Prayer in the Night, by Tish Harrison Warren

Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or WeepPrayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a wonderful unpacking of the deep meaning in a common prayer at compline that I’ve been reading before bed for many years:

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give Your angels and saints charge over those who sleep. Tend Your sick ones, O Lord Christ. Rest Your weary ones. Bless Your dying ones. Sooth Your suffering ones. Shield Your joyous ones, and all for Your love’s sake. Amen.

Warren’s wise and heart felt words impart essential understanding and encouragement to her readers and give us a vision for a relationship to God that is profound, encouraging, and enduring of the many difficulties we face in life. She has given us a great gift in this book.

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Three New Year’s Resolutions for Americans

I’m going to take this one more to heart in the future. In the past I’ve been too preoccupied with differences I’ve had on these matters with people I’ve loved and still care about. I’ve struggled with a root of bitterness over it for too long and it has often gotten the best of me in spite of my efforts. I’m coming to realize that I’ve been in a much better place for years now than at the time when these conflicts were at their height and I need to be ready to develop a different attitude toward life in general and follow my better lights more from now on. Like Abigail Shrier here, I see many positive things starting to happen concerning the issues that concern me most and I welcome the changes and want to encourage them from a more generous perspective. I’m no stranger to conflicting views, having participated in public forums on the internet for 45 years or so. But learning to engage them with respect and grace toward others requires sustained effort with, an in, God’s love and the love of God. This is something I wish to do better in this coming year and wish the same for all my past, present, and future friends and acquaintances. God bless you all in the the coming year!

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Love Your Enemies, by Arthur Brooks

Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of ContemptLove Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt by Arthur C. Brooks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can’t think of a more timely book than this one; or a book that could do more to quell the “culture of contempt” that infects our society. Arthur Brooks offers us a compelling strategy for the formation of our character in relation to others with whom we disagree politically. This not a book of advice on how to avoid disagreement, a “can’t we all just forget our differences and get along” lament. Quite the contrary, Brooks believes that disagreement is good and necessary for the health of our culture. He offers us some guidelines how to disagree with respect and love for others. He presents real life examples of what can be accomplished when people of strongly differing mindsets agree to civil discourse, to hear one another out and respectfully reply with their own concerns. “… disagreeing better, not less, is what we need to lessen contempt in America and bring our country back together.”

At the end of the book he summarizes his message with rules for civil disagreement and for subverting the culture of contempt that we see in our country today. They will help you make deep and tasting friendships with others in spite of your drastically different points of view, avoid the urge to use attacks or insults that do more harm than good in any discussion. The importance of disregarding another’s motives, thinking the best of them when you disagree with someone and using the values we hold near and dear as a gift to others who disagree rather than a weapon. We can help subvert the culture of contempt by standing up to others who seek to manipulate us into a contemptible sort of discourse with others. In the worst cases these are people who are “on your side” of the issue but will goad you in to treating others unfairly or uncritically accepting falsehoods about others with whom you disagree. The suggestion of reading and listening to points of view with whom we disagree can help us to examine our own views more critically. We may not change our minds, but taking into account the best arguments that others have against ours can help us to be more informed and articulate in our own views.

Treating others with love and respect even when it’s difficult is and important discipline that will not only help others to listen to our point of view, but will make us happier and more confident people ourselves. “Contempt is always harmful for the contemptor.” Even when you are treated with contempt, it’s possible to see it as an opportunity rather than a threat. It’s an opportunity to change at least one person’s heart. Disagreeing better makes us part of the healthy competition of ideas that are a necessary part of a fair and just political process. Avoiding unproductive debates and giving yourself a rest from time to time from social media and inflammatory news feeds can also help us gain a less fearful and anxious perspective in life.

Brooks is a bit wordy and rambling at times in his illustrations, but all in all this is an excellent message for those of us with strong heartfelt convictions in life. It certainly help anyone live out and share those convictions with more confidence, joy and contentment.

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The Message of Lamentations, by Christopher Wright

The Message of Lamentations (The Bible Speaks Today Series)The Message of Lamentations by Christopher J.H. Wright

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

During this Lenten season my scripture reading guide took me through the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. To get more out of my reading, I read along with The Message of Jeremiah by Derek Kidner and this exposition The Message of Lamentations by Christopher Wright. Both of these books helped my reading immensely. During a time when our world is threatened by widespread sickness, it’s even more sobering to read of a time and place that was much more severe.

These books put their subject in historical and biblical context, giving the reader a much better picture of what it was like in ancient times for a city to be invaded by a cruel and powerful army; its starving people brutally treated, killed, led into exile in a foreign land. Forsaken by the God whom they had forsaken. Kidner and Wright also shed light from the New Testament on the writings of Jeremiah and Lamentations helping to connect their meaning with our own time and place.

It is difficult to read Jeremiah and Lamentations without help from those with in-depth understanding of them. This is probably the main reason these books of the Old Testament are largely ignored by Christians. Kidner and Wright do a very good work in showing what real gems are these biblical books.

