Give Yourself the Gift(s) of Self-Care: a book review

 

“In an emergency situation, putting on your own oxygen mask first allows you to breathe and think clearly enough to help someone else” (April Yamasaki, Four GiftsHerald Press, 2018, 30).

Far from being ‘selfish,’ appropriate self-care is necessary if we are to become people who flourish and can ably care for those around us. Still, with the demands of life, work, family, ministry, etc., we don’t always take care of ourselves. Furthermore, we wonder what self-care looks like for followers of Jesus called to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. April Yamasaki describes a holistic approach to self-care in Four GiftsUtilizing the terms, “heart,” “soul,” “mind” and “strength”—words we most often associate with the love of God in Jesus’s version of the Shema (Mark 12:30). She describes what it means for us to care for total well-being, our spiritual well-being, our mental well-being, and our physical well-being.

9781513803340-330x495April Yamasaki is an Asian-Canadian Mennonite Pastor, speaker, and author. She is a fellow alumnus of Regent College, in Vancouver, Canada, though our time there did not overlap. I first became aware of her through her blog (www.aprilyamasaki.com) and occasional interactions on my blog and on social media. She is also a member and contributor of the Redbud Writers Guild (a collective of women faith writers online), whose previous book, Everbloom(Paraclete Press, 2017).  I reviewed, which Yamasaki contributed to. I’ve known her to be a wise and gracious presence online, and she has encouraged me on my own faith journey.

Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength are the organizational motif and so the book divides naturally into these four sections. In the “Heart” section, Yamasaki describes our care for our total well-being. She instructs us to review our core commitments, establish appropriate boundaries, cultivate a community which will sustain us, and invest in relationships. In the “Soul” section she explores what it means to care for our spirits, through devotional practices, Sabbath, lament, and self-discipline. In the “Mind” section she details how to mind our focus, our digital worlds, our mental health, and what it means to renew our mind. In the “Strength” section she surveys ways to care for our physical well-being (e.g. exercise, healthy sleep habits, and good food choices).

This is the sort of book that straddles the line between being a book about spiritual disciplines and being a “self-help” book. My standing critique of both genres is how individualistic their advice often is. However, Yamasaki tempers her personal advice by highlighting the context of community, as part of appropriate self-care.  In chapter 3, she uses the story of Jethro’s counsel to Moses and the Early Church’s appointment of deacons to properly care for widows(Exodus 18, Acts 6) to illustrate both our need  for other people’s support if we are to thrive, and to illustrate how appropriate self-care means we sometimes need to challenge systems and structures that are destructive of our personhood:

As in the time of Moses and in the early church, we need social and structural change. We may not have the power of Moses to singlehandedly change the system, or the collective power of the twelve apostles to restructure a community. But we need the practical wisdom of Jethro and the openness of Moses to listen. We need the nondefensive posture and the willingness to act that was shown by the early leaders of the church. We need good questions, sustained engagement, ongoing action, and vigorous prayer (54-55).

By including the notion of systemic change in her notion of community, Yamasaki makes self-care as being so much more than self-indulgence but instead sees it as a step toward the work of social change.

Dismantling racism and sexism, ending poverty, and addressing other social ills requires ongoing work, determination, prayer, and yes, self-care. We need self-care that genuinely cares for ourselves and our deepest needs without isolating us from the needs of others. We need self-care that refreshes and validates us for our work in the world without it becoming our permanent destination. We need self-care that can both comfort us when the way is hard and empower us to live with compassion and perseverance (55).

Also, her including space for lament in self-care lends itself to the work of justice in the world beyond ourselves. By attending to the areas of hurt, grief, and brokenness in u,s we can move forward and channel our lament into seeking change.  We are motivated to “cry out for justice. Challenge the status quo. Find allies, and consult with professional advisers as needed” (102). This is a refreshing movement in a book about self-care!

But one of the things that I really liked about Yamasaki’s book was the overall graciousness of her tone. A ‘self-help’ book would tell you what you are supposed to do. A self-care book like this one doesn’t prescribe so much as cultivate our awareness of what we need to attend to, to best care for our well-being. Yamasaki offers no hard-and-fast rules. She describes self-care in her introduction:

For me, self-care has been a deep breath and sacred pause, a meandering walk along the waterfront, the New York Times crossword on a Sunday afternoon, a dish of stir-fried rice with greens and almonds after too many days of dairy products have made me feel tired and weighed down.

Self-care means taking all my vacation days even through 43 percent of my fellow working Canadians don’t take all of theirs. It means keeping an off-and-on journal, with page after page of random thoughts, poems, and prayers when the mood strikes—and page after page of blanks when it doesn’t. Self-care as journaling and not-journaling means I’m free to write or doodle or ignore the empty pages at any time. (16).

Yamasaki’s understanding of self-care as being gracious with herself is what hooked me from the start. And she allows space for each of us to appropriate whatever we may need in her discussion of self-care. For example, her chapter on relationships ends with this encouragement, “If working at relationships sounds too busy to be self-care, give yourself permission to take a sacred pause. Rest in the knowledge that God is with you” (67). She also notes that little indulgences (e.g. a Netflix binge, within limits, a night of fast food, comfort food, etc) may be exactly what constitutes self-care. This is not The Seven Habits of the Anal Retentive Soul. This is a book designed to help us care for ourselves in the midst of the demands of life.

And Yamasaki’s life is in these pages. She describes medical and vocational worries in her family life and how she learned to care for herself. I heartedly recommend this book -★★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from the author and publisher as part of the book launch team, in exchange for my honest review.

Get Naked . . . and Unashamed: a book review

My wife and I have been married for 16 years. Over that time, and in my role as an erstwhile and intermittent pastor, I have read my share of marriage books. There are some good ones, but a lot of them are pretty terrible. I am always on the hunt for a good marriage book which will help couples, especially those who are engaged, think about how to be married, and do it well, particularly from a Christian faith perspective. So I was pretty excited to read Naked and Unashamed by Jerry & Claudia Root with Jeremy Rios. Naked and unashamed are literally my two favorite ways to be married! I’m kidding (no I’m not).

Naked-and-UnashamedJerry Root was Jeremy Rios’s mentor and professor when he attended Wheaton College.  The material in this book parallels the material which Jerry and Claudia had used for Jeremy and his wife Liesel’s premarital counseling. Later when Jeremy became a pastor, they used this same material for premarital counseling with other engaged couples, corresponding with Jerry to fill in the gaps in what he was missing in their notes. Jerry had a manuscript for a book he and Claudia wrote which he sent Jeremy to use in counseling. Jeremy used it in counseling, refined it and helped prepare the material for publication. As Rios says, “Jerry and Claudia’s wisdom is the beating heart of the book, and it is the wisdom I have sought to inhabit and live in my own marriage” (201).  The Roots bring wisdom won by 42 years of marriage. Jeremy and Liesel Rios have been married for 14 years.

The premise of the book is that marriage asks each of us to reveal ourselves wholly to our spouses. Rios and Roots encourage couples to open up about our histories, our understandings, our spiritual lives, our understanding and experience of gender, our expectations for family and parenting, expectations of finances, and of course, sex.  The hope is that women and men would enter into marriage fully, holding nothing back from their spouse, and entering into the sort of relational covenant which God intended for marriage.

Rios and the Roots describe this opening up and revealing’ in four sections of their book. In part 1,  they describe undressing the areas that allow for greater relational intimacy for couples: sharing our stories (personal histories), our hearts (how we give and receive love), our minds (our goals and dreams), and our souls (our relationship with God). In part 2, they unpack gender, dynamics of communication and woundedness, Part 3 is about exploring expectations shaped by our family and cultural identities (race, nationality, etc), our expectations about parenthood and child raising, and finances.  Part 4, intentionally left to the end, describes undressing our sexual selves for the life of sex, and expectations for the wedding night.

The Roots and Rios operate from a conservative, evangelical perspective on marriage and they say a lot that is really helpful. In fact every area they address, or. . . ahem . . . undress, is necessary for the type of life sharing which enables the sort of covenantal life-sharing where the two become one. There is not a single area they discuss, which is unimportant. Part 1 of their book  “Unmasking for Intimacy” is really good and they say some wonderful things about exploring each others’ histories, how we express intimacy, our life goals, and our spiritual life. They also explore communication well, drawing on the research of John Gottman. Throughout the book, the chapters each end with an assignment for couples to explore together their thoughts on the topic. A couple who reads this book on their own or in the context of premarital counseling would share with one another their hopes and hang-ups, expectations and understanding. This is all really good stuff.

This is a book I could use as a pastor in leading others through premarital counseling, but not without some caveats. I didn’t agree with everything Rios and the Roots had to say. For example, I am a Biblical egalitarian, and what I read in the chapter on gender advocated a sort of soft complementarianism, advocating for gender roles, where my tendency is to see mutuality. They quote Ephesians 5:22-33 to show that wives are called to “submit” and husbands are called to “sacrifice” (73-74), without referencing Ephesians 5:21 which describes mutual submission and supplies the whole ‘submit’ verb for the phrase, “wives submit to your husband” in Ephesians 5:22—the more literal rendering being simply, ‘wives, to your husband’. They describe male headship as the husband getting to cast the final vote if the couple is at loggerheads and can’t agree on a big decision(76). However, the Roots and Rios do present their views on gender humbly and acknowledge you could be complementarian, egalitarian, or not identify with either camp and have a successful marriage “so long as you acknowledge the complexities of gender, discuss them together and are striving to love one another sacrificially according to the command of Scripture” (74).

One of my pet peeves about marriage books is that I don’t always find myself in their description of the characteristics of ‘the genders.’ Now, I am a cis-gender heterosexual man, and not a particularly feminine one, but whenever someone says ‘men are more like this’ and ‘women generally are more like this,’ I discover I am the exception to their rule. Rios and the Roots do this a little bit, sometimes gendering things which were perplexing for me, such as making Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 4:26 a  description of how the  genders get angry (103-105): “Be angry, but do not sin (men lash out), and do not let the sun go down on your anger (women hold grudges). I didn’t find this description of the male and female halves of anger a helpful distinction at all.  I can hold a grudge with the best of them.

Another area some will find disagreeable is their discussion of the discipline of children, they make the case for physical punishment of kids, ” One of the principles of the world, it seems evident that where you will not be taught by reason or reward you will be taught by pain. This is simply a principle of how the world operates and in parenting we are instructing our children in these rules” (144-45).  How they frame it, they are careful to underscore the purpose of discipline (training a child) and they bracket out an abusive lashing out, but readers who are suspicious of the value of corporal punishment will disagree on this point.

But agreeing with the Roots and Rios on every point is not the point. The point is getting naked . . . and unashamed. There is a lot of wisdom in what the Roots and Rios discuss here, and even when you disagree with the authors, they have framed the discussion so couples can explore together what their convictions are and understand each other in each of these areas. I give this four stars. ★ ★ ★ ★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review. I also know Jeremy Rios, having attended Regent College with him.

 

From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: a book review

Christianity began in Jerusalem—the place where Jesus died and rose again, and where the Spirit descended like a rushing wind on Jesus’ disciples. Through much of Christian history, the center of Christianity was in Europe, but in the past century, the church has spread east and south, across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Today, the geographic center of density for the Christian faith is found in the East African country of Mali, the city of Timbuktu.

4527In From Jerusalem to Timbuktu, Brian Stiller traces the dynamic growth of the Church in the global south, identifying 5 key factors which have shaped the Christian mission (more on this below). Stiller is the global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, the former president of Tyndale University College & Seminary in Toronto, and the founder and editor of Faith Today magazine. He is a Pentecostal evangelical engaged in mission and has an eye on many of the trends he describes here.

So what are the 5 key factors that have ignited church growth in the global south? Stiller’s 5  key drivers are: (1) a renewed openness to the Spirit (Pentecostals and Charismatics enjoy the most exponential growth), (2) Bible translations in the language of the people, (3) indigenization of Christian leadership and mission, (4) re-engagement of the Public Square, and (5) a holistic gospel which tackles not only Spiritual issues (getting right with God) but systemic injustice (e.g. global poverty, racism,etc). Stiller introduces these five drivers in Part 1 of his book, explores them in detail in part 2, and the notion of wholeness in mission for part 3 (with an eye toward prayer movements, women in ministry, praise and worship, refugees and migration, and global persecution).

Stiller is well-connected to the worlds of evangelicalism and Pentecostalism with an eye toward their global mission, as both a scholar and practitioner. The trends (or drivers) he identifies have shaped the worldwide evangelical movement and the rapid growth to the south.  Stiller gives a sort of insider perspective on how these drivers have impacted the movement, weaving together statistical data, history, with narrative and personal anecdotes. I found this book well-reasoned, and well-researched, but not a dispassionate account. These are trends that Stiller is excited about, and it is infectious.

Despite the title, there is not much mention of Jerusalem or even Timbuktu. These cities are used symbolically to describe the shift of Christianity’s Center to the south. However, Stiller focuses on what is driving the growth the global church in the Southern hemisphere, not on the movements of the church which took us from the first century in Jerusalem to where we are today. So really the focus is on the last hundred or so years. Most of the trends that Stiller mentions, trace the shift of Christianity from Eurocentric and colonial toward indigenization.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the global church and mission. I give it four stars. -★★★★

Notice of material connection, I received a copy of this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.

Wisdom is Made By Walking: a book review

I like a good pilgrimage. I’ve read books on it and have friends who have gone a sojourning.   But despite my interest, I have never gone on such a pilgrimage, outside of a couple of backpacking trips in the mountains.

9780819233493In Wisdom Walking: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life, Gil Stafford weaves together a story of a pilgrimage across Ireland coast-to-coast along the Wicklow Way. Stafford was a guide for a group of singing pilgrims, the Vox Peregrini. He weaves together his experience of walking, his own life journey from Conservative Southern Baptist College president to Episcopal priest-spiritual-wanderer, his family of origin, insights of Carl Jung’s depth psychology and alchemy as an archetype for spiritual transformation. Stafford writes, “To be on pilgrimage is to embrace the mission of a personal renaissance, to claim the inner beauty, the haunting, the frightening, the hated, the adored, the soft, the cruel, the humorous, the damaged, the hilarious, the pitiful—every sliver of conscious and unconscious—and a claim our self as our own who we are who we are becoming transformed into” (28).

Stafford invites us to this sort of journey toward spiritual transformation.  Chapters 1 through 4. Chapter 1 is about preparation and how the pilgrimage begins before we begin our walking, Chapter 2 describes the movement from the exuberant beginning of a pilgrimage to the ‘mundane ways of walking’ as the issues we carry come with us on our journey(18). Chapter 3 explores the experience of the pilgrim community, and how after 3 or 4 days of walking our defenses are down and we are vulnerable. Chapter four discusses the pilgrim at their most fragile when they feel like quitting (and this is the moment where spiritual transformation can happen).

These four chapters are broken up with ‘Interludes’—suggestions for equipment and physical, mental, and spiritual preparation of pilgrimage;  Ahmad, imam at the Islamic Cultural Center in Tempe, Arizona relates the story of his pilgrimage to Mecca; Crystal, (Stafford’s wife’s friend from high school), describes her Pilgrimage in Nepal; Greg’s transgendered pilgrimage as he journeyed toward becoming a transgendered woman (now Gwen).

In chapter 5, Stafford relates the story of his sister Dinah and his family’s pilgrimage with her as she lives with Prader-Willi Syndrome. Chapter 6 explores the experience of life, post-pilgrimage (Stafford describes this as a cross between a lovely afterglow and a bad-hangover), and the continuing journey of inner transformation.

Through the lens of Jungian psychology, Stafford’s description of pilgrimage focuses on this inner work of pilgrimage. The outer journey—tiredness and blisters, hunger and thirst and mundane walking, gives a context for a similar inner pilgrimage of transformation. Alchemy and the transmutation of base elements to gold become a poignant metaphor for the type of spiritual transformation envisioned by the pilgrim way. Stafford notes also, as a repeat pilgrim, that the inner process starts over with each pilgrimage because the process is cyclical. Though like a spiral staircase, we begin each journey upward at the same coordinates but with a new vantage point.

This was an enjoyable read. Stafford is a priest and a Christian and writes from a perspective of faith; however because the focus is on spiritual transformation, archetypes and inner work in a Jungian key, much of the insights that he explores here, are broadly applicable to anyone on a spiritual journey. You don’t actually have to go to Ireland (or wherever) to go on this sort of pilgrimage. I give this four stars -★★★★

Notice of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book from the Publisher or Author via SpeakEasy in exchange for my meandering review.

Beyond Ableist Missions: a book review

The discipleship model I was taught as a young Christian, was to invest my time and energy in those who were FAT—Faithful, Available, Teachable. They were the people going places and investing in them would give us the greatest return on our personal investment. The funny thing was that when I picked up my Bible I was repeatedly exhorted to invest my time and energy in caring for the wounded, the poor, the widowed and the orphaned. And I discovered that a sign of God’s Kingdom was the inclusion of those who had been marginalized, excluded and oppressed.

5102The Disabled community is often marginalized and excluded from Church life. While churches have had to accommodate people with disabilities because of the Americans with Disability Act (1990), that has often meant, providing handicapped bathrooms, and wheelchair ramps. Far less thought has been given to how disabled people fit within the mission of the whole church and the gifts they offer to the community. Benjamin Connor (Ph.D., Princeton), professor of Practical Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland Michigan, and director of their Graduate Certificate in Disabled Ministry,  aims at enlarging the church’s vision to see the inclusion of disabled people as a ‘sign, agent and foretaste of God’s Kingdom.’

In Disabling Mission: Exploring Missiology Through the Lens of Disability StudiesConner strives to stimulate a conversation between disability studies and missiology on what it means for the entire body of Christ to share in the witness of the church (7). He also helps us reimagine “how we might [dis]able Christian theology, discipleship and theological education for the sake of enabling congregational witness” (7).

In Part 1 of the book, Conner describes his chief dialogue partners, disability studies, and missiological studies. Chapter 1 is an ‘introduction to Disability Studies for Missions.’ Conner rehearses issues which face people with disabilities such as unemployment, abuse, violence, poverty homelessness, and incarceration (28-33) and ways that the church may move intersectionally to minister to the needs of people with disabilities. In chapter examines the field of Mission studies to see what it has to offer disabled communities. Ideas that are particularly fruitful for framing Christian mission to people with disabilities are the Missio Dei (that the church participates in the Mission that God initiated), indigenous appropriation and contextualization, and Christian Witness (39-47). While much of missiological studies have not specifically engaged issues around disability, Cooper draws on insights from two missiologists that addressed disability explicitly (he’s drawing on Amos Yong, and more critically, the work of Lesslie Newbigin).

Part 2 introduces the practical outworking of this discussion between disability and mission. Using Robert Schreiter’s “Teaching Theology from an Intercultural Perspective,”  Conner observes how disability cultures are homogenized (treated like they are the same), colonized (dominated by the dominant culture), demonized, romanticized, or pluralized (i.e. “we are all disabled”) However these approaches to disability (and other cultures) prevent us from seeing the gifts that disabled cultures offer the whole church. Connor examines first the deaf community (chapter 3), and those with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) (chapter 4).

By highlighting the d/Deaf community, Connor acknowledges that many in the deaf community would not regard the d/Deaf experience as  a “disability.” Many d/Deaf people regard hearing people as disabled because of our limited perception visually, our manual language and our limited visual capacities (68). Nevertheless the d/Deaf culture (schools, societies. etc) developed in the context of 19th Century missions to deaf people’s. The deaf community has historically (and concurrently) marginalized by the audist (ableist community). Using Schreiter’s categories Connor points how while deaf culture has been homogenized and dismissed and their contributions devalued, colonized and dominated by audist culture, demonized (their deafness is seen as evidence of fallenness), romanticized, and pluralized (their different experience and contributions relativized to a non-meaning (89-92). Through a missiological lens (Missio Dei, contextualization and witness), Conner points to the gifts that the d/Deaf community has to offer the whole church, “enhanced communication, embodiment, different and more relational ways of arranging space, visual-kinetic ways of communicating the gospel” (101).

In discussing Intellectual Disabilities (ID), Conner notes the similar ways that those with ID are marginalized by the Ableist community. Through the lens of Orthodox iconography, Conner points to a way to understand personhood (and the Imago Dei) in a way that does not privilege rationality, and values the contributions of all to the total witness of the church:

People with intellectual disabilities expose the limitations of our words for conveying truth. They remind the church that truth is “not as a product of the mind” but “a ‘visit’ and a ‘dwelling’ of an eschatological reality entering history to open it up as a communion -event.” The goal of our iconic evangelism is, ultimately, communion with those whom we are bearing witness—and that communion is in Christ (130).

and:

A faithful Christian anthropology embraces the limitations and contingency of all human existence, and it recognizes that the image of God we bear  is expressed together in Christ and animated in us collectively by the Holy Spirit. People with intellectual disabilities are indispensable to their faith communities because among the other gifts and trials they offer, they remind their communities that our abilit to image God is externally grounded. All personhood—able and disabled,  in all its diversity—is grounded in gift, animated by the Spirit and eschatological in nature. Stated succinctly, and borrowing Amos Yong’s phrasing: “People with disabilities are created int he image of God that is measured according to the person of Christ” just like everyone else. Our iconic witness doesn’t exclude anyone because it is not dependent on a strategy or capacity that is intrinsic to us (140-141).

While the focus of chapter 4 is on ID, the concept of iconic witness is applicable to other forms as a disability as well.

In chapter 5, Conner discusses ways to [Dis]able theological education by disabling constructs, disrupting myths of self-sufficiency, and dis-locating narratives (151-152), After sharing a couple of examples of ways in which disabled students have enriched the community of Western Theological Seminary, Conner challenges us to reconfigure our learning communities by including disabled students, being intentional about their participation in life, and the dimension they bring to the theological community (159-64).

Conner points to a more inclusive vision for missiology, that values the abilities and contributions of all, regardless of their physical abilities or mental capacities. The concept of iconic witness doesn’t place the responsibility for Christian witness on the autonomous individual—able or disabled. It instead, lays emphasis on the church as a witnessing community where all are included. This means that while disabled people (or, other-abled people) have a crucial place in enriching the witness of the church. Conners approach honors the unique contributions that disabled people offer to our ecclesial and missional life.

I highly recommend this book.  Part and parcel to the church’s witness is the care for the vulnerable in society (James 1:27). As Christians make space to minister to and care for the vulnerable, they participate in God’s mission of redemption of the world. This book is valuable for an academic context (he envisions some changes for theological education), but as he traces the implications of disability for missiology, anyone who seeks to minister in the name of Christ will find this valuable. I give this five stars and think this book may be a real game changer. – ★★★★★

Notice of material connection I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

42 Seconds to Talk Like Jesus: a book review

I  read a book by Carl Medearis half a dozen years ago on the art of Not-Evangelism (Speaking of Jesus, David Cook, 2011).  It was a breath of fresh air. Medearis didn’t advocate manipulative techniques to talk about your faith. He said to not get stuck trying to defend the faith but he pointed at talking about our experience of Jesus in ways that were winsome, inviting and authentic. That was the only one of Medearis’s books I’ve read, though I’d hear him as a podcast guest occasionally, talking about his work as a peacemaker and his advocacy for Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations. He is very much evangelical, but he has sought to respond to terror and Islam in ways that reflect the manner and character of Jesus.

978-1-63146-489-8His newest book, 42 seconds, was birthed after a casual conversation he had with his neighbor as they both were working in their yards. Afterward, he emailed his assistant Jesse and asked him to look up every conversation Jesus ever had in the gospels. Hesse compiled a list, and the two of them read through each conversation, out loud, discovering the average conversation Jesus got in was 42 seconds long (ix, at least the portion of the conversation recorded in the Gospels). Medearis notes, “Because Jesus being Jesus, his conversations were typically anything but normal. and when I realized this—when I realized Jesus managed to turn otherwise everyday conversations into something profound—I knew I had to figure out how he did it” (ix).

So Medearis compiled a month’s worth of meditations on Jesus’ conversations, to be read for the course of four weeks. Each week has five readings on a theme, plus ‘a final word’ which tie it together with some reflections and suggestions for practice. These reflections are organized under the headings: “Be Kind,” “Be Present,” “Be Brave,
and, putting it all together, “Be Jesus.” Sorry, Melania, No “Be Best.”

Each daily entry has some practical reflections for engaging people in conversation about things that matter. The “Be Kind” section begins by exhorting us to say hi to people and acknowledge the people we fail to see (e.g. like the waiter or busboy filling your water). Medearis encourages us to ask questions, find some small act of service to do,  to pay attention to children (the way Jesus did). The “Be Present” section describes cultivating attention to the person we are talking to, and what may really be going on with them (instead of rushing to some strategic end, letting conversations go where they go).

The “Be Brave” section presses into the challenging things that Jesus said. Jesus says hard things, but not to everybody, and not always (religious insiders bore the brunt of his criticisms). The final section, “Be Jesus” prompts us to make sure our words and life are consistent with the life and witness of Jesus.

Medearis weaves stories of his own interactions with strangers and friends—evangelistic conversations or otherwise—with  Jesus’ conversations with people in the Bible. Medearis is winsome and this book is pretty accessible. If you read it over the course of a month, there are small challenges to be more like Jesus in our conversations and make every 42 seconds count. This isn’t a book on evangelism but on entering into more significant conversations (which includes evangelism or something like it). I give this four stars. -★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from NavPress through the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my honest review.

 

Let Go and Let GOP: a book review

Every wonder why the Republican party is the party that self-consciously allies itself with the Christian Faith, even as its leadership has suspect moral values and betrays the OR Book Going Rougebiblical call to care for the vulnerable? According to Terry Heaton, the answer is Pat Robertson, the 700 Club, and his CBN empire.  Heaton writes:

When I worked with him the 1980s, we practiced and promoted a brand of Charismatic Christianity that was seen as a breath of fresh air to a faith that had grown stale in every aspect from its music to its preaching, and we worked long, hard hours to move hearts and souls in the way we felt was right. In so doing, we altered the course of political power in the United States, and it was as natural as our Christian calling. Taking positions on social issues formerly held by conservative Democrats such as the sanctity of life, religious liberties, patriotism, family, school prayer, and respect for individualism and tradition, we spoke to primarily rural and suburban Christians on behalf of the Republican Party. We presented as Biblical mandates or “laws” economic views that catered to a culture, teaching that being one of the haves was available for everybody. Our arguments and teaching helped move the GOP to the right on the political spectrum and created a following that continues to baffle even the smartest political analysts in the country who are confounded by how such people would act against their own interests in giving power to Republicans. (2-3)

Jesus joined the GOP because as Pat Robertson wagged on about God, he wagged the dog, diverting evangelicals toward partisan politics and Republicanism. Heaton tells this story in The Gospel of SelfHe had a front-row seat for most of this. In the 1980s, he was the executive producer of The 700 club, helping to transform it to its news-style format which would, in turn, influence the shape of conservative politics. Heaton sees their work at CBN as pioneering the sort of point-of-view-journalism which prefigured the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Conservative Talk Radio, and Fox news.

History will record that The 700 Club was the tap-root of that which moved the Republican Party to the right and provided the political support today for a man like Donald Trump.  A 2015 Harvard report concluded that right-wing media was driving the GOP, not Republican leadership, but this assumes that in order for people to behave as cultural radicals, they must be manipulated into doing so. This is a misleading interpretation of human nature and the power of personal faith. (12-13).

Heaton sees the work of CBN, and later right-wing media outlets, as instrumental in manufacturing political opinion.  Much of the book recounts the story of CBN’s success in the 1980s and the political genius of Pat Robertson. The book is called the Gospel of Self because of the evangelistic emphasis on self-interest in Robertson (and other evangelicals) which dovetailed with fiscal conservative concerns for personal, economic prosperity. Heaton describes the growth of Robertson’s empire, his influence, his nearly successful bid for the GOP nomination, before being investigated by the IRS (Heaton suggests the government pressure came because George H W Bush was Vice President and Robertson’s chief opponent).  In the final two chapters,  Heaton offers his critique of media manipulation and the return of real independent journalism, and his suggestions for the emerging church in the post-Christian/postmodern era.

This is a critical look at Pat Robertson and his influence, but Heaton is not vindictive or bitter about his experience at CBN. Like Robertson, he was convinced they were doing the Lord’s work. So even as he talks about the way The 700 Club’s sometimes exaggerated or manipulative claims of healing, or Robertson’s overstated prophesies,  Heaton also extolls the good. The ways Robertson and CBN impacted real lives and made a difference, Robertson’s genius, and fundraising and commitment to Christian mission. Heaton now advocates a brand of Christianity that is less top-down, more relational and less manipulative (204), but I didn’t feel like this book is out to smear Robertson’s character (even as he points at some glaring problems).

The real value of the book is the insider perspective that Heaton offers on Robertson. Robertson and his impact on Evangelicals in politics are highly significant for understanding American political landscape. Of course, Robertson was not alone. There was also Falwell’s Moral Majority, Francis Schaeffer, Chuck Colson, and a host of other voices. Heaton doesn’t really tell their story (he briefly mentions Falwell, or segments Colson did on The 700 Club), but he was too close to the sun all other luminaries paled in comparison. Heaton linking Robertson’s 1980s empire to Trump did seem a bit tenuous, other than to point out ways in which conservative politics and Evangelical sociopolitical identity became entangled.  Though he does make some interesting suggestions on how motivated conservatives and evangelicals are by self-interest, and the ways social-care, a gospel prerogative, was short-shrifted by evangelicals (and the GOP).   A book like Francis FitzGerald’s The Evangelicals (Simon & Schuster, 2017) does a better job of tracing the movement of Evangelicalism towards the GOP and the rise of Trumpism, but Heaton’s perspective is interesting as one. I give this three-and-a-half-stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.