Book Review: Beyond Colorblind

I don’t often review the books that I work with in my professional sphere on my blog, but this fall I worked on a contract for a book that was so timely and important, I knew I would need to share it here.

Sarah Shin’s Beyond Colorblind released earlier this month. It is a smart, gracious exploration of the importance of ethnic diversity in the church and working past the tendency to ignore it.

In portions of my circles, I have heard grumbling–people wondering why race and civil-rights issues are even being discussed in the church. The assumption from many white evangelicals is that ignoring race makes the church post-racial. In such settings, many have found it more comfortable to ignore the injustices and wounds that have been inflicted on so many of our brothers and sisters–often by those within the body of Christ.

Beyond Colorblind is a beautifully written call to reconciliation and healing delivered with grace, humility, and authority. I was so touched by Shin’s words and vulnerability in this book. She tackles a topic that becomes more heated and relevant by the day with the love of Christ.

If you are looking for a way to enter into dialogue surrounding ethnicity and the church, THIS IS IT! I highly recommend this for anyone burdened for how long our society has been silent as well as for those who are baffled as to why some feel we need to have these conversations to begin with.

Shin’s prophetic call has been eye-opening and healing to me. I know it will be for you too.

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Who Am I?

Existentialism aside, I think this is something we all ask and it seems like a pretty foundational question. And once it’s answered, we usually live out from the answer.

“If this is who I am, this is how I will act in relationships.” “If these are my gifts, then this is the calling God has for me.” “If this is what I’m feeling, then this is how I should move forward.”

But here’s the problem with that line of thinking:

“If this is how my dreams/ hopes/ desires/ demands are being thwarted, then God must not be for me or just doesn’t even exist.”

Escalated quickly, yes?

I think we have embarked on our search for identity wrong. And we may “know” we are to find our identity in Christ, but do we really by-heart know it?

I was recently introduced to a line of questioning by my small group leader, but this was adapted from Jeff Vanderstelt. Here’s the order in which I usually ask these questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. So how do I respond?
  3. What did God do for me?
  4. Then who is God?

But how unfortunate is that? My self-view and behavior have no bearing over who God is and what he’s done!

For example, when I was once passed over for a professional role I had thrown my hat in the ring for, I was trying to re-examine some goals. Who was I? I was a failure and probably not meant to be where God had placed me. How was I to respond? Hide, of course! I had failed and been rejected and could not let people know I was a fraud! What did God do? He had placed me here to reveal my inadequacy. Then who is God? He’s trying to teach me a lesson about not feeling too confident in my abilities.

…There’s a lie in there somewhere. Maybe more than one.

If I truly want to understand who I am, I need to flip my understanding of myself on its head. This often means flipping my frame of understanding around:

  1. Who is God?
  2. What did God do for me?
  3. So how do I respond?
  4. Then who am I?

When these questions are answered in the proper order, I am able to live out of the story of the gospel, rather than the story of selfishness I am trying to tell on my own. Living out of the gospel gives me and outward and upward perspective, rather than trying to satisfy my inward longings.

Let’s look at that same scenario:

Who is God? He is my father and creator. What has he done for me? He as saved me and covered me in his righteousness because of his great love for me. How to I respond? I trust that what he has for me is best in both success and failure. Then who am I? I am dearly loved and no good thing has been withheld from me.

With these questions in a proper order, my view of God and view of self are also ordered properly. From there, I can respond out of truth and walk forward in faith despite the hurt of my circumstances.

Which set of questions are we living out of and how is that effecting our friendships, families, marriages, vocations, and even our self-talk?

The first question may be, “Who are you?”, but the second question must be, “How are you going to answer that?”

Book Review & Giveaway: The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

Readers bring so much to the table when they pick up a book, whether we realize it or not. Our expectations, experiences, and tastes determine so much what we receive when we’re reading.

I was reminded of this when discussing recent release The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck.

When the opportunity to review Bethany Turner’s debut novel came up, I jumped at the chance. I had been told that this was an edgy approach to Christian fiction, that Turner’s voice was fresh and funny. It had been pitched to me as a perfect read for the fans of Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding (of Confessions of a Shopaholic and Bridget Jones’s Diary fame respectively)—two of my favorites, so I figured this book was pretty much my guilty pleasure cup of tea.

Here is what I loved about The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck:

  • Turner is a just-plain-talented writer. Her voice is strong, especially for a debut novelist.
  • I laughed out loud a lot—something I’ve never done with a Christian fiction novel (at least not when I was supposed too…)
  • The fact that it’s was a light, slightly-edgy, fast-passed, romantic comedy in Christian fiction! The publisher taking a risk in this direction was encouraging.

