Tuesday, August 16, 2011

DIY Chalkboard

 1) Find a frame. Maybe you have one with broken glass or you like to hunt at the thrift store or garage sales. I got this one in the clearance section at the craft store. Probably because it's pretty tacky.

2) Cut a piece of MDF to size. Or ask the guys at the big box hardware store to cut it for you. I'm pretty sure they like using that big saw.

3) Choose paint for the frame. Make sure you have primer for the MDF, and, of course, chalkboard paint. Chalkboard paint comes in a variety of colors and application types. I chose classic black in the spray can because it goes on smoothly. Plus spray painting is fun. 

4) Prepare your chalk board surface. Dust the MDF before priming it. Roll on a thin, even layer of primer. Once the primer is dry you can spray the first coat of chalkboard paint. You may need 3 or 4 coats, making sure to sand any bumps in between coats.

5) Give the frame a coat or two. Coat the frame lightly and evenly. Allow to dry fully between coats.

6) Bring it together. Apply a thin bead of hot glue to secure the MDF to the frame, making sure not to allow any glue to seep on to the chalkboard surface. Use a staple gun to finish fastening the board and frame together. {Yell, "Freeze, dirtbag!" in your best TV cop voice before firing each staple into the frame. I've found that helps with accuracy.} 

7) Add hardware. Consider where you'll hang your chalkboard and choose the appropriate fasteners. I used two saw-tooth brackets set about an inch inward from the top corners and hung it on nails.

 8) Write away. Taking a cue from Ann Voskamp, I'm making a list of things for which I will give thanks.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thai Veggie Wraps

7 oz. coconut milk (approx. ½ can)
2 T. crunchy peanut butter
1 t. garlic powder
1 T green onion, chopped
1 t. Sriracha hot sauce
1 t. soy sauce
½ t. crushed red pepper flake
½ t. ground ginger
7 oz. chickpeas (approx. ½ can, rinsed & drained)
1 ½ c. broccoli cole slaw
4 whole grain tortillas
cilantro for garnish

Full of protein, fiber and flavor + inexpensive + easy.
In a skillet over medium heat whisk together the coconut milk, peanut butter, garlic powder, green onion, Sriracha, soy sauce, pepper flake and ginger. Add chickpeas and broccoli slaw. Serve on whole grain tortillas and garnish with cilantro.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Muir House {Book Review}

Mary DeMuth’s most recent novel The Muir House begins with a tragedy in the midst of a mystery in a fashion sure to drop any reader right into Will Muir’s life. We enter Willa’s story in Seattle with a denied marriage proposal and a devastating house fire, then follow her to her childhood home in Rockwall, Texas where she is seeking answers to long-held questions about a missing year of her life.

Once again DeMuth has crafted a stirring narrative lived out by complex characters. True to life, even the antagonists have redeeming moments and the protagonist makes emotional mistakes.  With elegant and detailed prose we walk with Willa as she searches for the truth about her childhood and proper southern family. Phrases like these help the reader to empathize with Willa, “The weight of the memory covered her like a wet afghan, and although the sun winked warmth on her, she shivered on the earth.”

The Muir House is hefty and rich enough to meet a tough critic’s literary needs, yet makes a great read for the summer. If you’re new to Mary DeMuth, visit her lovely website and read my review of her memoir Thin Places.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Prayer for the Fatherless

Father’s day makes me a little sad. Okay, without wallowing in self-pity, I confess I feel a lot sad. Just like those other times when I miss my dad, like weddings and birthdays or when I hear a corny joke or can’t remember his recipe for potato salad.

That gaping hole fills with sadness and never fully goes away no matter how much time passes. God has a way of showering me with love from so many other sources when I'm feeling that loss though. 

One day last year when I was very new on our church staff we had a special guest who was teaching us about spiritual formation. He assigned us a task: find a quiet corner, read a short list of scriptures, choose one to meditate on then spend a few minutes in prayer. I chose Romans 8:15

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  (NIV)

Then the strangest thing happened.

My face began to leak.

And leak.

And leak.

When it was time to regroup, my face still hadn’t stopped leaking. During my turn to share what how this exercise affected me, my face leaked even more and I had no words. You can imagine my embarrassment.

But when I got home, got over my embarrassment and had time to think about what had happened, I realized it was the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit shaking that fearful servant part of me, welcoming me to cry “Abba, Father”. That seems so preposterous: the Creator of the universe welcoming me into an adoptive relationship?

Thankfully his love is patient and persistent, unlike anything this world offers.

If you’re fortunate enough to know your earthly father, he may disappoint you even if he’s a pretty good dad. He has probably let you down a time or two or said the wrong thing because he’s human and humans are imperfect. The Father’s love, however, is perfect.