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First Fruits of Prayer

First Fruits of Prayer: A Forty Day Journey Through the Canon of St. AndrewFirst Fruits of Prayer: A Forty Day Journey Through the Canon of St. Andrew by Frederica Mathewes-Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Praying through the Canon of St. Andrew has been a blessed experience for me during Lent. This tradition of Eastern Orthodox Christianity was new to me. Frederica Matthews-Green’s notes and considerations for each day are an essential guide. Lent is a season of lament for suffering and for sin. This year we live through a climate of worldwide suffering during Lent. Especially in a time like this the confessions of the Canon may seem overdone to many in our Western culture but, for me, they were an encouragement to probe more deeply into the ways that I have fallen short of God’s careful desires for me and in the ways I often care for other people. I think that, without times of some bitter reflection on our own sinfulness, we cheat ourselves out of a deeper understanding of God’s love for us. We have so few occasions to exercise genuine humility because we are so prone to avoid the opportunities for it. In the end though, as Matthews-Green says:

“… And as humility increases, so does joy, because you can let go of false fronts, and know yourself loved exactly the way you are. God will not leave you the way you are; His will is to make you like He is. ‘You, therefore, must be perfect has your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This is a lifelong journey, but not one you have to make alone. …”

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The Downward Ascent by Edna Hatlestad Hong

The Downward Ascent

The Downward Ascent by Edna Hatlestad Hong

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This little book is among the best Lenten reading that I have found. Edna Hong wrote this in response to overhearing a clergyman’s opinion that the season of Lent is far too long for modern times. Whether you are tempted to agree or not, this book will put things in a perspective which is the crucial importance of our awareness of both our fallen human nature and our divine nature of bearing God’s image. There is a tendency in Christian circles to emphasize one to the near exclusion of the other. Either we are ridden with an overwhelming or unhealthy sense of guilt, or we neglect that sense of guilt in favor of completely affirming picture of God’s love and acceptance. Both of these extremes leave us spiritually stunted, relying on our own ineffectual efforts in self acceptance. Edna Hong’s perspective is that the downward journey of honest self-examination is crucial to a genuine ascent in the understanding and experience of God’s love.

“There is no motivation for works of love without a sense of gratitude, no sense of gratitude without forgiveness, no forgiveness without contrition, no contrition without a sense of guilt, no sense of guilt without a sense of sin.” (p 24)

Hong explores the ways that we evade self-seeing in our relation to others and the world (horizontal) and in our relation to God (vertical) as well as the “dead end” efforts we can experience along the “descent” of self examination. A healthy understanding of our true position in relation to God provided by the Cross of Jesus Christ does not come easily or naturally to us, but is more that worth the effort (without earning it) to practice and live out. Edna Hong is a trustworthy guide.

I’m sorry that this book is currently out of print and hard to find in good condition for a reasonable price. My copy is pretty worn from other’s use. I hope it lasts me a lifetime.

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Loving Jesus, by Mark Allan Powell

Loving JesusLoving Jesus by Mark Allan Powell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book very much. I couldn’t help comparing it to Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Mark Allan Powell has done a much better job of describing my spiritual journey as a “First and Second Naïvetè” than Rohr did with his “First and Second Half” of life model. The focus of Rohr’s book seems too much on the self, its “container” and “contents,” and its trajectory, “Falling Upward.” Powell’s focus, as its title indicates, is on what it means to be “loving Jesus” through all phases of life. His is an approach to Christian “piety” that grows with maturity and understanding. His tone is humble, balanced, and welcoming, where Rohr often seems arrogant, judgmental and off-putting. Each chapter describes an aspect of Christian faith and spirituality that takes a deeper account of one’s beliefs, faith and practice in the course of life without losing its passionate focus on the One with whom “all things are possible” and on whom all things depend. This is a very good guide book for renewing, and growing in one’s faith by loving Jesus.

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The Skeptical Believer

The Skeptical Believer: Telling Stories to Your Inner AtheistThe Skeptical Believer: Telling Stories to Your Inner Atheist by Daniel Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My name is Paul … and I am a Skeptical Believer.

I’ve been savoring this book. Its short chapters and conversational style make that a good way to read it. This isn’t a book about apologetics, except maybe where one’s own faith is concerned. It’s more about epistemology–how we know what we know–where it comes to the really important matters upon which our most important commitments rest. The author’s musings are interrupted occasionally by the snarky, sarcastic comments of his “Inner Atheist.” I’ve heard them all before and found them more annoying than anything else. My inner atheist is a bit more subtle.

I had been an intentional Christian for about 13 years when, in 1987, I read Daniel Taylor’s book, The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and Risk of Commitment. I felt like the author had somehow gotten inside my head and knew very well the questions and doubts about my faith with which I had been wrestling for some time. I was rather awestruck by this. What I read in that book greatly helped make my faith intellectually and reflectively sustainable and growing through many years of wrestling and inquiry.

With this book, Daniel Taylor has done it to me again, discussing in much greater detail how faith and the doubts of a skeptical nature can reinforce and balance each other in crucial ways. Taylor understands the importance of doctrinal belief and propositional truth but sets them in the context of relational truths that are what support anyone’s most important beliefs; whether he or she be a “religious” person or not. We are all characters living out a life story. Reflection on the nature of that story and the meaning it gives to one’s life is a frequent concern for many people; even some Christians who may fit the Taylor’s description of himself as a “skeptical believer.” For most of my life, I’ve had a part in the most compelling story I know. Daniel Taylor has articulated the thinking behind the living of such a life for someone like me better than any one that I know of. It’s been quite a journey. I look forward to where it all leads.

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The Gospel According to Job

The Gospel According to JobThe Gospel According to Job by Mike Mason
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading Mike Mason’s book, The Gospel According to Job, along with the biblical book of Job has been quite an experience for me. When the book of Job came up again recently in the devotional calendar that I use, my reaction was, “Not again?! Didn’t I read this during Lent?” But something told me that it was important to read it then. Mason’s book was already sitting unread on my shelf so I decided to read through Job a chapter a day along with this book. I’m glad I did. Continue reading

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Why I Am Voting for Gary Johnson for President

I have voted in every election since the 1980 presidential election. I’ve often been unhappy with the choices presented by the two major parties. This time both of those choices have fallen far below an acceptable level for me and for many others. I think this election presents a rare opportunity and so I have decided to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, even though I’m not a Libertarian or a strong adherent to any political party platform and even though I don’t think the Libertarians will win the election, at least not in the first round. If you find yourself in a similar position, you may want to read on…

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