Sunday, June 10, 2018

Book Review: Better Together by Rusty George

I've been horrible at posting, I know. And I'm hoping during the summer, I write a bit more. Because I don't want this site to be alllllll book reviews. And I honestly do sometimes have things to say. I just then don't have the umph to pull out my computer and external keyboard. But rumor is that I'm getting a new computer, smaller, with a keyboard that works. And it IS summer. So I should write more. *should*

Meanwhile...another book review!

This poor gem has been waiting patiently for me to finish for a couple months now. I could have written the review before now, but I wanted to wait til I actually finished it. Which was this weekend. So now I can say what I have been waiting to say.


I have lost faith in today's nonfiction books, but this book, au contraire, was no disappointment. I mean, it could have easily been a trendy, little basis-in-Scripture book, especially with the fun spotlight on the cover:

"SUPRISING TRUTH FOR: Introverts, Extroverts, Control Freaks, Free Spirits, People Persons, Curmudgeons, and, Especially, YOU"

Gotta admit though, that is one of the things that drew me to this book.

Ok, backing up. Why did I choose this book to review?

I have been stirred the last, mm, year, about the need for godly community, spiritual fellowship, mutual edification. Or as a friend and I do when we text each other Scripture verses, #mutualedification. (SO trendy sounding ;))

I have been blistered by the thought from Proverbs 5:14, "I was on the verge of total ruin, In the midst of the assembly and congregation." In other words, I can be attending church faithfully and still find myself slipping away spiritually.

I know that community is important. But any of us can spout how we need it til the cows come home. Doesn't mean we have found it.

So, this book. Back to the topic at hand. I didn't know what to expect. Would it be primarily watered-down, Scripture-quoted-out-of-context content? But this book was neither exegetically unsound (imo; not that I necessarily agree with every iota) or made up of run-of-the-mill opinions that do nothing. The author actually had some really good, solid, edifying insight, with lots of personal stories, and I highly recommend the book! 5 out of 5 stars.

The most impactful chapter to me was "Everyone else is an idiot." Basically, Jesus' disciples were not on-par with him. They were not His equals. In fact, they were sub-par in comparison. But, author Rusty George writes, "Jesus stayed in community with them. . . . He continued to trust, lead, and teach them. He gave them opportunities to represent Him. It was as if He enjoyed being with them. How could they have possibly been any benefit to Him? How could they have given Him anything other than heartburn or a few laughs?" The author adds that "it's hard to have people walk with me who cause more trouble than they're worth."

It struck me hard that Jesus did not need his disciples to be his spiritual or mental equals to desire to be in community with them. He could have easily gone with the idea that "I can do this better alone." He is God. He created the world without any help. But He didn't choose to do His three years of ministry on earth alone. Even when He was at His emotional lowest before the cross, He actually wanted three of these people around Him. He wanted that community, even though they fell asleep on Him.

If Jesus didn't need people who were his mental and spiritual equals, then that qualification must not be important. If Jesus wanted community, then it must really be important.

So, 5 out of 5 stars. Available at an Amazon near you.

P.S. Lest there be any confusion, no, this isn't a marriage book :)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Book Review: Mary Poppins

I found this old book review I wrote, and since I've been thinking of the book lately, I thought I'd share it here!

August 21, 2012

Greetings! A school librarian gave me four Mary Poppins books for my class (when I was teaching). Before I put them in my personal class library, I thought I should preview them first. I read through the first quickly and am in the middle of the second right now.

Parents have differing opinions on the Disney version of Mary Poppins. The movie has two splendid actors - Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews - and has some fabulous songs, like the very famous Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! But in the movie, Mary Poppins seems eerily magical, and many have thought she is a witch. And then there is the Disney injection of early 20th century feminism. So what about the books?

In the books, Mary does all the crazy weird things she does in the movie, if not more. But I am not convinced, yet, that one must attribute these to witchcraft or underworld power. It is often hinted by others that Mary is unusual and unlike other people. But every time the children have an extraordinary adventure with her, she emphatically denies that anything happened. As of right now, I tend to think a family could read the Mary Poppins series and just call it a fun, wildly imaginative story.

Who is Mary Poppins? She is a nanny who is noted for being obsessed over her appearance, curt, and often angry. She is haughty and treats the children rudely. She gets angry when they talk about their adventures with her until they are forced to wonder if anything really happened. And yet, they still love her.

So Mary Poppins is not a role model (she's no Julie Andrews!). But who says that she should be? Michael and Jane don't aspire to be like her one day. They simply love her, faults and all. Her faults are in no way glorified. Just because she has "super powers" (if you could say that) doesn't mean she can't be very human.

There's no suffragette theme in the books, though some of the adventures are a bit animal activist. In book one, they go to a zoo at night where the animals have locked up people and are treating them like humans treat zoo animals. In book two, Mary Poppins helps a lark lock up its former owner in a bird cage so it can terrorize her.

My conclusion? I'm not sure. I would say give them a try and see what you think. I've been enjoying them, but I'm not part of the Mary Poppins Fan Club now. :)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

235: fellowship

All I can I think is I've got to get some fellowship. True, into each other's lives, spurring onto Christ-likeness support.

As a teacher I am surrounded by coworker friends, and yet somehow I feel like a loner in managing my class. I crave having another person in my room. I don't want to keep doing this alone. (Kids don't make for a great emotional support system.)

I left Jazzercise last night with no one to say goodbye to as everyone mingled with their friends. Apparently not-attaching is a theme for me.

But I do attach. At Bible college this last year I've sat next to the same lady every week intentionally because everyone else already knew each other and she was someone I could be buddies with.

I want a spouse. I have always craved someone to do this thing called life with. So I don't have to bear it all alone.

Proverbs 5:14 (NKJV) "I was on the verge of total ruin, In the midst of the assembly and congregation." Sometimes I think of this verse and muse in fearful awe at how we can be in the midst of people and completely slide through the cracks.

Fellowship, y'all. I am chasing it.

"As [Jesus] walked this earth He experienced all the emotions we do, and in His darkest hours, He craved community." -Rusty George, Better Together

Sunday, April 22, 2018

234: social media as an anesthetic for singleness

my dog on my leg while I was sick last week
What I'm about to theorize and muse about does not apply to some of the most single of us so there downs half of my argument. But, it might apply to me, and it's an interesting idea, so I'm going to go ahead and click-clack about it anyway.

I think that social media usage sometimes anesthetizes us from our singleness.

Actually, I KNOW it does. It, like any other social activity, takes away the loneliness. So that's not quite what I mean.

A quick Google search says "anesthetize" is to "deprive of feeling or awareness." I think social media can deprive us of the feeling or awareness of our lack of in-person attachments. It can make us not quite feel our singleness.

Okay, okay, I know the opposite is true as well. Who hasn't scrolled through social media and felt angst from viewing all those engagement and baby announcements?

This last 12 month period I have been part of this amazing Facebook group of Christian singles. It's like the City--it never sleeps. There is always something going on. Some conversation, deep or ridiculous. Some meme to like. Some gif to search for and add as a comment for others to like. Some person to roll your eyes at or interaction to laugh at.

It is a unique Internet community.

The other night I had to go outside without my phone. I looked up at the stars, the moon, the dark sky. And immediately felt lonely. Immediately started praying for a spouse and kids.

And I wonder...

If I lived without this instant access to people across the country at all hours of the day...

If I lived without this placebo numbing me to real life...

If so, and I know this is far-fetched, but...

Would I be less single today?

Probably not, but--

At what point does need drive us to action? To unprecedented action? Especially in a 21st century, first-world, middle-class life where "need" is almost nonexistent.

What would it take to cause us to do the unthinkable, whatever that may be? We'll never know. Because we never allow ourselves to get to that point. All these movies and fictional scenarios where people are faced with these either/or situations, where they have to be brave or face their fears or allow themselves to be stretched beyond their desires--I'm not saying we don't experience that now, but we don't willingly throw ourselves at those situations. We pad our discomfort with distraction, our need with placebos. Our wants--those things we can do something about with little cost--we'll gratify with fulfillment. But we prefer not to feel need. We must not feel need.

I don't know. Just some thoughts.

Anyway, it's an interesting question of how much social media affects my singleness.

Yet I am still grateful for it.

P.S. I use movies to anesthetize my singleness too, but I could only pick on one thing in this post :)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

233: musings turned ramble turned somewheres else

Today I finally got away to a Christian bookstore-turned-coffee shop for a chance at a Spice Chai and some sitting. With the smart phone (aka Facebook, texting, Internet) tucked away in my purse, (and, by God's grace, staying there for the most part) I was able to, finally, devote some time to journaling and trying to pray.

And so I found myself journaling about, what else, singleness.

It's in those moments where I actually pause in life that I seem to wax on about this state.


I think part of it is because in my actual life--in my life as a teacher--every day I fail. Every day, or most every day, I could come home, consider my day, and despair about a myriad of ways I have failed both in Christian character and academically, though mostly in my behavior.

So when I come home in the evening, if I have been able to put aside the cares of the day, if I have dealt with the lingering issues that must be mentally dealt with before having peace, then I have very little desire to stir them all up again by even thinking about them in prayer.

Ok, so this blog post is becoming a processing sounding board. A public journal. Soooooorrrry.

When the moment comes to settle into a dark leather chair with a hot drink in hand on a Saturday morning, when the scene is idyllic, Instagram-worthy, and not at all my usual (I'm not a hot drink person), when I am coming to God Almighty when focused prayer time has become a confusing maze of where do I start and how does one do this, I always, naturally, come back to singleness.

