*Bloom* by “Beauty Beyond Bones” –Caralyn

Anorexia. That may seem like a world removed from you, but maybe not. Trust me when I say that while it is deadly serious, indeed life threatening, there are a host of other issues which can take the life right out of us. And there are addictions which are destructive in keeping us from the abundant life that Christ offers.

Enter Caralyn, the young woman behind the popular BeautyBeyondBones blog. She has been free from her anorexia for over ten years now, and is on a mission to help others who find themselves in the same darkness into which she descended, all the light and color of her life so evident before, gone.

Both on her blog, and especially in this book, which is laid out so that it can be a daily journal, she shares with the reader how the light of Christ met her in her darkness and set her free. But don’t think for a moment that it was easy. Within the book enough of her story is told to let us know just how hard it was for her, yet how God helped her listen to his word, the good news in Christ, so that by God’s grace she was delivered from the deception which had completely claimed her life, a lie she had embraced which nearly cost her her life.

I found myself challenged and encouraged especially to understand and by faith live better in the manifold grace and depth of God’s love in Jesus through God’s good news in him.

This book is offered by a young woman as a witness to the mighty salvation that is in Jesus, and the power of God’s word through that salvation. So that no matter what you are facing, God can help you through it, and more than that, recover the beauty he created in you, so that he can radiate his glory in your humanity.  In and through Jesus.

Bloom

From her book: “Not only are we saved by grace, but we are healed by grace.”

 

review of “The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World,” by Allan R. Bevere (part three)

Allan R. Bevere, in his book, The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World points out that even though the Constantinianism of the Roman Empire is gone (and the Constantinianism of the nation-states of Europe is fading, largely due to their secularization) Constantinianism today is alive and well in no less than America.

Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, two of the most influential American founders put their stamp indelibly on this new republic. There is no doubt that they wanted to keep religion separate from the state, i.e., they did not want a state-church union. Actually they both had respect for the nonorthodox Deistic version of Christianity, in good keeping with their Enlightenment ideals.

As long as the church was severed from the old ties of the past so that it could not assert itself in state affairs, they were more than happy to receive the benefits to the state the church could give. In fact the church was good, perhaps even indispensable  in their minds for the good of this new state, even as it had been indispensable in Constantine’s mind for the good of the Roman Empire state. Both were religious after a fashion. Jefferson attended services regularly, and his Jefferson Bible is well known in history. And there was no American founder who seemed more concern with virtue, and specific marks of it than Franklin. The church’s doctrine in Jefferson and Franklin’s view was at best irrelevant and beside the point, although they could put up with it as long as the church met the desired end:  simply to make good citizens of the state.

Allan calls Jefferson and Franklin Constantine’s modern lieutenants. Even if unwittingly, by their formative influence in the fledgling republic they continue, even though in a different form, the heart of Constantinianism. The church had come to see itself as having a role in world affairs strictly as a support or arm of the state. The church’s piety had become largely private and invisible as far as the political sphere goes. It had indirect bearing on the world, but no direct influence on it, since the church was mainly about one’s relationship to God, to be worked out in the world with no direct challenge to the powers that be on the terms of God’s kingdom come in Jesus. In other words, the church would not interfere with the state, on how America would be run, but would lend its support to America by making good citizens who would help make America and its ideals work. And to a large extent it was the church, and Christians who did just that.

Although the church itself did have its own set of ethics, there would be the continued inherited tendency through Constantinianism, to apply those virtues to the fulfillment of the nation-state. And the tradition would continue, began by Ambrose and Augustine, who applied worldly ethics especially from Cicero so that the church could participate fully in all the necessary machinations of the state.

The Sermon on the Mount and the teaching of the kingdom of God coming to earth in Jesus had long since been abandoned as far as having any practical bearing for present life. There could be application only in part and in limited ways since the church continued to be immersed in the “reality” of the state. Even though the form of Constantinianism had changed, essentially nothing had changed. The church would continue to see politics in terms of the state, and would seek to influence and be a player in such, on the state’s terms.

In fact the church would not only utilize worldly philosophical sources to be actively involved in the affairs of the state. It would also find a hermeneutic, or way of interpreting scripture which applies directives and promises from scripture to the state which were addressed to and apply only to the two nations God has called into existence to be his people, Israel and the church, the church called “a holy nation” as “the people of God.” Both the religious right and the religious left of today are equally guilty of carrying on this tradition. God’s politics is not to be found in either, but as we will see tomorrow, is found elsewhere. All but lost at least as far as understanding goes, but found in no less than the church itself.

part one
part two
part four
part five, the conclusion

review of “The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World,” by Allan R. Bevere (part two)

Allan R. Bevere in his book, The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World, is calling for the end of Constantinianism and the Christendom that came from it. Allan defines Constantinianism as “the belief that Christians should forge a close alliance with the state in order to influence and, if possible, enact Christian policies.” And he defines Christendom as “the product of Constantinianism where the culture of a nation reflects Christianity and vestiges of Christian values.” He believes, “…Christians must reject both if they are to be faithful witnesses to the gospel in the world” (all quotes, p 1).

The church before Constantine was naturally at odds with an idolatrous state, the Roman emperor cult religion. Jesus was Lord, and therefore Caesar was not, though they were to submit to Caesar, but under Jesus’ lordship. The church did not serve the interest of the state, in fact the state at best looked at the church with suspicion. No Christians served in the military.

In the fourth century “the Constantinian shift” was set in place. The emperor Constantine was the main player of this change. Christianity  was legalized, after Constantine becoming the state religion, other religions  later banned. Constantine had converted to Christianity, and saw Christianity as a means to the end of uniting the Roman Empire. In time only those baptized as Christians could be Roman citizens, and only Christians could serve in the military.  The church was joined to the state, more or less swallowed up into the state, and thus lost its distinct identity. Christendom emerged from this union, and continues in one form or another to this day.

From Christians knowing that God was working in and through the church, with faith that somehow he was working in the world of nations, believers after this change now knew that God was working through the Roman state, with faith that he somehow was working in the church. This church became the invisible body of Christ, since only God knew who was truly regenerate. The infidels were no longer nonbelievers, but those who were not of the empire, the unbaptized, especially those outside  the empire’s borders.

The Constantinian shift outlived the Roman empire itself, Christendom still entrenched as the ethos/way nations conducted their affairs and people lived. Each nation state would have its church, the state church, into which all were baptized as infants. Everyone was Christian in name, with no allowance for Christian dissent. There was plenty of Christian nominalism and all that comes with that, but all citizens continued to be identified with the sign of the cross, joined to the sword of each state. So that it was not uncommon for “Christians” to be fighting other “Christians.”

The (Age of the) Enlightenment was a direct and forceful challenge to this state-church arrangement. Humanity was thought to be coming of age, or realizing its potential through reason. It was time to leave the superstitions of the past behind. And something new was on the horizon, namely the United States of America, a determined effort in significant measure to live out these ideals, in a new way. Tomorrow we will consider this  American revolution, and how it was able to retain the heart of Constantinianism for the benefit of this new nation-state. So Constantinianism continued, though in a new form, important in helping us understand where we are today.

This review is an attempt to give something of the gist of Allan’s argument in the book. Some of the thoughts come from others Allan quotes, such as John Howard Yoder.

part one
part three
part four
part five, the conclusion

review of “The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World,” by Allan R. Bevere (part one)

There are few things taken less seriously yet at the same time more seriously than politics. What I mean is that while we disdain so much of the political process, understandably so, given all the questionable gamesmanship which seems part of its routine, we also take few things more seriously than some of politics’ most important aspects, such as the upcoming presidential election here in the United States.

Allan R. Bevere, in his book, The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World challenges us to take another look at what we’ve long taken for granted. He wants us to see that for followers of Jesus, the politics that matter most, in fact that will go on while worldly political systems come and go is the politics that come from the kingdom of God in Jesus played out in the church.

That may seem counterintuitive to us, after all it seems like the church is either a non-player, or subtly aligned in the political process on one side or the other (speaking from the American standpoint). To think that the church itself is the center of politics as far as God’s rule is concerned, makes no sense to us, who are trained to see the church as completely nonpolitical.

