#bookreview the #comic Strong Female Protagonist

Before you sign off because this is a comic, wait. I can faithfully say that this web comic has made me think as much as some of the heavyweight books i have read, and the journey was much more enjoyable. 

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Strong female protagonist is the story of a young woman with extraordinary abilities trying to find a way in the world, which as it happens cant have its problems solved by might alone.
In other words, its a treatise on life. One which i thoroughly recommend – do read it from the beginning, it will be worth your while.

#PhilipYancey #interview for his new book Vanishing Grace @hodderfaith

Philip Yancey in his new book Vanishing Grace looks at how the church has become to many, bad news, a bringer of judgment and a place of hypocrisy. He sets out ways in which we can bring about Grace once again, breathing the good news through our actions, particularly as pilgrims, activists and artists.

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In your book you say:

“They [secular friends] view the church not as a change agent that can affect all of society but as a place where like minded people go to feel better about themselves.”

Unfortunately I think that for many churches that is an accurate description. Good work is done for the community as long as it does not affect the Sunday morning service in any way.

One of your own Archbishops, William Temple, described the church as a society that exists for the sake of its non-members. Naturally we honor the gathering together that may occur on a Sunday morning, for that is how the faith is passed down over generations. That is how we learn of the goodnewsness of the Gospel. In the book I list some of the “one another” phrases in the New Testament: Love one another, forgive one another, pray for one another, bear one another’s burdens, etc.

Yet Jesus told his followers he was sending them out like sheep among wolves—not hiding them in the safety of the barn. We nurture one another so that we can be equipped to go out and transform the world around us. A healthy church must have this outreach emphasis, for God knows (literally) we are surrounded by human need, both globally and locally.

I like the notion set out by the theologian Miroslav Volf. In a post-Christian society, the “head to head” proclamation doesn’t work so well. We best communicate faith by hand to heart to head. We reach out in service to others, which touches their hearts and awakens in them a thirst for the kind of grace and compassion they have not otherwise encountered in our competitive, harsh society.

People who do not fit the culture or class of “the church” are managed by people in leadership and a person has to be the right fit to do anything seen as significant.

I don’t relate well to this situation, and wonder if it’s specific to churches you know about. Most churches I know of welcome volunteers and find a place for them. It’s true that some leaders become control freaks and want to micro-manage, but in my experience they are the exception, and their churches gradually shrivel away. A grace-filled church finds room for less-than-stellar members. Indeed, who’s stellar anyway?

I love Karl Barth’s two-pronged description of the church. He holds up the church’s lofty mission: “to set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar to [the world’s] own manner and which contradicts it in a way which is full of promise.” No idealist (he saw firsthand the German church’s tepid response to Hitler), Barth then added a qualifier to his description of the church: “That fellowship that goes through history in obedience and in disobedience, in understanding and in misunderstanding of the lofty good God has given us.” We bear the news of that lofty good as humble pilgrims, not as haughty power-brokers.

I have witnessed power struggles between leadership and others in more than one church, which has brought about things being said and done which were truly the opposite of grace.

So have I. And I have family members who are drug addicts, who have served time in jail, who gossip, who have sexual affairs—but I don’t separate myself from my family because of them. The church is composed of people just like me, a rather scary and humbling thought. And if you read the New Testament letters, or the descriptions of the church in the first few chapters of the Book of Revelation, it’s clear they had the same problems.

When I review the motley cast of characters that populate the Bible, characters which somehow God used, I come up with a basic principle: “God uses the talent pool available.” All we can do is ask God to work though our own flawed personalities to show a different way, the way of grace.

Right now I go to a church which is a relatively new plant. It has a good attempt at showing grace as we share our lives before and during the service and eat together afterwards. Thankfully it hasn’t had the chance to solidify yet, so…

*What acts of grace do you think are most important for ordinary church people to take hold of?

Honesty is necessary. Small groups especially foster the kind of honest interchange that allow us to safely discuss our temptations, our failings, our stutter-steps toward spiritual growth. The old John Wesley model of holding each other accountable is hard to beat.

