You are Stressing Out the Connector!

A couple of weeks ago at one of my son’s basketball games I came up with a plan for world peace. Well, I’m going to test it at the little league sports level first, but I totally think its going to work.

We have a player on our team who is kind of tall for a 5th grader (my son, by the way, is a 3rd grader but the team needed to recruit in the lower grades to have enough players) and he can get rather emotional and, ahem, rough when he’s playing. One might even say grouchy. In fact, during this particular game the ref stopped the whole thing to walk across the gym, point him out, and let him know that “we don’t play basketball like that” when an under the basket tussle turned ugly.

The thing is, this little/big guy has, as my grandmother would sweetly proclaim, “had a difficult childhood.” And she would be right. An absent father and an addicted mother were two counts against him; I’m sure there were others. Most of that is in the process of complete reversal, but still the scars remain.

I imagined that parents of the other team might be tempted to comment negatively on our player, much like the parents on my side had pointed out a few hot heads on their team. Now, something you should know about me is my utter and complete discomfort in these situations. To be honest, I don’t even like it when my own husband critiques someone in the privacy of our own home. When that person is not there. And Dan has no plans to do anything about it. Its like I’m afraid that conversation is somehow going to escape the walls of our home, find its way into the ears of the victim, and permanently damage his or her psyche. I’m so weird.

I took a strengths test once that labeled Connector as my greatest strength. Reading that result was like a moment of lifetime validation. It’s why I stopped following an author on Twitter last night because I finally couldn’t stand his negative comments about others (he KNOWS anyone can search his tweets, right?, and Taylor might get her feelings hurt if she reads what you just tweeted about her! Even though her live performance at the Grammy’s was slightly less than stellar. But I’m sure there’s a good reason for that.) It’s why I know I’ll never be a big time blogger because I just hate talking about the topics that divide us and make us want to leave strongly worded comments.

So at that game I had an idea. What if, in the name of good sportsmanship, each team sent one parent representative to sit among the parents of the other team. Then, when the opposing team started to grumble about our big guy’s black cloud, I could tell them about how his life has only been stabilized in the last couple of years and really he’s so much better behaved than he was as a fourth grader. They, in turn, could give me back stories on their players. Understanding would ensue. Peace would prevail.

What do you think? Could this be a Nobel Peace Prize winning entry? I think so, too.

Walter Brueggemann on Friday

Have you read Walter Brueggemann? I’ve just been introduced, but what I’ve read so far is very challenging.

I’m reading from a collection of prayers from the book Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggeman, edited by Edwin Searcy .

This piece opens with the traditional refrain, “Thank God It’s Friday!” and continues with a list of reasons we do so: we are ready for a break, a rest from the work of our week, and we are somehow deserving of this respite.

The end of the prayer/poem is quoted here so you can feel the power of his words for yourself:

But mainly, as we come to Friday we know in our deepest places that Friday is your day of entry into the hurt and hate of the world, your day of bottomless weakness where we have seen you allied with the world in its deepest disorder. We know you to be a Friday God without the honors of omnipotence. And so we pray that you will “Friday us” into the very weakness where we may receive our new life from you.

We pray in the name of your Friday Child. Amen.

How does that challenge our American middle-class perspective on weekends? In more ways than I can count right now, but I’m certainly going to meditate on it. When I read it I feel challenged, but not hopeless. What are your reactions?

You May Wonder How This is Related . . .

I should wax eloquent today on the brilliance of Martin Luther King, Jr. In round-a-bout way, I will. I have read few pieces as moving as his “I Have a Dream” speech or his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” He knew how to put his faith to work and inspired a nation with his passion. Saturday night Jesse gathered up the girls and read to them from a picture book that tells the story of the civil rights activist’s life.

It was so precious to hear my son’s sweet voice reading King’s pleas for peaceful resistance and brotherly love even in the face of evil. The girls eyes were wide when Jesse read about King’s assassination. It was a sobering little picture book, and I think I’m fine with that. I realize my blonde-headed, blue-eyed babies see the world through very narrow glasses. Which I’m also fine with, but I don’t mind introducing them to injustice in degrees.

With recent events in Haiti, we’ve had even more reason to discuss the advantages of our life here in rural America. I have often tried to convince my husband that we should adopt from an impoverished nation. But even Jesse was reluctant, claiming he would “rather have a brother that looks like [him].” Fine, I always said. After seeing a few images of orphaned Haitian babies crying for milk and sleeping on the ground, he changed his tune. In fact, during the sermon last night he was trying to figure out how we could get chocolate ice cream to Haiti in coolers because those kids had probably never tasted it before. And they would like it.

Last night at church also included a family testimony. It was the story of a family we dearly love, but the path they have taken has been both heartbreaking and redemptive. It is the heartbreaking stuff that makes a testimony of redemption so beautiful. This testimony included divorce, drugs, alcohol, abandonment, abuse, molestation, and poverty.

As if in a culmination of all the week’s events and as a blast of encouragement right into my heart, Jesse listened intently and finally turned to me whispering, “I think if I ever have to give my testimony, I’m going to say I had a really good childhood.”

Internet, I Have Bought Your Soul For God!

This is probably one of my favorite literary lines. It is spoken by the good bishop to Victor Hugo’s character Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. After the convict has stolen from him, instead of pressing charges with the authorities, the bishop pretends that he has freely given Valjean the silver from his home. When questioned, he convincingly claims he had also intended for Valjean to take the candlesticks. As the surprised Valjean is ready to leave, the bishop challenges him with this:

Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!

And it worked. Even though Valjean had actually been guilty of stealing and had made no admissions of his own plans to change, the bishop fought for him anyway. If you know the story, you know that Jean Valjean does change his life. It is a beautiful story of redemption.

Once in awhile, I hear concerns about the the Internet being used for wicked purposes. Even people like me who love the Internet cannot deny the dark forces of pornography, gambling, and spiteful interactions on social networking sites. Recently, I read that even my beloved Facebook is guilty – reportedly being listed in many divorce documents. (Something to keep in mind, Rare Rocks.)

But last week I watched as a prayer meeting took place on Twitter. I’m not kidding. Several groups in the Nashville area gathered to pray for a young girl with cancer. Carlos Whittaker (from the blog Ragamuffin Soul; this is my favorite recent post) suggested the online participants send in pictures of themselves with their hands outstretched in prayer. One by one the Twitpics popped up on my reader. Later, Whittaker complied some of the images into a collage and posted it on his blog. Go look! You can join in prayer for this little girl, too.

As I watched that Twitter prayer meeting (people were also gathered in real time, face to face at a church), I felt like Whittaker had acted like the good bishop toward the Internet, buying its soul back for God’s purposes. Amen.

THE SWEET BY AND BY – Sara Evans with Rachel Hauck

Funny back story on this review. I usually don’t review fiction through the Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers program, but, just before my semester break, I got an email about THE SWEET BY AND BY. You see, for the BRB program Thomas Nelson will continue to send you free books as long as you review them on one consumer site as well as your own blog. But I got stuck. I’m still stuck. I’m stuck on a non-fiction called BETWEEN WYOMINGS, and for some reason I can’t finish that book! But once in awhile Thomas Nelson offers bloggers a shot at reviewing a special title even if said blogger hasn’t finished their current review. Actually, these emails kind of make me wonder if everyone is stuck in Wyoming! : )

So, this novel was offered to me and I could smell an upcoming Christmas break with no reading homework and thought a sweet novel would be good medicine. Also – and this is the most embarrassing part – when I saw the author was Sara Evans (the country music star) my brain saw Sarah Groves (the contemporary Christian artist). Yeah, there is a pretty big difference. And, by the way, Sara Groves, if you are reading this, I would totally read a novel if you wrote one!

Needless to say, once I figured out my mistake, I went into this one with slightly low expectations. Here is a video interview with Sara Evans, the country music star turned novelist (with co-writer Rachel Hauck – not pictured):

And the truth is, despite my low expectations (or because of them?), I actually really enjoyed reading this novel. Apparently its the first in a series and I can’t be sure that I’ll read the next installments – despite Evans’ claims that the next one is even better. Still, I stayed up too late reading more than one night and even sacrificed blessed vacation nap times to see where the story was going next.

I liked the way the authors allowed God to be a character in the book and not just an invisible idea. The main character, Jade, has a real experience with Jesus that changes her. Also, sensitive material was handled well; there is not explicit content, even though sex is obviously implied. The abortion scene is heartbreaking but tastefully done.

On the other hand, I occasionally felt like the authors didn’t give me enough credit as a reader, too often telling me what I had already discerned from the provided context. I’m also hesitant to see Sara Evans as a true novelist (this is definitely the writer snob in me) and for some reason this damped my enthusiasm for the novel itself. I think Rachel Hauck does a great job bringing Evans’ story to life. Parts of THE SWEET BY AND BY were quite well done, believable and descriptive, but other sections verged on stiff.

In general, if you enjoy fiction, especially in the chick lit or woman’s interest vein, you are going to enjoy this book. I enjoyed living in Tennesee for a few days – owning a vintage shop and wrestling with a troubled past. And that’s when fiction is doing its job, when it takes you somewhere new and makes you at least think about staying for awhile.

(Seren – this one is coming your way!)

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: