Thursday, August 8, 2013

Book Review: In the Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day-The Risk of Playing it Safe

Mark Batterson has taken an obscure story from 2 Samuel 23 and written a commentary on one of the most important issues for Christians and indeed in our world, “Living in Crippling  fear.”  So many writers are busy trying to prove relevance or put a new spin on old answers.  Batterson takes the story of Benaiah and issues us a strategy to fearlessly live life as a faith led adventure. 

Many people are paralyzed by fear.  This book is an answer to the dissatisfaction and tension that many live in by redeeming that fear into un-stuckness.   “In a Pit” points to Jesus as the ultimate risk taker and reward bearer.  Rather than being stuck, we are freed through the process of looking to scripture, reframing fear, adversity, prayer into spiritual growth opportunities and not punishment.  We do not have to be stuck in the fear of feeling foolish. The author’s treatment of “divergent” thinking is brilliant.  Children and new Christians-who haven’t met a theologian yet- are born to think “out of the box.  Fear traps us within that box.
 Book Cover Batterson’s calls the reader  to  grow and mature by living the adventure of Christ, “tapping into our natural weirdness” and recognizing that God does not meet anyone in the Bible through “normal’ means.  Besides, “normality is overrated” and maturity is often mistakes as conformity.
Batterson’s style is fresh and efficient.  The text is a mere 171 pages and every word counts.  There are an abundance of sound- bites that ring in my ears.  “In a Pit” is flexible in design.  It can be read devotionally either by a chapter a day or in about two sittings or in a small group by using the chapter reviews and end notes.
 The chapter reviews have discussion “points to remember” and a sensible “Starting Your Chase” suggestion that prompt the reader to action.  The goal of this book is not merely telling you to quit being afraid.  Batterson gives uniquely Christ-centered reasons and spirit led ways to take the first step.  An excellent read.
Thanks to Multnomah press and the author for giving me this book in exchange for writing this review. 
Thus ends the review but begins my personal thoughts generated by this reading.  So many people will not read a book before reading comments and gathering rating information.  Many will not watch a film or listen to music that they know nothing about.  The Christian life, our country and our personal satisfaction comes from discovery and not certainty.  Are people losing their taste for risk?
Fear is crippling so many people.  Unresolved it becomes boredom or even depression.  Reframing fear into a motivation and not a stumbling block is Mark Batterson’s thesis and fearlessness is Christ’s gift to us through salvation.  Christ is not calling us to reckless or random action but walking by “Faith and not by sight”.  Scripture offers a touchstone for our decision making; prayer offers a walking connection to Christ and the church a safe place to train for the journey. 
The call to the church is to be a place of adventure and a sponsor of those jumping into the disciple’s life.  Membership is not enough and study is not the goal.  Finding our way as we go is so satisfying.  Ambiguity is difficult for some but faith in Christ can actually cause the disciple to crave it rather than mistaking it as dangerous. 
  This past weekend I heard a story from a colleague about his personal passion to minister to homeless people in the Tyler Texas area.  This is how his adventuring works; He will see a homeless person, lock his kids in the car, determine them to be safe, and then motion his family to join them.  He will give snacks, meal coupons, and pray for that person.  While driving around with his pre-school daughter, she screamed, “Daddy stop” as she saw a homeless man that she recognized.  Her pastor-dad told her no, they were in a hurry to get somewhere else.  The little girl stuck to her calling and insisted loudly that they stop.  He did stop-and all were blessed-the man, the daughter, and the dad.  This is normality at their house.
This is the life that Mark Batterson is describing.  This is adventure in Christ.  This is how a little girl changes the world…..starting with us boring normal guys.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ambrose Bierce: a writer satires his tools

In Heaven there is a Half Price Books store.  I can't prove that in scripture and it isn't really my desire for an ultimate destination. 

As I vacation, however,  I would happily put a cot and my tooth brush here and stay a while.  You don't go to used book stores looking for anything specific.  They are a place of discovery and require huge blocks of time. Where else can you get two hours of entertainment for four buck though?   I have come to see what can be seen.  Here is my find for the day. 

Ambrose Bierce's "The Devil's Dictionary.  Bierce was a witty curmudgeon and a man of words.  A veteran of the civil war, he died in 1914.  This book was originally printed in 1911 and   reprinted from his complete works on its 100th birthday, 2011. (Dover Publications, New York, USA)

Ambrose Bierce was a humorist, journalist, author and professional cynic.  He  made fun of things and his definitions appeared in newspapers from the late 1899's through early 1900's. This book makes fun of dictionaries.  His definition of a dictionary?:  "n. a malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of language and making it hard and inelastic.  This dictionary, however is a most useful work." So there. 

He describes a minister as, "an agent of a higher power with a lower responsibility", diplomacy as "the patriotic art of lying for one's country",  a hearse as "death's baby carriage.", and a lawyer as "one skilled in circumvention of the law."  There are hundreds  upon hundreds of these clever and often caustic "definitions". 

Want a copy of your own?  Amazon has a download for two bucks or hard copies in several covers.  Abebooks, halfdotcom or one of the other used book sites would have them too.

But wait a minute.  The gift of this book is not that I own it but rather that I discovered it.  Authors pour out words that score emotion, transformation and art.  How will we rediscover the works of the past without used book stores?  Will the search for a reading gem be reduced to reading ads from Amazon or Barnes and Noble?

 You can't dig through a resale shop for a download.  They don't get dog-eared or get sold for a quarter with a love note or piece of junk mail used as a bookmark. Digital copies can be shared but carry no marginal notes or other marks of the person that read the book.  Yes, I reluctantly got a Kindle last year and love it but it has no soul.   Technology provides for a way to warehouse every work we create but does create the longing to rediscover.  Books bear our essence as people as much as its own message

There is a French saying, "A recherche du temps perdu".  It translates, a (re)discovery of lost time.  It describes that powerful memory of a past event that floods our being when we touch something or someone from our past. The touch of a book creates a story, sometimes from the author and sometimes from the owner.

Ever touch your grandmother's Bible or the bulletin from a funeral and have that rush of memories?   I pray you have that "recherch√©" today in some way or another. Old books are a means of Grace.  I pray that our quest for technology doesn't take that desire to discover things that we don't know exist.  This is the way Christian Spirituality works too.  It is the journey into the not-knowing that gets us where God wants us to be.

Want a copy of "the Devil's Dictionary"?  Dig for I!.  With any luck you won't find it but will discover something far greater, something left on a shelf or in a paper sack at a garage sale just for you.

Ambrose Bierce gets the final word....

"Review, v.t.
To set your wisdom (holding not a doubt of it,
Although in truth there's neither bone nor skin to it)
At  work upon a book, and so read out of it
The qualities that you have first read into it.
Another book with many of Bierce's quotes in "The Portable Curmudgeon" edited by John Winkour.