PRIMAL by Mark Batterson

PRIMAL: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity

I should have posted this review in December. I may lose my completely self-assigned blogger credentials for not posting this review when it was due. And I do feel badly about it because Random House people sent me this brand new book and I was too busy taking finals and, well, trying to have Christmas, to get it finished in time. But now here it is, and I think Random House will ultimately be pleased with my review anyway.

Because here’s what happened. I seriously considered skimming the chapter titles, reading the italicized and otherwise highlighted headings, and hoping for the best. I know, shocking. But when I sat down to read through the introduction, I got hooked. I HAD to know what else Batterson had to say. I had to read the rest of his ideas because what he lead off with was gold.

The outline of this book comes from Mark 12:30: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (NIV). One of the unfortunate consequences of being a church baby is that familiar Scriptures lose some of their initial impact. (This is one reason I love finding new translations like The Voice.) Batterson’s creative paraphrase of these four elements brought all the power back for me: compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy. The assumption here is that most of us accent one or two of these areas (in academic circles, of course, the mind is exalted over the heart) as concerning our Christian faith while Jesus’ commandment expects us to employ them all.

If you’ve read Batterson before, you’ll be familiar with his casual but passionate style. He doesn’t waste words either. When we borrowed another Batterson book from Dan’s dad (In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day), we laughed out loud when we glanced at what he had underlined (with ruler, I should add): almost every page was underlined from top to bottom! But while this does speak somewhat to Dan’s dad’s equally passionate nature, it is also testament to Batterson’s knack for getting straight to the point.

Throughout the book, Batterson returns to the opening analogy of what it felt like to tour the underground site of a second century church. I’ll quote one of my favorite passages from the “Soul of Christianity” section. In it, Batterson explains why intellect alone is an insufficient (though necessary) exploration of Christianity because our imaginative souls require more:

When you descend the flight of stairs into the soul of Christianity what you discover is primal wonder. When you get past all the traditions and institutions, all the liturgies and methodologies, all the creeds and canons, what you’re left with is raw wonder that is beyond logic and beyond words. It cannot be reduced to the logical constraints of the left brain. It cannot be reduced to the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet. Wonder defies logic. Wonder defies words. And anything else or anything less is religion.

This is just a glance at the great material in this book. You’ll love the sections on Bible reading and prayer – fresh perspectives that will recharge your willpower for devotion. You’ll love Batterson’s simple approach but challenging spirit. You’ll leave this book wondering how to make it happen – how to rediscover the youthful power of our ancient faith. A great first of the year choice! Check out more here:

St. Lucia Day

One of the things I want to do before I die is go back to Sweden for a nice long visit. Friends, this is the loveliest country EVER! I went with my Bible College friends Stephanie and Pernilla. We stayed with Pernilla’s family and friends all over Sweden for two of the most beautiful weeks of my life. I was so happy when my four babies all turned out to look like little Swedish beauties. (No Swedish blood mind you, German I think, but they still look like characters in a Carl Larsson painting!)


A charming Swedish tradition is the celebration of St. Lucia Day on December 13th. Last year I wanted to mention it on my blog but it coincided with finals week. And, yeah, that happened again, but – luckily – Pernilla wrote a short explanation of the day for me and I’m going to copy it here. I refuse to let finals week wreck ALL my holiday fun! Blog connection: Well, you’ll get it after you read the explanation, but Lucia is definitely a Rare Rock!

There once was a girl named Lucia. She lived in the city of Surakuse on Sicily in Italy. She believed in Jesus Christ and in God but the Roman emperor had forbidden all the Romans to believe in God. They were ordered to believe in the Roman gods such as Jupiter and Mars. Lucia prayed to God everyday but the only ones who knew this were her mother and her fiancé.

One day Lucia’s mother gave her a great sum of money to use as she got married. Lucia thought she didn’t need the money and gave all of the money to the poor people of Surakuse instead. This made her finacé very angry and he told her to take the money back. When Lucia refused, the finacé reported her to the emperor as being a Christian.

The Roman soldiers came to take Lucia away but at first they were not able to get to her, there was an invisible wall all around her. Then they tried to burn her at the stake but the fire wouldn’t hurt her. Finally she was beheaded and died because of her faith.

This happened on December 13th in the year 304 and she was later proclaimed a saint.

The tradition now in Sweden is a mixture of an older tradition where people would walk around as beggars on December 13th and a German tradition where a girl was dressed up as Jesus on December 13th with a white dress and a halo of lights on her head. She would give gifts to the children.

Ada’s Story

Ada is our beautiful, too-smart, almost six year-old. Dan brought home some of her recent stories after parent/teacher conferences this week. This one is our favorite. I’ll let you try to decode and then give you the translation.


The stars swam quietly

The stars got scared because I made my bad-est face

I apologized and they took me up into the sky

SCOUTING THE DIVINE by Margaret Feinberg

scouting cover

Most of my readers know I’m a big Margaret Feinberg fan. Scouting the Divine is another favorite.

I actually listened to the audio version of the book read by Feinberg, a great touch considering the personal nature of this book. If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll even notice, like I did, when she was fighting that cold because her voice gets deeper. (Stalker material, I know.) This memoir-like journey by Feinberg is captured in her subtitle, “My search for God in wine, wool, and wild honey,” but the sensitivity and gentleness of Feinberg really shines through her voice in the audio version.

Dan bought the audio book for our 6-7 hour drive to Chicago last month for the Story Conference. It was a great way to set up our time there. Not only does Feinberg offer a unique perspective for reading the Bible, she also presents a writing strategy that really works in this format. Scouting the Divine is a pleasant and insightful read (or listen) for almost anyone.

As a writer, I appreciated the way Feinberg approached her topic. The book is basically a memoir of her visits with a shepherdess, a farmer, a bee keeper, and a vintner (wine-maker). Drink tea in their homes, wear your boots into their fields, and encounter divine appointments in the midst of an agricultural life. Feinberg even gives us the background stories about how she connects with each of her “experts.” Some of them are old friends, others are new acquaintances. Feinberg asks each of them, not all of them professed Bible believers, to interpret particular passages according to their knowledge of their profession.

This angle brings new life to familiar Scriptures. Margaret’s narrative brings new life to what could have been a familiar Bible study. One of my favorite ideas comes from the opening section. When Feinberg asks the shepherdess to tell her what she makes of the Nativity story, she says that in middle eastern cultures, the shepherds are often the weakest among the family – the children, women, or elderly. What a beautiful image that God would send his Beloved to be greeted by the “least of these” that would again and again share the spotlight in His earthly story.

This information, of course, means I have to get a shepherd girl for my Fontanini Nativity set this year! But I don’t mind, I love letting God and his story out of the box I put them in. Scouting the Divine would make a great gift this coming season or a wonderful audio gift to yourself if you have a long holiday drive. Check it out!

Reflections on STORY: Part 2 – John Ortberg

I’ve been teaching from John Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted for several years. I use it in complement to Gary Thomas’ book The Glorious Pursuit. Between the two of them, I have created an introduction course to Christian spiritual disciplines where our success is measured not by the length of our devotional time but by growth in the practice of the virtues demonstrated in Jesus’ life (humility, love, discernment, etc.). This semester my class includes a number of students still completing their recovery program at our church and it has been a rejuvenating experience for me to learn from them.

Can you imagine how excited I was to get an invitation to a free luncheon at Story where John Ortberg would be the featured speaker? Free food + John Ortberg = PERFECT!

And the experience (hosted by the Monvee group – more on them another day) was all that I hoped it would be. Maybe more, except since we had to eat at the same time I felt a little bit blasphemous letting mayo and tomato juice drip down my hands while Ortberg shared his generous thoughts on spiritual formation. He doesn’t know who I am, but I was embarrassed anyway. I ate as quickly as possible so I could start scribbling down notes.

Here is a great picture taken during this lecture as well as one of my favorite quotes from the luncheon:

“We must aim at the transformation of people’s actual lives, not merely their devotional practices.”

I’ll be thinking about that one for awhile! And I’ll share. I have some ideas. : )

Reflections on STORY: Part 1 – THE VOICE

It is always nice to wait a few days after an exciting event and see which elements of the day stick with you, hang onto your thoughts and won’t let go until you’ve visited with them for awhile. One very specific message from Story is definitely doing that for me. In one of the general sessions, pastor Chris Seay introduced the Bible translation called The Voice. Here is a short clip of Seay speaking (it has baseball in it, so consider it my World Series reference even though, really, who cares?) – it doesn’t have anything to do with this Bible version, but it will give you a sense of his style and why I enjoyed his message so much at the Story Conference:

If you like The Message, you’ll enjoy this version as well. Seay and his church’s Ecclesia Bible Society, along with the impressive backing of Thomas Nelson publishing, put together Biblical scholars with modern writers and poets. Their goal was to rediscover the story of the Bible. It is a beautiful attempt. For example, and from the title of this version, they translate “the Word” in John 1 as “the Voice” for very specific reasons. We read “the Word” and automatically think of the physical book sitting on our nightstand as if we are reading it every day. But this team translated it as “the Voice” in agreement with the original Greek meaning that this Logos is alive and active in our world today – not just a bunch of pages glued together and covered with fake leather.

Dan and I have been reading from The Voice since we got home. It is enticingly simple and artistic, but my Bible College “theologians” also agreed with its self-described tag line of “faithful.” My son Jesse liked the way the narratives are written in play form, each speaker clearly identified before his or her lines. From our reading, we’re reminding each other that Jesus is our Liberating King and realizing what a beautiful difference that perspective makes.

Dan bought me a special copy of the New Testament that came with a handmade leather cover from Argentina (a project designed to provide jobs for a fair wage in good working conditions).  You’ll have to get your own!

What Will You Do With This?

I tweeted this link yesterday. It’s a post on Blaine Hogan’s blog by Ben Arment. Ben is the founder of the Story Conference that I am attending next week. I am beyond excited about this trip. Beyond. Anyway, this 100 Words feature is brilliant, and Ben’s words hit me right in the gut. Like, I can’t stop thinking about the implications of what he said. Go read it, if you haven’t already. Here are the opening lines:

We are motivated by two conflicting fears in life: the fear of failure and the fear of insignificance. What we endeavor to do is determined by which fear is the strongest.