Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Review of The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot

The Sentinels of Andersonville
by Tracy Groot
ISBN 978-1-4143-5948-9
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Writing about war is a lot like writing about sports. It is easy to make a mess of doing either. On one hand, one can easy tend toward a sentimentality that lacks both realism and readability. On the other hand, one can get so overly bogged down in detail that the reader is bored to tears. Tracy Groot in The Sentinels of Andersonville avoids both these pitfalls.

Set in one of the most grizzly and ugly prison camps in the Civil War, and perhaps in all of American history, one becomes acquainted with Confederate citizens that become aware of the shameful and immoral way that people were treated in Andersonville. Each in their own time, they come to the conclusion that something must be done to end the cruelty, and hatch a plan to help end the shameful and painful treatment that many are enduring. Will they get caught? Will they follow through with their plan that will be seen as both treason and weakness. You will have to read the book to find out.

Book Review of Olinger Stories by John Updike

Olinger Stories (Everyman's Pocket Classics)

Olinger Stories
by John Updike
ISBN 978-0-375-71250-0
Everyman's Pocket Classics
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I used to be able to sit down and read a good, solid book by an excellent writer in a day or so. This is not the case since I had children. Now I hardly have enough time to use the bathroom in peace. For this reason, I like to grab collections of short stories when I can, and read small nuggets of good literature. And it is for this reason that I picked up these autobiographical short stories by John Updike.

John Updike is one of the leading writers of the 20th century in America.  Olinger Stories is a collection of his autobiographical short stories that has been out for a long time. This printing of this fine book is a small hardback. It has an excellent cover and a ribbon. It would be great for putting in one's purse and backpack and getting in a quick read while the kids are on the playground, or while you are waiting to be seen in the doctors office.

Book Review of Beneath a Navajo Moon by Lisa Carter

Beneath a Navajo Moon 
by Lisa Carter
ISBN 98-1-4267-5799-0
Abingdon Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Lisa Carter always grounds her books firmly in a place. Whether writing about her native Carolina, or setting her book in the culture of Hawaii, she writes mysteries, that often have a twist of romance, and help readers explore regional culture and people at the same time.

This book does much of the same. It is a book set in Navajo, on the reservation that reaches across multiple states in the arid Southwest. The protagonist, Erin Dawson, is a Southerner, unfamiliar with the ways of the Navajo people, who sees a crime take place. Because of her involvement in the prosecution of the crime, she is forced to both stay near the people and the place where the crime took place. She learns a lot about herself and the people around her, and even finds the opportunity to bond with a gentleman friend. Because this is full of mystery, crime, and suspense, the book reads quickly.

As is typical of Abingdon books, it expresses a faith perspective without beating you over the head with an agenda. Good stuff.

Book Review of Jesus is the Question

Jesus Is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered

Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus asked and the 3 He Answered
by Martin Copenhaver
ISBN 978-1-4267-5514-9
Abingdon Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This is the book that I have been seeking for years. Martin Copenhaver, luminary of progressive Christianity and president of Andover-Newton seminary has written a book probing the questions of Jesus.

When I was in seminary, I had an internship of sorts at one of the traditional flagship churches of my denomination. Specifically, I was studying the nature of Associate Ministry, and participating in the broader life of the congregation. I did not really fit in. I did however, find myself captivated by a sermon series that Rev. Dick Olson was preaching called  "We Ask, He Asks", pairing the questions of Jesus with our very human concerns. Since then I have always desired to go deeper with this theme. Jesus is the Question has allowed me to do so.

Copenhaver artfully organizes the questions by topic. He probes deeply into where Jesus is seeking to lead his students and disciples with his questions, and then draws some humble conclusions at the end of each chapter. He also has "all the questions" in the back of the book, along with a discussion guide for classes and/or book clubs.

All in all, a fantastic achievement. If I don't use this is a study, I may use it as a guideline for a sermon series.

Book Review of Revival by Adam Hamilton

Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It
by Adam Hamilton
ISBN 978-1-4267-7884-1
Abingdon Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Revival by Adam Hamilton is a thoughtful, meaningful study of Wesley's life and the lessons that believers today can learn from his example. The book cane be read alone, or it can be used in concert with a curriculum series that accompanies it, Revival challenges believers--especially those of Wesleyan and Methodist backgrounds--to grab on to the spiritual principles of Wesley's life, and to appropriate them for their own Christian journeys.

Each chapter, in addition to being linked with a spiritual principle and an segment of Wesley's life is also associated with a place. Because of this,even in the book, there are several helpful maps and pictures that help readers get grounded with the Wesley story.

Revival is an easy read. It has both helpful historical information as well as meaningful spiritual insight. It is a book that deserves attention, especially from those within the Methodist and Wesleyan tradition.

Friday, January 09, 2015

All things new...a short meditation

Starting Over Again
“Behold I make all things new…”—Rev 21:5

God is our creator. He is also at work all around us re-creating and renewing people, communities, places, and indeed the entire cosmos. In the end, Scripture teaches that God will “redeem”, which is a fancy church word saying that he will take those in bondage and set them free, and he will take that which is broken, including humanity, and make it whole once again.

Because God’s kingdom is on the move, and God is seeking to make “all things new”, we need to remember to join him in that work. Here are a few ways we can do that:

  •  Choose to not give up on people or stick them with a label for the rest of their lives. (Matthew 7: 1-3)
  • Choose to be a lifelong learner, letting your heart be a fertile ground for the Spirits work (Matthew 13)
  • Allow God to transform your habits and attitudes to conform to his will (Romans 12:1)
  •  Don’t worship your traditions, especially when your traditions become more important that loving God or loving others. (Mark 7: 1-13)

Poetry and Prayer

One of the things I do when I am seeking to be centered in my spiritual journey and my devotional life that may seem unusual to some is that I read poetry. This may come as a surprise to many of you. I am not a good poetry person. As a matter of fact, I had all "A"s in my college career except for a B in poetry my freshman year at Trinity College (now Trinity International University). And the poetry I have written in the past is hopelessly cheesy. 

I like reading poetry as a part of my prayer and study because it slows me down. It makes me pay attention to words, which then helps me attend better to the words of theologians, God's Word, and my words in prayer. 

These words spoke to me today:


There is too much pain
I cannot understand
I cannot pray
I cannot pray for all the little ones with bellies bloated by starvation in India;
for all the angry Africans striving to be separate in a world struggling for wholeness;
for all the young Chinese men and women taught that hatred and killing are good and compassion evil;
or even all the frightened people in my own city looking for truth in pot or acid.
Here I am
and the ugly man with beery breath beside me reminds me that it is not my prayers that waken your concern, my Lord;
my prayers, my intercessions are not to ask for your love
for all your lost and lonely ones,
your sick and sinning souls,
but mine, my love, my acceptance of your love.
Your love for the woman sticking her umbrella and her expensive parcels into my ribs and snarling, “Why don’t you watch where you are going?”
Your love for the long-haired, gum chewing boy who shoves the old lady aside to grab a seat,
Your love for me, too, too tired to look with love,
to tired to look at Love, at you, in every person on the bus.
Expand my love, Lord, so I can help to bear the pain,
help your love move my love into the tired prostitute with false eyelashes and bunioned feet,
the corrupt policeman with his hand open for graft,
the addict, the derelict, the woman in the mink coat and discontented mouth,
the high school girl with heavy books and frightened eyes.
Help me through these scandalous particulars
to understand
your love.
Help me to pray.

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour and truth were trampled by scorn–
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn–
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review of Practicing the Presence of Jesus by Wally Armstrong

Practicing the Presence of Jesus
by Wally Armstrong
ISBN 978-1-60936-702-2
Summerside Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Part testimony, part guidebook for the spiritual journey Practicing the Presence of Jesus is a book about learning to live with and walk with Jesus in one's everyday life.

Wally Armstrong is a friend of a person I greatly admire--Ken Blanchard--and an accomplished golfer as well. He loves the Lord Jesus and wants everyone to have the kind of real, genuine, authentic relationship with Him that he has experienced.

This book is small and simple. It could easily be read in an hour or two, and yet there will be people that re-read it once they have grabbed it and read through it the first time. It is conversational in tone, and the whole book has a "can-do" attitude for the spiritual journey.

My biggest disappointment with the book is that I thought it would be more like "practicing the presence of God". It is not really that, in my opinion, although it is a good read. It is more like a basic primer for how to take the next steps in your spiritual journey once you have accepted Jesus and might be wondering what it might be like to know him better.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pastoral Staycations

When I was in seminary at Central Baptist Theological Seminary offered some advice about self-care and the practice of taking vacation and leave time. O John Eldred gave the following advice from his experience in the ministry and in teaching ministry:

1.  Try and be as unavailable as possible when you are on leave, otherwise you will never really get away from the ministry.
2.  Try and get out of town, one way or another, when you are off at church, or you will never really be off.
3. Do not return for funerals or other emergencies from vacation, no matter what
4. Make sure nobody has your phone number while you are on vacation or leave, or people will call you with concerns
5. Try and take more than one week at a time off, because it takes more than a week to extract yourself from ministry concerns.

I have to say, I believe wholehearedly in Eldred's ministry advice, and I have followed almost none of it. This year, after battling cancer and having Jennifer switch a job, we have had no money or ability to get away as a family for an out of town vacation. So, we are stuck with me having to take time off, mainly to spend time with kids while their daycare provider is taking the holidays off. I have been practicing the pastoral staycation.

As I have shared on earlier posts, this does not work very well. People drop by for keys. The supply preachers want to talk through their messages (they are all lay persons). We have to find ways to escape the house early on Sunday so we are not visibly home while the congregation is at worship. I think we are going to have to go into debt if we have to and get gone for our next season of respite.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Book Review of Changing Signs of the Times by Crystal L. Downing

Changing Signs of Truth: A Christian Introduction to the Semiotics of Communication
by Crystal L. Downing
ISBN 978-0-8308-3966-7
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

The Changing Signs of Truth is a fascinating book by Crystal Downing. It discusses the power of "signs", or at risk of oversimplifying things, how symbolism in our communication forms how we understand and view the world.

As the title indicates, this book is also a book about how the meanings of words, signs, and symbols change over time, and how signs get reinterpreted especially today in our changing world. Downing impressively engages thinkers such as Derrida and Saussure in order to help Christians--especially evangelical Christians--learn how to engage and communicate with the culture around them more effectively.

This book is not for the faint of heart. It engages the disciplines of communication, theology, philosophy, and sociology in a thoughtful and academically informed way. The interdisciplinary work on display here is fascinating, but it takes some slow-reading and re-reading for the average student and reader.

A great addition to my library, and a book I want to delve into more at a later date.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review of Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion

Feasting on the Word Advent Companion  -     Edited By: David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, Kimberly Bracken Long
    By: Edited by D.L. Bartlett, B.B. Taylor & K.B. Long

by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kimberly Bracken Long
ISBN 978-0-664-25964-8
WJK Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion is such a nice resource for pastors to have. For many of us, it will save us a lot of work during the holiday season. Furthermore, the Advent Companion puts several different resources right at a worship leader, teacher, or pastor's finger tips. Included in this book are four worship services designed to use during the four Sundays of Advent. There are also four midweek studies. There is also a service provided for a "darkest night" services that uses the Psalms to speak to many people's profound sense of loss, brokenness and sadness during the Advent season.  There are also a few Eucharistic resources for Advent and Christmas in the back of the book.
Each Sunday also has a rather extensive preaching commentary that follows the pattern of the Feasting on the Word resources, sharing homiletical, pastoral, theological, and exegetical perspectives on each of the passages chosen.

What is surprising to many with this resource is that it does not strictly follow the Revised Common Lectionary, as many of the Feasting on the Word resources do. Instead it just offers one service for each Sunday of Advent. Perhaps this is because much of the groundwork of pure lectionary-based services has already been laid with their commentaries and worship companions. This is a great resource, however, for busy pastors leading a church through a busy season, and a resource I would recommend to any church that is in the least bit liturgical.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Review of She Calls Me Daddy by Robert Wolgemuth

She Calls Me Daddy: 7 Things You Need to Know about Building a Complete Daughter
by Robert Wolgemuth
ISBN 978-1-58997-785-3
Focus on the Family Imprint
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This fine book is a reprint of an old favorite. She Calls Me Daddy is a practical, winsome guide to parenting daughters. Very conversational in style, Wolgemuth focuses on some vision and values for establishing yourself as a father that can raise healthy girls. Full of first person stories and helpful illustrations of both successes and failures of the author, the book is not only informative it is entertaining.

In this addition, I appreciated the section on non-traditional parenting such as single parenting, step parenting, and non-custodial fatherhood. It shows that the author is seeking to be in touch with the experiences that many men are going through in our culture that is rife with divorce and deadbeat dads.

This book was reprinted because it is a nice read and it has also proved to be helpful for Christian men who want to be good parents of girls for over a generation. I recommend picking up this book right away.