Experiments in Honesty – Book Review

experiments in honestyI read Steve Daugherty’s Experiments in Honesty as my first blogger review book in a long time. What a great choice to get back on that horse with! Full disclosure: I received a free copy of the book based on my promise to blog a review of it. The content of the review is entirely up to me.

The advice offering part of my brain seems more acutely willing to weigh in than it has for many years. There were, of course, the years of early adulthood when, as Mark Twain might have observed, “I still knew everything.” I was eager to dole out advice then.

Though nostalgia and seeing 60 coming on faster than a speed limit have apparently resurrected a propensity in me to offer advice, solicited or not, I have taken Steve Daugherty’s practice in this book under advisement.

In other words, sharing insight drawn from my own experience and observation comes across better than “Ok, now, here’s what I need to teach you: listen up….”

Experiments in Honesty is the opposite of a preaching practice I’ve come to notice lately. Some preachers actually parathensize the phrase “you listen to me here” throughout their messages.

If I’m not already listening to you, telling me to do so will not make me start in the middle of a message.

Daugherty, starts from the other side. This book of full of rich stories plumbed from a hunger and thirst for righteousness. The reader shall be filled, if only he or she follows along.

Perhaps I am struck because I see so much of myself in his stories. When he compares his response to feeling hunger, “I’ll make myself a sandwich” to his wife’s, “I will feed the family, because if I’m hungry they probably are, too.” caught me gently off guard and exactly where it should. Guilty as charged. Yet I wasn’t condemned in my guilt; I was drawn towary this book that is about looking inside. It offers a way to see and understand and grow and recognize that me simply trying to become someone else is the opposite of the point of the gospel.

You’ll find yourself in Experiments in Honesty, and it’ll be a you you want to find, and a you you want to grow. It’ll make you want to know yourself and God better; not because “you better, or else!” but because you are both worth knowing better.


Am I Addicted?

I just finished my first read of Adam Alter’s Irresistible. I clarified “my first read” because I am going to start it again today. I social media-ed that “I can’t put it down,” partly for the irony, partly because I really enjoyed the read.

We are, most of us, addicted to technology that didn’t exist at the turn of the century. If we aren’t addicted, we have certainly learned to rely heavily upon it.

Case in point: I tried the other day to remember how I got directions and found places before google maps and gps technology.

All I could think of was Mapquest. Mapping and printing out maps and carrying them with me.

Alter doesn’t spend much time on using our phones to find our next lunch stop. Rather, he digs into why we are so addictable and how high tech and low tech companies keep us hooked.

His thesis relies on behavioral addiction being analogous to substance addiction, and, while you might not buy this link, I do.

After all, I have a fitbit, and have had one since 2012.

That’s when I joined the health care plan I have currently, so that’s when I became eligible to earn rewards for reaching or achieving certain activity levels. Since then, I can assure you, I have averaged a little more than 12,000 steps per day. My resting heart-rate, since I “upgraded” to a tracker that monitors my pulse, has averaged 59 this year.

Alter suggests that fitness trackers lead us to place our emphasis in the wrong place. We walk (or run) for the sake of the counter, rather than for health.

I had to admit this morning there may be some truth to this contention.

I’ve been a  runner for at least 7 years. That’s when I became a father again at age 46, and committed to being a vital 64 and 66 when my 2 younger kids graduate.

But I achieved  the final level of reward that my health plan offers during the first week of December.

And I haven’t run very much since then. I’ve been lacking the motivation.

When I started, good health was all the motivation I needed. It seems the opportunity for cash rewards (and, honestly, not all that much cash) has blurred that original vision.

I am going to keep wearing my fitbit – it serves as my watch, after all! – but I think my motivation needs a bit of


How’s your motivation?  Are you distracted by technology, or have you found ways to keep it’s addictive nature in check?  If you have developed practices to integrate tech into your life but not let it run you, please let me know, and share them. Because this confrontation isn’t going to get any easier!

Book Review: The Mainliner’s Survival Guide

Hi.  My name is Steve, and I’m a Mainliner.

Through all my years as a Fundamentalist, then an Conservative Evangelical, then some variation of Emergent, I have been a member of The United Methodist Church, a mainline denomination.

I believe this is where God has called me.

Plenty have tried to convince me otherwise.  I’ve sat face to face with some of the leaders of the Emergent movement and heard them explain, with rather convincing rhetoric, why getting out (of the mainline) would be a good thing.

Yet here I stand.  I can do no other.Penwell book

Perhaps, then, you can imagine how appreciative I was to find Derek Penwell’s The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World.  Here was a book written from inside a mainline denomination, yet, ostensibly, with the recognition that the glory days of American Denominationalism are clearly gone and not returning.

Let me be clear:  I wasn’t hopefully expecting Penwell to make it sound ok.  The last thing I wanted was some platitudes encouraging me into hospice care as the denomination and its version of Christianity continue to linger.

Reading Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity for the Rest of Us brought me such great joy when I read it almost a decade ago that I bought a dozen or so copies and offered them free to any clergy friends who would agree to read the book.

I would consider doing the same with this book from Derek Penwell.

The book opens with what I find to be a stellar comparison of our times with post-Revolutionary War American.  I found this comparison helpful and Penwell’s historical work insightful to the point of making me wonder why I hadn’t read this elsewhere.

Penwell does an excellent job, I feel, of stirring up the conversations that must happen.  Mainline denominational folk know that something is wrong, but this book offers to help us identify and make corrections without simply trying to keep up with whatever the ecclesiology-of-the-month might be.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Book review: The Story Lives

Here is my latest review of a book for the Speakeasy Blogger Network.  I’ve just finished Henriet Schapelhouman’s The Story Lives.The Story Lives

This is a good, straightforward read. She had me at “Story,” actually; the more I work as a pastor, the more I meet people and seek to hear their stories. Though the seeds of the power of story were sown in me in seminary, they have only really taken root recently.

I appreciate Schapelhouman’s passion and her ability to weave stories from scripture with stories from contemporary lives. This is the primary strength of this book, in my opinion.  Connecting our story to God’s story is essential, and The Story Lives helps us do this.

But it offers more, as well.  Schapelhouman invites Jesus’ followers, and indeed any reader, into the missional life.  Where some today might seem to pit missional living against traditional church membership, Schapelhouman offers what I take to be a healthy corrective without dualizing.

Being ‘missional’ is, after all, about actually following Jesus and thereby becoming part of the Kingdom of God present in the world.  It is not an alternative to being a member of a congregation. It is, rather, the healthy living out of being a member.

On the other hand, the text sometimes felt platitudinous to me – as though a truckload of “Christian Lifestyle Slogan-Art” had driven too close to a scanner.  Even here, though, I must admit; the triteness of so many of those sayings derives from our historical refusal to have our lives transformed as God has offered.

The subtitle, “Leading a Missional Revolution” lead me to expect a more confrontational approach. To me, The Story Lives reads more like “Leading a Missional Transition.”

I’ve read plenty of ‘missional’ stuff; this book fits well within that context, but I found nothing earth-shatteringly new here. If you have not yet read of a missional understanding or perspective on following Jesus, this is a good place to start.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Don’t Waste Time Reading!?

New, from Barna:  Barnaframes are designed to help you read important, worthwhile things without wasting all that time, well, reading. Watch this: BarnaFrames Or, as they put it, “Read less, Know more.”

Honestly, the idea is appealing to me.  There is so much more out there that I want to read than I have time to read.  Even my brother Richard, who reads faster and more broadly than anyone I know, cannot possibly read everything worth reading.

My suspicion is that a BarnaFrame by a certain author, well done, will entice me to want to read actual books by the same author.

Someone said once (I think it was Dennis Kinlaw, but I’m not sure) that we should not try to read all the good books or all the interesting books, but that we owe it to ourselves to read the great books.

I am open to the idea that BarnaFrames can connect me with some great books.

Feel free to start with anything from my Essential Readings page.

Book Review: Coffee Shop Conversations

CoffeeShopConversationsI was encouraged enough by the title Coffee Shop Conversations: making the most of spiritual small talk that I asked for a copy to review.  This is the latest of my periodic reviews for the Speakeasy Blog Network.

I am not reviewing books at the rate I used to; 2 small children and a new appointment has changed my priorities, and, frankly, the time available. I figured this one would be worth my time, though, as I am intensely interested in communicating the gospel.

Dale and Jonalyn Fincher are likewise interesting in communicating the gospel, and encouraging more Christians to do so.  Communication, remember, requires a receiver as well as a sender. We may think we are sending the message of Jesus, but if no one wants to receive it, we are not communicating. Sharing one’s faith is not “intellectual arm wrestling.”

Unlike some collaborative writing, I had no trouble shifting between Dale’s and Jonalyn’s parts of the book.  The flow was easy to follow and fairly seamless.  Conversational style will draw you forward through this book.

The Finchers admirably identify some phrases and attitudes Christians ought to retire from our conversations, as well as some mountains we’ve made of molehills, and vice versa.  If you are interested in sharing our faith with others in ways that might help them hear and accept, this book is worth your read.

On the other hand, later in the book, I felt like I was reading a warmer, friendly Josh McDowell Apologetics Manual.  Almost to the point that, in light of the first half of the book, the procedure is

  1. Earn the right to be heard by listening to and respecting others
  2. Consider your words as yours only and your witnessing as dialogue not monologue
  3. follow these seven (pick a number, any number) steps to prove your doctrinal point!

To be fair, nothing anywhere in the book leads me to believe that the Finchers are anything but respectful and open to what others have to say. There are some bits here and there with which I take issue, but, following their lead, these would be things to discuss over a cup of coffee, not to blast about in a blog.

Their aim, clearly stated, is to help others towards a flourishing faith.

On this, I am with them 100%.


This Atheist Gets it Right – Book Review

Cross-ExaminedThis is the latest in a series of books I have received for review through the SpeakEasy Blogger Network.

My last review book was thick and heavy enough that I wasn’t sure I would review any more for awhile.  But when I read about this one, I set that aside.  I was excited to read a novel about the interaction between religion, irreligion, and life.

I don’t think I recognized at the time that Bob Seidensticker, the author, was an atheist.  Such knowledge would not have affected my decision.  I have appreciated reading some of Sam Harris’s writings, and would rather engage a thoughtful atheist than a unthoughtful Christian in conversation.

I found Cross Examined an excellent read. The main characters are well developed and complicated people.  This is no simplistic Christians are bad, thoughtless, mean people while freethinkers or atheists attempt to save the world from them.

In fact; this could be Seidensticker’s thesis; the realization that life is more complex than a tract or apologist’s rhetoric is the beginning of real conversation and the quest for meaning in life.

The subtitle of the book is deeply informative of this book’s mission; to invite the reader to consider his or her own spiritual journey.

Having read Cross Examined leaves me hopeful for sharing space, time, and meaningful interaction with all who are willing to enter genuine conversation.

Book Review: Evolution’s Purpose

Evolutions-PurposeThis is the latest in the series of books I have received for review through the SpeakEasy Blogger network. Of all the books I have received for review, this has been my most challenging read yet .

First off, it has been a while since I read such straightforward academic philosophy.  This called for slower, more careful reading.  Thankfully, I found I was drawn back toward my years of school and the volumes of reading I had done then.

In response to questions about evolution and faith I began, about 10 years ago, responding that “I don’t believe in science.”  What I mean by this is that I do not expect the same things or kinds of knowledge from science as from faith. What I do not mean is that evolution is a godless attempt to kill Christianity.

So, I was intrigued to get hold of this title, as I am curious to read how people treat religion and evolution with each other’s context(s). McIntosh treats both with respect. He describes himself as one who does not “subscribe to any organized religion (xxiv). (I often want to ask such individuals if they subscribe to any disorganized religion.)

I wish I had more profound things to write about this book.  I enjoyed what I read, and was intrigued at McIntosh’s efforts to argue that we are, indeed, progressing while at the same time wanting to, no, insisting upon, avoiding the cultural arrogance of Social Darwinism.

Could we ever again name a war “The War to End all Wars”?  Are we better, or even better off, than our grandparents’ generation, or their grandparents’ generation.

Progress is a dangerous thing to argue because one tends to assume the position that one’s vantage point is better than all the others.  Each of us set up some set(s) of categories  by which we understand the world. Likewise, we tend to insert ourselves into the place of privilege in those categories.

The hardest part of recognizing change, progress, evolution may be admitting that we are not at the apex of it. All of history has not moved with purposeful intent towards today; rather, today is a part of life, history, and evolution’s movement in the direction of the beautiful, the true, and the good.

It is, I suspect, the habit of each generation or civilization to understand itself as that which all the past was laid out to give us.  This book, on the other hand, read as a provocative challenge to interpret that we are still on our way somewhere.

The Awakening of Hope (Book Review)

ImageWhen I see Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove‘s name on a book, I want to read that book.  When I also see Shane Claiborne’s name, I would walk barefoot through snow to get a copy.  Fortunately for me, this time all I had to do was respond to the offer from SpeakEasy.

The Awakening of Hope is a primer for living out the Christian faith.  This very readable book is written in the form of an apology; not an “I’m sorry” apology, but as an explanation of beliefs, thoughts, and actions. The practices described are clearly and easily identified with the New Monasticism,

For me, the chief attraction of this book is this positive focus primarily on practices.  There are helpful, instructive words inside about specific beliefs of Christians, but these paragraphs arise in the midst of a discussion of practices.  The practices covered are: eating together, fasting, living together, making promises, not returning violence for violence, and sharing good news.

I am pretty sure people get tired of other people arguing for one belief or against another;  I know I do.  I don’t think this is because most of us want everyone to agree on everything.  I think it’s because of the arrogance, condemnation, and condescension that fill so much of the air when differing opinions interact.

The Awakening of Hope, on the other hand, intends only to describe the way of life, and thus the beliefs, of a particular subset of those who understand themselves to be following Jesus.

If you are potentially interested in the resurgence of an ordered life, or just curious about it, this is a great place to start.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Naming my own sin only

I am reading my latest free book – Johnathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s The Awakening of Hope. The chapter on fasting reminds me of the importance of naming sin. To name sins sin is
“to see them as a corruption of the way we were made to be…. A world in which sin can be named is a world that can be redeemed.”

This got me thinking about my propensity to name the sins of others so much more quickly than I name my own.

For this first week of Advent, I am going to work to live by this: I will name my own sins rather than those of others.

Who is with me?