Eh, and maybe it is because another friend got engaged and just posted it on Facebook.

Maybe it is because I have always equated the desire for marriage with hope. And when I come to God in a quiet moment, I come to the One in whom I hope.

Maybe--allow me to get ridiculously metaphysically philosophical, cuz this is the first time I've considered this--maybe, very seldom, I am not praying about marriage at all, but rather a desire for the day when He will make all things beautiful.

There's a book I read eons ago by Ted Dekker (but this wasn't a novel) called The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth. Although I don't remember much about it now, I believe that is where I first awakened to this idea of HOPE. That we are created to hope. That hope is so, so powerful.

Of course, the hope that our souls crave is really Heaven.

There is so much about our perception that needs to be corrected. I mean, I was journaling today about wives being submissive and quiet and was thinking about how meekness is strength under control and how women have all this social-emotional strength and, unwittingly, I kinda realized that when we say everything we are thinking--measure, condemn, and demolish a man with our words--that that is not using our strength, that is like a city with no walls where what was meant for good has run amuck!

Perspective. Perception. A tweak here, a tweak there.

Goodness, this is not the blog post I was planning to write. Oh well, I didn't plan what I was going to write anyway.

We have to keep growing. Learning to see things more accurately.

Back to the topic of several paragraphs ago, I do desire marriage, and not for some idealistic, metaphysical, replacement hope for heaven. I have very real reasons to want marriage, and I also have sinful reasons to want marriage, like covetously wanting to join the "I have someone too" club.

But, as C.S. Lewis said, if we find a desire within us that cannot be met here on earth--a fairy tale hope, a dream of a Savior on a white horse, the call to a reality other than this one--maybe it is because we ARE made for somewhere else. Whether single, married, happy, frustrated, we are all mortals seeking a heavenly city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. We have a homeland (Hebrews 11:14).

If you are going to freeze-frame an Instagram-worthy moment of time, believe even more in the beauty of eternity, because actual life in the presence of the I AM is going to be more real, more unimaginable, more beyond-comprehension fulfilling than an unfiltered pic of a coffee cup and a leather seat on a Saturday morning.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

232: this vday

What am I thinking about this Valentines Day?

The Teachers Pay Teachers sale that ends tomorrow, the novel about Luther and Katharina that I'm reading for fun, the busy day behind me.

Ok, what am I thinking about *singleness* this Vday?

I've tried not to think about it much, actually.

But in general (and today too...while washing my hands...while sitting at a stop light...) I've been thinking about this whole idea of "settling." Sometimes I just really want to get married, and I wonder how much I'd be willing to compromise for that end result of having someone to build a life into old age with.

Ok, between my family and my emotions, the likelihood of me actually compromising on much is fairly low. I mean, I think I'd have to be thrown into a marriage with no turn around to actually not critique a prospect within an inch of his humanhood. (we're workin' on this)

But I am intrigued by this idea of marriage being something far less than I have trained my heart to believe. What if...what if marriage is simply two friends who are willing to do whatever it takes to make it to happily ever after to the glory of God? What if it's just two people who really believe they are designed for marriage and are willing to work out the kinks by leaning on each other, good counsel, and the power of the Spirit?

What if it's ok if he sometimes annoys me?

What if it's ok if he's older than my "ideal"?

What if it's ok if we aren't soulmates on every preference?

And what if my "ideal"--the "dream," whichever shade it may be taking at 32 yrs old--is not as important as having a reality? Not ANY reality, and not a close facsimile, but a reality that can become something I will forever be surmising about if I'm not willing to finger it by sheer faith.

No, no Boaz's are lying at my feet begging me to stop being annoyingly picky. I mean, maybe if I got a straight up marriage proposal I might just--

Nope, still too clear headed for that. Too rational. Too governed by freak-out emotions.

Too bad.

Does all of this sound awfully silly?

Tis ok. It's Valentines Day! And honestly, for the most part, I don't know what I'm talking about.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Wrestling bears and Book Review: Graciousness by John Crotts

Ok, so...

Long time no see, btw. :)

At the time I requested this book to review, I was contemplating the strange notion that a guy can be kind without being nice. Or rather, I wanted to learn more about the Biblical category of kindness versus the cultural concept of niceness, because I felt like they must be different, and in getting to know menfolk, I wanted to be able to let go of my need for niceness while still evaluating whether they were the opposite of kindness. Because niceness seems to be more a feminine demand that maybe "we" shouldn't demand of men all the time.

So I thought this book might be JUST THE THING to give me a study on Biblical kindness from a man's perspective. :)


(Yes, I'm turning this into more than a book review, because it's more interesting this way, if not more cumbersome just to get to the review section.)

I'm part of a conservative Christians group on Facebook. And right before I got the e-mail confirmation about this book--with an e-book link to keep me occupied while the paperback was being mailed!--there was a big Calvinist/non-Calvinist eruption online. Actually, there have been several in the last month, most of which I seem to find myself in the middle of, but this one happened simultaneously with my receiving this book.

Background. I am not Calvinist. I believe in God's sovereignty, His foreknowledge, His omniscience, His omnipotence, that He does whatever He pleases. I also believe that He allows men to accept or reject His free gift. I believe that He loves the WHOLE world and that Jesus' substitutional sacrifice is available to all people. I also believe that baptism is a sign to the world by the believer of Who his Master now is. I do not believe that God's calling and promises to Israel in the Old Testament were only to a spiritual "Israel" that then became what we know today as the church. Rather, Romans 9-11, in my viewpoint, is talking about a nation, a group of people, that God will restore when the fullness of the Gentiles is complete. I also believe in a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth at the end of the world.

I know there are lots of nice Reformed believers who do not bend on what they believe--that's a good thing!--but who also do not feel the need to be obnoxious about it. I respect and have learned from Reformed believers because of their passion for Biblical scholarship even as I disagree fairly strongly with their conclusions.

But over the years I have run across a VERY few that feel the need to proclaim from the rooftops something like *dot, dot, dot* Calvinism is the true Biblical theology, the theology Jesus would have preached, that you're either Calvinist or Arminian, and that Arminianism is heresy. And if you want them to calm down on the passionate rhetoric, then you're insecure or being too sensitive or haven't read your Bible. Go, Reformed Theology!

Or at least, that's how the communication trickles into my ear. Whether that is what is meant, I cannot say. And whether or not I may have poked a Calvinist bear a time or two in my lifetime, well...I'm working on self-control.

So that's what I had just experienced when I received this book. I opened up to the first chapter and read, "Many young Christians who discover Reformed theology for the first time enter what has been called the 'cage phase.'. . . They are using their newfound knowledge of the truth like a club to assault those around them who have different understandings of the Bible." The author continues that the "antidote to the truth zealots' harsh tones" is not a lesser love of truth but an application of Biblical graciousness.

What on earth? How did I get a book aimed at instructing Reformed believers on how to be gracious when discussing theology with others? LOL!

So, obviously, this book was not what I was expecting to get, but that's ok.

On to the book review!

The first half of the book is an apologetic for graciousness. It was hard for me to follow the author's organization, and I felt like some of the extrapolation from Scripture was a stretch. Like that Jesus' admonishment to the church at Ephesus in the book of Revelation--that they needed to return to their first love--refers in large part to their love of people. So if they did not repent of acting unloving, He would snuff them out. Interesting and edifying, but I wasn't exactly convinced of this interpretation of that verse.

The second half of the book though got into practical application. Much of the information wasn't new, but it was a good compilation of other sources into one. Actually, what he had to say was very good, very true, and applicable in many scenarios.

My favorite part is when he says that before we try to convince another of some point of theology, we need to first listen. He says that other people will be more open to listening to you if you can well articulate their own point of view back to them. WITHOUT that tinge of criticism that I know I personally am so prone to add when summarizing what someone has just said. People will know that you actually understand them and thus will be more willing to hear your verses combating their view. Yes! This! On Facebook I noticed that no one was asking what non-Reformed believers actually believe. Or why.

The author talks about listening well for the reasons beneath the opposing position. He gives an example of someone who believes you can lose their salvation and has concerns that those who believe in eternal security now have license to sin. Instead of blasting them with eternal security verses, the author suggests you first address the legitimate concern about the license to sin. Because that is the underlying issue for the other person. I love that. It is so applicable in all communication, not just theological debates.

He also writes, "If you merely match passion and volume for passion and volume, coupled with verses against verses, what do you think will be accomplished? Will God be glorified? Will the conversation communicate the love of Christ to the other person?" (chapter 7)

Another good quote--again, applicable to any situation--"Obviously, when everyone is on the same team, or perceives themselves to be on the same team, the potential for a gracious and effective conversation multiplies exponentially. . . . If two people are having a theological discussion, it makes a difference if they posture themselves as enemies or friends." (chapter 7)

We are all on the same team--we are all redeemed, we are all followers of Christ, we all value Scripture as the authoritative Word of God. That is our unifying point. We are not enemies but brothers.

So what is my assessment of this book? I think the practical second half of the book won me over. I think all Reformed seminarians should read this book as part of the curriculum (since Reformed believers are the target audience), but it is also great for anyone who is passionate about theology and wants to grow in communication effectiveness. He makes a good argument for the idea that communication breaks down if we do not practice graciousness.

I also recommend David Powlison's Good & Angry for those who want to delve deeper into the heart motivations of why we are sometimes ungracious.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review.