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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Bookshelf

A New Release from The Gospel Coalition

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Do you remember me telling you about my hard thing for this past year? If you don't, you can catch up here. Essentially, my husband, Ryan, read the book Grit and challenged everyone in our family to choose to do a hard thing "with passion and perseverance." The kids have, to varying degrees of success, met their goals. Ryan has, as he determined, improved his French dramatically. And I succeeded in reading the 800+ pages of Charles Taylor's A Secular Age.

Taylor's work has been showing up in my writing for the last many months, attesting to how important and relevant I've personally found his thought to be. And I'm happy to say that I have a chapter in an exciting new collection of essays published by The Gospel Coalition: Our Secular Age, edited by Collin Hansen. Our Secular Age releases today, and you can purchase your copy here.

If you find yourself daunted by 800+ pages, this essay collection is a perfect way to familiarize yourself with Taylor's thought, all the while seeing how it might immediately be applied to church life, cultural engagement, and personal discipleship.

A reader writes to ask, "Why want?"

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Even though I’ve just recently released my second book, Keeping Place, I continue to travel and speak on the topic of my first book, Teach Us to Want. This is a question that was recently emailed to me, and I wanted to answer it at length here.


Dear Jen,

Can I run something up the flag pole with you on this subject?  After reading the beginning of Teach Us to Want, I had to put the book down and take two giant steps backward.  The book asks us about our wants and desires—our deep inside “ME ONLY” wants and desires. When I go the basement of my mind, lift up the rug and false floor, and pull out the old deteriorating suitcase labeled "Wants & Desires," I find a glaring new label affixed over the old one: "Disappointments.”

Man, it's heavy.

I had wants and desires from as long ago as when I was three years old. In the spirit of survival, those wants and desires were denied for me and on my behalf.  Fast forward to my adult life. Ten years ago, I made the hardest decision I've ever made, which demanded that I walk away from my very last lifelong dream and desire. And somewhere, sandwiched in the middle, is the painful drudgery of single parenting and challenge of "motherhood" that feels like a noose around my neck. Now, I am unexpectedly a grandmother—the result of my Dean’s List college-aged daughter’s teen pregnancy.

From my earliest memories, my life story is a continuous tale of crisis aversion, management and the desperate scramble to simply touch the fringe of "Wants & Desires"—but never actually own one.  In fact, after much review, I believe the last "want/desire" that I recognized and achieved was graduating High School in 1986.

It's not all doom and gloom. Sometimes life settles down, and I'm learning to find contentment in living the day to day.

The last decade? No desires. No wants.

Am I supposed to???  My greatest desire is to get back and forth from the grocery store without traffic.  That's good, right?

So, I picked up the book again, this time at Chapter 3. "Delight yourself in the Lord and HE will give you the desires of your heart.” I'm not sure I want to "want" or "desire.” In fact, I'm sure that I don't want to. I hear that He wants me to trust Him with reckless abandon and to "delight" myself in Him (how do you EVEN do that??) and He will give ME desires.

But why?? Why desire? Why want? Do I NEED to desire or want??

Confused in California


Dear Confused in California,

Thank you so much for reading Teach Us to Want and for posing these very important questions. I’m so glad that you’ve written, and I’m also glad that you’ve given me the permission to share our conversation publicly.

I suppose the first important thing to say is this: we don’t want simply so that we can get things from God. That would be to do what James condemns in his epistle, chapter 4: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions” (v. 3). Many of us have our life of desire turned upside down and inside out.

Life with God isn’t ultimately about getting things from him: it’s about getting him in us.

You’ve referenced Psalm 37:4, and I’m so glad. It’s an often-misunderstood verse. People use it to defend their gospel of, “God loves me; I love him; therefore, it’s only right that he gives me what I want.” But as you say, that verse isn’t about us telling God what we want and getting it. It’s about him giving us HIS desires. It’s as we delight ourselves in the LORD that the whole nature of our desiring life changes. As we delight ourselves, more and more, in the LORD, we delight ourselves, less and less, in the shallow pleasures of comfort and convenience. As we delight ourselves, more and more, in the LORD, we delight ourselves, less and less, in material security, reputation, even temporal happiness.

To delight ourselves in the LORD is to love what God loves. And the Lord’s Prayer teaches us what God loves: God loves for his name to be made holy, for his kingdom to come, for his will to be done. It’s not, of course, that we should stop wanting for the simple sustenance of this life. The Lord’s Prayer also invites us to pray for bread, for restored relationship with others and with God, for protection. But as the late Kenneth Bailey wrote in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, there’s an important architecture of priority in this prayer. The “thee” petitions come before the “me” petitions, which provides a lesson for life.

We must become the kind of people who think of God and his kingdom priorities first.

I know I still haven’t answered your most pressing question: why want? If I’m only supposed to want what God wants, why even bother with the complicated business of desire? And doesn’t that just lead me to a lot of disappointments and unmet expectations?

Here’s the first reason to want in your life of faith: because it’s one way to risk on God’s goodness. Or maybe I could put it this way: how often is our failure to want really about our failure to trust God’s goodness? The Psalmist says that God is good and does good (Ps. 119:68). Whatever he chooses to do, whatever he chooses to give, whatever his timing: it’s good. We see this all throughout Scripture, that God’s impulse is to give and to bless. This doesn’t mean of course that we get to say “This is good, therefore you must give it to me, God.” But it is to say, “God, I trust you have my best interest at heart.”

To illustrate what I mean, let me share a story from my friend’s book, Praying Together. Megan Hill tells the story about arriving with her husband at the Ethiopian orphanage to take their son home. All the children, having learned just a few words of English, were crying out, “Mommy!” “Daddy!” She writes, “Those little ones knew the language of family and the gestures of asking, but twenty-four of the children had no right to use them. And though we gave candy and balloons to every child, there was only on little boy whose cries to us of ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ were absolutely compelling. This was the child with whom we have a relationship—having just appeared before a judge in a courtroom to secure his adoption—and this child alone could reach into our pockets with every assurance that he’d be granted whatever treat he could find there.” As Jesus said, if this inclination to generosity is true of flawed human parents, how much more must our heavenly Father want to be generous with us! God is good and does good. That’s a reason to bring him your desires—because he can be trusted to receive them and respond to them out of his lavish love.

A second reason to want—a reason connected to this first point—is that it will grow your intimacy with God. There is a vulnerability to admitting our desires to anyone, whether that’s a friend or God himself. It’s vulnerable in one sense because our desires say something about us. Maybe they say that we’re selfish! Maybe they say that we’re apathetic! To bring our desires before God is a vulnerable act—and prayer, if we want to pray like Abraham and Hannah and Jesus and Paul prayed—is supposed to be vulnerable. Bold. Self-disclosing. The Psalmist says, “O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you” (Ps. 38:9). I believe that God wants to know all of us. I believe that a life of walking with Christ is a life of walking in the light, of disclosing ourselves to God, not concealing ourselves. Maybe we could even just think about the impulse of Adam and Eve in the garden, after they had eaten the fruit. They hid themselves from the presence of God, rather than walking before him naked and unashamed. One way of seizing this marvelous invitation to “draw near to the throne of grace with confidence” (Heb. 4:16) is to come to God without concealment: to tell him what we really think, really want, really despair of, really fear. Only then do those things have a chance of being repaired, reformed, transformed! Only then do we deepen our friendship with God, which is what he is ultimately after and which is the only thing to satisfy our deepest longings and desires.

Maybe it’s in coming to God with our desires that we begin to see how much anything pales compared to the great worth of knowing him.

And here’s a final point that I’ll make here. (So much more to say, but I guess you’ll have to finish the book!) There is no real lasting transformation in our lives apart from a transformation of our desires. Philippians 2:13 talks about the ambitious scope of the gospel. When the Spirit of Jesus indwells us, he’s not content simply that we believe differently or behave differently. We must want differently. And when we want differently, we sustain real change in our lives. I suppose we’d only have to consider New Year’s Resolutions to consider how insufficient duty and obligation are for sustaining change. That’s not to say that we shirk duty and obligation, but it is say that when we do something dutifully, we have our eye on desire. God, let my heart change—alongside my behavior.

As I’ve risked to disclose my desires to God, to wait on him, to surrender to him, I’ve learned in much deeper and personal way that he is good, that he can be trusted. I’ve also learned that this world, so deeply broken and in need of repair, will always leave me wanting for a better one. And maybe that’s one of the most important lessons of desire. As C.S. Lewis has famously written, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

We’re living in the middle act. We’re not at the end of the story yet. When you open that box labeled “Disappointments,” you can remember that Jesus is coming again, that he’s promised to deliver the world from its groaning. You can remember “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

With you, I am longing for that home. Jen

Home is (NOT) where the heart is

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When Alison Hodgson wrote for my guest series, “Home: Musings and Memories”, she talked of the fateful night when an arsonist entered her garage and set her house on fire. “Who, when making a home, imagines it could ever be a ruins?” When Joe Dudeck wrote of home, he described the experience of several failed adoptions: “While standing at the doorway of parenthood, we discovered the welcome mat would again be pulled out from under us.” In another post, Aubrey Sampson wrote to remember her father’s job loss and their family’s move from a beloved house: “There was no willow tree, no roller-rink, not even one hot air balloon in the yard.”

For many of us, home represents loss. 

For many guest writers in this Friday series, home symbolizes wanderlust, leaving, and change. For Aleah Marsden, home “is the place I’m always leaving behind.” Karen Beattie recalls ambivalently that she is “the first generation to leave the land, to become unmoored from place and family and community, and part of me feels like we are betrayers. Or pioneers.” Or, as Kate James writes with a familiar surprise, “And [God] sent me here, to a big yard, and a white house and maple trees in the summer.”

For many of us, home represents the place where we unexpectedly arrive. 

In so many of these stories, home has offered more change than stability, more promise than fulfillment. As Christina Crook so eloquently names, it’s a “blood and bramble world,” and home is meant for reprieve, the “gift of welcome,” writes Ashley Hales, that “beckons: come and see, come and see.” “Nowhere I’ve lived has ever fully been my home,” writes Michelle Van Loon of growing up as Jewish girl in a Gentile neighborhood, living the millennia-long story of diaspora. Home is the invitation to make something of life as we have it, even if it’s not exactly life as we once had wanted it. “I expected to be married and own a home. The Lord, however, had other plans,” writes Bethany Jenkins.

Home is one small corner of the world we hope to tame and call our own. “Always we longed for one special place. Our own promised land. Our own little Zion,” describes Christie Purifoy. But sometimes it is its own place of weeping. In the house built by the “broad shoulders” of her husband, Meadow Rue Merrill lost her adopted daughter, Ruth.

What is HOME?

When I invited these gifted writers to contribute to my series, I asked them to write about home in the concrete, rather than the abstract. I wanted to hear about home as people and place and the lived presence of God—because that’s what we see of home in Genesis 1 and 2.

First, home is a place: in the beginning of time, home was a garden, and at the end of time, home will be a city. This means that God intends for us to be a rooted people, connected in real ways to the land. That’s why our geographical change is usually attended by sorrow. Although our culture tends to cherish mobility, selling change like a shiny bauble of promise, in reality, we wear instability like a wound that won’t heal. This is one reason that I open each chapter of Keeping Place with a physical address and a reflection of home “in place.” I want to rid ourselves of all the silly platitudes like, “Home is where the heart is.” No, home is where your feet are.

Second, home is a place with people. It’s not enough to say that home is a place. We have no vision of home that’s as solitary and secluded as Thoreau’s cabin on Walden pond. Rather, a biblical home is a place filled with the company of others. In the garden, God recognized that it wasn’t good for any of us to be alone. For Adam, he makes Eve as a companion and helper. But as we see in the new Jerusalem, we aren’t all paired off as husband and wife. Rather, the table of God’s feast is seated with a new family: the church. We can’t make home apart from deep communion and connection with others. Which is to say: forgiveness and feasting, worship and work—in the local church—helps us to practice home (if not yet fully have it). Finally, home is filled with the presence of God. Let’s not be fooled: we can have the loveliest of places, the warmest of friendships, but without God, no place is home. As Saint Augustine has said, we have restless hearts until they find their ultimate rest in God and God alone. The fullness, the welcome, the permanence, the peace of home we all long for: it’s not about marriage and minivans, houses and domestic happiness. It’s a promise so much greater, so much more lasting than that.

“Homelessness ends in the new Jerusalem, where God keeps place for his people. By the light of the Lamb, home is made luminous, and it is a light to banish gloom and darkness, death and despair.

Behold, God says. I am making all things new” (Keeping Place, 211).

Ernie Johnson and the Art of "Housekeeping"

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We've have recently bought a couple of devotionals for our family: One Year of Dinner Table Devotions by Nancie Guthrie (which is a great fit for the age-range of our kids, 9-16) and The Radical Book for Kids by Champ Thornton. The first, we're trying to read and discuss together at dinner; the second, I'm trying to read with our twin boys whenever we can. (Ryan reads the Bible with them at bedtime.)

Although we've just begun The Radical Book for Kids, I'm finding it to be both thoughtful and accessible, and I especially love, in the first chapter, how Thornton distills the biblical story of creation-fall-redemption into one easy, memorable sentence: "God made it, we broke it, God fixes it." 

I never understood the arc of God's story as this kind of three-act drama as a young child growing up in the church. (We can quibble about the fourth act of "consummation" if you want, but let's not.) Yet I think there's a lot to be said for understanding the Bible as a cohesive story. It's not as if the New Testament is a dramatic departure from the Old, but rather a fulfillment and continuation of God's story begun in Adam, continued with Abraham, carried through Christ.

A Story of Place

As I began writing Keeping Place, my pastor gave me his copy of Craig Bartholomew's, Where Mortals Dwell, for my research. Bartholomew takes the creation-fall-redemption framework and retools it through the language of place. Creation is the act of "implacement." God gives humanity a place—a garden. Fall takes us into the middle act of exile and the judgement of "displacement." And finally, redemption anticipates God's act of "reimplacement" when God will, once again, make his dwelling place with humanity. In other words, God's story begins and ends at home, and we're living in the middle act, one characterized by homesickness.

This is the three-part structure that I originally had for Keeping Place: God made home, humanity lost home, and God is remaking home. But several months into the project, I realized the structure was NOT working. I needed more room for the middle act. I didn't just want stories of exile. I wanted some sort of framework for talking about what we're supposed to be doing in the in-between.

In the not yet.

Housekeeping

Hence, the housekeeping—a word for talking about the work of the middle act, this way we take up the work of our places in light of our home story. "Housekeeping points toward the thin places of daily life: where work, however monotonous and menial, becomes worship, witnessing to God's kingdom coming, and his will being done, on earth as it is in heaven." It's work that men and women do—in their homes and neighborhoods and cities–to love God by loving their neighbor. Or, as Marilynne Robinson says (much better than I ever could), housekeeping is "a regime of small kindnesses, which taken together, make the world salubrious, savory, and warm. I think of [these] acts of comfort . . . as precisely sacramental."

I recently came across an interview with a man whose story and faith embodies this idea of "housekeeping," and I wanted to share it with you. Ernie Johnson is a sports broadcaster and a man of deep faith. I was introduced to him by this video after the presidential election, which stunned and inspired our 14-year-old son.

[embed]https://youtu.be/ayU5kw7Kf5U[/embed]

Then just this week, I heard an interview with Ernie on Donald Miller's Building a Story Brand Podcast. Ernie talks about his love for his wife and his six children, four of whom he has adopted and one of whom has muscular dystrophy. But it's not just his family his loves. He sees his entire life as a call to service. "I want to serve. I want to be walking out the door, after having served [my son] Michael in the morning, and have my antenna up. So that I notice the people who need to have somebody to talk to.”

In other words, Ernie is a man committed to the housekeeping—committed to the humble, everyday acts of love that image the incarnate God who pitched his tent in the middle of the Roman Empire more than two thousand years ago.

I look forward to reading (and having my son read!) Unscripted, which Ernie talks about here in this Q&A.

And I would encourage you to listen to Donald's podcast interview with Ernie!

Summer Book Club

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I was recently asked about the books I'm reading, which is not really the easiest question to answer.

Did I mention the books checked out from the library, even those I've just begun or haven't yet opened?

Did I mention the books I've been reading over the course of months, picking them up as the mood (infrequently) suits?

Did I tell the real truth, which is that I'm on a strict reading schedule to finish Charles Taylor's, A Secular Age, for a chapter that I'm contributing to another book, leaving me little time to read anything else?

You know you're a reader when your list of books to read only grows longer—because you add titles faster than you read them.

But in case you are a book lover like me—and even a member of a book club— I wanted to suggest a VERY LONG list of titles on themes loosely related to #home that might be great book club reads. I've linked to them in Amazon so that you can get a quick glance at what each book is about. And of course, I'd love for you to also consider reading Keeping Place!

FICTION

Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, Gilead, Home, Lila

Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow

Carlene Bauer’s Frances and Bernard

Paul Harding’s Tinkers

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

Shusaku Endo’s Silence

Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence

Anne Tyler’s Saint Maybe

Margaret Philbrick’s A Minor

 

NON-FICTION

Isabelle Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns

Ta-Nehesi Coates’s Between the World and Me

Kathleen Norris’s The Quotidian Mysteries

Christina Crook’s The Joy of Missing Out

 

MEMOIR

Mary Karr’s Lit

Christie Purifoy’s Roots and Sky

Sheldon VanAuken’s A Severe Mercy

Corrie Ten Boom’s Hiding Place

Preston Yancey’s Tables in the Wilderness

Micha Boyett’s Found

Gillian Marchenko’s Still Life

Amy Julia Becker’s Good and Perfect Gift

Meadow Rue Merrill’s Redeeming Ruth

Kristen Kludt’s A Good Way Through

Alison Hodgson The Pug List

Lee Wolfe Blum Table in the Darkness

Russ Ramsey’s Struck

Marilyn Gardner’s Passages Through Pakistan

Suanne Camfield’s The Sound of a Million Dreams

Jennifer Grant’s When Did Everybody Get So Old?

Marlena Graves’s A Beautiful Disaster

Karen Swallow Prior’s Booked

Katherine Willis Pershey’s Any Day A Beautiful Change

Karen Beattie’s Rock-Bottom Blessings

 

CHRISTIAN

Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove’s The Wisdom of Stability

Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son

C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces

D.L. Mayfield’s Assimilate or Go Home

Sarah Arthur and Erin Wasinger’s The Year of Small Things

Amy Julia Becker’s Small Talk

Dorothy Greco’s Making Marriage Beautiful

Joshua Ryan Butler’s The Pursuing God

Catherine McNiel’s Long Days of Small Things

Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and The Broken Way

Ann Swindell’s Still Waiting

Aubrey Sampson’s Overcomer

Courtney Reissig’s Glory in the Ordinary

Hannan Anderson’s Made for More and Humble Roots

Kris Camealy’s Come, Lord Jesus (Advent)

Erin Straza’s Comfort Detox

Lina Abujamra’s Thrive

Beth Booram’s The Wide Open Spaces of God

Lara Krupicka’s Family Bucket Lists

Scott Saul’s Befriend

Trevin Wax’s This Is Our Time

Katelyn Beaty’s A Woman’s Place

Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him

Trillia Newbell’s Enjoy

Kent Annan’s Slow Kingdom Coming

Amy Simpson’s Troubled Minds

Michelle Van Loon’s Moments & Days

Carla Sunberg, Jamie Wright, and Suzanne Burden’s Reclaiming Eve

Everbloom (Essays by the Members of Redbud Writers Guild)

On following - and finding - Home

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In 2011, God led our family to Toronto. We came, counting on two or three years of adventure. The kids would learn French. We’d live in the city. For a little while, we would more fully live into the vision of Psalm 67, which the pastor had read at our wedding: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” We left, not knowing what was ahead.  As I’ve come to understand, the life of faith is best understood by acts of memory. We can’t ever really know what God is doing when he moves us out. We don’t know what the future holds when he says, “go.” I think of the Israelites as they traveled through the wilderness, following the pillar of cloud by day that stopped and settled at whim. They were not planning life, but following it. Following Him. I wonder how many days it felt that they had just gotten comfortable when the cloud began to move and they’d had to hurriedly pack it all up for another day’s journey of uncertainty.

Six years ago, the cloud moved, and the seven of us moved with it. We left the suburbs of Chicago for the city of Toronto. I can remember the first weekend in our first rental house. It was the hottest May on record, and we had no air conditioning. I cried when Ryan left for work on Monday.

Our first summer in Toronto, I started to think about writing more personally, even about starting a blog. The cloud was moving, we were moving with it, and I wanted to keep record of the journey. I wanted a story to tell the children, wanted to give the gift of memory that the Israelites had sorely neglected.

I began writing about that journey here.

Eventually, a blog became a book. And a book became another book.

What a surprise.

A gift and a joy.

Today is the release day of Keeping Place, this second book. In it, I’ve kept my own story: places I’ve lived, people I’ve lost. And most importantly, I’ve followed the longing for home to ask where it leads.

That cloud leads into the arms of Christ.

As I write at the conclusion of Keeping Place, “The ancient Israelites were commanded to recite a liturgy when they entered the land of promise and offered to God the gifts of their first harvest. I imagine taking it up in chorus as we enter the gates of the new Jerusalem—the moment homelessness and all of its attendant grief will be laid to rest:

A wandering Aramean was my father.

He went down into Egypt and sojourned there, and the Egyptians treated us harshly.

But the LORD brought us out of Eygpt with a mighty hand.

He brought us into this land, which flows with milk and honey.

 

This is a song to make sense of life’s lament and longing, peril and promise. And it’s the song we’ll be singing when we fall into the sojourning, suffering arms of Jesus.

 

I declare today that I am finally home.


Believe it or not, Amazon is sold out of Keeping Place. But you can order your copy at ivpress.com. Get 30% off the bookebook or DVD series when you use the code READKP. Offer expires on May 31st, 2017.

How I Titled Keeping Place

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Keeping Place releases tomorrow! When asked how I’m feeling, I try for breezy nonchalance. Book, schmook! And truthfully, I do feel considerably less anxiety about this book than the last—not because I’m convinced that it’s better, but because at least this is recognizable terrain. Familiarity is a big consolation. Still, it’s also true that as time creeps closer to the actual release date, I can sometimes feel like a large animal has just curled up on my chest, making it difficult to breathe. He’s heaviest in the dark of the morning when fear comes calling.  But alas, this post is not for probing the emotional tumult of launching a book. Instead, I wanted to tell you a little bit more about the title of the book. (There’s always a story behind titling a book.) When I submitted Keeping Place in proposal form, the book was titled, Making it Home. I loved that title for the way it conveyed the idea of journey. I also loved that it conveyed the work of making home for others, which is a large part of my book. But wouldn’t you know: some wonderful author has already snatched it up for her book. (I’ve forgiven her for it, just in case you’re wondering.)

Back to the drawing board. I turned in the first draft of Keeping Place and had it titled as, The Witness of Home.

Yeah, that’s what my editor thought.

I then came up with some other titles, none of which she liked: Everything in Place; In Sight of Home; A Place Called Hello, The Way Home, Home Life.  She suggested other titles, but none of them grabbed me either. I think that we were really struggling to find something that suited a mixed audience—something that didn’t scare away the men. We both knew that was the risk of putting “home” in the title. I also wanted something that was multidimensional, something that invited a little more curiosity. Eventually, my editor and I jumped on the phone to brainstorm various possibilities. We decided that “place” seemed a more neutral word to feature in the title. After we hung up, I had the idea of “keeping place,” which she floated to her internal committee at the publishing house. They loved it!

On the one hand, keeping place is a noun. It’s where you safeguard something valuable. And isn’t that the very way we think about home—as a place where we are kept safe? As I write in chapter 11, “The longing for home is associated with memory: a paradise was in fact lost. It also looks ahead, inspiring our hope for inhabiting the eternal city of God. Redeemed humanity has a keeping place.

On the other hand, keeping place is a verb. It’s something active, something to convey the work we’re all called to do in our neighborhoods and cities. And it’s not the work of mothers in aprons, heels, and pearls. It’s the work of all God’s people. In the preface, I use Jane Addams as an example of someone who “kept place” in her city. “Though her legacy was not explicitly Christian, Jane Addams, a social reformer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, . . . founded the Hull House in Chicago in 1889, sensing that the industrialized American city had failed in the measure that it lacked ‘domesticity.’”

Just as I had hoped, the title is multi-dimensional. The trick now is figuring out where to put the stress. If you go Keeping Place as a noun, it’s KEEPING place. But if you prefer the concept of the verb, you’ll need to say it keeping PLACE.

When Did Everybody Else Get So Old?

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When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? This is the title of the wonderful midlife memoir by Jennifer Grant, who is a friend and veteran writer. I wanted to introduce you to this book - and to Jennifer - which is why I'm posting an interview with her. As I wrote in my endorsement, "I didn't know how much I needed this book until I read it!" The book releases today and is available here as well as local bookstores.


Why write a book about middle age?

The short answer is that, in my early 40s, I found myself reading midlife memoirs, journaling, and talking to friends about what it felt like to enter midlife. The good, the bad, the ugly…and the mortifying. Writing this book helped me sort out my thoughts. Flannery O’Connor famously said that she was a writer: “because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Yes, that’s true for me.

A longer answer is that all of my books have, on some level, been attempts at untangling questions that kept me awake at night or that I’d turn over in my mind all day. Questions about whatever I was living through (adopting a child, raising kids, questioning my faith, and so on) at a particular moment.

This one began to take shape around my fortieth birthday when I was flooded with the typical kind of “turning forty” issues—like suddenly needing reading glasses, feeling somehow stunned that my kids were teenagers and were on the verge of leaving home, and becoming aware of my mortality in a new way.

The book stems from my conviction that entering midlife can be tricky, but that we can make peace with middle age and experience it as a rich, purposeful time.

Is this “midlife memoir” primarily focused on physical issues middle-aged people face—like achy joints or wrinkles or women’s experiences of menopause?

I touch on some of these things, including how hormones wax and wane in midlife or the surprise of seeing how our faces change as we get older—but, as I was writing it, the book kept pulling me in the direction of issues around identity and relationship more than the physical effects of aging.

What does your “nest” look like now? Empty yet?

I took the leaf out of the kitchen table a few months ago. It’s odd. The house is quieter, and most of the time it’s four of us, instead of six. My two sons are in college—in their first and third years. My two daughters are in high school—also in their first and third years. I just got home from taking my older daughter on college visits. One by one, off they go. My husband and I will be “empty nesters” in three and a half years.

Would you say your nonfiction work follows your life chronologically, or how does this book fit with the other books you’ve published?

 My first book told the story of how my husband and I went from living as young marrieds in New York City to moving to the suburbs of Chicago, having three kids in rather short order, and deciding to adopt a toddler from Guatemala. My second book is about creating a healthy, creative family culture and about parenting tweens. My third is a book of essays I co-edited with my friend Cathleen Falsani. We asked 40-some writers to reflect on what verse or passage in Scripture shaped (or upended) their faith. In my essay in that one, I time-traveled back to my own childhood and wrote about the verses that have troubled me the most in my life. My next book, a 365 daybook of short reflections for women, is like a memoir told in very, very brief chapters about parenting teens, nurturing a long marriage, and about faith (and doubt.)

So, yes, to answer the question, this new book follows chronologically, as I write about my kids leaving home and the decade of my forties.

Did you ever find yourself surprised by anything you wrote while working on this new book?