We should attempt to define politics. I would say it is the way humans order themselves in a society. The order requires some kind of organization and impulse to govern the society in its domain. Of course how that’s worked out in the world, and even in the church can vary in all sorts of ways. It certainly was different in Israel of old  in David time, from the Roman empire in Tiberius’ time (during Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion), from America today, from the church in the beginning at Jerusalem, from the church with all kinds of differences in its various churches throughout the world yesterday and today,  etc.  The Free Dictionary online  defines politics as, “The art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation, and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs.”

Allan Bevere is not challenging the nations’ responsibility to govern. But he is challenging the understanding that God’s kingdom rule is through the nations. Instead he is insisting that God rules the world in his kingdom come in Jesus through the one holy nation, the church. This is not to deny that something of God’s sovereign rule is at work among the nations. But his kingdom consists of those in Jesus, under the authority of King Jesus. The church through Jesus is carrying on Israel’s role as God’s people. And that role is to be a blessing to the nations through Jesus the Messiah as the one through whose rule the nations are blessed. In other words, the church inherits the blessing of Abraham which is not meant just for itself, but for the world.

The church does this in significant part by being the light of the world, God’s light in Jesus shining on the nations in regard to both its inworking as church, and its outworking to the world. The good news or gospel is that Jesus is King. God’s grace and kingdom is present in King Jesus’ rule which is mediated now by the Spirit through the church. It includes the proclamation that Jesus is Lord and King. And in Jesus there is salvation through his death and resurrection, his ascension, and the sending of the Spirit, and his return when at last he will turn over the kingdom to the Father, that God may be all in all. But until then God reigns by the ascended Jesus in the Spirit through the church on earth. We don’t always or even often understand how, but we accept by faith that this is so, understanding this from God’s written word, scripture. That through the church God’s manifold wisdom will be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, even if this is not as evident to earthly rulers and authorities.

If this is so, why has it not been understood and practiced by the church especially in places like Europe and America? That we will pick up tomorrow, in the second part of the review of this book, as I further attempt to lay out my understanding of what Allan is saying.

part two
part three
part four
part five, the conclusion

review of “Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life.” by Lois Tverberg (part two)

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life, by Lois Tverberg, gets to the heart of Jesus’ teaching in the light of its Jewish context.

In part I, “Hearing Our Rabbi’s Words with New Ears,” we are first challenged to be open to a new way of understanding, no less than the Jewish way, as opposed to the Greek way which came to largely dominate Christianity. This means that faith involves a complete commitment to follow Jesus as one walking in the dust of the rabbi, that is wanting to become more and more like one’s master and teacher—for us, Jesus. So that we walk as closely to him as possible by paying close attention to all he says and does.  We learn for the Hebrew that contra Greek understanding, thought is inseparable from action. That what we hear from God is acted on, and done by us, or in the Hebrew understanding it is not heard at all. That the Shema (shema is the Hebrew word often translated “hear”) was to be recited daily as a commitment to the God who has entered into covenant with his people. We are to love God with all we are and have since he alone is God, to love our neighbor as ourselves, or as one who is like us. We find that Jesus’ words are often understood only in light of what they allude to from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

In part II, “Living Out the Words of Rabbi Jesus” we are challenged to have a “good” eye, meaning we’re to be generous and not stingy. The Jewish emphasis and practice of giving rings through loud and clear, and with it, wisdom in good, sound, practical advice, which I think can helpfully complement the New Testament emphasis on the grace of giving. Next, the awe in which the Name of God is to be held and how in Jesus that Name brings salvation. Jewish wisdom for the tongue, so that we might do good rather than harm by what we say, as well as by what we refrain from saying. Not judging others by making every effort to put the best possible construction on another’s actions when possible–the Jewish way—as well as by remembering what Jesus adds to this: that we are all sinners, that what I see in someone else is often what I struggle with myself. And that God alone is the true and final Judge. Praying with nerve, or audacity (“chutzpah”) was along with the chapter on judging, a favorite part of this book for me (although I found every chapter important, so that I really hesitate to say I favored one over the other, but these two are probably over matters the Lord is especially wanting to see worked into my life right now). Like Abraham, we approach no less than God himself, and we don’t let go until he blesses others for whom we are praying. We learn to “think with both hands,” that is hold to all God has said and revealed, even when we can’t put them together ourselves. Not imaging we can explain or systematize all the truth God has revealed as the Greek influence has made us prone to do in Christianity. Learning as well to weigh laws as to importance and priority so that we can know how love and faithfulness to God will cause us to put one priority aside that we might always and by all means fulfill the law of love to others as we see done in scripture.

