Archives for category: books

Devastation of the magnitude of the earthquake in Haiti that killed *230,001 people in January 2010 stretches the bounds of our ability to comprehend the depth of brokenness and suffering in our world. News of tsunamis, tornadoes, and flooding shakes the earth and our faith.

From the outside, even our angriest shouts at God seem ridiculously small. Can we really figure out the meaning of suffering when so many people lose so much, so quickly? When the earth itself is ripped open with violence and disregard, what can we feel except very, very small?


The Safety Dance

In the church, we are often tempted to avoid suffering, to make life as safe or comfortable as possible (just listen to the way much Christian media is marketed, “Safe for the whole family”). At other times, we might Kinkade-ify suffering; that is, to gloss over the reality of pain, or to forge ahead by pretending everything’s great, thanks for asking.


Suffering With

Trying to walk alongside others who are suffering is a kind of suffering in itself. Compassion means to suffer with another person. Sweeping generalizations about the sovereignty of God lose their meaning when a friend has just lost a beloved child. Perhaps it’s more meaningful to sit in silence nearby, covered together in ashes and tears.

Suffering unites. As Dave Gibbons notes, not everyone can relate to our success or victories, but everyone can understand pain. Not that we’re called to seek out hardship as an end in itself; rather, to face with courage the reality of our broken world, and to share with empathy in the suffering of our neighbors.


After Shock

Kent Annan, co-director of Haiti Partners, has worked in Haiti since 2003. After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World is Shaken is Kent’s psalm to God — anguish, confusion, hope — in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti.

Throughout After Shock, Kent writes with disarming honesty. Not the “keeping it real” kind of honesty we might read in confessional memoirs today, but the kind that refuses to throw religious-sounding platitudes into the darkness of theodicy and call it a day.

Kent describes a conversation he had with someone in the United States who was marveling at an amazing story of survival, in which a woman emerged from the rubble of collapsed building fourteen days after the earthquake praising God:

We grasp at straws trying to make sense of the suffering. To fill the silence, we say things that are sincere but sometimes silly. We find slivers of Scripture that prop up our defense, but do we want the kind of God that the logic of our straw-patched statements creates?


Don’t Turn Away 

In the same way that sharing your goals publicly might actually prevent you from achieving those goals (“When you share a goal publicly, your brain enjoys the sharing in the same way it enjoys the achievement itself, and you’ve lost some of your motivation”), becoming a consumer of disaster tourism can trick us into thinking we’ve done something about suffering — as Charles Lee has noted, genuine compassion is more than a tweet.

However, After Shock calls us into deeper faith and action:

Don’t turn away and pretend suffering isn’t pandemic. Don’t become a charitable tourist of suffering either. Pain is personal, but also universal. Don’t turn away from doing everything possible to stop suffering. There’s so much we can do nothing about, but we can help — sometimes one person and sometimes many.


Broken For You

In Kent’s description of celebrating the Eucharist alongside Haitian Christians in the rubble of a collapsed church, I come to know better the Christ who embraced the destroyed by becoming broken Himself. “The body of Christ in this place broken, literally broken bodies, broken homes, broken church building,” distant yet near in the rubble and dust.

May we become the response to a world that is always crashing around us.


Full disclosure: Kent is a friend from seminary, and I received this book free by winning a contest via Twitter. However, I would highly recommend After Shock even if neither of those were true.

__________

* From the footnotes of After Shock, “The number of people who died can only be estimated and so rounded off, but adding the one seems like a way to try to hold onto the personal scale of loss.”

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The month of May has been a bit of a whirlwind (but what’s new, right?).

A quick update on what’s burning up my bookshelf these days:

From a Liminal Place: An Asian American Theology, by Dr. Sang Hyun Lee

Dr. Lee is a pioneer in Asian American theology. I was fortunate to have studied in seminary under Dr. Lee and his wife (also a professor, Dr. Lee). From a Liminal Place is a powerful book, not only for Asian Americans, but for all who seek to follow Christ faithfully not from a seat of power, but from the creative, prophetic edges.

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As part of the Booksneeze program from Thomas Nelson, I received a copy of Richard Stearns’ book, The Hole in Our Gospel, for review.

In The Hole in Our Gospel, Richard Stearns describes his journey from corporate CEO to following Jesus into the poorest corners of the world. Stearns currently serves as president of World Vision US.

In the introduction, Stearns writes:

Being a follower of Jesus Christ requires much more than just having a personal and transforming relationship with God. It also entails a public and transforming relationship with the world. If your personal faith in Christ has no positive outward expression, then your faith – and mine – has a hole in it.

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As part of the Booksneeze program from Thomas Nelson, I received a copy of Max Lucado’s book, Outlive Your Life, for review.

Our community has been using Outlive Your Life as a catalyst for discussion during our midweek gatherings. This book has been challenging us to become better expressions of God’s love for the world, particularly as we consider the daunting statistics about global poverty and injustice.

Outlive invites us to join in God’s work of redemption today:

God invites us to outlive our lives, not just in heaven, but here on earth. Let’s live our lives in such a way that the world will be glad we did.

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After about a year, I finally finished reading Love is a Mixtape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield.

[An aside: Have I told you how much I love our local library? Seriously, rediscovering the library last year has been such a source of joy for me. Being able to renew Love is a Mixtape many, many times online, discovering obscure music — Derek Bailey, anyone? — and choosing new books with my daughter… the list goes on and on. My friend Richard inspires me through his work as a librarian to dream of better ways of being a church: giving ourselves away for the sake of the community, becoming a trusted resource, finding ways to engage people of all ages…]

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As part of the Booksneeze review program from Thomas Nelson, I received a copy of The Sacred Journey, by Charles Foster. Journey is part of the Ancient Practices series, which includes titles focused on fasting, the liturgical year, the Eucharist and tithing.

In the foreword, Phyllis Tickle, general editor of this series, makes a keen observation about Journey: “Every one of you who reads this book will find at least one thing you totally disagree with and a whole handful of those you want to question. Please do so. Otherwise, none of it is pilgrimage.”

Journey provides some interesting historical information and analysis, but I found its strength to be its emphasis on the reality of actually following Jesus around. While “gnosticism” might sound like conspiracy fodder for the Da Vinci Code set, Foster rightly notes that it is a serious danger for the church today:

Gnosticism says that there are two opposing forces in the world: good and bad. The good forces are “spiritual”; the bad are corporeal. For a gnostic, being a good person involves rejecting the earthly and being “spiritual.”

While Scripture does describe a struggle within followers of Christ between worldly and Christ-like desire within us, it would be a mistake to attempt to live a purely “spiritual” life, as if we could disembody heart from soul, mind from strength.

As Foster unpacks the concept of pilgrimage, I see a theology of walking emerge. Walking forces us to travel light, live simply, move slower, notice more around us, and recognize the whole life we live in following Christ in the Kingdom of God that is already here and on its way:

Pilgrimage is wandering after God… Christian pilgrimage can and should be a walk with Jesus. And that is necessarily a walk in kingdom territory, under those upside-down kingdom rules. The pilgrim road is a physical peninsula of the kingdom. As the kingdom sprang up around the sandals of Jesus, so kingdom flowers can spring up around pilgrim boots. Not necessarily, of course, but it often happens.

Jurgen Moltmann has been beating me up all day.

I’ve been reading The Crucified God (an aside: whoever designed the series of covers for Moltmann’s books must be a Jesus and Mary Chain fan) — both for my own spiritual formation during this season of Lent, and also to share with our church community.

In our church, we’ve been talking a lot about the interconnectedness of suffering, redemption, hope and love in Christ.  Thoughts from folks such as Dave Gibbons and Rob Bell have been very formative for us in talking about redemptive suffering — appropriate as we approach Passion Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

We’ve been asking, as Moltmann writes in Crucified, “How can one continue to love despite grief, disappointment and death?” How do we experience pain honestly, without indulging in self-pity or becoming bitter, hardened people?  Can our pain lead us to deep, abiding trust in God and heartfelt empathy for others?

Here is a passage from The Crucified God that jumped out at me today:

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