Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Current Read Meme

Some books introduce a new approach to old ideas and as such challenge one to grow. Other books reinforce ideas that one already adheres to and in doing so reassure one in their beliefs. The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright successfully did both for me.

What did Jesus mean when he said the kingdom of God is at hand? Or to put it another way, what did the average Galilean villager hear when a young prophet strode into town and announced that Israel’s God was now at last becoming king?–N.T. Wright

A scholar investigating the life of Jesus, N.T. Wright contends that Christians have much to learn from a historical study of Jesus. He encourages readers to imagine themselves back into the world of the Old Testament as perceived by Jews or into the world that Jesus lived in and spoke to. The Jews had been living under foreign rule and were waiting for salvation from God. They had three options: One, they could separate themselves from the world and bide their time until they received direction from God; Two, they could align themselves with political leaders, build fancy buildings, and hope that God would approve; Three, they could pray, sharpen swords, and then fight a holy war. Into this world came Jesus, who suggested a fourth model: the kingdom of God at hand. Wright argues that the parables of Jesus weren’t just a commentary on heaven as Christians take them today, but also intended for his Jewish audience. For example, the parable of the sower isn’t simply about how many people hear the gospel but then don’t listen. It’s instead about what God simultaneously judging Israel for idolatry while also calling Israel to renew itself in God.

So what? How do we move from a detailed, historical reconstruction of this Jesus, living in the world of the first century, to our own world with its very different contours and agendas?–N.T. Wright

The more I read of Challenge of Jesus, the more I wondered how Wright would apply the historical Jesus to the modern-day Christian. Wright explains that although the Crucifixion would have devastated the hopes of the Old Testament Jew for a king, the real story of God was never about Israel beating up everyone and taking control. Instead it was always the story of God redeeming Israel and the world. In Genesis, Adam and Eve are beginning the task of being God-image bearers in a new creation. When they ate of the forbidden fruit, everything changed. But Jesus reversed the story. Jesus brought a new order, one in which those who accept Him are ambassadors and witnesses.

The Challenge of Jesus was heavy-going and dense. I had to reread sections and I know that there are still parts I’m trying to grasp. Yet I’m reviewing Wright’s book, because it inspired me to want to learn more about the historical context of the Bible and the gospel.

FragileStoneWho is your favorite Biblical character? One of mine has long been Peter because, despite of how close he was to Jesus, he made many mistakes and committed many sins. From Michael Card comes The Fragile Stone, subtitled The Emotional Life of Simon Peter. It covers every encounter that Peter had with Jesus, as well as Peter’s life as a preacher, healer, prisoner, reconciler, and writer. I continue to enjoy each new book I read by Card.

What I like about Card is he does not claim to know all the answers but instead simply invites readers to share his journey into theological discoveries. In his introduction to The Fragile Stone, Card describes a visit to a church in Romania. There, Peter is depicted as robust, rugged, and strong. Card grew up with a different image instead of Peter. He viewed Peter as being as capable as any of us has being impetuous and weak. The reality, Card goes on to contend is that Peter was far more complicated than either portrayal. While Peter certainly lived up to his title of being the Rock upon which Jesus would build the church, along with being hot-tempered and passionate, Peter also remained entirely dependent on Jesus as his Master. In trying to find a true picture of Peter, Card searched the Scriptures, as well as talked to Catholics and to Protestants. Yet Card fully admits that some of what he writes is guesses. Still, his hope remains that in gaining a better understanding Peter, we might also realize a fuller awareness of Jesus, which is the ultimate goal of every Christian.

I respect too how thorough Card in his presentation of his discoveries, while remaining readable to an average Christian like me. Take for example the first chapter. So much of the lives of Peter and Jesus, writes Card, would be spent within the sight of the lake of Galilee. Card then describes this lake and the fishing business of Peter and his brother Andrew. He tries to imagine the appearance of the brothers based on their medieval depiction, as well as to describe the sights and sounds and smells of their fishing world. From there, he goes onto explain the purpose and outcome of this initial encounter between Peter and Jesus. Andrew seeks out his brother to tell him that he has found the Messiah and to take him to meet Jesus. When Peter and Jesus meet, Peter is given a new name. Jesus has already looked into Peter’s heart and seen who he will become. The rest of the chapter expounds upon what that new name means, as well as offers comparisons to other times when Biblical characters have received a new name from God. In the remaining twelve chapters in part one of The Fragile Stone, Card draws on various portions of the Gospels to detail other encounters of Peter with Jesus, both the reaction of Peter and their significance to him.