Part III, “Studying the Word with Rabbi Jesus,” begins with the importance of treasuring God’s word, scripture, so as to regularly study it with others over one’s lifetime, even in lively discussion and debate. Next we are to let God be God and not think we understand him and his ways, even while we reverently but persistently challenge him as one we have personal, intimate acquaintance with, even as Job did. And we find that the God of the Old Testament is like Jesus, a passionate father (not the impassable—no emotion—god of Aristotle, and Christian orthodoxy), so that the Old and New Testaments are about the same God. And God’s image is seen in no less than the humans God has made, all of them regardless of how they might appear to us. That we do well to learn to begin to see each human in the depth of who they are as well as their calling, in that way.

The chapters are not too long or short—I think just right, with endnotes for those who want to dig deeper. At the end of each of them are stimulating questions entitled, “Wisdom for the Walk.” And there is a glossary followed by recommended resources. Lois’ scientific training and mindset has helped her work through these issues critically. Yet she has shared the truth with us in a style reminiscent of scripture itself, with personal testimony and story, along with wisdom gathered from others.

This book can help us take more seriously the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament to the point that hopefully we will read and reread it (or listen to it, as I do) along with the New Testament, and begin to see Jesus and his teachings in light of it. I hear echoes of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in the quotes from Jewish rabbis, and find Jesus’ words both to parallel and carry them beyond to a fulfillment at least in how we’re to live as God’s people now.

The book hit me where I live. For example I was impressed with the importance of considering how love for God and for one’s neighbor, even for one’s enemy is to be evident in all I say and do. I was helped to see just how important it is to pay close attention to what Jesus said, which means to understand his words in their Jewish context, meaning they are words that are intensely relational with reference to God and to others, and involve our entire life.

This book uniquely helped me better understand the Jewish mindset, or way of life, and how Jesus fulfills that. Underscored is both the need for my own commitment within God’s commitment of covenant which takes in not only ourselves and God, but all others who are of this covenant community. A commitment that is lived out over time in this community. And that in this covenant in and through Jesus we are no less than taken up into God’s kingdom work together and for the world.

These words hopefully point well toward the richness of this book, because this review falls short of really conveying that richness which can only be appreciated by reading it, and pondering it, letting these life-changing truths sink in over time.

Thank you, Lois. And we can (and I do) look forward to the next book she authors, maybe about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Stay tuned. But in the meantime let’s avail ourselves of this book, as well as the previous one. A kind of reading that is life-changing in the way of  Rabbi Jesus, as we hold on to his words, and learn more and more to walk in his way, the one who is the Way.

review of “Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life.” by Lois Tverberg (part one, introduction)

review of “Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life.” by Lois Tverberg (part one, introduction)

During the past five decades coinciding with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls there has been a renaissance of knowledge pertaining to the time of Jesus and a few centuries preceding him during the Second Temple period. What has come to light is just how Jewish the Christian faith is. We discover a mindset or perhaps more accurate, a way of life that is far more Jewish than the Greek ethos which came to engulf the church, and all but obscure the Jewishness of the faith.

The so-called New Perspective has helped us understand that arguably Greek philosophy influenced primarily by Plato and Aristotle were intrusions which not only do not resonate with the Hebrew Bible, but actually contradict its worldview in significant ways. The New Testament with the story of Jesus purports to be the fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament story of Israel. The material world, contra Greek philosophy matters so much to the point that resurrection of all things material, the old into the new creation, is at the ending point of the story, fulfilled of course in Christ.

While this renaissance has come—not without its detractors to be sure, those who say the old is better, though even among them it is nearly universally acknowledged that there is some truth in it—there is a paucity, or lack of teaching from this perspective, although ground is being gained there.

Lois Tverberg, herself a scientist and former professor of science in a good Christian academic setting, Hope College, some years ago made the decision to pursue an entirely new career and venture, devoting herself to understanding particularly the time of Jesus, and Jesus’ teaching, indeed his entire life, in light of what she had discovered, that indeed the faith is steeped in and actually Jewish through and through.

She has written previously, but the first book of hers published by Zondervan was coauthored with Ann Spangler, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith. As you might well surmise by the title, that book takes a good look from different angles at Jesus himself. And specifically how Jesus was perceived and the ramifications for that. That perception was from Jesus’ own perception of himself and of his calling from God. That book is written the same way this book is, quite engaging, profound, clear, and compelling. What possibly struck me the most from it was just how the faith for the early followers of Jesus was just about that: following. Yes, following their Rabbi, indeed Master and Teacher, Jesus. Not just learning in their minds, but with their whole lives. It was about no less than an entirely new orientation, indeed new way of life. It certainly began by answering his call, sitting at his feet to learn from him, simply being with him. The way of the rabbi and the rabbi’s disciples. That book is not only well worth reading, but I highly recommend it. In fact it would be good to get both books and read them in the order written, though either way would be good.

Finally to begin to get to the book we are looking at now, Lois has written what is more than a sequel. It is a book that equals the first in significance as she takes us through most important themes in Jesus’ teaching, which are meant to change our lives from the ground up, no stones unturned. It has the feeling of reading the gospels, especially the part of them that is so often, or at least has been so often neglected: about the life and teaching of Jesus before his crucifixion and resurrection. For whatever reason the life and teaching of Jesus has been largely neglected, all but ignored, and not considered even part of the good news, or the gospel. Which has amounted to a great loss, not at all in keeping with the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, whom the church rightfully saw as proclaiming the gospel in their books: the gospel according to Matthew, etc.

Part I is “Hearing Our Rabbi’s Words with New Ears,” part II is “Living Out the Words of Rabbi Jesus,” and part III is “Studying the Word with Rabbi Jesus.”

Tomorrow (or Thursday) we will take a closer look at this book.

review of “Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life.” by Lois Tverberg (part two)

review of Anna Rapa’s “Second Story: seeing what’s not being said” (part two)

…from Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do—200 chiefs…

1 Chronicles 12:32

Anna Rapa has written a kind of wisdom story in Second Story: seeing what’s not being said. In her words to me, “It’s really meant to be an object lesson or ideas with skin on. Could’ve been written as a nonfiction book, but it seemed impossible to really convey what the ideas would look like without a story.”

Anna tells the story well, real life people. One begins to identify especially with the main characters, Alex and Annie who have been anticipating marriage. Except Alex’s accident through which his life was hanging in the balance has awakened him to the importance of making his life count for God. Gone is the care free, fun loving Alex. In in his place is an Alex who wants to talk most all the time about spiritual things. And wants to share and confront others with the truth of God so that they might see their need for Christ.

Annie is all but lost. She was glad he wanted to go to church, she was raised that way. But really caring about other’s religion or personal matters to her seemed more than a bit much.

Enter Sara, who had served as a youth worker some years back in Alex’s church youth group. The three begin to meet, and we see every bit as significant a change in Annie as had happened with Alex. Except that Annie’s change due to Sara’s sharing had come with more than Alex could have imagined. More than he was willing to take on, or accept.

Alex is busy “witnessing” to people verbally any opportunity he has. A fellow worker, Drew, Alex discovers is gay, and has cancer. Alex is always wanting to share with him his need for Jesus, but Drew is not only uninterested, but antagonistic. He has been raised in a church, and his father is upset over his lifestyle. Alex while repulsed by that himself, won’t let up in trying to help Drew come to faith, seeing Drew’s death as imminent.

In the meantime, Annie is benefiting from their times together with Sara. She had been reticent, but in desperation had committed herself to God, or reached out to him while not really wanting such help. There was something not ringing true to her in what she saw of Alex in his change. And she was not where she needed to be herself as to God and his will.

In this unfolding comes a really compelling, well told story. With wisdom and insight woven in throughout.

God begins to change Annie through study of scripture and prayer from the times with Sara. Certain parts spoke into my life, such as when Annie was trying to grapple with Jesus’ words in the first and greatest commandment to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. As is true throughout the book, how she works through this is so true to life. Annie begins to genuinely care about people. So that her friend Oliver, and her neighbors, Patti and Josie become priorities to her, simply as people. From that she does want to share the difference God is making in her life.

Alex sees every contact as a responsibility to confront others of their need, their danger if they don’t repent and believe the gospel. For him it is all about being a part of God’s work of reconciliation. For Annie it is first about loving people, praying for them, and out of that, sharing her faith when it is natural. Annie thinks it’s not always wise to speak of faith, in fact is reticent to do so unless it is a natural expression of her life, or sharing her story. Alex thinks he should always try to speak.

Out of this comes the perfect storm. Taught by Sara and really part of her own understanding and experience, Annie sees life as uncertain and not so black and white. Alex wants certainty, and sees truth at stake, or being compromised with Sara’s view that like Jesus we should tell stories from scripture, our own story as well, praying that the Spirit will give the hearer understanding. Alex can’t shake the belief that it’s up to him to help others understand the truth and their need for Jesus. Sara also has taught them that barriers to the faith for many today are largely emotional, that we help people to come to truth in their minds by being sensitive to where they are struggling in their hearts.

The story for me had an unexpected ending. It sets in stark and helpful contrast two models of evangelism and leaves us the reader grappling with which is the one most true to the witness of scripture and in the way we find in Jesus in scripture. And how we should be Christ’s ambassadors for reconciliation in this present time.

There is much more in this book. Anna covers it well, and out of her own life of nearly a decade in learning and growing in her walk in it. I believe this is an important book for this day. And Anna continues to think through this, and wants to do  so with others on her blog.

For me it was an encouragement as well as a challenge. That we should commit ourselves to this life of loving others and praying for their reconciliation to God through Christ. That we are to live out God’s calling in a way that is natural to us, to God’s gifting of us. And with love and sensitivity to others. Not abandoning the call to introduce others to Jesus. But doing so as those committed to others as true friends. Not in a commitment which is only about adding more to God’s kingdom in Jesus, or seeing more saved.

So on the one hand thinking through this in reading the book alleviated pressure on me and unnecessary guilt, while on the other hand it encouraged me to be more open and ready out of love to share the good news of Jesus with others. In God’s working.

Thanks, Anna for this valuable contribution to me, to us as Christ’s body in the world. I pray that this book may be a blessing to many in days to come.

review of Anna Rapa’s “Second Story: seeing what’s not being said” (part one)

review of Anna Rapa’s “Second Story: seeing what’s not being said” (part one)

As one raised close enough to the evangelical tradition, later embracing it, and still evangelical as to its core conviction of seeing the gospel as somehow front and center through Jesus in the work of God, evangelism has always been considered somehow central as well. Sharing the good news of Christ with those who haven’t heard, or who do not believe. Being a witness of what we have seen and heard.

But within evangelicalism the past twenty years or so, there has been at least questions about how we evangelize. Do we go door to door with something like “Evangelism Explosion”? Do we simply invite our neighbors to church, so that they can hear the gospel proclaimed there? Do we instead opt for “friendship evangelism”? Or maybe simply pray, and try to live out the gospel, always being ready to give anyone an answer when asked about the difference in our lives?

On top of this, during the same time there has become the awareness of the emerging influence of postmodernism, a different culture in which the air is filled with uncertainty, and openness to various forms of mysticism voiced as spirituality, more often than not without religion.

At one time I was convinced that I was failing to share my faith as I ought to. But I was not convinced that what I had seen and been a part of in door to door programs was the way to do it. So over time I settled into a kind of blue funk over evangelism. Yes, I thought it was important, but I was uncomfortable with what I had seen and tried myself. Evangelism for me was essentially on hold. At least in any way I had experienced it in the past.