I was surprised by how often ideas or passages from the book of Ecclesiastes invited themselves into the narrative. When I was doing final edits, after overhauling the book many times (taking it from a book of 40 essays to 20, rethinking, reworking it), I had to smile at how often I found a reference to Ecclesiastes. It makes sense to me why it kept raising its hand and asking to be included. My book turned out to be about letting go of expectations and not “white-knuckling” my way through life, but being present with (and appreciating) what my real life holds. Ecclesiastes is full of complicated wisdom that relates to that kind of mindfulness.

Is there anything you cut from the book before it went to press? What was it, and why?

I’ve never rewritten a book so many times. I cut a lot, mostly because I found finding the right tone a challenge. While I wanted to acknowledge, and poke fun at, some of the “indignities” of middle age, I was also writing about real loss.

In the book’s foreword, Jeanne Murray Walker writes that middle age is where “the ridiculous and the sublime mix.”  She writes, “The ridiculous and the sublime have equal weight in this book because, in midlife, they rub up against one another with such friction.”

I like that.

One chapter I cut was very short and called “A Perfect Midlife Mixtape.” I made a playlist of songs that beautifully (or hilariously) speak to midlife. Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” is, of course on it. Also: “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds, “Failure” by Martin Sexton, and “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell. (Oh and there’s some Ella Fitzgerald, Gillian Welch, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, and Emmylou Harris.) I cut the mixtape chapter at the advice of my (brilliant) editor who felt like it wasn’t quite right, in terms of tone, to include it. But I still love listening to it!

What do you want your readers to get from this book?

The writer of Ecclesiastes said, “To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:19, New Living Translation) That sounds so simple, but of course it’s a long and challenging process to get to that point—but I think we can make excellent progress toward it in midlife. I hope readers of When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? are left feeling hopeful and energized after finishing the book.

I write a lot about memory and how we are constantly editing our memories, attempting to make a cohesive story out of all that we’ve lived through. I hope my readers will look at their own life stories and feel aware of how resilient they are and grateful for all the good in their lives. I’d love it if the book also served as a permission slip for readers to let the unfinished parts or random pieces of the puzzle that is their lives just be. We can’t make sense of all we’ve gone through. We can’t get closure on everything. We can’t understand so many mysteries of how life plays out.


From writer and veteran columnist Jennifer Grant comes an unflinching and spirited look at the transitions of midlife. When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? plumbs the physical, spiritual, and emotional changes unique to the middle years: from the emptying nest to the sagging effects of aging. Grant acknowledges the complexities and loss inherent in midlife and tells stories of sustaining disappointment, taking hard blows to the ego, undergoing a crisis of faith, and grieving the deaths not only of illusions but of loved ones. Yet she illuminates the confidence and grace that this season of life can also bring. Magnetic, good-humored, and full of hope in the sustaining power of the Spirit, this is a must-read for anyone facing the flux and flow of middle age.

Jennifer Grant is a writer, editor, and speaker. A former health and family columnist for the Chicago Tribune, she is the author of four previous books, including the adoption memoir Love You More and the 365-daybook Wholehearted Living. Grant is a part of Hope Through Healing Hands' Faith-based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband, four children (when her sons are on break from college), and two loving and quirky rescue dogs.

Find her online at jennifergrant.com or on Twitter @jennifercgrant.

When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? is available from Herald Press. For further information, review copies, or interviews contact Bob Todd at bt@bobtoddpublicity.com

Keeping Place: Author Q&A

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My second book, Keeping Place, releases next week!

If you have been curious to learn more, here is a Q&A that I've put together to give you a glimpse into the intent behind this book.

If you're interested in buying a copy, save some money! You can pre-order a book at ivpress.org. Get 30% off the book, ebook or DVD series when you use the code READKP. Offer expires on May 31st, 2017.


Why write a book about home? Is it your experience as a wife and mother that most informs this book or something else?

There’s no doubt that my experience of making a home for my family these past twenty years has informed the writing of this book. But Keeping Place isn’t only meant for wives and mothers. In fact, I think the longing for home is a human longing. It’s not particular to women. Men feel it, too—even if they might characterize that longing in different ways.

I’ve spent my entire life searching for home. Partially this is because I’ve experienced so much loss in my life: the premature death of my father, the suicide of my brother, a sometimes emotionally distant relationship with my mother. It’s also true that home has been elusive simply because I’ve been so geographically mobile, somehow ending up in Toronto as an American expat.

These life experiences springboard a Scriptural exploration throughout the book. I want to hear what God has to say about the longings for and losses of home.

What’s the challenge of writing a book about home for both women and men?

I recently had coffee with a young woman from church, and at the end of our conversation, she said that she looked forward to my book on “homemaking.” Later, I couldn’t help but wonder if she imagined a book of recipes, table setting ideas, and the best way to organize a linen closet.

I think that’s the fear: that men will see a book on the topic of home and immediately think it’s a book meant for their wives or mothers or sisters. That’s why the history of home is a really fundamental part of this book (chapter 2). I want to trace how home was once a shared space for residence and commerce and industry up until the Industrial Revolution. That historical analysis might sound sort of heady, but it’s really meant to provide a backdrop for the way that we read the Bible, which never talks about “home” as something which women are solely responsible for.

What books have influenced you to keep a wider perspective in your home-keeping?

I really do see Keeping Place as having resonance with a lot of the great work that’s being done on theology of place. In particular, I really appreciated the early chapters of Craig Bartholomew’s Where Mortals Dwell, because it makes the case for God’s good gift of place. I have also loved books like C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison’s Slow Church, which I believe help us see the role that the local church can play to “keep place” in our cities. And a perennial favorite is also Kathleen Norris’s The Quotidian Mysteries. Beyond that, it’s always been important to me to read outside of my own experiences: books like Kent Annan’s Slow Kingdom Coming and D.L. Mayfield’s Assimilate or Go Home would be two examples.

How do you combine motherhood, writing and speaking? How does your home-making life practically work in the day-to-day?

A lot of my day is taken up with the practical care of my family, especially because I’m the primary parent for our five kids. And even though I’m the first person to try and find help when I need it (I pay someone to clean my house, someone else to do virtual assistant work for me), there’s also something irreducible about the labor that love requires. I have five kids and a very busy executive husband, which means that my work life is sometimes more constrained than I would like it to be because of my responsibilities at home. I can’t accept every speaking invitation I want to. I can’t write on every topic that interests me. I can’t stay connected on social media (even if truthfully, I don’t really want to). But I think this is what it means to be human. We are limited.

Who do you hope is reading this book, and what do you hope they will gain?

I suppose it’s fair to say that women like me will probably read the book, and I hope that they’ll come earlier to the realization that their home is a shared responsibility with their husbands. This “sharing” benefits children, for sure—who need both mom and dad fully engaged at home. It also gives women permission when other God-given callings sometimes call us away from home.

But I hope it’s not just women like me reading the book. I’d love to see women and men who aren’t married, who aren’t parents, find ways they can have and make home today, especially in their local churches and communities. I’d like for people to catch a vision for justice in the world—to see that the gospel isn’t solely a spiritual endeavor to save souls but that it also inspires practices of caring for physical bodies and environments.

And if I could just dream a bit, I’d love for someone on the margins of faith, maybe even on the outside looking in, to read this book and start making sense of the life and death, resurrection and return of Jesus Christ. Sadly, when we get to telling that story, we often use a vocabulary that people are not familiar with. But what if we could talk about the promises of the gospel through the lens of home?

Last question: isn’t there a DVD video series to accompany the book?

There is! It’s meant as a teaching companion to the book, and what I especially love about the videos (and something I can claim NO credit for) are the personal stories shared in each of the five sessions. Women talk about their dreams for home, their disappointments of home. I think it makes it really relevant to our everyday lives. You can watch the trailer here or buy the DVDs at ivpress.org.

Ruby Slippers

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"Ruby Slippers" is the title of the final chapter of my book, Teach Us to Want, and I'm often asked about the significance.

Just last week, I met with a small group from my church who had recently finished reading the book, and several people wanted to make guesses about the meaning of the ruby slippers. One interpretation was particularly clever.

"The ruby slippers were taken from the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East when Dorothy's house fell on her. Dorothy puts them on, but the Wicked Witch of the West chases her and wants to kill her. So the ruby slippers represent the potential dangers of desire and how desire might possibly lead us astray."

Um, no. But really good try!

Because the subtitle of chapter 10 is "commitment," I really meant ruby slippers to represent the journey of desire—and all that's required for that journey, especially courage and resilience. It's a risk to examine our desires. What might we discover about ourselves in the process? It's a risk to admit our desires to others. What will they make of us? And of course, it's also a risk to pray our desires—not because God can't be trusted with our vulnerability, but because in praying our desires, we're also surrendering them to the possibility of divine interruption and change.

But before I clarified all of this for this particular group, another man ventured his guess. I had never met him before.

"Well, Dorothy puts on the ruby slippers so that she can get back home. And I think that's where desire is always leading us. Home.

We want home more than anything else in this world."

Um, HELLO?! Did you know that I've written an entire book about the longing for home?

Teach Us to Want was published in July 2014. I certainly had no plan for my second book, Keeping Place, which releases in two weeks. But maybe "ruby slippers" is the giveaway that when I took my own journey of desire, it would lead me to longings for permanence. Longings for safety and stability, for rest and refuge.

For home.

I'm going to tell you a little bit more about Keeping Place in the next couple of weeks here on the blog. I'll be posting an excerpt from the preface and some behind-the-scenes looks at the writing of the book. I'll even share with you some original poetry that I've written. I hope it's helpful to you in some way, and as always, thanks for reading along!

 

Where I'm From

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I'm excited to tell you about a collection of essays, stories, and poetry from the women of Redbud Writers Guild, which releases next week! Each contribution ends with a prayer as well as a writing prompt. My own essay, "The Tamarisk," is an exploration of the longing for permanence in a rented life. I look at the life of Abraham for how we can "begin seizing the invitation of the in-between places: find solid ground. There is greater permanence than a permanent address . . . The God of Abraham—not the land, not the son—is himself the reward (Gen. 15:1)." But I'm not here to share with you my essay. For that, you'll need to buy the book! Rather, I'd love to share with you a poem written by Nilwona Nowlin. Nilwona is a redemptive artist, someone who believes in the power of the arts to bring about positive transformation in individuals and communities. She is particularly passionate about helping people discover/pursue their purpose, leadership development, and ministries of compassion, mercy, and justice such as community development, reconciliation, and intercultural development. Recent publications include "To Save Many Lives: Exploring Reconciliation Between Africans and African Americans through the Selling of Joseph," for the Covenant Quarterly as well as devotionals for the Covenant Home Altar.

Nilwona is also a regular contributor to for the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) Commission on Biblical Gender Equality's blog and the lmdj Voices blog of the ECC's Love Mercy Do Justice mission priority. Nilwona earned a B.A. from Columbia College Chicago, an M.A. in Christian Formation and Certificate in Justice Ministry from North Park Theological Seminary and a Master’s in Nonprofit Administrationfrom North Park University. She blogs at thedreamerspeaks.com. You can follow Nilwona on Twitter @nilwona.

The entire text of Nilwona's poem, "Where I'm From," can be found here.

Interview with D.L. Mayfield

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assimilate-danielleLast week, I had a great conversation with D.L. Mayfield, author of Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith. The good news is: Danielle's book is lovely and haunting, a book definitely worth buying if you have ever despaired - and hoped - about the good God wants to do in our broken world. In one of my favorite parts, Danielle pens an imaginary letter to Frank Laubach, Mayfield writes, “And I try to be like you, try to pray the love of God on the city. I try to imagine it as an ocean of longing, the beams of the sun transforming into the only presence big enough for all of our needs. And as I pray, I can’t help but hope that the finest sliver of that light would fall on me as well.” The bad news (about our interview) is: I did not record the interview properly. 

I did, however, recover the audio even if the sound quality isn't fantastic. You can listen here. I'm sorry for that, but I hope it doesn't discourage you from listening. Most importantly, I hope this interview whets your appetite for the book, which you can buy here.

assimilate-sarah-bessey

My video interview with Katelyn Beaty, author of A Woman's Place

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A Woman's PlaceThis post is a FIRST. With the help of my technologically-inclined son, Nathan, I'm uploading my first video: an author interview. Last week, I interviewed Katelyn Beaty, Christianity Today's managing editor, about her new book, A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the WorldWe talked specifically about a Christian vision of work, the mommy wars, and the process of book writing. ( I apologize in advance for extraneous "likes" or "you knows." Additionally, there are points in the video where our internet connection gets a little wonky.) Katelyn's book releases on July 19, but you can pre-order now at Amazon.com.

 

[embed]https://youtu.be/HDUfmh5FXso[/embed]

(0:00-5:50)

Introduction: I start off with the most awkwardly constructed sentence: "Katelyn Beaty is the currently managing editor at Christianity Today." Then I gush a little bit about Katelyn's foreword for Teach Us to Want and her important role in my publishing journey. We talk about the writer/editor relationship - and our fragile moments as writers. (Even Katelyn has had some!)

(5:50 - 10:30)

"Go vulnerable, or go home." Katelyn explains why she begins her book with a very personal story: how her broken engagement interrupted the plans she had for her life and provided the occasion for discovering a more robust Christian theology of work.

(10:30 - 12:20)

I ask Katelyn whether or not her singleness gave her a unique angle in the conversation about women and work. "I don't want to say that only single women have the opportunity to invest in their professional work."

(12:20 - 15:00 )

I ask Katelyn about the book's commitment to telling the stories of many different women. "Let's not just make pronouncements about how the world should be," Katelyn explains. "Let's flesh it out."

(15:00- 18:32)

Does "femaleness" inform the way that women understand work? Katelyn explains that one common factor in her research was the community emphasis often evident in women's professional ambitions and choices.

(18:32 - 22:07 )

Katelyn discusses the origin and evolution of Christianity Today's popular women's blog, Her.meneutics, which has amplified women's voices and worked to correct the gender imbalance at CT. Shout out to Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Kate Shelnutt, and Andrea Palpant Dilley.

(22:07 - 27:33)

Is the church playing catch-up to culture in regards to validating women's professional ambitions? Katelyn explains that churches have, in general, neglected to develop a robust theology of professional work for both men and women.

(27:33 - 31:18)

We dig a bit more deeply into the desire question: what caution should we exercise in looking for cultural validation of our desires? Are there contexts where desires for home and family need to be reinforced? (Most importantly, we joke about finding a date for Katelyn: "Act now: this offer is going fast!)

(31:18 - 32:52)

"It is okay to disappoint Andy Crouch." We gush mutual respect and admiration for Andy.

(32:52 - 37:37)

"You can't write a book geared toward women without discussing motherhood in some capacity." Katelyn identifies that wide variety of choices available to modern women seem to promote greater self-doubt, even suspicion and judgment. "My hope is that this book will give us better language [for these conversations]."

(37:37 - 42:55)

Why are women's professional desires considered "selfish" or "careerist" while men's professional desires and ambitions are validated? Katelyn takes us back to the Industrial Revolution for a little history lesson. (And I unabashedly plug my next book, Keeping Place.)

(42:55 - 49:15)

Has professional ambition stalled for Christian women? Katelyn reminds us of our fear, as Christian women, in asking, "What do I really want?" She also reminds us that we can begin by simply naming our desires before God—even our professional desires. "Maybe God wants to use those unnamed desires to accomplish his work in the world and to invite us to partner with him in kingdom restoration work."

(49:15 - 57:22)

Katelyn discusses her process of writing, A Woman's Place. (No, neither of us has the creative genius of Ann Voskamp!)  And she also talks about the immense help she received from her editor, who pushed her beyond her "very safe" first draft.

Thank you, Katelyn!

On March's Bookshelf (well, kinda)

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The truth is: I haven't been reading much this month. And I know. Now you think I'm a total impostor, just pretending to be a decently-read writer. But I did listen to a great book on Audible during our SEVENTEEN-HOUR car ride to and from Charleston, South Carolina, thanks to a terrific recommendation from a friend. It's called, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Goal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  boys in the boat My guess is that this book might make for a better listen than actual read, but the author does a pretty splendid job at recreating the suspence of each of the races that led up to this University of Washington rowing team winning gold at the 1936 Olympics. (Oops, spoiler alert.) In fact, our family pulled into our driveway just as the team, under the watchful eye of Hitler, was trailing Germany's boat in the gold medal race. "Shhh!" Ryan and I hushed, as we motioned for the kids to get their bags and head into the house, breathless to hear the end.

And just for the record (and this is a freebie), I love my Audible subscription. It's usually how I "read" most of my fiction and narrative non-fiction. Other great books I've listened to recently are: Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan (although Tolan, whom I'm convinced is either an asthmatic or heavy smoker, is a mediocre narrator), All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, as well as pretty much any book that Malcolm Gladwell has written. You, too, can brag about how well-read you are when really, you're just killing time while folding laundry, ferrying kids, and rolling meatballs for tomorrow's sauce.

If I haven't been reading this month, I have been up to other things—I promise! I have some other news as well.

First, I'm attending the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids in a couple of weeks. Along with three writers whom I very much admire (Micha Boyett, Marlena Graves, and Tish Harrison Warren), we'll be hosting a panel discussion entitled, "Writing for the Joy of It: Surrendering Our Need for Status." As we've described, "Panelists discuss the wonder and ache of the writing life and the spiritual practices necessary for flourishing." If you're coming to the festival, our panel is scheduled for Thursday, April 14 at 3:15pm. I'd love to see you!

Speaking of the ache of the writing life, it's been painful around these parts in the last couple of months. I have been working to revise my second book, which is finally TITLED. Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home will release in the spring of 2017. I thought second books were supposed to be easier than firsts (kinda like Nathan was an easier baby than Audrey), but alas, it was not to be so for me. Let's just say that my editor had to ask me to clarify my thesis after reading my first draft. (Oh my, am I still in sophomore English with Mrs. Haney?) On outsider reader, hired by IVP to read the first draft, compared it to a collection of post-it notes. Good post-it notes, mind you, but in case you're wondering POST-IT NOTES DO NOT MAKE A BOOK. (For reasons unknown to me, it seems to be an all-caps day.) That said, I turned in draft #2 today, a little more confident that there is paste between the post-it notes and a solid thesis on which the book stands. In short, this book is an exploration of the human longing for home and God's call to its shared labor. If you haven't guessed, it is absolutely a book for men and women, married and single, child-less and child-full, and I'm excited to share it with you (in, er, eleven or so months).

you are what you loveAnother thing I do in my very free time is read other people's books (upon request) to consider endorsing them. I don't usually agree to endorse a book that comes randomly across my desk, but I absolutely love to support the work of great writers I know. I got a little geeky this week when James K.A. Smith's new book came in the mail this week with my endorsement ON THE SIDE FLAP. If you have read Teach Us to Want (or heard me speak or talked for me for a period longer than five minutes), you have heard me recommend Smith's, Desiring the Kingdom. (At this point, I should really be paid as a publicist.) That book gave me the working framework for TUTW. But granted, Desiring the Kingdom, though not an academic book, is still a bit dense for a lot of people who'd prefer something more accessible. Well, now you have it - so no more excuses. As I say in the abbreviated version of my endorsement, "As a means for re-imagining the task of discipleship, this book should be required reading for every pastor, lay leader, and parent." So yeah, that's pretty much everyone. PRE-ORDER!

MiscellanyAnd finally, because all the cool kids are doing it, I plan to launch a newsletter soon. I'm calling it, Miscellany: Odds and Ends from Jen Pollock Michel. You can sign up on my home page. (If you're a blog subscriber, I'll migrate you to the newsletter list automatically, and if you're not interested in receiving it, please feel free to unsubscribe. I promise you won't hurt my feelings.) Regular columns of this monthly-ish newsletter will be: On Glendon Avenue (not my real street address, ok?), On My Desk, On the Road, On My Bookshelf, On My Mind, On My Knees. If you're interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff around these parts and just generally keeping up with what I'm writing and where I'm speaking, I'd love to keep in touch!

 

On February's Bookshelf

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bookshelfDuring the past month, I have been working furiously to revise my second book. I turned in the first draft to my editor right before Christmas and received her editorial report at the end of January, right as I was finishing my deliberate month of "rest." Needless to say, February has been different than January, although I'm grateful for the residual grace of that New Year Sabbath. I'm feeling less hurried these days (and less irritable).  I'm choosing my no's all the more confidently, remembering that I am limited in capacity (and God is never limited in his). Perhaps most to the point: I'm laughing a lot and feeling the joy of being present. (My kids will tell you that I can be found laughing hysterically at middle-school bathroom humor, an obvious immaturity, which amuses them endlessly.) These are all unexpected gifts. I wouldn't be lying to say that I entered January's rest with a lot of reluctance - a bit like the "I'll do this because it's good for me but not because I like it" kind of attitude. But as is often proven true, God had much more goodness in store for me than I could have possibly imagined or asked. And isn't that the nature of faith: that we have to let go of our familiar before embracing God's better-than? This month, I've been busy re-writing a lot of my book. (Yes, because the first draft was so shoddy.) And I'd even tell you the title - if I had one. But I don't. At least not one that's officially confirmed. All this to say that I haven't been reading quite as much. Neverthless, here's what's been on my bookshelf for the month of February:

Quack this WayQuack This Way: David Foster Wallace and Bryan A. Garner Talk Language and Writing. This is probably the most important book I've read all month, and I've been recommending it to my writer friends. It's super short and conversational (and best to borrow from the library), and while it's not going to achieve the notoriety of other writing books (William Zinsser's, On Writing Well, my personal favorite), it has lots of good advice. Here's a quote that has helped guide my revision process: “One measure of how good the writing is is how little effort it requires for the reader to track what’s going on. . . . [Your reader] will appreciate adroitness, precision, economy, and clarity." In addition to good writing advice, this book will inspire you to immediately buy Bryan Garner's usage dictionary, which is now a prized possession of my personal library. (And I'll rely on Garner to tell me if it was OK to split the infinitive in my last sentence.)

Home a Short HistoryHome: A Short History of an Idea by Witold Rybczynski. I have been reading parts of this book for my research, but I finished carefully reading it this month. I do hate that Rybcynski's name is so darn hard to spell because every time I want to cite him, I have to refer to the book for the spelling! In Home, Rybcynski traces the idea of domestic comfort: how it was born in 17th century Holland, how it's been lost in a lot of modern architecture and interior design. There are a lot of fun facts in between all that - most of all, that home as a feminine space is a relatively new idea.

gift of being yourselfThe Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner. Everywhere I turn, someone is reading and recommending this book, including my very awesome spiritual director, Beth Booram. I confess that I often get the "willies" from books that seem overly psychological to me. That said, Benner's book reminds me that as Christians, we often (to our detriment) separate knowledge of God from knowledge of self. For example, we can be great at Bible study - and yet completely ignorant when it comes to understanding our own desires and fears and vulnerabilities. It seems to make sense to me to say that in order to be transformed, we need both.

experiment in criticismAn Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis. I'm reading this book because I'm really interested in writing more book reviews - GOOD book reviews, which deal fairly with the book but also (sometimes necessary) criticism. Lewis has me fully convinced now that while I'd like to call myself "literary," I'm really just a sham of a reader. He offers lots of great definitions for "good readers," which include the willingness read, tens of times, our favorite books - something I very rarely do. This is a great book for thinking about our approach to any art. What is necessary for appreciating a beautiful painting or symphony or novel, according to Lewis? "The first demand of any work of any art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way." (And by the way, that advice is applicable to reading our Bibles, too!)

acedia and meAcedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris. Acedia, which lies somewhere between sloth and indifference, is something that has also interested me in my own research. I love that Norris is bringing back language for what might be the most underrated sin of our day. (In early monastic times, it was considered to rank among the most deadly sins.) I can't help but see that our technological advances are selling us on a particular vision of the good life, one built on ease. We don't like to do things when they are not easy and convenient, and that failure of will is, at least in part, at the heart of acedia. To be honest, I don't love this book as much as I have loved some of Norris's other work (The Quotidian Mysteries and Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, for example). So my advice is: read those other two titles first!

I wanted to tell you about some other interesting books that have crossed my desk, thanks to the generosity of publishers who have sent them, some even asking for an endorsement. Check these out, too! (If I've endorsed these books, I'm marking them with a *.)

The Radical Pursuit of Rest by John Koessler*
40/40 Vision: Clarifying Your Mission in Mid-Life by Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty

On January's Bookshelf

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I'm often asked, "What are you reading?" I suppose if you know me personally (or read my work), you can pretty much guess that there is a hefty stack of books beside the bed (and other parts of the house). I love when others share what's on their bookshelf, so I've decided that I'll try and post more regularly at the end of each month what I'm reading or have finished (or, as is most likely the case, have put down indefinitely). Here's January's list: 

The FellowshipThe Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski

If I weren't facing the task of revising my second book, I'd love to write an essay about writerly self-doubt based on this book, which is a fascinating exploration of four famous Oxford Inklings (Lewis, Tolkien, Barfield, Williams). I loved exploring the literary minutiae of these authors' lives (C.S. Lewis rarely wrote second drafts, Tolkien endlessly revised and perfected). But if you don't care about Tolkien's contributions to the Oxford English Dictionary and the Jerusalem Bible or Lewis's early narrative poem, Dymer, you might want to pass. It is, after all, 500 pages.

Caring for WordsCaring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre I have been curious to read McEntyre, who teaches English at Westmont College in California, ever since enjoying an essay she wrote years ago for Christianity Today. Her book, What's In A Phrase: Pausing Where Scripture Gives You Pause also won a 2015 CT Book Award. (I've picked up both books but have only started this one so far.) What I'm probably enjoying most is the wide range of communication she addresses in this book—from reading to marketing to poetry. "Caring for language is a moral issue," she states early in the book, and though I would have heartily agreed with that before reading this book, she's helping me to see less obvious implications involved in the careful stewardship of words. As one example, she has an entire chapter dedicated to conversation. "One way to minister to a busy and hurried people is to take, and offer, time for conversation."

ScapeScape by Luci Shaw. So I told you that I'm trying to read more poetry. Well, I had the privilege of meeting Luci Shaw two years ago at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College. She signed my copy of Scape with this lovely inscription: "For dear Jen—God bless your desire to grow and flourish. Fondly, Luci. April 2014." You might imagine my utter dismay when I couldn't find the book last summer after the construction crew had repaired and repainted my office ceiling, scattering books and papers to the wind! I'm embarrassed to say that I'm only starting to read Scape now. It is a lovely collection, and I'm hoping to write an essay about reading poetry as a spiritual practice, using her poem entitled, "Catch of the Day." If you're like me and feel like a poetry dunce, you'll find this to be an accessible collection.

Give Me the WordGive Me the Word: Advent and Other Poems, 2000-2015 by Laura Merzig Fabrycky. I had the privilege of connecting with Laura when she interviewed me about Teach Us To Want for The Washington Institute's Missio Lent Series. (You can find that interview here.) We've discovered a lot of kinship (not least because she is also a graduate of Wheaton College), so I was happy to buy and begin reading her first collection of poetry. I sent Laura a list of my personal images and lines, but what she doesn't know is that I read aloud one of her poems, "Object Lesson: Swaddling Clothes" to the children's ministry workers one Sunday morning in Advent. Building on the image of the startle instinct, Laura describes a world in which we are all falling, a world into which God sent a swaddled Son. It's exquisite.

The Five Books of MosesThe Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter. This is another book from which I just read aloud last Sunday to the children's ministry workers as we prayerfully prepared to serve. I love this translation and commentary and am now reading through it for the second time. Alter is a first-rate Hebrew scholar, and though he isn't a Christian, his literary and textual insights are very helpful. I won't go back to reading the Pentateuch in the ESV for several years.

52 ways52 Ways of Looking at a Poem: Ruth Padel. If you're not a subscriber to Books & Culture (and you like both!), you want to be. The essays are really thoughtful, and I'm always finding titles that sound intriguing. As an example, I found Padel's book in Lauren Winner's essay, "Why I Read Poetry." I promptly bought it and have been reading (studying, nearly) the collection of poems. I didn't understand when I bought it, however, that it exclusively featured British poets—not that I don't like the Brits, but well, I felt reflexively indignant about the exclusivity of the project (an indignation I did NOT feel reading the title below. Hmpf.) If you want a primer on reading poetry, this is a good one. (I've also been recommended Tania Runyan's, How to Read a Poem, which explores poetry through a Billy Collin's poem. Standard American fare, if you prefer that.)

Penguin AnthologyThe Penguin Anthology of 20th Century Poetry, Edited by Rita Dove. It's not entirely fair to say that I am reading this book. It's more accurate to say that it is currently borrowed from the library, and I've read a handful of poems from the collection (Mary Oliver, Denise Levertov). Anthologies like this can be helpful, however, for finding poetry you like (and understand)!

 

 

 

 

Age of InnocenceThe Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Yes, I'm devouring this novel. If it weren't for five children needing to be fed, I would have finished it already. Wharton describes the social codes of the wealth elite in 1870s New York and the struggle of certain characters to resist those norms. (I'm left wondering why I often cheer for the "bad girls.")

Beginnings

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I'm honored to host Steve Wiens in this space to tell us about his new book, Beginnings, which comes highly recommended to me. Though I haven't read it in its entirety (because I've been reading research for my home book), I look forward to finishing it—as I bid hello to a new year, and with it, my own new beginnings. Beginnings - Intro

Beginnings, by Steve Wiens

I suppose it might be considered a cliché to say that my first book discovered me; that it fluttered down to me in a bright burst of color and flame, beckoning and irresistible. But it did.

It came to me as a question, but one with a smirk and a wink. It was a delicious question, the kind that invites you to leave Bag End with only a walking stick and a stomach hungry for adventure.

I was stuck, but I was only beginning to realize it, and it was a sickening kind of feeling when I finally did. My life seemed to be drifting away from me, like someone was using a pair of bellows all wrong, extracting breath from me instead of adding it.

The question thundered around me, accompanied by random flashes of lightning, and I was dazzled enough to turn aside to see what it was before it rolled by.

What if the creative act of God described so richly in the Genesis poem was not simply an event in time, but a process that is reflected in all beginnings that follow?

What if new beginnings were lurking around every corner, inside every whisper, and even stitched into every ending? What if they hovered above us, and filled in the fault lines beneath us? What if being stuck wasn’t the inevitable destination?

What if the world, right here and now, is crying out once again, and what if the God who hears is responding, and sending, and moving, and acting?

So I wrote and wrote and wrote, and with three boys under the age of six, it was mostly done by magic tricks and stopping time. The more I wrote, the more I believed. It came in torrents, flooding me, until it didn’t. Then it trickled in: a paragraph, a sentence, a word. But it came all the way out, and I’m about to let it go into the world.

Beginnings is my manifesto of hope, that the creative activity of God is not finished, not even close. Beginnings is my defiant shout that even when we are lost in the inky blackness, there can emerge out of that swampland something glorious, something eternal, something covered in the goodness of God.

What follows are the first words I used to translate the fluttering reality in which I now am grounded. I hope it leaves you hungry for more.

“THE ACHE HAD probably been creeping up on me, but I didn’t notice it until that night, sitting on the deck behind my sub- urban house looking out onto my suburban life. Isaac was two, and the twins were six months old. I was a pastor at a large church, I had been married for fourteen years, and my twenty-year high school reunion had come and gone.

I didn’t go to that reunion. I didn’t have the energy for the awkwardness, the sizing up, and the plastic cups of stale beer to chase down our stale memories.

But the ache that had been whispering through my body rattled to a clumsy stop on that night, in those suburbs, on that deck.

I had been looking at pictures of my friends who went to the reunion: my old girlfriend, the guys I used to go all night skiing with on those blisteringly cold nights in Minnesota, my soccer team. And I remembered all the beginnings.

I remembered moving from Southern California to Belgium the summer before seventh grade. I remembered the sour, un-American body odor of the team of men who moved our old furniture into our new house. That smell was the baptism of our new life in Europe.

I remembered my friend Colin who lived across the street in a two-story white brick house in Waterloo with black shutters, like they all were. I remembered the in-ground trampoline in his back yard, on which we spent hours and hours, jumping our way into adolescence. I remembered his mother’s unbearably loud voice, as it boomed around their house like a grenade and made us run for cover.

I remembered falling treacherously in love with Tammi the moment I saw her, coming down those stairs in the fall of my ninth grade year. She liked me back, and then she didn’t like me. I was devastated. That’s when I started listening to the Cure and Depeche Mode, bands who were created for teenagers like me who don’t know how to express the frightening chaos brewing beneath our skin, bubbling and boiling.

I remembered Mr. Tobin, my tenth grade English teacher. Every student should have a Mr. Tobin. He got to know each of us and selected books based on what he thought we’d like. The first book he gave me was Trinity, by Leon Uris. I remember staying up late into the night reading about Conor Larkin, the main character, who was everything I wanted to be but feared I wasn’t: brave and passionate and rough edged. Almost thirty years have passed since I met Mr. Tobin, and I credit my deep love for reading to his deep love for teaching.

I remembered kissing Angie under a starry summer night on that dock that jutted out into Lake Como, the thrill of that moment reflecting off the lake and making everything luminous that summer before our senior year. I can still see the picture of us at the homecoming game: she was beautiful, holding my hand under the dark October sky. I had a ridiculous acid-washed denim jacket on, with only the bottom button fastened in the chilly air. There was a grin on my face and my eyes were sparkling. I was seventeen.

I remembered driving around in Matt’s Bronco for hours, finishing off the beer that Carl’s older brother bought us. We must have burned hundreds of gallons of gas on those cold winter nights; we were irresponsible, irrepressible and immortal.

I remembered deciding to go to college in a sleepy little town in southern Minnesota, instead of up north, where most of my closest friends from high school had chosen to go. I remembered trying to explain it to them, in the awkward way that high school guys do. I don’t remember much of that summer before college. I only remember the familiar sensation that comes with every new beginning: the thrill of reinventing yourself running parallel with the fear of the unknown—the twin tracks that lead to everything else.

But on that night, on that deck, in those suburbs, the continual forward movement seemed to have stopped. The tracks had run out. I used to be in motion, rattling forward toward a destination that kept morphing. But on that stationary deck, I had become solid and stable, and stuck.

There would be no new beginnings.

My life should have felt full and rich, but instead it felt empty and dark. There was only the slow work of playing out the reality of the decisions that had already come and gone. I was a pastor. I was a father. I was a husband. I didn’t regret any of those things. I loved my kids and my wife and my job. But the finality of it all was a relentless crashing—wave after wave, under those stars, in those suburbs, on that night. It felt vacant, like staring into nothingness.

It was empty and full at the same time. Empty of beginnings, full of endings.

As I sat there motionless with the emptiness closing in around me, there was something else hovering above me in the darkness, but I couldn’t see it.

If I could have seen it, it would have looked like a beginning.”

* * *

Steve Wiens lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife Mary and their three young boys. Steve blogs at www.stevewiens.com and he publishes a weekly podcast called This Good Word. You can order Beginnings here: Amazon | Books-A-Million | IndieBound | Barnes and Noble.

 

 

 

Wrapping up 2015

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I have a couple of end-of-the-year updates for you and then I'm off to enjoy the holidays with my family! One:

Yesterday at 1:17 p.m., I emailed the first draft of my second book manuscript to my editor. I would share with you the title—if I had one. (My working title unfortunately showed up on someone else's cover this past year!) But generally, when people have asked, I've said that I'm writing a book about the longing for home. (Too bad The Longing for Home has also been taken—by Frederick Buechner nonetheless!)

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If you're a subscriber to Christianity Today, you might have seen my recent Her.meneutics column (in the December print edition) entitled, "Not Yet Home for Christmas." That piece is like an appetizer for the meal that is my next book. I write:

"Our first human parents were given a home and invited to sit and stay awhile. But they, and we, have chosen rebellion. So the drama of life unfolds not a home, but in exile . . . To be human is to be homesick, longing for paradise lost."

Should that sound depressing (and I guess it kinda does, excerpted like that), I promise it's not. The gospel is the story of a God, who enfleshed himself and left his home in heaven to make possible our homecoming.

Two:

I have wanted to tell you about my favorite reads of 2015. Here's my list with a short summary of why you might want to add each title to your library.

The Warmth of Other Sons by Isabel Wilkerson: If you, like I, never learned about the massive exodus of 6,000,000 black Americans from the south between 1915-1970, you must read this book. It will help in understanding the hostility characterizing current race relations in the United States.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry: Hands down, this was the best novel I read this year. Granted, the first ten or so chapters shuffle at the slow pace of days in Jayber Crow's barber show, but the end of the book will have you weeping for the world and longing for the new earth.