This said, I was a little thrown that the plot was perfectly set up to subvert the usual Christian romance formula, but then ran into it’s arms…quite literally.

There is nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just not my preference as a reader.

So fast forward a week and I’m discussing my disappointment with a friend who works in the industry who I knew had also read the book. She is much more critical of what she reads than I am, so expected her to be “on my side” in this.

My friend very much enjoyed the book. She also found it fresh and funny. She was pleasantly surprised to see the boundaries the book pushed in Christian fiction.

See, my friend did not have the same pitch I had before the book came out. She instead had it come across her desk while she was working. No expectations—just the book itself. In the midst of Amish and prairie romances she often works with came a smart, modern book with an honest, funny, and relatable protagonist.

And it was true! The book may have been what I thought was formulaic, but it challenged a lot of the genres “rules.” The protagonist was actually broken and relatably flawed. She and her love interest felt sexual desire, but were convicted to actually be aware of it and deal with it—something authors just pretend isn’t a factor in a Christian relationship. The protagonist was divorced and unsaved at the beginning of the novel and her conversion was not an overnight now-she’s-perfect kind of thing. I saw myself and my friends in Sarah’s character and so did my friend.

I had put expectations on this book to be something I don’t think the Christian fiction genre is ready for. But after talking with my friend, I see great value in the strides this book has taken to bring the genre forward, and that I can respect.

Perhaps my expectations were not met, but I honestly look forward to Turner’s next book. Her wit and voice are a great contribution to Christian fiction and I can’t wait to see how she will continue to push boundaries.

I would recommend The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck for readers of Christian fiction looking for a good laugh and a great character. This is a quick read, perfect for upcoming holiday travels.

How have your expectations or preconceived ideas effected how you’ve approached a book? Tell me on the comments below!

Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by giving Bethany or I some love on social! There are multiple ways to enter. The winner will be randomly selected on Saturday, November 18, 2018 and contacted via email. Must be within the U.S. to be eligible to win.

Something Small, Something Simple

I shared a couple weeks back about feeling cranky with my faith. Some of this stems from some things in my church that may not be to my personal preference. Most of it stems from a personal pursuit of God that was too narrow and self-focused.

It’s easy for my heart to go from discerning and deep-thinking to cynical and critical, and I was seeing evidence of this in my relationship with God. So much felt like thrill-seeking—the next conference, the next bible study, the next coffee with a mentor—that would bring the insight, depth, or change I was aching for. But God is not a spiritual crack dealer.

God is found in the simple and small—the word, prayer, and community. And so a journey to find personal liturgy began.

…And slowly crashed and burned.

Reading James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love was insightful, bringing words to feelings and longings I’ve held in my faith life for so long. The book is a call back to small daily practices that realign us with God’s story. It’s a call to look at our habits and what they point our hearts to and retraining our habits to point to the gospel—what we truly want to love. It’s looking for liturgy in the everyday.

Thing is, the book was on the philosophy of this more than the practice. So what do daily liturgies look like for a single girl in an evangelical church?

Honestly, I still don’t know. What I do know is this:

I operate better under structure, though I try to avoid it to keep my autonomy

Autonomy is not biblical, and that is something I’ve had to examine and accept. Having a structure to my days and weeks helps me to function better and live healthier. Having habits to look to from the outset keeps me from feeling lost or purposeless. It instead brings focus and shape.

I love my job and the flexibility it brings, but I also acknowledge that it is an opportunity to steward my time and habits well and I want to do so in a way that welcomes community. Not in a way that hordes my autonomy.

Prayer is not passive, but is, in fact, the most powerful thing we can do

Prayer was something I did in a prayer journal when I had plenty of time to write out long prayers by hand in a prayer journal. So guess what was the first thing to go out the window when life got busy?

So, yes, I still love those extended times of prayer, but I’ve also found that I want to form habits that allow me to pray without ceasing. When a friend I haven’t talked to in a while comes to mind, I pray for them. When something on the news stirs my hear to be anxious, I pray about it. When I’m at a loss, I pray.

Not all the time, but enough that this is becoming second nature, rather than just some new thing I’ll try for three days and forget about.

The church is built when the body of Christ is down on it’s knees

Yes, spiritual formation can happen in big arenas with flashy speakers. But lasting change and discipleship happens in the quiet moments alone, between the word and prayer.

I can think I know what is right for myself, or the church, or society at large, but I am so often wrong. Starting my day with prayer and time in the bible rather than the news or my email inbox brings a different rhythm to my days.