In part two, Card turns from the Gospels to Acts and even briefly to the letters of Peter to round out his portrayal of the disciple whom Jesus renamed from Simon to Cephas (or Peter). What I treasure about these sections is how they further reveal how multi-dimensional Peter remained. Yes, Peter prayed to be released from prison. Yet when his prayer was answered, Peter at first thought he was simply seeing a vision. Yes, God himself orders Peter to eat all manner of animals. Yet as prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter said no three times. And yet despite those failures, Peter also experienced moments of great faith. Against the wishes of the religious leaders, Peter preached and healed. One of those healings, done with the power of Jesus, is even of a dead woman. And finally Peter writes two letters to the persecuted church.

Although I’ve long heard of Michael Card in the music industry, it’s as author of Christian nonfiction I’ve most grown to appreciate him. Card notes in his introduction that when he began his research, he found plenty of books on Paul, as well as of esteemed Christian saints, but few about Peter. I thank him for taking the time to write about this disciple who is the central character of many of the stories of the Gospel and is referred to almost 200 times in the New Testament.

This post is part of the Musing Mondays line-up. Check out others by clicking on the below graphic.


SacredSorrow“Why is this happening, God?” “How long will you wait to intervene, Lord?” “Where are you?” According to A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card, all of these are questions that were posed at some point by Biblical heroes. Having experienced a lot of sadness over the past few years, along with hearing of tragedy and even evil repeatedly in the news, this book has personal significance to me.

In the first few chapters, Card defines lament and discusses its place in the Christian’s life. Card talks about how we have lost the language that accepts suffering and how we need to find it again, because it’s an inherent part of our relationship with God. From our earliest days, we’re taught to control our tears and that of others, so in that way we might control pain. Card claims that instead lament is the path of true worship of God. Lament will help us heal, show us how to reach out to others, and allow us to develop intimacy with God.

The bulk of the remaining chapters focus on four Biblical heroes who expressed lament: David, Job, Jeremiah, and Jesus. Second king of Israel, David faced many sufferings including initially being overlooked as a candidate for God’s anointed, then being on the run as an outlaw, and even having his own children revolt against him. As for the prophet, Jeremiah, he accused God of being unfair. Jeremiah felt that God called him into service, only to have no one listen to or understand him. Using Biblical heroes as examples, Card show how we can find hope in troubled times.

Rounding out A Sacred Sorrow is an abundance of additional information on lament. There’s a list of all characters in the Bible who expressed sorrow, quotes from religious individuals from outside of the Bible, selected Davidic laments, and even a section on how to journal as part of lament. Readers are encouraged to grieve in God, but also to recall the blessings of God, and therefore to find fulfillment in God.

In my introduction, I wrote that A Sacred Sorrow has personal significance to me. I had reached the place in my Christian walk, where I felt questions and doubts but lacked any answers or joy. Ironically, by allowing myself to cry and vent, I begin to find my faith renewed. Since reading A Sacred Sorrow, I’ve even started a Biblical study of my own on the topic. If you’re looking for a new way to grow in God, A Sacred Sorrow should be on your reading list.

This post is part of the Musing Mondays line-up. Check out others by clicking on the below graphic.


SecretLanguageofKittensThe Secret Language of Kittens by Tammy Gagne was a hasty purchase, bought after my husband and I decided to adopt our foster kitten. Compact in size and almost 200 pages in length, this guide to kitten care will serve as a basic introduction for the new pet owner. To obtain in-depth coverage or if you’re a more experienced pet owner, I’d suggest supplementing your shelves with other books.

Never had a kitten? The Secret Language of Kittens will help you pick the right breed, as well as know what supplies to purchase. It’ll also give advice on how to introduce your new arrival to the family, train your growing kitten, pick the best veterinarian care, and even understand your young feline. The guide is well-organized and lavishly illustrated with photographs and sidebars. Despite the tiny print, you should be able to skim chapters within a week–a fact you might appreciate given how quickly kittens become cats.

Being a new kitten owner, I memorized the new facts this guide gave me. For example, I discovered that there are hypoallergenic breeds. These cats possess less dander than others and might be best for those who have allergies but still desire felines in their home. I also learned not all cat beds are the same. You should pick soft (as in fleece or velvety material) and machine-washable ones. Then there’s the fact that even the youngest cats can be overfed and so even with them you need to watch portions. Finally, I had no idea that kittens had teething and “terrible-two” stages.

Being a long-term cat owner, however, I felt disappointment over the lack of details for some topics. An outstanding example involved the page on pet introductions. The meet and greet with four-legged family members amounted to this advice: introduce slowly, keep introductions brief, and try again later if the first introduction is a failure. While pet introductions might not turn out to be complicated, even online articles tend to offer recommendations such as scent exchange and allowing cats to see one another at a distance. I also felt dismayed that for controversial topics, Gagne mostly stated her opinions as facts whether to provide a wet, dry, raw, or grain-free diet, what type of feeding bowl to use, and even whether feral cats can be tamed.

Gagne’s bio suggests that she is an expert in her field. According to the back flap, Gagne is a freelance writer who specializes in the health and behavior of companion animals. Moreover, she won awards in pet writing competitions. Finally, her family have a myriad of feathered and furry creatures. In other words, new kitten owners should feel comfortable trusting her advice. At the same time, having read many pet guides, I found myself missing the personal touch. Nothing in Gagne’s guide itself that she possess any knowledge beyond what she has researched. However, this is a minor quibble, and certainly shouldn’t distract readers from Gagne’s guide.

As I noted at the start, The Secret Language of Kittens by Tammy Gagne was a hasty purchase, bought after my husband and I decided to adopt our foster kitten. Although many of my concerns I ended up seeking the advice of our veterinarian or a more exhaustive guide, my initial questions were adequately answered by this guide. It’s a good starting point.

This post is part of the Musing Mondays line-up. Check out others by clicking on the below graphic.


MusingMondaysWhat are you reading right now?
What do you think of it?
Why did you chose it?

This past year, I’ve been reading books about personality types that potentially describe me. For that reason, I expected to like The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron better than I did. When Aron focused on the psychology behind highly sensitive people, I found myself bogged down by the theories. The subtitle of Aron’s book is “How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.” When Aron instead offered practical tips of how to adapt or thrive as a sensitive person, then I better appreciated her insights.

In her preface, Aron writes that, “What matters most, however, is that I am HSP like you. I am definitely not writing from on high, aiming to help you, poor soul, overcome your syndrome.” The irony is that one of my problems with her first few chapters is that Aron tries too hard to convince readers that being highly-sensitive is perfectly normal. By stressing how highly-sensitive people are not fearful, shy, introverted, or any of those apparently negative traits, I actually began to wonder what exactly we are. By stressing how special but also misunderstood our trait makes us, I begin to wonder if maybe we are a little abnormal. By stressing how culture does NOT view highly-sensitive people in an objective way, I begin to wonder if I too should feel biased against this trait.

Aron follows-up in subsequent chapters by stating that it doesn’t matter whether we know if we grew up sensitive. Instead what matters is “that it is your trait now”. Yet her first few chapters are so full of psychological principles, it’s hard to dismiss the impact of our upbringing on who we are today. After all, she notes that there are typical signs of highly-sensitive babies: Were you difficult about being dressed, put into water at bath time, trying new foods, or noise? In general, did changes prove a challenge to you? If so, you were probably highly-sensitive and needed a certain reaction from your parents to grow up unscathed. Aron even suggests that as one reads her various profiles of childhood, one might experience an emotional response. Memories might return that cause unease, to the point that one should write them down and analyze them.

After the first few chapters, Aron follows a chronological path. She discusses how one can reframe their youth, handle social relationships, thrive at work, and develop deep relationships. Here is where I found myself feeling more comforted, more reassured, and more awake. One can reframe their youth, which might have included a lot of avoidance of new situations, by teaching oneself to slowly become more comfortable with change. This might mean starting with what is safe, asking the support of a friend as one ventures into the unknown, accepting that one will feel uncertain, allowing ways to retreat, and being proud of whatever progress one makes. One can also better handle social skills, instead of slipping into shyness or introversion. In doing so, however, one should recognize one’s own strengths: talking seriously, listening well, and allowing silences. One can thrive at work too. Here, Aron shares from personal examples of how she found ways to live out her passions, without having to take on duties that required being extra stress or arousal. Finally, one can develop deep relationships. Highly-sensitive people will need to recognize that their arousal levels will vary from others as will need for alone time and time-outs during conflicts. At the time, they often bring to the table positive thoughts and reflective listening.

Years ago, my husband started me on the path of enjoying the music by Jewel. In particular, he turned me onto her song, “I’m Sensitive.” He felt it described me. The Highly Sensitive Person didn’t completely convince me that I should embrace my sensitive side, but it did successfully offer me lots of ideas of how to make the most of my particular personality.

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