Just as important, remember that we are growing in order to attract others to the faith and to have an impact on those around us. Think of the fruit of the Spirit detailed in Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. If we truly helped each other practice these qualities, others will take note. They’re good for us, and good for the world. We need to show the world a different way to live.

We eat fruit because it’s attractive and tastes good. From the fruit’s perspective, though, it has one primary goal: to reproduce. If I eat an apple and spit out the seed, twenty years from now an apple tree will be creating more fruit in that same place.

*What teaching would you like to see in a church striving to be a place of grace?

As I look at Jesus’ style, I’m amazed that he managed to attract the kind of people that he must have disapproved of morally, even as the “good people” of his day saw him as a threat. Jesus held up ideals that no one can reach. If you haven’t murdered, have you hated? If you haven’t committed adultery, have you lusted? Be perfect, he said, as God is perfect. That’s an unattainable standard.

At the same time, Jesus presented a safety net of grace that no one could fall beyond: not a traitor like Peter or a torturer like Paul. He appealed to prostitutes and tax collectors and the least responsible citizens of his day.

Churches tend to do the opposite. Instead of keeping those high ideals of holiness, they lower them: Well, this used to be considered sin, but now, not so much. Or, some churches raise the bar of grace: We don’t want that kind of person in our church. We need to get back to Jesus’ style: no one falls beyond the reach of God’s grace, and yet God’s grace never leaves you there. It picks you up, dusts you off, forgives you, and prompts you forward. That’s the two-pronged message the church needs.

Philip Yancey

With thanks to both Philip Yancey and Hodder Faith for the opportunity of this interview.
Vanishing Grace is a book full of realism and hope, one which has renewed my own excitement at being part of this grace journey. It’s a real joy to remember that “God uses what is available” and that means you and I.
There is an infinite well of grace available to us and for us to take up and bless others with.

You can buy your copy of the book on amazon:

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vanishing-Grace-Whatever-Happened-Good/dp/1444789015/ref=tmm_pap_title_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1407004493&sr=8-1-fkmr0

US: http://www.amazon.com/Vanishing-Grace-What-Ever-Happened/dp/0310342120/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1407004686&sr=8-1&keywords=Philip+Yancey+vanishing+grace

#Bookreview Everybody wants to change the world by #Tonycampolo & #GordonAeschliman

I was quite scared as I embarked on this book, I mean, what might I feel compelled to do? And would I have the guts to do it?
It turned out to be a much happier read. Although this book is American orientated and because of its age, a little out of date as far as organisations go, it is still a brilliant book.
Anyone wanting to consider what it means to really LIVE the Christian life, rather than just think about it and then go back to “ordinary” life… Will celebrate this book.
As I read through it and the things I thought I might like to do began to pile up, it dawned on me that I could think laterally, and choose manageable things to do for each section.
That’s not to cop out, but instead to be wise and take on what’s sustainable… And potentially see that list grow.
Even if you are not a student, if you have a desire to lead a fuller, more productive, beautiful life, this book is worth your time.

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Book review: The Radical Disciple by John Stott

I have to say, I was a little daunted to read a John Stott book, they all seem so weighty.
And that it not to say this book is light weight, but it is very readable. Stott takes on some of the aspects of living out the Christian faith that it is very easy to ignore or let slip past us in the rush of life.
It is well worth reading.
Some of the chapters such as Christlikeness and Maturity I found easy to read and thought provoking. Others such as Simplicity I found… Not to simple to read.
But through the whole book I found it useful to stop and think how it all applied to my life, such as the chapter on Balance:

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All in all, I would very much recommend is book as an opportunity to ask ourselves some awkward questions and in doing so, move closer to Christ, which is after all, the aim of the game.

Book review: A little book of craftivism by Sarah Corbett

I bought this book on Amazon the other day having seen some chatter about it online:

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It turns out to be the best six quid I have spent in a very long time.
Corbett has found the elusive line between humility and passion as she describes a way of activism which I think can produce real change in both the activist and those who are on the receiving end.

So much of social media, reporting and campaigning seems to have been taken over by the haters and the trolls. Here in 60 pages is a beautiful antidote.

Jesus would call Sarah Corbett blessed:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

I would encourage anyone who enjoys being creative and who is interested in social or environmental justice to take hold of this book with enthusiasm.

Book Review: a Year’s Journey with God by Jennifer Rees Larcombe and for everyone books by Tom Wright

There are a million different types of books and notes out there in order to help you read the bible. What you use depends on how you approach reading or learning as a whole, but two of the best I have come across are a Year’s Journey with God by Jennifer Rees Larcombe and the  for everyone books by Tom Wright.

The ever lovely people at Hodder Faith sent me a Year’s Journey, and having read a week or so of it, I am loving it.  Rees Larcome finds that subtle balance between taking note of the piece of scripture at hand and applying it to our everyday lives. So often i have read bible notes and wondered what on earth what the writer has said, has got to do with the passage they have chosen.

In contrast here I found myself entering into the passage and identifying with it through Rees Larcome’s application. Using accessible and approachable language, she gently draws the reader towards God – it is a thoughtful and and uplifting start to the day, and I found my thoughts coming back to it as I got on with the business of life.

I have also been reading John for everyone by Tom Wright. I am a great fan of all Tom Wright’s for everyone series. It shares the accessible language of Rees Larcome’s book, and for those who would love to attempt a deeper theological exposition of scripture, but like me find themselves with the book in one hand and the dictionary in the other… and none the wiser.. Wright’s books are a revelation. His clear explanation of what has been written and why is set in the style of daily readings and all that these books have taught me is frankly, really cool!

So whether you are looking for life application or scriptural explanation, these two books are well worth your time and money.

Book Review: The Idolatry of God by Peter Rollins

I was very happy to win a book from Hodder Faith via their Facebook page, and sure enough, through the post came The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction by Peter Rollins. It sounded like the sort of title I would enjoy, but I might as well tell you straight away, that I struggled with this book. More than that, I just didn’t like it very much.

It does however, do what I suspect the author wants it to do. Reading this book is a bit like being torpedoed  while sitting in a small, wooden rowing boat.

All through the book I struggled to understand what Rollins was talking about. His, as the blurb says “incendiary”way of communicating meant I had to keep reminding myself that it was important to read the whole book before passing any kind of judgement. And I did learn some things:

  • There is a difference between our hearts and our ego. That is, there is who we really are (the heart) and who we think we are (the ego). Basically actions speak louder than words… we may think we are against children being used as slaves to make chocolate, but it’s the chocolate we buy which points out what we really believe.
  • We are prone to worship anything we think gives us satisfaction and security.
  • Church can become a security blanket rather than the place we worship God.
  • We aren’t very good at being with people who are different from us and either reject them, tolerate them or assimilate them.

The thing is, I think Rollins made it all more complicated than it need be. Now I admit, I probably think this because I just didn’t understand what he was talking about. I never thought i would say this, but the book is just too deep. I struggled to get to the bottom of it. And because of this, the whole tone of the book seemed very angry and combative. I was left feeling that in order to be a proper Christian I had to reject everything I have ever known and start again.

I began to wonder if I have ever loved Jesus or whether  my whole life has just been idolatry.

I actually finished this book a week ago, but i have spent the last few days thinking over what I read and praying. so this is my conclusion. Rollins is right, life is never certain and does not deliver complete satisfaction. but I disagree with is method of letting go of all that in order to love God. Instead of all that anger and rejection (which is how the book came across to me), I think I will stick with what I have read about mindfulness and about finding joy in the small things.

So today I thank God for… today. For all the beautiful thinks he has placed in my life, and I will not think about what I don’t have, but instead ask God to help me love as he does.

Finally, Rollins says you cannot know God. I disagree. I mean no, you can’t know ALL of God, and you have to be careful with what you think you know (like that story of the blind men and the elephant) but the bible says that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father, so in looking at Jesus… I can know God.

I am grateful to Hodder Faith for giving me this book, but I don’t think it is  one I would pass on.