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Thursday, October 18, 2018

"Missionary Mom" (Shontell Brewer)

TITLE: Missionary Mom: Embracing the Mission Field Right Under Your Roof
AUTHOR: Shontell Brewer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2018, (168 pages)

Parenting is a mission in disguise. The mission field is the home. The missionary is the mom. In a book that packs mission with mothering and parenting with spirituality, we see how faith informs the freedom to let the gospel fill the whole house. Instead of seeing missionary as some individual venturing to foreign lands faraway, we have a missionary who is up close and personal, living under the same roof of the family. Mothering is living with a purpose. Missionary mom is a mother who senses the call of God to the home, to serve the family with purpose, and to leave a legacy of Christ in the hearts of children. The author shares openly and honestly her "mom guilt" as a mother often threatened by lies and unwittingly attempting to fulfill them. Left unchecked, it could lead to anxiety and frustrations who rub off the rest of the family. She compares with other mothers who are exhausted by the need to make everything perfect. She targets the need to produce fruit which leads to chapters on prayer; on exemplary living; on purposeful discipline; on taking time to feed the soul; and on cultivating a village and the children's village. She is also conscious of the fact that there are unmarried moms out there as well as endless to-do lists that could unravel any determination.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

"The Soul in Paraphrase" (Leland Ryken)

TITLE: The Soul in Paraphrase: A Treasury of Classic Devotional Poems
AUTHOR: Leland Ryken
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2018, (272 pages).

This is a book about poems. Not just any poem but classics that allows the soul great latitude to express the human soul. In a powerful foreword, Leland Ryken highlights some of the main features of "classic devotional poems." They are:
  • They take the religious life and experience as the subject;
  • They inform and influence the reader;
  • They make us think and reflect on the spiritual life;
  • They also connect us with both the common experience as humans as well as the spiritual experience as Christians;
  • Both form and content engage us;
  • There is beauty in both expression and experience;
  • They are multi-layered in quality which challenges us to keep unwrapping the gifts of poetry;
Despite poems being often seen as "timeless and universal," these selected poems are arranged in chronological order for our convenience. Pieces written in Old English are updated for our ease of understanding. They are not inspirational but devotional pieces. The former tends to benefit the self while the latter helps the reader to be mindful about honouring God and to grow toward being more like Christ. The pieces contrast with literature of unbelief that tend to deny the existence of God. The works in this book not only affirms God's Presence, they help us develop a fuller understanding of faith, worship, prayer, belief, humanity in Christ. Apart from that, the anthology not only deals with the content but also the form in which the content is communicated. This presents the reader an opportunity to enjoy the pieces in more ways than one. There is also the skills behind the literary art which exudes beauty for us to appreciate. More importantly, the beauty that we see more of God helps us also to see the beauty FROM the eyes of God. The hymns, poems, prayers are categorized broadly as follows:
  • Note the title, the author, and the period of writing
  • The poem is listed and updated for our reading
  • Some notes are included for explanation of the texts
  • Commentary by Ryken
  • Last nine chapters are brief "pairs of poems" based on a common theme
My Thoughts
First, it is crucial to take time to read each chapter. I must admit it takes some effort to move from prose to poetry. If we attempt to read it like an essay, we may be able to finish the brief pages in quick time but miss the literary aesthetics. Poem is a genre that requires frequent pauses to take in the meaning and insights of each word. The focus should not be to finish the book as fast as possible but to savour each word and sentence like sipping an expensive glass of wine. We smell the form and see the words. We examine the words and ponder about the subject. The "Sunset on Calvary" comprises just four sentences, yet, Lyken is able to cast lots of light on the simple yet profound words. It reminds me that there is beauty in simplicity. Simplicity is not just the economy of words, but the central focus to see a big idea from as many angles as possible.

Second, for starters, it might be helpful to read the poem quickly at first and re-read them after going through the commentary. With the author guiding the reader with key observations, background information, overview of the movement of thoughts, and so on, hopefully the reader can learn to read poetry with a better informed mind. It is an educational journey for me as well to be able to catch the insights of Lyken, an English Professor and how he reads the poem. I find the background information particularly helpful because it helps me connect the poem with the poet. For instance, many of William Shakespeare's works are composed by a deeply contemplative person. Shakespeare ponders upon his own mortality expresses it through Sonnet 73. His understanding of true love leads to the marriage sonnet 116. "Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom" is a re-statement of the common marriage vow: "Till death do us part."

Finally, I think one of the key things I take away is that I must replace the notion of right/wrong and replace it with appreciating what the authors try to say. In other words, seeking to know the 'what' of expression is the most important first step in reading the anthology of poems. Just like the way we do inductive bible studies, the first step is Observation before Interpretation. This interplay of artistry and scientific analysis is what makes reading poetry both refreshing and intriguing. It is a way which we devote our attention to God through the words that help us link our humanity with God's divinity.

Leland Ryken has served as Professor of English at Wheaton College for nearly 50 years. He has authored over 50 books and served as literary stylist for the English Standard Version.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Monday, October 8, 2018

"The Holy No" (Adam Hearlson)

TITLE: The Holy No: Worship as a Subversive Act
AUTHOR: Adam Hearlson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans, 2018, (192 pages).

When it comes to worship, most people would have thought it to be something relatively passive and restricted to halls of religious singing, preaching, or praying. They might even say that it is an act solely between the divine and the person. Christians in general see worship as music and singing. Those more theologically astute would venture to include the essence of worship being in Christ and letting Christ demonstrate His presence wherever we go. Author Adam Hearlson takes it even farther by pushing forth the idea of subversion. This intriguing idea should make most readers sit up and ponder about the purposes of worship. As we read on, we will get a clearer idea of where the author is going and what he is trying to do. The first goal of worship is worship. The second is transformation, both ours and the world. In a book about worship, author Adam Hearlson has brought in the theme of change through subversion. He points out the three main ways in which social change can be made. The first is conservation, done usually by people in significant positions of power and influence. Such a strategy requires great resources and access to capital to support the strategy of "no change." The second is succession, which is partly conservation with some levels of access to power. The third is the one that Hearlson is concerned with: those without any power and "upward mobility." This latter group would likely use the strategy of subversion in order to instigate change. The poor, the marginalized, the minority, and those who are pushed to the edges of main society have no other choice but to adopt subversive acts. It is the strategy of the weak. Theologically, it has three characteristics: "relationality, movement, and provisionality." In "relationality," we are reminded that we are accountable to both God and our fellow human beings. In "movement," we learn that the identity of a Church is not about doctrinal statements or traditions but about where the church is. In "provisionality," we are reminded that the mission of Christ defines the Church, and not the other way around. While it is true that the Church exists to fulfill the mission of Christ, it is the mission of Christ that gives the Church her identity. With politics as a cultural backdrop, Hearlson gives us several examples in history with regard to subversion as a way of life. The early Christians in Rome created subversive images even when they were persecuted by the Romans. The Greensboro Woolworth sit-ins are acts against racial discrimination. Students in the 1968 Paris riots resemble the French Revolution.