among the folks at the Brookside Apartments had erupted regarding what Muslims believe in relationship to Christian teaching. The questions of the students gathered around that table was more than I could address in one meeting, so we are taking a break from our study and discussing what Islam believes in relationship to what the Bible teaches next week.

As we become more and more diverse in America, and as our world gets smaller through inexpensive travel and technological advances, people run into folks that embrace other religious beliefs more and more. It is good news then, that someone like Garry Morgan has written a book to teach believers about what believers in other faiths truly believe. Understanding World Religions will be a great book for everyday people wanting to learn briefly how their worldview relates to people who are adherents of different religions.

Each chapter of this book is generally between 3-5 pages. For the major world religions, Morgan takes multiple days to discuss. But if one reads this book for 40 days, they will be much smarter and better informed than when they started.

I am going to use this next week with my Bible study, and I am going to recommend they consider purchasing the book for themselves. It is smart, short, well-written, and easy to understand. Cannot beat that.

Book Review of The Beginning and The End by Michael W. Pahl

The Beginning and the End: Rereading Genesis's Stories and Revelation's Visions
Michael W. Pahl
ISBN 978-1-60899-927-9
Cascade Books: An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Perhaps no two books of the Bible cause a greater amount of controversy than the book of Genesis, and the book of Revelation. In the book of Genesis, people spend an inordinate amount of time discussing matters relating to how literally one should read the creation stories, and the first three chapters of the book. Regarding the book of Revelation, there are a number of ways of interpreting the text, many of which have to do with a detailed timeline of the end times. People argue about whether they are pre-tribulation, post-tribulation, pre-millenial, amillenial, and they also argue about much more.

Michael Pahl, in his book The Beginning and the End: Rereading Genesis's Stories and Revelations's vision challenges its readers to begin to look at each of these texts through a broader lens. Pahl challenges us to look at what the Bible is saying in Genesis about who we are, who God is, what life and death mean, and what our basic needs are in relationship to God, the world, and one another. In Revelation, we are challenged to understand what the goal and direction of humanity is, and what the God's ends are in relationship to humankind. In pointing to The Beginning and the End, this book encourages believers in Jesus to see their lives and Scripture as one great, powerful, life-giving and life-transforming narrative that is pregnant with meaning from start to finish.

I enjoyed this book very much. It was academic, but it was neither inaccessible or stuffy. Pahl has a grace-filled way of communicating what he wants to say, and this tone guides this book from cover to cover. The introduction makes clear what is going on in the entire book when it says, "If you have ever wondered if there might be more to Genesis than fuel for anti-evolutionism, then this book might be for you. Or if you have ever thought, 'Revelation has to be more than simply a roadmap for the future of the Middle East, then perhaps you will find this book just what you are looking for (p. ix). I had wondered and thought these things often, so this little text was a perfect brief theological journey for me.

The Beginning and the End is a  book, with the right group, would be a good six week study. It might also be a good guide for a sermon series for many pastors, such as myself.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Big Question About Mainline, Liturgical Worship

One of the challenges of moving to Hot Springs has been working with liturgy. I have been in formal churches, and in fact, in many ways, First Baptist Church of Colorado Springs was much more formal than United Churches of Hot Springs. First Baptist Fowler was almost anti-liturgy, and I felt non-verbal push back in worship when I would even attempt to introduce a responsive reading. But I have not served in a church that includes so much liturgy as United Churches.

There is much I enjoy about liturgical worship. The planning, the structure, the beauty of something akin to a fourfold structure of worship is lovely. I like having three Scripture readings in each service. Although I think we have too many of them, but I think we do the readings well. As a worship planner, I find that a worship service that is more liturgical in many ways is open to more freedom and creativity in worship, within limits.

Lately, though, I have been wondering about one facet of worship. Why, when the church includes so much of the rest of the liturgical structure, does it forgo the confession of sin and assurance of pardon? As I have visited around, I have found this is not uncommon. A lot of mainline churches otherwise engage in formal, liturgical worship, but they forgo the confession of sin and assurance of pardon. I can think of three reasons why this might be. They are:

1. People are tired of all the formality, and this element of worship puts them over the top

2. This portion of worship identifies them to closely with Catholics and the Catholic-Lite worship of Episcopalians and Lutherans.

3. People want worship to be "positive", and they feel frequent acknowledgement of sin through the confession/pardon is to depressing, sin-focused, and cross focused.

If I were to rank these reasons, I would rank reason #1 at about 15 percent of the reason, #2 at 34 percent of the reason, and #3 as 51 percent of the reason.If I am right, this grieves me.

