Monthly Archives: August 2010

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‘Holy Rewired,’ book review

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Categories: Book Reviews, Non-fiction, Tags: , , , , ,

Holy Rewired Cover David Phillips Dr. David Phillips has been a friend for several years. In the SBC blogosphere of yore, he usually went by the name “Tech Support” since he was the only one in our little group that understood the technology behind “Edit Post” and “Publish.” He saved my bacon many times along the way and gave me my first actual domain name to make my blog’s url more memorable. It was a welcome relief not needing to say “dot blogspot” every time.

In addition to being an accomplished techie, David recently earned the Doctor of Ministry in Leadership in the Emerging Culture degree from George Fox University. One result of those long hours of study, besides the degree, is his new book Holy Rewired: Science, the Gospel and the Journey Toward Wholeness released in May 2010 by Missional Press (also my publisher).

Holy Rewired is an exploration of science and scripture, neurology and theology, emotion and redemption. There is much that hearkened back to biology, anatomy and chemistry classes long forgotten. Phillips does a great job of taking material that could easily bog down in endless explanations of neurons, electrons, protons (and Klingons?), rendering it easily accessible. His step by step walk through of memory, emotion, plasticity and rewiring of the brain was as informative as much as a year’s subscription to Science.

Working through the book one might think that Phillip’s conclusion would be a hodgepodge of Freud, Skinner, Erickson and Mary Shelley, but that person would be wrong. Rather than opting for a naturalistic explanation for human behavior and need, he rightly lets science speak where it can then turns to God for the fuller truths of human existence; we cannot experience lasting change without the gospel of Jesus Christ. He writes:

Because of the Fall, humanity does not truly know who it is, and before any behavior can change in the deepest levels of life, a person has to replace [his or her] rebellious and prideful identity (p. 107).

[...]

…Jesus talked of the process as becoming a little child. He used these phrases to remind the disciples that entering into the kingdom requires a new birth, becoming young, having a faith that is child-like in its simplicity and devoted trust. It is a new way of living…Through [the] re-birthing process, we not only are God’s child, positionally, but we become his child relationally (pg. 118, 119).

I recommend Holy Rewired for those who deal with past issues which distort a biblical view of self, those who are dealing with sinful or harmful habits in the present and those who minister to people so involved. I also think it has a very relevant place in the work of recovery groups as it hits at the core of the addicts struggle: Who am I in Christ? or Who can I become in Christ?

Holy Rewired can be purchased at Amazon.com through the link below. You pay the same low price and I get a small commission. For an autographed copy, you may order through David’s website.

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‘Flirting with Faith,’ book review

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Categories: Book Reviews, Non-fiction, Tags: , , , , ,

Flirting with Faith Joan Ball At my wife’s suggestion, I recently read her copy of Flirting with Faith: My Spiritual Journey from Atheism to a Faith-Filled Life. Written by professor Joan Ball, it is the engaging, humorous and revealing story of how an affirmed atheist with no problems to speak of, searching for nothing and experience no spiritual doubts, was smacked down “Paul on the road to Damascus style” and, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, became the most surprised convert in New York.

What sets this story apart from that of Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell is Ball was not on a spiritual quest either to find the truth of Jesus or to disprove it only to be convinced. She was aware of the gospel and the scriptures, yet had come to the conclusion that neither were true. Her regular church attendance was due only to the desire of her husband and children.

Ball’s encounter with God did not, as so many Christian stories do, end with a new car, nicer clothes, more stuff and a TV show. Instead, she went from a very comfortable upscale life to loss of income, loss of job, husband’s loss of job, loss of savings and a child afflicted with an undiagnosable illness. God did not swoop down and give her a bunch of Christianese; He swooped in and gave her himself.

Speaking of Christianese, Flirting with Faith is, thankfully, completely devoid of it. Her story is told just as she lived it, with all the growing pains, simple faith and lack of vocabulary one would expect from a new convert not grown in the church greenhouse. Especially encouraging is the simplicity of faith in which Joan walked when learning to obey the Bible. It will challenge and convict all those but the closest to God.

One example of the “fall out” from Joan’s conversion is the effect it had on her husband, Martin, who was a solid believer, but with a less than active faith. She relayed the numerous times that she had peppered him with all the standard skeptic’s questions about the Bible, Noah’s ark, and the like. His simple, non-argumentative response always ranged along, “It’s in the Bible, so I believe it.” As she grew, he grew and the first step was in an unlikely place: Ephesians 5. She writes:

I know that he used to read the Bible a lot before we met, but I guess this bit must have gone by him.

“It says right here. I have to submit to you, and you have to be the head of the household.”

Martin looked at me like I had three heads, trying to decide how to respond to this latest wackiness. “Well,” he paused, thinking. “I don’t want you to submit to me.”

“Me neither. But it says it right here, and if we’re going to live this thing, I think we’ve got to be in it all the way.”

I can see how random this was. And now that I have learned how differently people approach their understanding of what the Bible says to them, and how they react to it, I find this independent choice to respond to this scripture literally is even more fascinating. But this was not some fallible human telling me what I was supposed to do, or a rule some church was throwing down at me. Best I could tell, these instructions were coming from the Big Guy himself, and I was ready to say yes to whatever he put in front of me.

“Okay,” Martin said. “Here is my first command.”

He certainly shifted quickly from not to yes on this one, I thought, bracing myself for what would come next.

“My first command is…that we do everything like we’ve always done it.” (pg. 59, emphasis in original)

This book is a good book for understanding how many seekers approach life and faith. It is also good for those who are seeking. Flirting is a “Read this and tell me what you think” kind of conversation starter.

It’s also a good book to be reminded of the simple faith you might have had when you first came to know God. A faith that might have gotten smothered in the ensuing complexities of life. Isn’t it odd how so many who have “walked with God” for a long time sometimes find themselves actually walking away from Him? There are some reminders here of what the early days were like.

You can order Flirting with Faith and more through the links below. You pay the same low price and I get a small commission.

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‘The Devil in Pew Number Seven,’ book review

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Categories: Book Reviews, Books, Non-fiction, Tags: , , , ,

Devil in Pew Number Seven book

Devil in Pew Number Seven bookAnyone who has ever pastored or attended a small town church can appreciate the reality of the “one who runs everything.” Those closed communities where the same folks have lived on the same land for generations are sometimes situated around those churches that I call “family owned and operated.” Everyone in the church is related, except the pastor of course, so even when they are fighting with each other blood is thicker than water. And God forbid the pastor step into one of those family squabbles to find it like grabbing a rabid dog by the tale. The setting of The Devil in Pew Number Seven is just such a place.

In 1969 Robert Nichols moved with his wife to Sellerstown, North Carolina to serve as the pastor of Free Welcome Holiness Church. The church had dwindled to 12 women and one man attending when Nichols and wife Ramona arrived. Before long they became aware of “the devil in pew number seven,” an influential county politician and business man, Horry James Watts.

Although not a member of Free Welcome, Watts exuded enormous influence on the congregation and was not pleased when the people began to ignore his influence to follow Nichols’ leadership. Watts, who reminded me of John Wallace from Murder in Coweta County, had numbers of people under his thumb by virtue of economic leverage and pure meanness. After a short amount of time, he began to wage nothing short of a terrorist campaign against the young pastor, his wife and two children, the oldest of whom, Rebecca, is the author of the book.

If you are a pastor and are thinking, “Yeah, been there; done that,” do not jump the gun. Most in the same situation have experienced gossip, active opposition, mean spirited behavior, business meeting disruptions and the like. The Nichols experience dynamite blasts, sniper shots, threatening letters and phone calls and more coming, primarily, from this one man. The book chronicles the efforts of the church and of local and federal law enforcement to curtain the attacks, but to seemingly no avail. It also follows Robert and Ramona Nichols as they endlessly try to model Jesus Christ in the face of unflinching adversity. It is an extraordinary story of forgiveness, blessing those who persecute us and sacrifice.

Every pastor, especially those experiencing church troubles, should read this book. It should be required reading in pastoral ministry classes at seminaries and/or Bible colleges. It would benefit any person who has ever had a reason to hold a grudge. As a percentage of Christians, or even of pastors, few people in America have experienced what the Nichols family endured. Yet Rebecca and her brother, Daniel, speak of forgiveness as the “language of heaven.”

A word to guys: Much of this book is like reading a memoir as the author shares her growing up years, her relationship with her Mom, Dad and friends (especially a nearby neighbor). Many sections have a distinctly feminine feel and I was tempted to skip them. I think these areas will appeal much more to women (most of the reviewers at Amazon are women), it is worth reading through them to gain some perspective on how pastors children see their parents and the ministry.

Another warning is that the book is an easy read, but not easy to read. In fact, it can be brutally heart-rending at times. The deep well of empathy for Nichols and his family is likely to cause more than one spike in blood pressure as Alonzo’s story forces us to answer this question: how much suffering is one soul worth?