I have started reading Seeking God’s Face each morning and am grateful for the reminder of who God is and what his heart is for every morning. The book pairs a psalm and passage of scripture with prayer prompts and excerpts from various books of prayer. It also guides you through the seasons of the Christian year—something very new to this baptist girl.

This habit has been refreshing and grounding.

I’ve found that seeking to live in God’s story is not something glamorous or earth-shattering—not in the day-to-day. It’s small, it’s simple, and it’s so very necessary.

How are you seeking small and simple habits to point you back to God’s story?

 

Book Review: Fiercehearted

I work in publishing and I love it. But if someone was to ask me what I disliked about the industry I’m in, I would complain about the quality of content being produced for women.

It’s a trend within Christian literature—particularly that targeted at a female audience—that’s pushed more of a feelings-bases theology than I’m comfortable with. I’m not going to name authors or dig into that frustration here.

Instead, I want to talk about a different voice in the conversation for women that has brought me a little hope this month.

Holley Gerth’s latest, Fiercehearted explores the wonder, pain, beauty, and brokenness that makes up the Christian walk of a woman. In short, personal—sometimes deeply so—essays, Gerth explores what it means to lean fully into the call to be a woman of God.

I’ll be honest, I was a little hesitant to pick up another book on faith targeted solely to women, but when I read the back cover copy, I had to be in.

In a season in my life where I feel tired, cranky, and like I just don’t fit it, it takes a little more courage to step beyond the pages of my Bible to live out what the words say.

For example, the author describes her struggle to have children and her journey to surrender that longing. I resonated deeply with her struggle to feel like her life needed to fit a certain mold. As I struggle to surrender my own longings, it was a comfort to hear of God’s faithfulness in her story, seeing how he met her in such an unconventional and beautiful way.

I would recommend Fiercehearted for those feeling worn by the season they currently find themselves in, those struggling with significance, and those looking for short bits of encouragement in a dark season. I think Gerth’s readers will find her relatable, honest, and wise.

Marriage, Idolatry, And The Church

I am so thankful that so many of you reading this want to be part of the dialogue about marriage, singleness, and the church. I also love that your approach–and the approach I try to have–is that of all-of-us-in-this-together mentality rather than us-versus-them. Your responses are encouraging, enlightening, and just plain fun to interact with.

After my last post on marriage and singleness went live, I received a really thoughtful response asking for clarification on a statement I made and a great conversation emerged. I’d love to bring that conversation to our community at large today.

I stated and still stand behind the statement that the church (especially the evangelical side of the body) tends to idolize marriage. But how do I see this? Here are some of the thoughts that came out of this great dialogue.

Once upon a time, I was very passionately involved in the purity culture that was so active in the late nineties and early two thousands. I had kissed dating good bye and embraced authentic femininity with Jesus as my prince charming. (And I have lots of thoughts about that time in my life, but that’s a different blog post.) There was so much teaching I subjected myself to that were, frankly, lies verging on spiritual abuse.

We were taught—and many are still taught—that we need to be sexually pure for the sake of our future spouse—not for the sake of godliness or obedience. But what if there is no spouse ahead? Then what was the point?

I remember banking on the words of a popular purity author of the time that essentially amounted to “if you pursue a relationship with God and do everything you’re supposed to as a good Christian girl and you want a marriage hard enough, he will bring that to you.” But is that not just a slanted version of a prosperity gospel? This was based off of the Psalm saying that God will bring us the desires of our hearts. But what if he won’t give us the thing we desire, but instead redeemed desires?

So often the dialogue for young people regarding a future of marriage is that it is the only and expected option. This is what I mean by the idolizing of marriage. It is the assumption that it happens for everyone and if it does not, something is wrong.

The stats a single friend has shared—and according to a Barna study are correct—is that there are twice as many Christian young women in the world than Christian young men. If we are supposed to seek to be equally yoked, the church is going to be seeing more singles, not because the church is falling to the ways of the world, but because marriage is not the only plan God has.

In an unbroken world, yes, I think everyone would find their person, but in our broken world, God draws together so many of us with different stories to make up his body. I think we need to acknowledge this possibility and diversity of God’s plan earlier than we have been with our young people—from jr. high and high schoolers as well as those in adulthood.

Here is a question my friend asked, that I’d love for you to weigh in on: how can these two groups—married and single—not just coexist, but thrive together, and benefit one another? Please weigh in in the comments below!

My friend, Gina Dalfanzo addresses much of this in her fabulous book, One By One. I highly recommend you pick up a copy if this discussion interests you.

Book Review: Warcross

It has been my goal this fall to get more in touch with Young Adult literature since that is the sphere in which I would ultimately like to write.

I recently subscribed to Uppercast Box (which is AWESOME, by they way) and the first book to come my way was Warcross by Maria Lu.

Warcross takes place in a very near future where we have discarded social media and video games for the brilliant and revolutionary replacement of virtual reality—namely, the game Warcross. It’s in this sphere that we meet Emika Chin—a talented hacker and gamer who has been dealt a bad hand and a criminal record. The annual Warcross games (think the Olympics mixed with the Quidditch World Cup) are coming up and Emika plans to watch, despite the eviction notices showing up on her door and her meager income from bounty hunting not taking care of her debts. She performs a hack during the opening games that launches her into the limelight and catching the attention of her hero and Warcross creator Hideo Tanaka.

Sound like fun?

Here’s why I enjoyed it:

  • Diverse cast: the characters of the book span numerous cultures and ethnicities—something that you didn’t see very often ten years ago. I loved learning about Japanese cultures and relating with characters that didn’t look like me. I was also touched thinking of the young women who did connect with these characters because they looked like them. I love that!
  • Smart, savvy female protagonist: Emika is resourceful, flawed, vulnerable, and strong. I loved how Lu pulled back the layers of her main character in a way that was intriguing and relatable. Our culture demands strong female leads, but we are often given women who do not feel or are just fighting machines. Emika can handle her own battles, but isn’t afraid to lean into a potential romance, or feel loss. She was so different from me, but I connected with her immediately.
  • Dilemma not one of love, but morality: I won’t spoil the big conflict of the novel, but I will say that I really respected that it did not center around the romance of the story, but instead the integrity of the characters. This was fresh and very discussable.

I would recommend Warcross to those who enjoyed the Hunger Games or Divergent series—a tough female lead who actually has a heart and discernible skills. I also would recommend this to gamers who love to read. I have it on good authority that Lu threw in all kinds of great gaming easter eggs that were completely lost on me just because that’s not part of my world.

I cannot wait to see where the sequel leads and which path Emika chooses to take.

I’m Cranky And I Know It

If I were to describe my relationship with faith and the church in this season of my life, I think there is an overarching theme that would emerge: I’m cranky.

There are parts of what I’ve grown up with that feel like a sweater I’ve grown out of—the hem doesn’t meet my jeans any longer and the sleeves are tight around my upper arms and it just feels uncomfortable. I read a book on spiritual formation for women and I wonder why so much of it is based on feelings and why it had to be directed at women instead of all of us. I leave a church service feeling grippy about the amount of first-person-personal-pronouns used in so many Christian songs today. I cross my arms feeling like I will never be respected or taken seriously in an evangelical community unless I am married with children.

Mostly, I notice my brokenness in all of this complaining and discontent.

A cycle of frustration and guilt, frustration and guilt, frustration and guilt has marked my days and I have had trouble reconciling the tension. So many prayers asking for contentment, or better attitudes, or anything to resolve the itchy, too-tight feeling I feel in my faith communities. Because, let’s be honest, I am the common denominator in these spheres.

It wasn’t until listening to two friends talk through one’s frustrating family situation that I began to find some hope.

“I’m just becoming so aware of my brokenness in all of this,” my one friend said, a little teary.

“But just think,” our friend responded, “He loves you too much to not make you aware of this. He wants you to know this is in you, and he’s singing over you with grace in this struggle. He won’t leave you here.”

I almost started sobbing right there. Because I felt this—I hadn’t known it before that moment, but this was what I had been aching for.

God loves us so much that he has covered us in his own righteousness that we can come before the Father without fear. And how much more does he loves us that he takes us just as we are, but also steps in to heal our broken places.

He is not looking for me to heal my broken, cranky places. Of that, I am incapable. He is making me more aware of them so that I bring them to him. To sit with him, seeking more of him. To behold over behave.

My purpose is not to fix the church. That is for God to do. I am part of the church—a very broken part at that. My purpose is to sit and let him work on me, surrendering how I think things should be—how I think I should be. To let him sing over me in grace so that I may walk out into the world with that same grace to give.

He confronts us with our brokenness not to shame us into submission. He wades into our broken places to demonstrate his grace and sing over us with love. It’s through grace and love that our broken places are made whole.

For the Sake of My Neighbor

Every morning I receive an email that is essentially SparkNotes for the news. This has been a really helpful tool for keeping up with current events, but for the past year, it has also been really helpful in putting me in a state of lament before I even leave bed.

It’s so easy to be bogged down by how broken our world is—natural disasters raging in all the corners of the globe, corruption of power permeating our politics and culture, nasty, thoughtless words splashed across social media. It makes me sad. It makes me tired.

But here is what I am holding on to tighter and tighter these days: I am not a citizen of this world. I am a citizen of the kingdom.

No, this doesn’t fix anything in the far reaches of the world. No, this does not bring relief to the suffering brought to light in my inbox every morning. But here is what knowing that does:

Being a citizen of the kingdom of God brings to light what I can do in my sphere of influence. It reminds me that peace does not start out in Spain or Iraq—it starts in my home. It allows me to extend grace to an acquaintance online who’s words may seem narrow to me, and instead gives me the opportunity to pray for them and perhaps ask a question out of love. It calls for me to encourage, challenge, and care about what is happening in the spaces I frequent with the people who mean something to me.

Joining the kingdom allows me to think on my neighbor in ways that help him flourish. It gives me eyes to see those who are other than me and find ways to love them in a manner that helps and doesn’t harm. It allows me to experience compassion and forgiveness so that I may then go out and extend it.

Yes, these days feel dark and hope sometimes far off. Oh, do I feel that, friend. But we have been placed where we are for a reason! We interact with the same people on a regular basis. We frequent the same places routinely. These places are our mission fields! These people are the ones we are called to serve with grace and compassion! Sometimes this means listening—really listening—to those we don’t agree with. Sometimes this looks like donating household items you aren’t using for refugees relocating to your area. Sometimes this is as simple as dropping to your knees and praying for your community.

Whatever it looks like, let’s do it. Let’s take our place in the kingdom.

Participating in the kingdom feels small and ordinary and sometimes not enough, but it is what I am called to and a way I can actually make a difference. And the same is true of you.

So where will you bring peace, hope, and love today?

If you’d like to read more on this concept, I highly recommend You are What You Love by James K.A. Smith or Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World by Kyle David Bennet.

A Blessing for Writers

I spent my weekend at the Breathe Christian Writers Conferenceone of my favorite things EVER. I had the immense privilege of writing a blessing and prayer for this community that has given me so much and I just wanted to share it with you in lieu of a blog post today. I think this is something that can bless all creatives out there.

Last year we closed the conference with a statement by James Scott Bell:
“We are the storytellers. We bring the light.”

This year has proven time and time again that we are still called to this. These are dark and divisive times where the light is more desperately needed than ever before.

Each of us was called to this noble task ahead. How do we know we are called? We have been saved. And we are also called to share what we have been graciously given.

To adapt the words of Alvin Plantinga for the sake of us writers:
“We who are Christians and propose to be writers must not rest content with being writers who happen, incidentally to be Christians; we must strive to be Christian writers. We must therefore pursue our projects with integrity, independence, and Christian boldness.”

This is the charge I give to you, writers!

May we continue to encourage one another onward:

To create with integrity—knowing that to create costs, but that we have been called to create nonetheless.

To create with independence—knowing God has given us work that only we can do with the experiences and burdens he has bestowed to each of us.

But most of all to create with Christian boldness—to know that whether we write for an audience of believers or not, or even an audience of one, we have not been given a spirit of timidity, but one of courage.

We go out from this place to tell the truth in our stories, poems, songs, essays, scripts, letters, emails, even our ephemeral social media musings. We go out to invite the world to sit at the feet of our God and listen.

All great liturgies end with a sending, so may I pray with you to send you out?

 

Lord,

I thank you for this gathering where we may join together and affirm the gifts and words you have given to us. You have placed each and every person in these seats with great purpose and I thank you for the call you have placed on these lives.

May these souls leave here encouraged, connected to one another and even more deeply connected with you.

As we journey from here, do not let us shy away from the words you have given us to write, but instead let us push past resistance and sit down to our desks, our notepads, our computers and let us write. Let us write with the boldness you have granted each of us. Let us remember that courage follows obedience and not the other way around.

May the fruit of our worship and our writing be that which gathers, unites, and blesses.

Let us be a body that encourages one another when the truth seems too heavy, when the audience seems non-existent, when the deadline looms too quickly, when the enemy shouts too loudly, and when the words seem too few. Let us build one another up, pushing one another toward you—the giver of words, author of our lives and creator of the ultimate story.

We write because you write. We create because you create. We tell because you have saved.

Protect us as we leave this place. Give our words a place to land. Give our hearts a glimpse of home.

We thank you again, Father.

In your name,

Amen