We are wise to separate our perception of the Heavenly Father from the image of our own father. It’s common for those to get tangled up together, but it’s worth the time to recognize the differences. No matter what your relationship is with your father, there's a life-giving, saving, grace-filled relationship available to you. Yep, with God--the big "g" God who made the heavens and the earth. That might take a while to settle into your soul, but it's true. I can't convince you of that though. 

This post comes with an assignment: find a quiet corner, read the scripture below then spend a few minutes in prayerful meditation. Don’t be embarrassed if your face leaks a little. It's called crying. 

"This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children."     Romans 8:15-16 The Message

Thank you for all of the men giving their best to fatherhood. Bless and sustain the relationships they have with their children.
Protect the fatherless and place strong leadership in their lives.
Send your Holy Spirit to release us all from fearful spirits and false perceptions of you.
In Jesus’ name,

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

1 large butternut squash
Butternut squash are easy to grow:
these are ours from last year.
olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
5 medium carrots, peeled & sliced
5 stalks of celery, sliced
1carton of vegetable stock
2 c. water
1 can of corn, drained
1 can of cream of celery soup
1 cup of milk

1)    Roast the butternut squash:
Preheat the oven to 350°
Slice the squash in half, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds (rinse the seeds & toast them if you have extra time). Rub the fleshy part of the squash with a little olive oil and coat it with herbs. (I use a poultry rub that’s mostly garlic, salt, sage, and thyme). Place on a baking sheet fleshy side up for about 40 minutes (depending on how large the squash is). You’ll know it’s done when you can mush it with a fork.
2)    While the squash is roasting, drizzle some olive oil in the bottom of your soup pot—just enough to lightly coat the bottom. Heat the oil at medium heat then add the minced garlic. After about two minutes add the diced onion. Let the garlic and onion “sweat” with the lid on the pot for a few minutes. Once the onion is translucent, add the vegetable stock and water. Then add the carrot and celery. Let that simmer on medium-low heat.
3)    Once the squash is cooked thoroughly, you’ll have to let it cool for a while before you can handle it. Scoop the squash away from the outside with a spoon. Be careful not to get pieces of the skin—they’re not a good texture in soup. Add the squash to the soup base. It’s okay if it’s still chunky, it will break down as you stir.
4)    Add the corn and stir.
5)    Add the cream of celery soup and one can of milk.
6)    Simmer together, stirring. Make sure the heat is not too high once you’ve added the cream soup and milk—both scorch easily.
7)    Serve with hearty bread. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Weird Christians

Freaks and Geeks
Remember high school? And the lunch table? And that person you were loosely associated with because you sat at the same table? When he did that really weird thing publicly and you had to say something terrible and mocking about him just as publicly—only to make sure no one thought you were really friends? Remember that?

It’s okay if you don’t remember silly high school misunderstandings—adulthood allows just as many opportunities. Especially if you’re a Christian and some other person who calls himself a Christian does something really weird. You probably think, Come on, dude!  We’re weird enough already!

Last summer Anne Rice famously quit Christianity via Facebook:

For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian.  I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

More recently, when Rob Bell’s book Love Wins came out, battle lines among Christians were clearly drawn. Even before the book was released, John Piper famously Tweeted, “Farewell Rob Bell”. The Christian Blogosphere exploded with infighting.  (Of which this will not be an example. I’ll stop here.)

Christian T-shirt Featured on Jesus Needs New PR
Matthew Paul Turner’s entire shtick (Jesus Needs New PR) is built on the wacky, misguided decisions Christians make as they attempt to engage culture. As if Christianity wasn’t confusing and strange enough, Christians everywhere keep presenting and representing it poorly.

In some cases, very poorly. {Enter Family Radio and the Rapture of May 21, 2011.}

As May 21 neared and Harold Camping and his followers warned a wide audience of the impending rapture, my Twitter feed was a flood of snarky quips, mostly from Christians. Mass media widened Camping’s audience by grabbing the story and letting “experts” weigh in. The masses chimed in via Facebook and Twitter. I engaged too, probably out of that same high school-style knee-jerk reaction. Oh, me? Yes, I’m a Christian but not the Harold Camping kind.

Camping got it wrong. He ignored parts of scripture that didn’t support his argument, constructed a timeline, and convinced a bunch of people to commit fully to his cause. Still, that doesn’t cast him out of the flock.

On Sunday night I read this thoughtful, compassionate response from Timothy Dalrymple. It’s an open letter to Camping and his followers. It’s biblical, gracious and not snarky in the least. (From a secular point of view, however, it’s still probably very weird.)

Christianity is weird. If Jesus had to choose a high school lunch table, he would absolutely join the most rejected folks. In his time on earth he ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, healed the lepers and others who were deemed unclean, and turned social norms upside-down.

That is exactly why Christianity can’t be summed up in a tweet or a status update or a blog post or article.

Talk to people in person, engage texts you don’t agree with whole-heartedly, think for yourself, seek primary sources. Pray. If you’re not a Christian, attend a bible study. If you are a Christian, but you’re only friends with other Christians, get out more! Extend grace. Grow. Sometimes, you'll even have to be the weird kid at the lunch table.

Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.    Matthew 22:37

Monday, April 4, 2011

Just Another Pharisaical Monday

Mondays in the church world are generally quiet. With pastors working throughout the weekend, many of them observe a Sabbath day on Monday. My Monday church duties include updating the sermon podcast and our Facebook page, inventorying and ordering kitchen supplies if needed, fielding simple phone calls, sorting the weekend mail and (on the first and third Mondays of each month) listening to the banter of the two retired gentlemen who set up chairs and tables for the food pantry and medical clinic. 

Unlike most people, I savor Mondays.

One peaceful Monday morn the phone rang. Easy-peasy, I thought. But the caller on the other end had a question for which he wanted a specific answer.

“I drive by your church all the time and see tons of people there. Is it a normal Christian church?”

I began a general answer, encouraging a visit and a chat with the pastoral staff when the caller interrupted. “Are you a member?”


“Maybe you can answer this then: What is your stance on homosexuality?”

{insert gong sound}

I tried to think of a well-balanced, truthful, loving answer. Thinking back to past sermons and our statement of faith, I couldn’t formulate a thought. Lines from Coffee Shop Conversations and How to Argue Like Jesus pinged and ponged in my brain as a year or two passed, the caller still holding on the line. Ever the PR-minded people-pleaser, I relented, “That would be a great topic to discuss with one of our pastors…”

He interrupted again, “The answer I’m looking for is that homosexuality is an abomination before God.”

Oookie doke, then.

The caller didn’t want a returned phone call from a pastor or any answer that involved loving people. He wanted his hate toward a particular group of people to be validated by an institution. Thankfully our church teaches the Bible. We are for the love of Christ, not against anyone.
Jesus Displaying Masterful Rhetoric
(unlike the way I answer tough questions)

Sin is sin, but I don’t know of a hierarchy list in the Scriptures. If we’re going by the Ten Commandments, this caller’s question only highlights his own sin. The great commandment Jesus gave in Matthew 22 also implicates the caller’s lack of love.

I am a newer Christian, and not a theologian. There is much I don’t know and more I will never understand about God and his plan, his reign and his love.

I do know:

Jesus protected a woman accused of adultery, then called her out of her life of sin. He always knew just the how to put the self-righteous Pharisees in their place, never fumbling for people-pleasing answers (like someone else I know).

Jesus came to sacrifice himself for the least and the lost. If people could achieve perfection, we would have no need for a savior.

When I draw into authentic relationship with God, the Holy Spirit resides in me and convicts my sin. No one outside a person's relationship with God can judge him.

If we dilute the Bible’s message to tell people what they want to hear, we steer them away from Truth and away from authentic relationship with God.

I have a lot to learn, but in the mean time I’m doing my best to be a representation of Christ’s love.

P.S. The caller called back the next day pretending to be gay, asking if we’d accept him. I told him I’d slide-tackle him at the door. {Only kidding.} 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Scrap Craft Graphic Organizer for Visual, Kinesthetic Learners

Do you know what sort of learner you are? Knowing how you learn is the best way to retain knowledge and work more efficiently, even if you're no longer a student. Here’s a short test with instant results (and a colorful pie chart)!

I am equal parts visual and kinesthetic which explains why I have to motivate myself with a craft project to start a writing project.

Sad Old Tree Limb
This tree limb was hanging too low over the driveway, so my husband chopped it off. As it lay in the yard last August, leaves wilting, I decided it was too pretty to become yard waste. If Crate & Barrel can charge $80 for bamboo branches, I’ll be content to do a little labor to decorate my office. Plus, I’m pretty sure my branch’s carbon footprint is lower.

Of course I didn’t want the leaves wilting on my desk, so I pulled them off and trimmed the branches a bit. I put two large screws into the studs and wired the branch to the screws.

At that time I was thinking about an outline for a novel. This tree branch, combined with the traditional Aristotelian dramatic arc might lend itself to the type of story I’ve been thinking of.

Out come the craft supplies:

Punched-out Tags & Ultra-fine Point Sharpies
Twine & Clothes Pins

The twiggy parts of the right end of the limb represent different characters as their story lines are introduced. As the twigs intersect on the limb, so do the characters’ lives.

Tree Limb in Action
It’s okay if the story movement doesn’t mimic the tree limb exactly. I never want to be formulaic. The best part about a pre-writing exercise is purging ideas onto paper before they slip away. 

This exercise gets my body out of my desk chair and ideas out of my head. Of course, these ideas will be reordered, deleted, and supplemented throughout the writing process. A visual learner like me can find security in this colorful visual outline to consult rather than scrolling through pages of a traditional outline or, worse yet, relying on my slippery memory.

Discover how you learn and never stop. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

DIY Doozie

On a snowy afternoon not long ago I plotted a DIY beauty day. What better way is there to spend a few hours than getting pretty, feeling healthy, and being financially responsible? Homemade salt scrub, two boxes of hair color, and this facial recipe from Ready Made were on my agenda. If you can’t tell, I love DIY. Since my mom is a cosmetologist, I have no fear of coloring or cutting my hair. After all, I helped her color her hair and began doing my own hair when I moved away from home several years ago. All that experience and nary a mishap—perhaps you already sense where this is going.

Perhaps the last documentation of my natural haircolor:
Preschool 1986 (Mullet in Mary Janes)
My intent with the hair color was to (with box numero uno) eek a little closer to my natural hair color. I’d like to get away from dumping chemicals on my head each month. The second box was a caramel highlight kit because I’ve been blonde so long and didn’t want to send the universe (or mainly just myself) into shock or look like John Stossel (a la Just for Men).

All was going well with round 1 of the transition. Before rinsing, I noticed my furry friend Toby doing a dance in front of the back door. For now, we use a cable tether to keep him in the yard, so I clipped it to his collar and sent him out. I noticed the urgency in his gait and saw the girl-dog-next-door as she captured his gaze. The two young pups, very madly in love, frequently stare and clamor toward one another as far as their cables will stretch, nearly strangling themselves. We and our neighbors try to avoid these ugly scenes, and only let one out while the other is inside. If she is out, but he’s inside she barks and yelps forlornly in Beagleese. I imagine the translation sounds like this, “Toby, Toby, wherefore art thou, Toby!”

Toby (as I write)
In my urgency, I forgot to check to see if she was out. The pups locked eyes and ran toward one another, forgetting their tethers. I thought, “Oh, no! He’s going to strangle himself!” At 10 months he’s full-grown and strong, but puppy-minded and not yet neutered. Just as that thought formulated in my mind, Toby’s collar snapped, freeing him to romp and slobber all over his lady love. I scrambled for my boots and something to cover my head, still drenched in 8 ounces of L’Oreal Superior Preference 5G. 

By the time I got outside to rescue the delicate neighbor pup from our beast, our neighbor had come out, let the female off her tether and supervised an evenly-matched, PG-rated play session. 

I can’t recall the exact moment when I swore off DIY hair-color. Maybe it was during the awkward small talk and my apologies to my neighbor, or while I attempted to wrangle a collarless, 65-pound, snowy puppy that lacks obedience training. It’s neither here nor there. DIY is a great way to save money and feel self-sufficient and in control. That is, until your dog usurps control and wintry air does something weird to the oxidation process of your hair color and you wind up paying a professional to fix your mistake anyway. Lesson learned. Thanks, Toby.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Stories Worth Telling

 Last week The New York Times ran Neil Genzlinger’s scathing piece about the “absurdly bloated” memoir genre. I read the article agreeing wholeheartedly with each shrewd literary point and snarky quip. Yes to:
There was a time when you had to earn the right to draft a memoir, by accomplishing something noteworthy or having an extremely unusual experience or being such a brilliant writer that you could turn relatively ordinary occurrences into a snapshot of a broader historical moment. Anyone who didn’t fit one of those categories was obliged to keep quiet.

I felt like I was back in Elizabeth Hodges’ nonfiction workshop when I read, “If you still must write a memoir, consider making yourself the least important character in it.”

Amen to, “If you didn’t feel you were discovering something as you wrote your memoir, don’t publish it. Instead hit the delete key, and then go congratulate yourself for having lived a perfectly good, undistinguished life. There’s no shame in that.”

Part of me really appreciates this article—I want the masses to read it and abide by the laws of Neil Genzlinger. But another part of me has this excerpt[i] from Shauna Niequists’ most recent book rattling around in the more inspired part of my brain. The part that wants to encourage others to not only tell their stories, but tell them artfully enough to honor the One writing the big story.

Is it okay if I agree with Genzlinger and Niequist? Good, because I do. Like Genzlinger says, the memoir genre is bloated. We can heave some blame on the publishing industry, and subsequently the people who write and purchase these books. After all, just because a book becomes a bestseller, doesn’t mean it is a work of literary genius. We can blame the age in which we’re living, and all the narcissistic and voyeuristic tendencies that come with it. But it’s never enough just to lay blame.

From a Christian standpoint, it’s absurd to say one life’s story has more value than another. From a rhetorical standpoint (in the classical sense of rhetoric[ii], not the current news/journalism sense), one life’s story absolutely has more value than another—purely because of the way it is told.

As Joan Didion said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Yet, she never said they should all be memoirs. We need to tell our stories, but perhaps they’re better suited for an essay or private journal rather than a full-length memoir. Last week I received a review copy of Someone’s Son by Brenda Rhodes[iii]. The mother and business owner turned author shares the story of her son’s drug addiction, gay lifestyle, and painful death from illness related to AIDS.

Writing through grief can bring healing. The semester after my dad died, I wrote an essay about aspects of that grief. I cried and sorted things out as I wrote. I’m indebted to my workshop group for bearing with me and asking gentle questions to help shape the piece, yet I wouldn’t try to publish it. Writing through grief is cheaper than a psychiatrist, but doesn’t make for good reading (unless you write like Joan Didion).

In Someone’s Son Brenda Rhodes relives decades of events leading to her moments of grief.  She points to mistakes she made without quite confessing, and provides a great deal of detail. She reflects on her walk away from faith and her return to God in the midst of turmoil. Someone’s Son may comfort parents living similar stories: those grieving the loss of a child or the mistakes they’ve made. These messy stories aren’t for everyone though.

While Rhodes said God’s love allowed her to rejoice through her lowest moments, I finished Someone’s Son feeling bogged down by the tragedy and by the absence of true, deep reflection. Difficult stories are worth telling, but the most difficult part is sometimes admitting our faults and revealing our humanness. That is how we create space in our stories for God.

I suspect Genzlinger would categorize Someone’s Son as a memoir that should have remained private. Niequist would probably be much kinder. I stand somewhere in the middle. I think there’s a great deal of value in all of our stories. Yet if we’re really trying to honor God with them, we need to take time, dig deep into reflection and not be afraid to reflect ourselves in a less than positive light.

The trickiest aspects of writing creative nonfiction are: 1) Your characters write their own action. 2) You can’t swoop in like a fiction author, orchestrating the tidy conclusion. Much, thoughtful, honest reflection is required for catharsis. 3) Even if you are brave enough to tell the whole truth about your ugly humanity, others may not appreciate your version of their story.

Every once in a while, I’ll dust off the essay about my dad. Maybe I’ll have more truth to offer it, but I doubt it will ever be resolute. 

[i] Please read the whole excerpt and be inspired.
[ii] Quintilian’s definition of rhetoric is, “A good man speaking well.”
[iii] Wine Press Publishing 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Show & Tell: Scrap Craft Desk

I have a rickety old desk in my office. My husband eyed it at Sandusky Street Antiques, and appreciated its folksiness.

I like tucking things in drawers and this desk has six! Plenty of room for notecards, pens, and glue sticks. The only thing about rickety old desks is sometimes the drawers stick instead of slide. There are no runners, only wood on wood, but I know a trick. My friend's grandmother, a collector of antiques and an antique herself, suggests soap. (Rub a bar of dry soap on the wooden surfaces that touch. Results: reduced friction and a furniture that temporarily smells like Dove.)

When I pulled the first drawer out to soap the bottom, I noticed this on the side! This desk may have had some other life before it was just a rickety old desk.

Or, was the artisan just practicing his scroll technique for the outside of the desk?

There are flowers like these on the bottoms of two of the drawers where no one could even spy them, unless, like me, you're soaping the drawers. 

 I found this label when I removed the bottom, right drawer.  According to the web, in 1875 the A. B. Chase Company began making organs and then pianos in Norwalk, a business which continued until 1930. 

Is this desk made of piano parts? I wonder. 

Book Review

Not Like Me: A Field Guide for Influencing a Diverse World
Formerly titled: Peppermint-filled Piñatas
Eric Michael Bryant

Eric Michael Bryant is a leader at one of the most diverse church communities in America. This credential alone creates a platform from which he can teach others how to operate in a setting outside their own culture. Add to that the fact that he, a “bald white guy”, and his wife deliberately chose to live in a neighborhood in which their family could be the minority. It is evident that he likes challenging boundaries.

His book Not Like Me was released in 2006 as Peppermint-filled Piñatas. The latter is a reference to a personal narrative in which Bryant wanted to fill the piñata for his son’s birthday party with cheap peppermint candies rather than spending more money on candy the neighborhood children would likely enjoy. His wife intervened before the party and filled the piñata with more popular candy. Bryant uses this story to create an analogy of what the church sometimes offers the world. “We offer peppermints, when the world wants Gobstoppers, Airheads, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. We offer something sweet to believe; they want a new life that helps change the world” (69).  The new life he’s referring to is relationship with Christ.

Not Like Me has a foreword by Erwin McManus and “Field Notes” at the end of each chapter written by authors like Margaret Feinberg and Lon Wong. The field notes provide varied perspective through additional personal narrative and application questions relating to the lesson in Bryant’s text. They serve to enrich the message, adding depth and leaving room for the reader’s personal application.

Bryant covers a great deal of important cultural ground, like seeing past stereotypes, living missionally, loving our neighbors, and separating politics from religion. Unfortunately, he has attempted to cover too much ground with not enough reference back to his thesis or the gospel. This is especially problematic for a book with a new title, and little contextual reference to it.

While I’m sure a great deal of market research went into the full title before Zondervan spent money on a reprint, the subtitle, A Field Guide for Influencing a Diverse World makes me uneasy. In particular, the word “influencing” teeters too closely to the realm of manipulation. Taken from the lexicon of modern American business, and certainly not found in the gospel, “influencing” implies superiority for the party of influencers.

Dr. Ed Stetzer serves to steer away from the notion of influence in his contribution to the “Field Notes”. He says, “People are not projects…When Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the tree, he did not say, ‘Well, well, well, what have we here? A rebellious, God-hating tax collector!’ On the contrary, he invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner and a conversation. With Zacchaeus, Jesus was willing to push beyond the surface of obvious differences to his actual point of need” (206). Dr. Stetzer is careful with his illustration.

Bryant is less careful when he says this, “Sadly, when we push away those who have homosexual tendencies, we eliminate opportunities to show Christ’s love, much less to influence others” (196). The call to love our neighbors here fully reflects the gospel, however thinking we can influence people is arrogant and dangerous. It is our mission to love others, not to change their hearts—only the Holy Spirit can do that. Attempting to change others can either result in superficial change or fractured relationships. Only relationship with Christ saves and sanctifies. God’s word is clear: we are to love our neighbors, not make them notches on our Bible covers.

While Not Like Me gives many examples of how we can love our neighbors and apply Christ’s teaching to our diverse world, Bryant needs to be careful with the language he chooses. People are not projects, conquests, or challenges. They are God’s children, just like us. We are wise to love them—all of them—and leave room for the Holy Spirit to influence.  

Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Review

Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk
Dale Fincher & Jonalyn Fincher

2010 has been a big year for Dale and Jonalyn Fincher. They’ve given birth to a son, and just recently released their first collaborative book. Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk serves as an instruction manual that incorporates Bible study and cultural analysis to encourage gentle and sincere evangelism. Peppered throughout are many of their own examples of conversations they’ve had with people they encounter—everyone from old friends to fellow airplane passengers.

Broken into well-organized sections, Coffee Shop Conversations is easy to read, and very informative. In the first of three sections, the authors gently remind us of the purpose of evangelism. “Talking about Jesus isn’t a contest. For years we thought sharing our faith meant saying the right things to get people saved. But whenever we treat our friends as problems to solve or objects to fix, we are not relating to them as people” (22). With humility as the foundation, the authors share a list of manners we should mind while evangelizing, as well as some sure-fire conversation stoppers to avoid.

In the second section, the authors dig into scripture and provide more examples of ways to engage others in dialogue about faith. They clarify definitions of words in the Christian lexicon that are commonly used but misinterpreted, like faith, love, sin, forgiveness, and glory. Knowing the intended meaning of these words in the context of the Bible can leave less room for miscommunication, and make more room for a clear picture of Christ’s role in our lives.

The third and final section addresses the red herring topics, like evolution, that sometimes serve to distract us from the big picture: sharing the gospel. “Sometimes we forget we’re inviting people to Jesus and not to our brand of Christianity” (162). Rather than following the red herring, the authors encourage us to bring the focus back to Christ’s love.

In the chapter titled, “Molehills That Are Mountains” the authors address some issues they observed to be driving people away from Christianity—issues most Christians aren’t paying enough attention to—like sexism, hypocrisy, and abuse of power in the church. Their friends have cited reasons in these categories as cause to reject Jesus and his followers. The authors like to think these people “have not rejected Jesus, but rather rejected a particular version of Christianity”. For this reason, they’ve “been studying how to talk about these topics in a helpful, biblical, loving manner” (174).

Talking about faith can be uncomfortable, frustrating, and unnerving for people on both ends of the conversation. Dale and Jonalyn Fincher are thoughtful, sincere, and well researched in their approach. They say, “We want this book to serve not merely as a collection of apologetic tools, but as a road map guiding you toward freedom to be yourself as you talk about Jesus” (218). Take their advice into your next conversation with a loved one or complete stranger. Be winsome, gentle, accommodating, and understanding. Most importantly, be an example of someone who knows Christ.

To hear the Dale and Jonalyn Fincher discuss Coffee Shop Conversations go to:

*Review copy provided by publisher. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In Memoriam: Anna M. Foltz

On August 29 I lost my beloved Grandma. She was ill only for a brief time, and those who knew her will ache with loss for much longer. A queen of resourcefulness, a home-making genius, and the purest living example of Christ in my life, no short tribute can honor her enough. At the request of my family, here is the little piece I read at her memorial service:  

I’ve had a book on my nightstand for a while. It’s called When the Game is Over it All Goes Back in the Box. In this book the author equates life with a board game, explaining the “rules” in biblical terms. I’m sure many of you have played a game with my Grandma. She told me her mother taught her to play 500 bid at an early age because they needed a fourth person to play. Grandma looked for any opportunity to play a game of “hand and foot” or dominoes. If there was a lull in the conversation during a visit she’d say, “Want to play a game?” She was a good game player and a patient teacher, but by the terms in this book, she was an even better player of the game that really matters.