That gradually in my mind anyhow has begun to change. First through my own theological revolution through N.T. Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was & Is. Helped along from blogging with Scot McKnight, a favorite writer of mine, and rather capped off with his recent, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited.

And from an acquaintance has come a book that I have personally found helpful in pushing me to consider just how I might best share my faith with others. In fact has given me hope that there is a good way, a way blessed of God to do this. Anna Rapa, an acquaintance has written a novel in a kind of wisdom story mode entitled, Second Story: seeing what’s not being said.

I found this book intriguing in being as encouraging as it was challenging, and challenging as it was encouraging. There are still matters for me to ponder. A depth in it I have yet to plumb.

Tomorrow we will explore the book itself. And I am thinking of doing so in a bit of an autobiographical way. This book hits close to home for me. And we need to consider what is being shared in it. But I want to do so in a way which would encourage you to read the book for yourself.

review of Anna Rapa’s “Second Story: seeing what’s not being said” (part two)

review of Karen Zacharias’ “Hero Mama” or “after the flag has been folded”

Also entitled, After the Flag Has Been Folded with the slightly altered subtitle: A Daughter Remembers the Father She Lost to War–and the Mother Who Held Her Family Together,  Hero Mama is a hard hitting, yet every day kind of memoir by Karen Spears Zacharias, who unflinchingly tells her story and the story of her family in the aftermath of her father’s tragic death serving in the military in Vietnam.

Karen doesn’t mince words, nor write a hagiography, or sanitized story. This book is not R rated, unless too much salty language would make it so. We have the look of an unedited telling of what happens to a family when their loving, strong, faithful father and husband is killed in war. It is an eye-opening account of the untold tragedy that war can bring on a family. And how God’s grace can make the difference in the end. Through many dangers, toils and snares, which seem to have the final say day after day and year after year.

As the title Hero Mama suggests, Karen clearly sees, and writes out the story of her mother as the hero. Her mother who in spite of all her weakness and sin, chooses to do what is best and good for the family. Becoming a registered nurse through grit and determination, God’s grace being at work to see her through so that the destruction of war did not have the final say. And her sacrifice–one example: not marrying because she did not think this one she loved would love her children–with a good ending.

Karen was only nine years of age, with a younger sister and older brother when her father, David Zacharias, by her accounts an exceptional father, husband, as well as military serviceman, gave his life in service for his country. The changing of the terrain after this earthquake threatened the heart and soul of this family.

The memoir honestly reminds me of the book of Judges in the Bible. The tale is not pretty over and over again. And Karen does not spare herself at all. Even after she comes to Christ, her story is all too true to life, though one can see God’s grace and preparation for what she is doing these days in her writing and active support of military families. Especially of those families who like hers lost their fathers, or loved ones.

If you want a nice story that leaves you feeling good, this is probably not the book for you. But if you want a truthful account of the tragedy war often brings, and one family’s grappling of it–albeit with a hopeful ending, then this is a good read. In fact a must read for people like me who little understand the effects of war firsthand, even though my father did serve in the Army in Germany in World War II.

What maybe I found most encouraging about the book is how a church in Columbus, Georgia did not write Karen off, in the midst of her sin after her profession of faith, even through the time when she had an abortion. And how God did not write this family off, who were “dysfunctional” in large part, ripped asunder at the loss they really never should get fully over. How in the end they make the best of things as they know how. How God preserved Karen for her husband and family to be, as well as her work in journalism and writing.

Karen also finds a kind of healing when she heads back to Vietnam where her father was killed, and when she works at getting to the real truth of what happened in his death. The courageous, loving, self-sacrificial heart of her father, who led his men well, and whose death would be the means of preventing future deaths.

I found the book compelling in a no spin kind of telling of the story in the way only Karen can do. With that telling, I certainly did grimace more than once. But then it reminds me well of my own story. It is hardly pretty if told warts and all, and yet God in his grace in Jesus is working in all things for good, the process continuing in my life.

I would like to read someday an ending memoir by Karen, reflecting on her life perhaps from the end of the book to that day. She has a way of telling stories that is a gift. And indeed the book is a gift to us, far more than I could write here. One we need in a day in which counting the cost is little understood, and even less practiced. But with an end through God’s grace in Jesus which can give us all hope.

Karen Spears Zacharias’ books
Karen Spears Zacharias’ blog

Sharon Garlough Brown’s “Sensible Shoes”–a sacred journey


I want to give the highest commendation to Sharon Garlough Brown’s book, Sensible Shoes. First of all, we are blessed at our church to have a husband and wife pastoral team, both our pastors, and each do well in all pastoral work. Jack does a good share of the preaching, and Sharon the pastoral care, but actually they each do all the above. Sharon has what I’ve witnessed to be an unusual prayer ministry, both in leading us in prayers on Sunday morning, and in praying one and one with us after service. And she has a passion for knowing God and being known by God through what has often been called spiritual disciplines, practices that are ancient in the church, and which can help us become open to God and God’s working in our lives.

The book actually came from a group of women who have met at our church weekly for years now. And even the title is rooted in reality, as there is a real “Sensible Shoes” group. In fact though this book is fiction, it rings so true to life, that not only do the characters become as real as people we do know, but I easily identified with them, or identified them with people I have known. We see the journeys of a number of women, along with a man (or two) added.

We find a group of women whose individual stories are striking and interesting, but no more so than the stories that each one of us have. They struggle or are lost to some extent in one way or another. An array of issues as different, and interesting as each person themselves. One, Hannah, is a pastor who is buried in her work, and finds her identity in that, but is largely lost in understanding that she is loved and known just for who she is as a daughter of God through Jesus. Meg has suffered a lot from a rather mysterious (to her) troubled childhood which holds her mother in a denial which results in Meg not knowing the truth of what happened, has lost her devoted husband who died in an accident, and simply feels out of place and out of step with the world.  Charissa has her act together all the way around. She is a perfectionist to the nth degree, who does quite well in everything she puts her hand to. That includes her Christianity. Mara is the one whose classmates always chose for games, only because she was the only one remaining. In fact she remembers vividly the time she was invited to a birthday party only to be told later that she couldn’t be included–maybe next time.

Interestingly, as the story would have it, we begin to look at each of these people because they end up coming together at a spiritual retreat center for a retreat. We enter into their inside worlds, and outside. We see them as they are, and begin to enter their world in such a way, that we long to see what happens next, and what will happen over time in each of their lives. In some ways I could identify with each of them, but especially so with one I think. It is interesting to meet them all, and then see how in halting, difficult, and really true to life ways, they change over time through God’s working.

Sharon introduces her readers to a number of spiritual practices, called disciplines, some of which I’ve had the privilege to participate in the past few years such as the labyrinth, lectio divina, praying the examen, praying with imagination, confession. The explanations of these practices directly and in the story are clear, concise and thus quite helpful, and all the more so as we see them come to life as the story of these real people unfolds.

It is wonderful in the end to see how God brings these people into a renewed fellowship with him, and within that brings them all together. There is a sense of community within this new living hope, the kind that God always brings about in Jesus. A community of joy and togetherness in the way of Jesus, which means a community not existing only for itself, but for the world.

As one who has the privilege of knowing the author, that only adds to my enthusiasm for the book, but the book stands well on its own. Sharon really lives out what she shares in the book. And the women in the story, though certainly women, ended up not detracting me from being able to identify with them from my male perspective. The book is not a book for women, but for the entire Body of Christ. And the book is not mere psychological ploy. It is rather the transformation that comes through Christ by the Spirit changing lives of people with issues like we all have.

Sharon is working on the second book of what I’ve heard is to be three books in this series. I look forward to the books to come. And I think someday, I hope I live to see it, her husband our other pastor, Jack–who went to Ohio State University with Hollywood film directing in mind, before the Lord intercepted him in grace, and called him to the ministry–that someday he will direct a film which I’m sure will be first rate, telling this excellent story. In the meantime I pray this book, and more to come will be to the blessing and transformation of many lives in and through Jesus.