You can order The Devil in Pew Number Seven through the Amazon link below. You pay the same low price and I get a small commission.

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‘The Suburbs,’ by Arcade Fire, CD review

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One of the eight covers for 'The Suberbs' by Arcade Fire

Imagine you receive this phone call from a friend today:
Friend: “Hey, you gotta hear this new album I just downloaded.”
You: “Ok.”
Friend: “It’s a concept project like Tommy by The Who or Red Headed Stranger by Willie Nelson.”
You: “Ok. Those are pretty historic recordings. Who is this one by?”
Friend: “A Canadian band called Arcade Fire.”
You: “Ok. What’s the concept?”
Friend: “It’s an entire album about urban sprawl.”
You: “Okaaaaaaaay…”

That’s how I likely would have responded had it not heard a free feed of the entire album from NPR last week (this link is still valid as of 8:00am, Monday, August 9, 2010). I was able to download it Friday and haven’t stopped listening to it since (as of right now it is still $3.99 on Amazon).

This is a remarkable project (hover over the album cover here to see all eight covers in Flash). It is not a whining belly-aching screed against building a Wal-Mart or a call to tie one’s self to an earth mover. No mention of the DOT or sink holes. It is a thoughtful exploration/reflection as to what has happened to people, relationships and community in suburbia. If Tim Burton (“Suburbia isn’t a bad place, it’s a weird place”) were to remake Edward Scissorhands be assured that many of the songs here would make the soundtrack. If The Suburbs isn’t a screed, it most surely is a lament of all that can be lost when development takes place. In “Sprawl I (The Flatlands)” they sing:

Took a drive into the sprawl
to find the house where we used to stay.
Couldn’t read number in the dark,
said we’ll save it for another day.
Took a drive into the sprawl
to find the places we used to play;
was the loneliest day of my life.

The banality of suburban life is depicted as the police pull them over on their bicycles to see if they should not be getting home, but they cannot find the “home” for which they are searching. “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” laments the sameness of urban sprawl and the life lived in it metaphorically pictured by the unending landscape of mall after mall splayed like mountain ranges.

They heard me singing and they told me to stop
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock
These days my life, I feel it has no purpose
But late at night the feelings swim to the surface

‘Cause on the surface the city lights shine
They’re calling at me, come and find your kind
Sometimes I wonder if the World’s so small
That we can never get away from the sprawl
Living in the sprawl
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains
And there’s no end in sight
I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights

My current favorite is “City With No Children” which supposes that life sometimes leaves us feeling as abandoned as a long forgotten garden:

I feel like I’ve been living in
A city with no children in it
A garden left for ruin by a billionaire inside of a private prison

The Suburbs uses a number of spiritual allusions to explore the emptiness of “life” in suburbia. In “City With No Children” they ask:

When you’re hiding underground
The rain can’t get you wet
But do you think your righteousness could pay the interest on your debt?
I have my doubts about it

In Half Light II (No Celebration) they sing:

Now that San Francisco’s gone,
I guess I’ll just pack it in.
Wanna wash away my sins,
In the presence of my friends.

They do not mention how this washing away is accomplished, but it is interesting that the loss of what they knew is tied to sin.

Becoming aware of the problems of life is mentioned in “Modern Man,”

In my dream I was almost there
Then you pulled me aside and said you’re going nowhere
They say we are the chosen few
But we’re wasted
And that’s why we’re still waiting
On a number from the modern man
Maybe when you’re older you will understand
Why you don’t feel right
Why you can’t sleep at night now

“Suburban War” poetically pictures the divisions that develop over music, hair and other trivialities. Cities are pictured as stars that can be seen by each other, but no one bothers to visit.

The Suburbs deserves serious attention come Grammy time, if the award can get over its own infatuation with fluff and give consideration to a project with serious lyrics and fantastic music. I mean, really, can we not give a Grammy to a project dealing with the sociological implications of urban sprawl? There isn’t a false note, an ending too long or a forced lyric. (All lyrics can be found at LyricsTime.)

Arcade Fire is also an amazing live band given, in no small part, to the fact that the multiple members play up to 16 instruments during a concert, some members rotating between drums, keyboards, accordion and guitars. They are an incredibly talented group. This link takes you to a 9-song set done in 2007 at Glastonbury, England. Below is one of Arcade Fire’s biggest hits, “Wake Up,” from Funeral.

Buy and download ‘The Suburbs,’ ‘Funeral,’ or ‘Neon Bible’ below: