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I recently finished Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence and I must say it is one of the most important books around now.  She historically and culturally explains Christianity’s current path and place, and she even relates it to giant historical events in the past.  She shows how Christianity and Judaism fall into 500-year epochs that radically shift the way those religions are in the word (she also explains that Islam goes through this also, but it is 200 years later than this).

Tickle takes us back in time, explaining the epochs going backwards.  She shows us 500 years ago and The Great Reformation and she explains that in each of these shifting epochs, society must answer the question, “Where now is the authority?” The Great Reformation answered that question with Sola Scriptura.  She then moves us back 500 years before that to approximately 1000ce, and The Great Schism.  She explains certain doctrinal differences that brought the rise of The Vatican and the way it influenced Western Christianity even today.

She takes us 500 years before that to Gregory The Great and she describes the Fall of Rome, and the advent of Christian monasticism.  She shows how this period’s Christianity survives and flourishes in the monasteries, convents and abbeys through The Dark Ages.  In showing this, she then takes us back 500 years before that to Christ Himself.  She shows the massive impact and changes in Judaism and the birth of Christianity during this time.  She then notes the Jewish epochal shifts as 500 years prior finds the Babylonian Exile, and 500 years prior to that is the beginning of the Davidic Line of Kings.

Anyway, she explains these historical shifts and explains that as we ask, “Where now is the authority?” we are forced to examine 3 parts of our religion; spirituality, morality, and corporeality (the physical evidence of religion; buildings, writings even clothing).  She shows the historical events leading up to now that cause us to question Christianity’s morality, spirituality and corporeality.  She shows the way our post-modern world asks, “Where now is the authority?” to sola scriptura.  It’s very interesting to see the different things going on in western culture that affect our perception of God.

Tickle goes to these great lengths to try to show us what’s going on because she shows how each situation led to enormous bloodshed.  Her purpose and encouragement is to show us where we are and what we are going through so that we may avoid the massive bloodshed that affected the previous shifts (or ‘rummage sales’ as she calls them).  She writes to show us that what we are going through is in fact giant and epochal, and that it is a good thing (each previous shift has resulted in the split parts of Christianity being strengthened and spread or dispersed); she wants us to see that Christianity will become better, both traditional Christianity as well as Emergent Christianity.

Phyllis Tickle is an amazing writer.  Her book is fun to read, and is dripping with scholarly wisdom and research, though not boring.  She writes so positively, valuing and blessing each part of Christianity, and even mentions that the seeming-at-odds parts of Christianity cannot devalue each other.  I honestly think this is one of the most important books a Christian could read now.  I think every Christian should read it (and even people who aren’t Christian would benefit from it).  I highly recommend this book.

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Rob Bell’s most recent book, a collaborative project with Don Golden is powerful and challenging.  Bell brings his characteristic Hebrew scripture, culture and narrative knowledge to illuminate how the modern American church is in exile; In fact, the book’s subtitle is A Manifesto For the Church in Exile.  Bell’s point centers on four places in the biblical story, Egypt, Sinai, Jerusalem and Babylon.  He describes these places in terms of spiritual, cultural and narrative markers rather than strictly their geographical locations.  In his spiritualization of these places the authors make certain to point out that they do not intend to encourage or facilitate racism, religious hatred or intolerance or anything along those lines.

Bell universalizes the Egypt experience by relating the Israelites enslavement and cries to God.  He points out how the God of the Bible always hears the oppressed’s cries.  He liberates the Israelites trough an atoning process that involves first-born son’s paying the price and that event becomes Passover, which we remember as a sign of God’s response and grace.

After Egypt we move to Sinai, where God speaks to Israel, and where a marriage covenant of sorts is made.  The picture of Sinai is of marriage with God, of receiving God’s word and of near immediate adultery.

We move on to Jerusalem, God’s promised land and blessing and living in that.  Here, though, Bell shows two possible outcomes of blessing; we can either remember the slavery, deliverance and blessing and the God who did that, or we can do what Israel did, forget about Egypt and institutionalize our ways against God’s.  Here we see Solomon building God’s temple upon the backs of unwilling workers, slaves.

We move on from here to Babylon, the effect of living against God’s ways and desires.  Israel is conquered and taken back into slavery.  In Babylon we get the picture that Israel stops worshipping in their sadness.  They are back in slaver, yet the prophets speak for God and relate God’s desire for bringing all of creation back into right relation with God.  They speak of another son of David who will use his power in suffering service and will right wrongs through his life.  His life will be God’s blessing of all people and will be the fulfillment of covenants made at Sinai and earlier.