The author’s main point here is to give less value to everything that is temporary: our possessions, money, resumes, youth, earthly bodies, securities, and other people’s opinions of us. And to live for all that is eternal: God, other people, our souls, and deeds of love.

An Ethiopian man told the author, “In the West, you measure a man’s wealth by his possessions. In this country, we measure his wealth by his friends” (30). Well, I’ve looked through most of the binders in which Grandma complied her genealogy research, and I didn’t see any Ethiopian relatives, but I know that what she valued most were her family and friends. 

Clearly we aren’t the ones keeping score of this game, but I’m sure the One who is noticed how Grandma always put others first. God knows how much love we felt when we opened our mailboxes to find a hand-written note from her. He noticed the time she spent knitting gifts for us, for children in poverty, really for anyone who would like a pair of slippers or a sweater. I’m sure God noted the care she gave to her flowers, and how she welcomed people into her home for a delicious meal, always followed by dessert. Most importantly, I’m sure God noticed the sincere love that she poured into each act of service to us—the sort of love that can only flow so naturally from a person who knows Jesus.

All of us are here to honor the relationship we shared with this amazing woman. No one will ever fill the void left in our hearts today, but we can honor her memory by being like her in little ways. So love people who might not be easy to love, make a gift for someone who isn’t expecting it, and welcome someone into your home for a meal—and remember to do it all with the heart of a servant.

Will you pray with me?

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for this life you’ve blessed us with for this season. Thank you for the richness and love she brought into our midst. Send your Holy Spirit to comfort us as we grieve her loss. As we remember her, help us to be like her, loving one another, expecting nothing in return, and writing a real letter once in a while.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Wedding Craft

It seems as if a book reviewer has hijacked this blog! A cool opportunity with Zondervan has turned into a bit of a preoccupation for me. But, in honor of our wedding anniversary, and to ease back into crafting mode, here are some reflections on the labor of creative love that went into our wedding last summer.

Our culture is obsessed with weddings. We have wedding magazines, wedding websites, wedding coordinators, and reality shows about every aspect of event planning from dress shopping, to budgeting, to brides who pressure themselves into a level of insanity. All of this makes me wonder if anyone is even considering the outcome of a wedding: marriage.
The goals for our wedding were to honor God’s sacrament of marriage, surround ourselves with our loved ones, and have money left for a down payment on a house. Here are some of the highlights:
Joe designed everything that could be printed:

Joe designed nontraditional guestbook pages. Our guests got creative
during the cocktail hour while we were outside for photos.

We printed table numbers and this sign for our sweetheart table,
punched the corners and slid them into corks.

Our programs doubled as fans for the outdoor ceremony.

Before the ceremony, my bridesmaids helped tie little "thank yous" to 
 miniature spruce trees for our guests.

Our niece Ainsley carried scattered petals for us. 
I found the pail at the $1 spot at Target, then trimmed it with lace and ribbon. 
This summer she's using it to carry her crayons.

Our nephew Caleb carried our wedding bands on a perfectly-matched pillow.                                                      I found the fabric in the remnant section at Vogue

I arranged the flowers and bought handmade
bridesmaid jewelry from my friend's aunt.

My college friend, Kristen Beck, photographed our wedding.
I love the treatment she used on this one of Caleb and me.

Because it's hard enough being a baby, the mini bridal party
wore neckties stitched to onesies. Sweet Carter is the model here.

Like most manly men, my husband isn't big on bling.
His simple hammered band came from this etsy shop

One of the most carefully crafted aspects of our wedding was the reading. My dear friend Rose read Psalm 139 Not a common wedding choice, this psalm spoke to us about the type of relationship we're to have with God before we can have a solid relationship with each other.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book Review

O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling
Jason Boyett

We all doubt.

Doubting God’s existence, sovereignty, and loving omniscience can be a pitfall to some degree or another for everyone who attempts to walk with Christ. Jason Boyett explores and explicates his journey of doubting, only punctuated with moments of fervent belief, in O Me of Little Faith. The latest book from the talented blogger and former advertising copywriter, is insightful, well-researched and at times quite funny. Boyett has clearly done his scriptural, cultural and academic homework, and manages to blend humor into unexpected places—even the footnotes. Detailed narratives of the moments when he clearly experienced the presence of God are lovely, including a particularly enchanting moment in a garbage dump in Nicaragua.

Boyett spends considerable time, as you could expect from the title, reflecting on his doubt in the context of a “less liturgical, more conservative, evangelical, megachurch sub-subculture.” He warns in the first chapter that this may not be a book for those with rock-solid faith. Sections of his meditation teeter, uncomfortably for this reader, on the verge on cynicism. Said to be written for a doubting audience, O Me of Little Faith may not even be for everyone in the doubting boat. Toward the end of the book Boyett states his fear that his work may steer others down the doubting road, but that is not his intent.

As creative nonfiction goes, the author makes a place for the reader in his world. Boyett’s world seems to be a churning and swirling vortex of reading, thinking, analyzing, observing, sharing anecdotes, and cracking jokes. If that strikes your fancy, hold on, absorb the citations and enjoy the laughs. For me, it was slightly dizzying, but equally entertaining.

In the second to last chapter, Faith with a Kung Fu Grip, Boyett cites Matthew 17 for the second time and highlights the fact that even some of the disciples doubted when they saw the resurrected Christ. What follows is some of the strongest writing in the book:

Notice how Jesus responded to their doubt. He didn’t scold them. He didn’t whip out a scroll of Daniel to walk them through Old Testament stuff about resurrection. He didn’t sigh dramatically and perform yet another miracle to display his spiritual clout. He didn’t remind them of his messianic credentials. He didn’t drop what he was doing to pray for them. He didn’t wave his tunic at them, Benny Hinn-style, to magically infuse them with the power of belief or deliver them from demonic influence. He didn’t bust out a PowerPoint presentation on the historical reliability of his death and resurrection, using tiny little crosses in place of bullet points.

Instead of any of Boyett’s hilarious hypothetical suggestions, Jesus gave the disciples the Great Commission. The balance of questioning, reason, humor, and appreciation for scripture Boyett displays in this section is brilliant and left me longing for consistency with this voice throughout O Me of Little Faith. Rather, Boyett’s style, perhaps a symptom of advertising and blog writing, is a little choppy and inconsistent.

Incidentally, Jason Boyett’s blog is really good.

I recommend O Me of Little Faith to the critical reader, to those willing to turn a discerning eye on their own doubts and to those hoping to better understand their doubting friends.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A(nother) Book Review

Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now
Gregory A. Boyd

In Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now, former atheist Gregory Boyd weaves together the meditations of Brother Lawrence, Jean Paul de Caussade, and Frank Laubach to encourage readers to wake up to the present reality of God. Boyd, a scholar with credentials from Yale and Princeton, studied three theologians from three different periods and transposed their practices for application in our lives. The result seems radical to our contemporary, compartmentalized lives.

In this series of essays, Boyd challenges readers to be aware of God’s presence in each moment of our lives, posting reminders throughout the text. He effectively holds together abstract, counter-cultural, sometimes mind-blowing concepts with a concrete structure, and reminds readers to read slowly and prayerfully (25). Each chapter begins with an opening quote from Brother Lawrence, J.-P. de Caussade, or Laubach, followed by a poetic prayer by Boyd. He concludes each chapter with practical application exercise derived from his study. This structure helps to counter an obstacle Boyd foresees in practicing the presence of God in each moment. “Gathering new information is easy: translating it into transformation is the challenge” (25). Just as a weekly trip to church isn’t what makes us followers of Christ, the truth of the Bible remains mere information until the presence of the Holy Spirit convicts us and reshapes our hearts and our subsequent actions.

Until that transformation occurs, we compartmentalize God and persist as “functional atheists”. Boyd asserts, “We may still believe in God, of course, but he’s not real to us most of the time” (29). The only way for God to be real to us is to seek him in each moment. Because we can’t change the past and can only speculate about the future, all we have to offer God is the present moment. “The only thing that matters is that we—right now—cease our striving after false gods and become aware of God’s ever-present, perfect love” (54).

All Christians intellectually agree that Christ died for our sins, but only those seeking “Life” from God on a moment-by-moment basis can effectively fill themselves with his love and pass it on to others as we are commanded. To be awake to God in each moment is to die to ourselves continually. “Only now are we free to agree with God that every person we encounter, including our own worst enemies, was worth Christ dying for” (107). What an effective reminder of how radical authentic Christianity is!
Boyd closes Present Perfect with a reminder of the big picture. “As much as possible, we are to manifest now what will be true for the whole creation in the future” (150). Our full, authentic belief in God can be displayed in our actions, in each moment.

Present Perfect is inspiring, freeing and deeply convicting at the same time. Boyd effectively grounds his work in classic contemplative authors and scripture, while keeping his finger on the pulse of our modern culture. He employs challenging exercises to tie down abstract notions of a living, loving, ever-present God.

Reviewer’s notes: I highly recommend this book! My delay in writing this review is a testimony to how challenging and convicting it is. Against the author’s advice, I read hurriedly and hungrily, leaving my review copy cluttered with notes. I’m sure I will use this book as a resource in the future.