Um. . .Maybe You Should Crack A Window: a book review

Fresh Air: Trading Stale Spiritual Obligation for a Life-Altering, Energizing, Experience-It-Everyday Relationship With God By Chris Hodges

Have you every experienced seasons of your spiritual life that were . . .not so fresh? Where you are going through the motions of the Christian life but inside you is cesspool of destructive emotions: anxiety, self-doubt, anger, distrust.

Chris Hodges, the senior pastor of  Church of the Highlands in Birmingham Alabama has written a book to help bring a ‘breath of fresh air’ into your life. He aims to help us steer a course out of ‘the doldrums’– that lifeless and dull slump where there is no wind in our sails to propel us forward–so we catch the breeze and go to all the exiting places God has in store for us.

How do you beat the doldrums? [SPOILER ALERT: God is Involved]. Hodges wants you to cultivate a relationship with God, and his people, which will help you live an exciting, connected and not-at-all-dull life. He urges us to allow fresh air into all areas of  life but especially the following areas:

  • Live with Eternity in mind: focus on heaven and invest your life in what has lasting significance.
  • Adjust your attitude by focusing on ‘the positive’ and going to God with all your worries.
  • Read your Bible with an eye to  where it propels your life forward.
  • Have a prayer life which focuses on building a loving and trusting relationship with God.
  • Worship God expressively.
  • Become involved in a supportive community of faith (i.e. church).
  • Trust God in the areas of our finances.
  • And develop rhythms of rest (Sabbath) in the midst of your work and vocation.

But Hodges ultimately says making room for ‘fresh air’ is about making room for the wind of the Holy Spirit to blow in our lives. It is the Spirit of God who leads us into all truth, commissions us and empowers us for witness and the exciting life God wants for us.

Hodges says a lot which I think is helpful and I love that he uses relational language to talk  about God (and not formulaic techniques).  I also appreciate that in the end, his answer to what brings spiritual vitality  is not what we do, but the Spirit’s work. This is fundamentally correct and well worth noting.  Nevertheless while reading this book I had several problems which give me pause:

  1. Hodges tells people in the ‘doldrums’ to choose to have a better attitude. This is good advice for a lot of people, but not for people who suffer from clinical depression who despite not wanting to be as anxious, self-abasing and down-in-the-dumps as they are, cannot ‘choose’ to focus on the positive without some sort of medical intervention. If this is you, thank God for chemistry and good counseling and please avail yourself to it. There are certain parts of this book, which made me wonder if they would hurt people in a particular mental state.
  2. While Hodges ultimately sees Christian witness as the outflow of life in the Spirit, there is little emphasis through out this book on the mission of God. Honestly, my big advice to people who sit in a smelly room looking bored is find out what God is doing in your neighborhood and community and get involved. If true religion involves care for widows and orphans, find out who they are around you and find ways to love them in risky ways. This might not make you happy, but you won’t be bored. For Hodges, we get involved with God’s Mission when we spend time with him and are changed into the sort of witness who overflows with the love of God. I don’t disagree with him, but I would add that as we take risks to become part of God’s mission in the world,  God changes us as we step out. The way is made by walking and I wish this book took a more missional focus.
  3. Lastly I wonder a little bit about the ‘self-help’ tone of this book. No doubt I want a satisfying spiritual life myself, but the focus here seems highly individualistic. Even in his description of community, Hodges talks about how we need supportive people to experience fresh air in your life.  I agree, living in community makes me better and I love the wisdom, encouragement and challenge I have received from others. What I also love, but don’t often appreciate is how life and community means I have to die.   Other people in the church do not exist to aid my journey of self actualization. They are there for me to love, and sometimes love sacrificially.  

With these concerns, I am not so much disagreeing with anything Hodges has said, but wishing for fuller picture of the Fresh Air life he describes. He says  good stuff here, but some of it seems too safe for me. I would give this book a 3/5 and certainly believe that it can be read fruitfully and will likely encourage a lot of people. There is a discussion guide available online, making it an appropriate choice for a church small group.

Here is Chris Hodges talking about his book in his own words. Feel the excitement: 

Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

8 thoughts on “Um. . .Maybe You Should Crack A Window: a book review

  1. Hello James. I’m writing from the epicenter of “The Highlands Experience,” and I want to thank you for this review–It has helped me to better understand why the mega-church model makes me more uneasy than I like to admit. Actually, I’m frankly mystified by them, in ideology and function. I’ve had good, close friends disappear completely into such places, and I wonder why–is my baptism and my Christ somehow made less by the absence of a praise band? It would certainly appear that this is
    the case. Ah well, this is the Deep South, after all. Anyway, thank you for a well written and thoughtful overview–those don’t come easily so close to where the magic happens. I have also enjoyed, read and re-read many of your posts–do I like your writing because you agree with me? lol. I cannot say, but I do like what you say and how you say it. Quite thought provoking. Regards, Leslie

    • Thanks! I really try to be fair in my critiques, especially when I don’t agree. Although I keep giving mega-church pastors middle of the road reviews. My wife and I have never regularly attended a mega church, but we have attended churches in the shadow of mega-land and know the feeling.

      • Highlands has begun their own university. Not sure how it is accredited, but the scaffolding of the entire Experience seems based on Learning to Lead, and then on Being a Leader and finally, on Training Up Leaders. This begs the question (at least in my mind) of who is left to follow? I have not attended the church, but have been to a Mega once. The sensory overload was quite intense. I’m sure it serves a good purpose for some, but it felt like Times Square on NYE to this loosely-tethered Lutheran. Loved reading about your church–not likely to find it here, though–I’ve been asked if Lutheran is like Mormon more than once. Ah well. As I’m reading your stuff, I’m reading to learn, so perhaps you *do* have a sheep, after all. Regards, Leslie

      • I don’t want to be categorically dismissive of mega churches either. Admittedly there is a lot I don’t like (like the leadership fetish or the ‘big show’), but a big church sometimes has resources to use to bless and reach out to the community in a way that little churches can’t. At least on the same scale. I think if we want to reach the world, it probably takes all kinds

      • Yes, I agree–different paths up the same mountain. I do wish they were more willing to work with other denominations, combine experiences and resources with the smaller churches to serve the community. I suppose that is part of my personal discomfort–it is an odd thing to have friends who will pray for you at a distance, but not with you. 🙂

  2. Hi there. I am a member at Church of the Highlands. Prior to my time with Highlands I was a member of a very small community church. I am in no way mad about any of the things/comments mentioned here, but am so dumb founded by them. Isn’t this so petty to point fingers and name call churches because of the size of their congregation or the programs they offer to interested people? Isn’t the whole point to find a house the fills you to over flowing so that you can be the hands and feet of Christ to the world? This big church was overwhelming to me at first after coming from such a small house, but in no time, I was enveloped in love and surrounded by people with a passion to encourage people and change their surroundings. No matter the size of the building or the number of people in attendance, why can’t we be evermore grateful that we live in a city that is radically reaching the lost? All churches of all sizes play a major role in outreach in Birmingham and it’s simply magnificent! I just find it hurtful to anyone who may be a passerby who is interested in finding a church in Birmingham. Pastor Chris’ heart is incredibly genuine and humble. You don’t have to agree with every word he says or every program he promotes, but he is kind, encouraging, and is doing a mighty work for the kingdom in our city. Just like the hundreds of amazing smaller scale churches here. Let’s keep our eye on the prize and promote the amazing faith family that makes up this great city.

    • Thanks for your comment Taylor. I am sorry if I sound dismissive of big churches just because they are big. Truly I am not. I have friends in ministry who have been chewed up and burned out in a mega church, but I have more friends who have had their faith nurtured and found meaningful community in small groups and ministry group settings. There is certainly a lot of good churches which happen to be mega churches and smaller churches are not necessarily better. The above post was not meant to criticize Highlands or Pastor Chris in general, but is my personal review of his book which has a lot of elements I liked, and a few things I didn’t.

      In the end, I want to be grateful and say with Paul, “So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours,whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” I applaud your gregarious spirit and your affirmation of all who work for God’s kingdom!

    • I find it odd that I am just finding your site but have to agree with Taylor. I do think that as Christians we should all have the same goal, saving the lost, loving others and just being the hands and feet of Jesus. I think that no matter the size of the church, this is what the main goal is. I am a proud member of COTH and am so thankful I am there. I believe maybe you should attend this church and see for yourself. Pastor Chris has said many times there are many wonderful churches in the Birmingham area. I choose COTH. I hate to disappoint anyone but when we all get to heaven it will be a mega church all praising God with all kinds of music. So… you may want to try it out now so you will enjoy it.

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