Do you think I am wrong? What reasons do you think the confession/pardon is eliminated? Let me know.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Book Review of Awaken Your Senses by J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Booram

Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God
J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Booram
Published by Intervarsity Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I received a review copy of this book several months ago. One of the challenges of reviewing books is that there are some books that do not fit easily on a timetable. When you read some books, you want to slow down, absorb, and savor them. Awaken Your Senses is one such book.

In the spirit of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Bill and Booram describe several spiritual exercises to help their readers draw closer to God. Each of these spiritual exercises focus on one of the five senses with which we engage the world.

This technique of using one's senses to open doors to encountering God is thoroughly Biblical. The authors go to great measures to establish this as they introduce their text. After all, doesn't the Scripture say, "taste and see", "open your ears", "hear what the Lord says" and more?

Bill and Booram describe their methodology as developing "sensuous faith". In the book there are 30 exercises, as well as 5 "art reflections". With the thirty reflections there are 6 exercises for each of the 5 senses. These exercises begin with a short reflection, followed by a further explanation of what the exercise is attempting to teach, then the technical nature of the exercise is explained so the reader can practice the spiritual exercise, and then finally there is some brief reflection based upon the experience prescribed. There are more exercises at the end of the book. These activities appear that they would take a little larger time investment, and perhaps more of a larger group to practice.

In the world of spiritual formation literature, there is very little that is original. Awaken Your Senses and these exercises are thought provoking, and the text is very original, with a little bit of a "classical" quality at the same time. This resource would be suitable for a week of intensive practice. It would also be a good resource during Lent, if you could work out the timing of the exercises, and extend them throughout the season.

I loved this book. I will use it personally, and at some point I will use it in a class with my congregation as well. Awaken Your Senses is a keeper.

Book Review of I Am a Follower by Leonard Sweet

I Am a Follower: The Way, the Truth, and the Life of Following Jesus
Leonard Sweet
ISBN 978-0-8499-4638-7
Thomas Nelson
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Leonard Sweet is a brilliant man. He has written a number of books. He does well in documenting the trends that pervade the church, especially the evangelical church in America today. What he is especially brilliant at is explaining concepts that are making their way through scholarly circles, and breaking them down in a direct and easy to understand way for the masses. Whether he is discussing friendship, leadership, spiritual formation, or postmodern church, he breaks down what is happening in little echo chambers and gives the information to the masses. Nearly all of Sweet's books take on a metaphor that will guide the reader into having a visual understanding of the text.

In I Am a Follower, Leonard Sweet is attempting to explain the importance for believers, and especially Christian leaders. to lead by being good followers. He connects this concept, rather deftly, to open source leadership in the 21st century.

From the very start of the book, and throughout the text, Sweet employs the metaphor of dance to describe the dynamic of being a good follower, and doing so in part, to be good leader. He uses the term perichorisis, which is a theological term used to describe the nature of relationships within the Trinity. Within the term perichorisis, Sweet explains, is the metaphor of a dance. Sweet goes on to explain that we are called to allow God to lead in the dance of what he is doing in the world.

Sweet also uses the language of John 14, which describes Jesus as "the way, the truth, and the life". In doing so, he redeems the phrase from being a slogan to being a description of how we are to follow Jesus.

As always is the case with Sweet's book, I Am a Follower is filled with thoughtful fascinating quotes, and smart turns of phrase that can bring home his point in a sentence or two.

I love Sweet books. They serve a purpose. My only struggle with them is that I have read enough of them that they seem a little predictable and cheesy, both in their formatting and in the writing. I know Leonard Sweet is going to lean toward being a futurist, but he is going to do it in a very conservative, step by step way. His stuff is thought-provoking and easy to read. But, for me, at times, I am think, "Ok, I have gotten it, let's move on."

All in all, I think it would be a great book for a group of leaders to read and discuss.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...and Other Lies You Have Been Told

Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...and Other Lies You've Been Told
By Bradley R.E. Wright Ph.D.
ISBN 978-0-7642-0742-4
Published by Bethany House
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I loved many of the classes I had as an undergraduate in the Behavioral Sciences Department. I thought my psychology classes were interesting, I loved my sociology of religion course, and my senior seminar was enjoyable. Perhaps the most helpful and interesting class for life, as well as discerning truth, was Behavioral Science Research Methods (BSRM).

One of the most important things I learned in my BSRM class was that statistics are often manipulated and misused. I learned a little of this in my introductory psychology class in Chicago, when a statistician shared that an erroneously large estimate of television watching was originally stated by people he worked with, albeit for an unofficial, non-scientific purpose. Either way, through BSRM and other classes, I learned fairly quickly that many statistics offer poor controls, unwise questions, and otherwise steer their readers in the wrong direction.

In Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites by Bradley Wright, Wright identifies several groups of statistics that are used to paint a grimmer picture of the church in the United States than one might anticipate. He takes time, in common language, to explain why many of these statistical studies are at best inaccurate, and at worst misleading. He believes that Christians and the church are too quick to embrace a negative narrative and faulty statistics.

One of the things that I found most fascinating in this study is that the grim picture of the church comes less often from outside the church than inside the evangelical echo chamber. This is partly because evangelical Christians, like everyone else, are overly enmeshed with a 24-hour news cycle and its penchant for drama and crisis. Even more though, there is a lot of money to be made by so called "Christian" businesspersons by scaring believers into accepting a frightening narrative about themselves, and then looking toward the so-called "church experts" for solutions to the problems they present.

I think more people should become familiar with Wright, and take a look at this book he has written.

Book Review for Earthen Vessels by Matthew Lee Anderson

Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith
By Matthew Lee Anderson
ISBN 978-0-7642-0856-0
Published by Bethany House
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Much has been made of the body and embodiment in philosophy, mainline theology, and other disciplines in recent years. Unfortunately, much of evangelicalism has avoided this rather common trend in thought, and instead embraced a dualistic view of the universe that at times comes across as nearly Gnostic.

Matthew Lee Anderson in his book Earthen Vessels attempts to remedy this shortsightedness in much of evangelical Christianity by trying to describe what an embodied evangelical journey of discipleship looks like. In the process, he establishes some general principles for how we live with our bodies in the world for the glory of God. He also tackles a number of controversial issues that many Christians don't spend a lot of time thinking about, but that are very much a part of people's lives, especially folks that are younger evangelicals.

The parts of the books that I gravitated to were more topical in nature. How do we understand homosexuality in light of our responsibility to "embody" the gospel? Can anyone make an argument for or against tattoos without simply trying to interpret one verse in Leviticus (Anderson does do this, in my opinion)? How should Christians understand the practice of yoga, and should they participate? These questions and more are discussed in a wise and intelligent manner by this fine author. There are several times where I strongly disagree with Anderson, but I respect the way he presents his opinion. Namely, he shares his thinking with clarity of thought, humility, and conviction in what he believes.

This book is not for everyone, and I was surprised to see it come out as a paperback "Christian living" book. There is a lot of well-communicated, well-reasoned theology in this text, and it definitely meets a need for this kind of book in the evangelical world.

Hot Buttons Books (Internet and Dating Editions) by Nicole O'Dell

Hot Buttons (Internet and Dating Editions)
by Nicole O'Dell
ISBN 978-0-8254-4240-7 and 978-0-8254-4239-1
Kregel Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Being a parent, especially in this day and age, is a scary proposition. There are all sorts of scary and dangerous things out there facing kids. Some of these challenges are new for parents to navigate in this generation, while others are not new, but still challenging to deal with in regard to a new generation of teens. Nicole O'Dell has went to the effort of writing several books dealing with parents' deepest concerns in keeping their teenage children healthy and strong in their faith. Specifically, in this review we will look at the Hot Buttons Dating and Internet Editions.

Each of these books are small. They are about half of the size of a normal book, and they are under 150 pages. Each book in the series has a similar cover, but with a different color for each topic.

The author has a strong reputation in knowing how to communicate with parents on how to deal with their teenagers. She is on both Teen Talk and Parent Talk radio. She writes books for teenage girls. Her reputation, especially in Christian media precedes her.

As the reader delves deeper into these books, it is easy to see that a lot of thought was given to how the book was presented. Many of the chapter pages of the book are in color. Each chapter ends with very specific take home points called check points (because they are notated with check marks). Throughout each issue, there are specific steps in dealing with any crisis. At times O'Dell anticipates conflict with teenage children and gives parents "scripts" to work with.

Both books are very forthright in how they deal with issues. O'Dell confronts pornography, sexual boundaries, missionary dating, and telling your kids how to dress appropriately. She does very well at being forthright, and telling parents to do the same.

My challenge with this book is stylistic. Its strength is that it is straight forward and direct. The books are designed to be like "crisis manuals" for parents who are in the middle of a difficult situation and ask themselves "what should I do?" and then remembers they need to read O'Dell's books.

I tend to prefer books on these kinds of subjects that give more principles and less scripts and step-by-step how to's. So, I probably will not use this book as much as others. But for those who need clear, specific advice in parenting from time to time, the Hot Buttons series is a perfect resource.

Book Review of What's Next? by H. Norman Wright

What's Next?: Navigating Transitions to Make the Rest of Your Life Count
By H. Norman Wright
ISBN 978-0-7642-0963-5
Bethany House Publishers
Reviewed By Clint Walker

Renowned therapist, counselor and author H. Norman Wright has written a new book recently that deserves special note. The book is called What's Next?, and it talks about navigating through midlife and moving toward the later years of one's adulthood.

Midlife is a place in life that many people get "stuck", sometimes depressed, and have difficult times navigating through. Wright acknowledges many of the difficulties of midlife, including dealing with grief and the empty nest, career challenges, dealing with boomerang kids coming back home again, as well as the struggles of having to be single again or remarried. He shares how different marriage is during midlife, and the challenges that creates.

What I appreciate about What's Next? is that it does not get mired down in the difficulties. Nor does it lecture people that they just have to stay strong in their faith during the temptations of mid-life. Instead, avoiding either of these extremes, it calls people to see hope and possibility at the other side of midlife and late adult transition. He acknowledges that there are very real challenges in midlife, but he encourages people to get stronger through these challenges, and eventually see them as fruitful time instead of wasted time.

I am not in midlife yet, and when I am in the middle of the struggle I might not read a book about it. But if I read a book about that stage of life, this would be a good place to start. It is good at helping people feel like they are not alone in the struggles of midlife, while at the same times opening their eyes to new vistas during mid-life transition. Cannot ask for much more than that.

(this book was reviewed in exchange for an honest review)

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Book Review for Hope for Parents of Troubled Teens by Connie Rae

Hope for Parents of Troubled Teens: A Practical Guide to Getting Them Back on Track
by Connie Rae
ISBN 978-0-7642-0946-8
Published by Bethany House
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Recently, Bethany House released a book designed to improve relationships between teenagers and their parents. Specifically, Hope for Parents of Troubled Teens works hard to help parents balance their own issues and lives with the lives of their teens, and then in the second half of the book Connie Rae takes on some very specific hot button issues parents face with their teenage children.

Much of this book reads as if it were material designed to supplement a workshop, or it originated as a workshop itself for the author. That is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it makes the book easier to follow. But it does, at times, come across a little formulaic in that sense.

I was impressed with the author's ability to relate with ease to her readers. On one hand, she is fairly open about her struggle as a parent of a teen, and some of the trouble her teenage children got into. On the other hand, I think Rae is wise about how she communicates in each chapter with both intelligent and authority. Several of the chapters talk about the nature of human development, and how that relates to teens and adults and their relationships. She also has some nice chapters that focus on family systems, and how sometimes small difficulties in one's family systems can have an affect on troubled teens.

Hope for Parents of Troubled Teens does an excellent job of parenting teens as a relational process, instead of just a technical process. In doing so, in much of the book Connie Rae documents how parents are challenged to grow and change and deal with their personal issues by the behavior of their adolescent child. Many of the chapters reflect balancing what we have to do or need to do, with what must be do;e as a parent. At times, Rae encourages parents to be more assertive about who they are and what they need with their kids. She is just very smart at addressing this whole issue.

Each chapter ends with very specific action steps for parents to implement in creating a better relationship with their children. Several chapters have step by step guides for understanding as well.

All in all I think this is a good book. I will be looking for the right parent to hand Hope for Troubled Teens at just the right time.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Paradox of Choice and my challenge with consistency

I have a book on my shelf that I have skimmed but have not completely read. The name of that book is "The Paradox of Choice". The idea of the book is that a few choices gives us a healthy sense of self-determinism and control of our lives, but that in America today, in our age of affluence, we have too many choices, and the number of choices and the amount of options we face make life more difficult for us instead of easier.

In my never ending quest (often met with failure but sometimes met with success) to get a little more disciplined, I have made some steps to become more regular in my "devotional practices". I have requested our worship leader in our contemporary service to keep me more accountable in having a daily devotional time, and I have also begun to explore my resources for personal prayer/study. What I am discovering is that I may have an embarrassment of riches in this regard, and that may be part of why I tend to justify substituting sermon prep and bible study prep in exchange for devotional time. 

I recently brought several of my devotionals up from my downstairs library. They include:

When You Pray and Guide to Prayer for Pastors and Teachers by Reuben Job

The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle

Seeking God's Face by Phillip F. Rienders

Experiencing God's Presence by Chris Tiegreen

Operation World by Jason Mandyk

Ancient Christian Devotional ed. by Cindy Crosby

Minister's Prayer Book ed by John Doberstein

Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2012 by the Irish Jesuits

Common Prayer by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Hargrove-Wilson, and Enuma Okoru

Right now, part of me thinks having too many devotional resources is not healthy. The other part of me thinks having access to a number of different resources in a number of different places helps me to take some time to have devotional discipline. Either way, there is a sense that I do not experience the holistic education that each individual wants to teach.

What do you think? Is this situation a help or a problem? How would it work for you? What works best for you in your devotional life?


Saying What Needs to be Said, But Should Go Without Saying           Racism is wrong. Violence based on racial prejudice is wrong. Christi...