We then see Jesus.  We understand his place in this narrative calls back at least 500 years prior to his life on earth.  He is the one to make things right with God, all things.  He is the one to show God’s love to all nations, even enemies.  This book shows how we are in the midst of empire living.  We have the opportunity to be the Jerusalem God designed or to fall into the path against God’s desires will and plan.

America is so blessed, and God blesses so that others will be blessed, those without a voice, those without power, those without.  Because God always hears the cry of the oppressed.  Bell shows us our incredible opportunity to live as God’s Church and help enact God’s will here on earth, just like is would be in heaven.  I highly recommend this book, but do so with this preface; you will be challenged, you won’t be the same, and hopefully you will be more of who God created you to be.

2 pses.  check out Marko’s review here, and i also think this book is very similar in subject to Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, but maybe more people will be able to identify with it.  I am glad we have voices like Shane and Rob and Don calling us to more.

I just finished a GREAT book that my friend Josiah recently gave to me, How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn.  This is a bit of fiction set in Wales in about a generation around the turn of the twentieth century.  The novel is told from the viewpoint of Huw Morgan, the main character and youngest son of the coal-mining, God-fearing Morgan family and is largely an elegy to people place and way of life that no longer exist.

Huw speaks of his childhood with beautiful, rose-colored fondness and the picture he paints both help the reader mourn their loss and celebrate it’s transience.  The story follows the decline of coal mining as an industry, and the Morgan family can be viewed almost as a barometer for the village’s prosperity and happiness.  The family slowly separates as the sons marry and move, and the town likewise feels a decline.  The brothers return home for a season and the town also experiences a brief and renewed contentment.  The analogy follows till the story’s end (SPOILER ALERT) when Huw’s Father dies in a mine collapse while trying to fix stuff during a large strike.

Llewellyn writes beautifully.  His prose crosses into poetry, and he taps into universal feelings within his reader.  The book is long-ish (450 pages) but it is an easy and captivating read and I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a good fiction story.  PS. Thanks to my buddy Josiah, for giving me this book.

I just recently finished the book, The Revolutionary Communicator by Jedd Medefind and Erik Lokkesmoe.  Their whole book is a sort of combination communicator’s book and Christian living book.  These are two guys who are actively involved in politics and probably spend a lot of time writing speeches and giving them in front of crowds so communication is an important subject for them.  Likewise they are two Christian guys and so they know that Jesus was one incredible communicator and they look to his example in how to communicate effectively in our world.

Medefind and Lokkesmoe spend a chapter each focusing on some sort of aspect of Jesus’ communication and how they can be applied to our own communication efforts.  The book breaks down into these chapter/topics: attentiveness and listening, seeking connection on the listener’s terms, authenticity, storytelling, solitude, and then defining success.  The do a great job of focusing on how these things can be done in the wrong attitude and heart and can merely become manipulation tools, so they push the reader on to more, to actually be the things they call the reader to.

The book ends with a pretty great and unexpected twist, I think.  It concludes with showing the reader Jesus’ definition of success: suffering service and spending yourself for others for little, yet with a deep and impacting spiritual and relational legacy that lasts many years (2000 in Jesus’ case).  They do a great job of tying in Jesus’ deity and explaining that we will not have the exact same results as Jesus, yet we can still leave eternal marks if we follow his guide.  My one complaint is that sometimes I felt there were too many anecdotes and stories, however, in doing so they abide by their principle of storytelling, so they are putting their money where their mouth is, I just personally could have done with a few less.

All in all, a really good read for those in the communication fields and for Christians seeking to live like Christ and interact like Christ.

Well, the other day I finished reading William P. Young’s The Shack and I have been trying to figure out what I would write about in a review for it.  I mean this book is almost as talked about as The Purpose Driven Life was at its peak (except blogs are much more popular now, so probably more is written about The Shack- all you have to do is google the title).  This book  elicits all ranges of responses from readers, the subject is at once heavy, beautiful, incomprehensible, wonderful and funny.  The book’s theology breaks out of modern theology’s box and  many claim it is too liberal, even heretical in the way that God is presented specifically not white and male, and others cite the book’s irreverence toward Christian culture as another picking point.

I personally have read many reviews of this book that pick it apart.  They criticize the editing, the story’s resolution, and just about anything else you could possibly nit-pick.  I personally don’t see the benefit of random bloggers picking apart a best-selling novel, so I will mention my reactions and one part of the story I particularly loved.

I will preface by saying that I have a hard time getting into things that are popular, especially things that are popular in Christian culture, however, I really loved this book.  It is sad, beautiful, and joyful; it’s a picture of God’s love for humanity, of divine restoration; and it’s a great view into God’s big picture.  I Love that in this book God has a sense of humor, loves to cook, garden, and work with his hands.  I love that time and again the book shows God’s beauty amidst deep sadness; either through brilliant, glory-filled flashes or soft, quiet glimpses, Young reveals God’s redemptive heart in the middle of terribly sad situations.  I will say that this book made me cry quite a few times, but when it did, there were always combined tears of sadness for the situation and joy for God’s healing and love for us.

I will also say that I love how this book works to break our perceptions of God as a white male, because truthfully, the bible shows us that God is spirit, and that both male and female are created in their (to quote the Genesis plurality) image.  God is the story clearly states that he/she can appear in any form the man needs, but doesn’t ever claim to be anything more than the omnipotent creator of all and intimate pursuer of our souls.

As for the editing, I had been tipped to it and barely noticed it because that’s not the point.  Their were a couple times when I felt the story got a little slow because the mind bending discussion of the incomprehensible continued on a little long, but that does not change the fact that I really did enjoy this book.  I also wanted to quote a passage that I really feel like Young hit on the head, and that I think modern Christian culture merely glosses over, namely God’s place in The Cross Event.  It seems like so often we Christians talk about God giving his only son as a perfect, sinless sacrifice; we also talk about God’s need for a sacrifice in light of God’s impenetrable righteousness, goodness and holiness (in short, God is 100% holy and good; evil and sin cannot even be near God, so sins must be covered by sacrifice).  Christians frequently discuss God requiring the sacrifice for us to be restored to God, but we mentally omit the fact that we claim Jesus to be fully God.  I’ll let Young take it from here…

“How can you really know how I feel?” Mack asked, looking back into her eyes.

Papa didn’t answer, only looked down at their hands  His gaze followed hers and for the first time Mack noticed the scars in her wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his.  She allowed him to tenderly touch the scars, outlines of a deep piercing, and finally he looked up again into her eyes.  Tears were slowly making their way down her face, little pathways through the flour that dusted her cheeks.

“Don’t ever think that what my son chose to do didn’t cost us dearly.  Love always leaves a significant mark,” she stated softly and gently. “We were there together.”

I love Young’s discussion of this.  So often we paint God to be angry, needing our sacrifice to restore us back to God.  We say God required the sacrifice and Jesus lovingly and willingly filled it.  We forget though, that (as John’s Gospel tells us) Jesus was with God, and is himself God.  We forget that the one willingly dying on the Christ and rising again three days later is the very God we worship as creator of the universe.  We don’t make the connection that God is that beautiful, compassionate God who will literally break the rules so that we can live eternally in relationship with God.  We miss out on that sweet, loving aspect where the holy and righteous creator of everything breaks all the rules, willingly taking on sin and pain and hurt, all so we simple sinful humans can live forever in relationship with that very God.

Anyway, enough of my yammering, I will say that I loved the book, am thankful of Young’s work and the refreshing picture of God it presents. I absolutely recommend reading The Shack, though you should keep the tissues close by and get ready to put aside the box you may have mentally placed God in.

This post is a very long time coming.  I finished this book by Nathaniel Hawthorne a couple of weeks ago, but have been a little busy, and have been a little lazy so here is my dime review of The House of The Seven Gables.

This was my first full reading of a Nathaniel Hawthorne book; in high school I think we read The Scarlet Letter for a class but I don’t think I read all of it.  I was supposed to read this book in a class during my senior year of college, and I never even bought the book, but really enjoyed our class discussions so I got it and figured I would give it a go.  I found the story to be a little slow at first, as there was much detailed exposition, and I personally have a little bit harder time getting into the wordiness of Hawthorne-era literature.  Once the story picks up a bit, though, it is pretty gripping.  The story is suspense filled, even to the point of feeling like a ghost story, though the existence of ghosts within the story is never confirmed by the narrator.

The romance weaves its way through various centuries and between reality and myth (within the story’s fictional framework, of course) following the Pyncheon and Maule families and their intertwining history all based around the property on which Seven Gabled House sits.  The house’s deteriorating state mirrors that of the Pyncheon line, and the current Pyncheon, Cousin Jaffrey is shown to be a reincarnation of the original evil Colonel Pyncheon, the insatiably land-hungry father of the Pyncheon line. The story’s imagery works pretty well and it makes connections throughout the book to draw in the reader.  There are emphases placed on generational sins passed down, as well as the reality of the mystical and/or spiritual world.

The story was a great read, Hawthorne’s writing gradually pulls the reader in and as the story climaxes it becomes nearly impossible to put down.  It is a fun, classic, American romance and I really enjoyed reading it.  And this was my super-quick-psuedo-review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of The Seven Gables.

I have committed to blog informal reviews and mental wrap-ups of what I read and am titling these blogs by the book’s name itself. This blog is long overdue, but i needed time to think. So here it is…

Here is my overdue “review” of Robert D. Lupton’s Theirs Is The Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America. I finished the book a couple weeks ago but due to the fact that I have been pretty busy and I also need to time to mentally digest some of the content so I am only now posting about it. I got so much out of this book spiritually but in all honesty, I feel like there was so much more there that I missed, like I was shooting a fire hose into my mouth and drinking from it; anyway, all that is to say that I will need to read this book many more times.
Lupton works as the director of a coalition of community services in inner city Atlanta, Georgia. He writes this book with Barbara R. Thompson, a freelance writer also from Atlanta. This book’s format is that it is divided into nine different sections and each of these sections is further subdivided into one to three page essays. The short essay format works wonderfully because those few pages are usually packed with truth and gravity, and they are easy to read. Lupton conveys deep theological and relational truths through the lens of his experiences in urban Atlanta. The gospel presented by Lupton is one that applies directly to the poor, downtrodden, oppressed and broken-hearted; in actuality those for whom Jesus came. He writes about our modern world of efficiency and organized ministry and how they often directly oppose the interactions Christ calls us to as his followers.

Lupton presents God’s economy as one living for today. The church exists to give away. The resources are pooled and then disbursed, nothing is saved, for God will provide the next time the offering plates pass around. Lupton’s words can anger his readers; “the church must be financially responsible!” we cry. “The church cannot spend itself carelessly,” say the board members. Lupton gently and radically shows, however, that the church by definition cannot exist for the future and savings accounts. As the Body of Christ, we are called to spend ourselves without saving. We trust God will provide the next day. We can think of the Israelites wandering in the desert, receiving food from heaven. They were commanded not to gather more that they needed; if they hoarded, it would rot. Lupton’s writings about God’s economics make us wonder if our modern churches don’t experience similar concepts when we store wealth.

The writing itself is poignant and powerful, showing the disturbing tragedies of poverty, urban ethics and survival, and misguided ministerial charity programs. Lupton writes with skill and depth unexpected from such brief vignettes. He shares his own shortcomings, misconceptions and breakthroughs and his honesty convicts and spurs the reader to examine his own heart and absolutely penetrates to the core. Lupton writes as one who takes Jesus at his word; that the world should know us as his followers by our love for one another, and our lives should be marked by extraordinary community. The themes he writes about are filled with the applications and buzzwords that are currently moving throughout Christianity. His themes of social justice, real, deep relationships, allegiance to Christ, and even political issues like abortion, gay rights, war and pacifism, and elections speak directly to a reader in 2008, though it was written in 1988.
It seems like Lupton’s honesty and discernment help his words cut so deeply to our own core, twenty years later. As one who desire’s to live like Jesus and take his teaching to heart, Lupton’s words convict me to love people through the messiness and reality of life, to understand that my time and life are not my own, but God’s to direct and ordain. I also feel connected with Lupton’s writings about inner-city ministry because there are parts of Hawaii that closely resemble Lupton’s Atlanta. Some areas of Honolulu obviously are inner city, but also, some areas of Hawaiian homestead land deal with the same issues of poverty, generational welfare, survival ethics and more. I don’t say this to bash those people, but rather, it seems like that mentality can arise wherever areas of government-subsidized housing exist for some time. There are sort of ghetto-survival situations that arise, and the areas of Hawaii, mirror Lupton’s descriptions of inner city Georgia. I can honestly say that this book about the author’s inner city Atlanta experiences has burdened my heart for the people of Oahu.

There are too many quotes I could include and as I reread the book, will probably post more, but I wanted to conclude with a quote from the final essay, “Snowflakes and Sunsets,”.

I think God must detest sameness. At least, he has gone to great lengths to avoid it. Every snowflake, every cloud, every flower is unique. He has created and continues to create an endless variety of trees, bugs, sunsets and beasts. He has created billions of human beings, every one an original…And humans…are given the high privilege of being cocreators with God.

I suspect that one of the results of the fall for humans was the loss of some of our creativity. Not all of it, of course, We still are quite capable of creating symphonies and paintings and children and other beautiful things. But I think that sin brought with it sameness. Boredom. Monotony. Instead of being cocreators with God, we opted for making molds.

Lupton uses this incredible image to lead into a discussion of the city as a melting pot, which he concludes by wondering why God’s selection for our final dwelling place to be the city of God. Lupton’s appreciation for God’s diversity and creativity is contagious, he reminds us of God’s creativity and helps us to love God more for it. I highly recommend this book to anyone who will listen to me, and look forward to reading it many more times, both for the beautiful reminder of God’s kingdom, as well as the invitation to participate.

Well, I promised some forthcoming substantial blog posts and I apologize because this is not one of them, instead this is a review of John Mayer’s most recent album, sharing the title of this post.  So from now on my reviews, both literature and music will bear the title’s of the specific work, thus the above title.  Well, here we go (I also start off by explaining the reasoning for my reviewing on this site)…

In attempts to increase my written work output, as well as improve my own creativity, discipline and writing quality, I have decided not only to review the books I am currently reading through, but also new music I hear and or purchase.  Anyway, that being said I will start by reviewing my most recent musical purchase, John Mayer’s Where the Light Is; Live in Los Angeles.  Mayer’s website says that the album was recorded in Los Angeles on December 8, 2007 at the Nokia Theatre LA.  The album is a 22 song set and lasts for 2 full hours.
I will make no apologies in my love for this album.  I am impressed by the innovative format Mayer presents to the audience.  The show starts with a classic acoustic set with 5 songs that should please his pop-loving fans.  He opens with a mellow, jazzy version of Neon, moves into a mellow version of Stop This Train, and then introduces many listeners to In Your Atmosphere, an acoustic ballad with incredible guitar rhythms and melodies.  From there, a second guitar joins him and adds some twangy slides to Daughters.  He finishes the acoustic set with an impressive cover of Free Fallin’.
Mayer begins the second set with a rockin cover of BB King’s Everyday I have the Blues.  This loud and grooving number starts his trio set, where he plays the next 8 songs with his Trio (bassist Pino Palladino, and Drummer Steve Jordan).  The set functions as a similar but updated version to the Trio’s album Try! Performing many of the same songs, but updating with variations. Anyway, the set continues with another cover, Wait Until’ Tomorrow is again awesome, and that leads into their previous single, Who Did You Think I Was.  The Trio moves into Come When I Call, a classically inspired number that evokes classic trio blues, then moves to a funkier version of Good Love Is On The Way, followed by their slow blues number, Out Of My Mind (a song you get by only purchasing the album) and they rock the song for 10 minutes of slow blues.  They finish the trio set with their upbeat blues numbers Vultures and Bold As Love.
The third and final set arrives in similar upbeat bluesy style as his full band plays Waitin’ On The World To Change.  The blues feel continues with Slow Dancing in a Burning Room, then the band changes the feel and jumps into Why Georgia, channeling his earlier acoustic-pop work.  They keep a the acoustic pop style by playing The Heart of Life, then switch back to their grooving, rocking blues with a cover of Ray Charles, I Don’t Need No Doctor.  They then move into a set from Continuum, as the play Gravity, I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You), Belief, and I’m Gonna Find Another You.  The style of the last four songs also channels the feeling of Continuum, providing the blues base, with pop and rock variances and layers.
Again, my opinion is incredibly biased, I love John Mayer’s music and I love it even more as he has begun exploring the classic blues style.  This album, I feel combines everything that Mayer fans hope for, with the three sets, two hours of melt-your-face-guitar rock and blues, with Mayer playing on both his acoustic and electric guitars.  His lyrics and vocals also channel blues greats of the past, adding a more soulful quality than his earlier stuff.  I listen to this album often and I love it more every time I hear it.  I personally recommend listening to the whole album loudly on some quality speakers with plenty of bass.  So there is my first review and I hope it proves to be a little informative for you readers.

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