Wearing God by Lauren Winner: I'm grateful for any book that helps me read Scripture more carefully, and Winner's book does just that. Winner is especially good at exposing the middle-class assumptions that distort the way we see God.

The Gospel of Ruth by Carolyn Custis James: Similar to Winner, Custis James is a careful reader of Scripture, and I'm grateful to have studied alongside her. Ruth is a gusty woman of faith.

To Hell with All That (Loving and Loathing Your Inner Housewife) by Caitlin Flanagan: The title alone gives you a taste of the force of Flanagan's writing. When someone recently asked which writers I'm reading and imitating, I'd like to say Flanagan.

Just a Housewife (The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America) by Glenna Matthews: This is a careful history beginning with Colonial America and ending in the 1970s. Every woman should know the story of the American housewife, which has potential for clearing up a great deal of confusion about a "woman's role."

Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff: There are too few good books about grief—books that don't deny pain and yet don't turn bitterly hopeless. This is a book I'll be putting into the hands of those suffering the loss of someone they've loved.

Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright: I love how Wright manages to make accessible his genius. This book is best in its final two chapters, where Wright applies his hermeneutic to the Sabbath and to marriage.

How [Not] to be Secular by James K.A. Smith: Smith, in my opinion, is doing some of the most helpful scholarship for the church. Here, he's condensing Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor's work. Every pastor and ministry leader should be reading this.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis: I cannot believe I hadn't read this until this year, but this is a book I'm going to be returning to, especially as I pray to become a better witness for Christ. There's no one more lucid than Lewis when it comes to demonstrating how Christianity makes fundamental sense of the world.

Honorable Mentions:

Getting Involved with God by Ellen Davis

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Joy of Missing Out by Christina Crook

Are Women Human? by Dorothy Sayers

3.

I'll wrap up this update by saying I'm looking forward to a full-stop for the next four weeks. I've struggled, in recent months, with the constant pressure of deadlines and their imposition of hurry and preoccupied thought. And as much as I might say that I dislike the frenetic, busy pace, it is also true that I often choose it for myself. I don't even know that I would recognize myself at a resting pulse! So, with help from my spiritual director and her careful listening, I heard myself say in our most recent time together: I need rest. I'm nearly wrung out.

And that's what I intend in the next month: I'll finish the last few work responsibilities I have (and clean out my office!), then turn my attention to Christmas menus, cookie baking, reading a frivolous novel, and maybe even sleeping in past 5am! When the kids go back to school in January, I'll putter around the house. I'll paint a bedroom and chaperone a field trip. I'll enter the year with silence, not words. I'll look back, pray ahead. And hope to be restored by the easy yoke and light burden of Christ.

I wish this for you, too.

Merry Christmas!

Resources for the Devotional Life

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meeting with GodOver the last three weeks, my friend, Wendy Stringer, and I have been teaching a class at our local church entitled, "Meeting with God." For that class, we compiled a resource list of helpful aids in establishing and maintaining a devotional life. I'm posting that list here (and including it as a document for download, if you will find it more helpful as a printable). This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it can be a good start!

If you have questions about what it looks like to have a daily time set aside to meet with God, feel free to ask them below in the comments. Maybe you struggle with consistency. Maybe you're in a rut right now and need a go-to for something fresh. Maybe you aren't convinced that daily prayer and Bible reading is an important spiritual discipline. We have had a great conversation over the last three weeks about what it a vibrant "quiet time" might look like, and I'm happy to share some of those thoughts with you if they pertain to your particular questions. Or, if you have a resource to share, please include the title in the comments!

RESOURCE LIST Meeting with God Grace Toronto Church

BIBLE READING PLANS

A Bible reading plan arranges daily Scripture readings in a variety of ways:

Chronological: https://www.blueletterbible.org/dailyreading/PDF/1Yr_ChronologicalPlan.pdf

One-year plans: http://oneyearbibleonline.com

Robert Murray M’Cheyne plan (OT, NT and Psalms twice in one year): http://www.mcheyne.info/calendar.pdf

Topical: https://www.bible.com (or YouVersion app)

CHILDREN’S BIBLES*

Helm, David. The Big Picture Story Bible. (Ages 2-6)

Lloyd-Jones, Sally. The Jesus Storybook Bible. (Ages 3-8)

Machowski, Marty. The Gospel Story Bible. (Ages 6-10).

Vos, Catherine. The Child’s Story Bible. (Ages 5-14).

*A good children’s Bible can be a great help in becoming familiar with the meta-narrative of the Bible!

BOOKS

Baillie, John. A Diary of Private Prayer.

This book offers morning and evening prayers, which focus on adoration and concern for individual and social good.

Bennet, Arthur (ed.). The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.

This book is a compilation of Puritan prayers, and though the language is somewhat archaic, the theology is rich. Praying these prayers can be a great “warm-up” exercise for a daily time with God, the kind of warm-up that Martin Luther commended in his teaching. “I want your hear to be stirred and guided . . . rightly warmed and inclined toward prayer.”

Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that transform us.

This book is an extensive look at the variety of disciplines that can be practiced in our lives with God. Examples are: Sabbath, Rest, Teachability, Submission, Hospitality, Spiritual Friendship, Justice, Intercessory Prayer. Every practice is explained briefly, and readers are encouraged to answer reflection questions as well as attempt spiritual exercises.

Davis, Dale Ralph. Judges: Such a Great Salvation.

Davis tackles a difficult book with unflinching candour, humour and practicality. A scholar and pastor he exposits and writes so anyone can follow and grow. This commentary is one of 42 in the Focus on the Bible series in which Davis contributes widely.

Foster, Richard (ed.) Devotional Classics and Spiritual Classics.

Foster has provided reading selections from Christians across the centuries. Every reading is accompanied by a Bible reading, reflection questions and suggested exercises.

Hendricks, Howard and William. Living by the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible.

This book is practical, how-to guide for studying Scripture. It is methodical and systematic, and each chapter ends with a “You Try It’ section. These exercises can be helpful for people who want a “hands-on” approach. Also, Hendricks has many suggestions for ancillary resources, which can be used to deepen Bible study.

Keller, Timothy. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.

This book is a comprehensive look at prayer in its various dimensions (thanksgiving, praise, supplication, petition). It offers insights from Christians from a variety of traditions across the centuries. Because of its depth of exploration, it cannot be read quickly, but it will certainly be re-read and referenced by students of prayer.

Peterson, Eugene. A Long Obedience: Discipleship in an Instant Society.

In this book Peterson helps us to read and pray the Psalms of Ascent (124–130). While not explicitly Christ centred, it is a beautiful book, written for easy access and understanding of the Psalms, the time they were written, the God who inspired them and loves his people.

Peterson, Eugene. Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading.

If you are looking for a practical, “how-to” book, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for something more theological, something which answers the “why” questions more than the “how” questions, this is great. Peterson unpacks Scripture’s purpose of forming us as God’s obedient, full-of-faith people.

Reinders, Philip F. Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the Year.

This is a great daily prayer guide that follows the religious calendar: it includes passages of Scripture for meditation as well as prayer topics. Perfect for reading alone, with a friend, or even with small children.

Wilkin, Jen. Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with both our Hearts and our Minds.

This book is a practical, how-to guide for studying Scripture. It provides a 5-step method of Bible study, including instruction for people teaching Scripture and also suggesting additional resources for further reflection. Though Wilkin’s more “rational” approach to Scripture may unfairly bias readers against experiential/emotional reading, her God-centered methods are sound.

The Book of Psalms for Worship (published by Crown and Covenant)

Every Psalm set to music with four part harmonies written. While some of the tunes are older they are also familiar. The words are carefully paraphrased, not exact, but easy to memorize just by singing. The Story (published by Zondervan).

Arranged in 31 chapters, The Story allows the Bible to be read seamlessly and chronologically from beginning to end—like a novel. There is minimal editorial comment; the words of Scriptures speak for themselves.

AUDIO

There are many different audio versions of the bible to choose from: some with music, some without, all of the versions available in many languages. Perfect for listening to while driving, running, hiking or trying to drown out your kid’s noise.

The story of Jesus (NIV). (Recording copyright by Zondervan)

“The Story of Jesus is a compelling, easy-to-follow presentation that is rooted in the clear, accessible language of the NIV. Revealing and insightful, this is the Jesus story in a concise, single narrative.”

NIVUK by David Suchet. (Recording copyright by Biblica.inc)

This reading is simple and without music. David Suchet’s voice is easy on the ears and easy to follow. You can find more samples here:

https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/audio/?recording=nivuk-suchet

Jones, Sally-Jones. The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name.

“Hear The Jesus Storybook Bible in this brand new eBook + audio edition featuring word-for-word audio narration by David Suchet. The multiple award-winning Jesus Storybook Bible tells the Story beneath all the stories in the Bible. It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby, the Child upon whom everything would depend. From Noah to Moses to King David, every story whispers his name.” Find it to download here:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/jesus-storybook-bible/id585490172?mt=11

Sons of Korah

This band sets and sings the Psalms with beautiful instrumentation. Most are written and sung verbatim. Great for memorizing whole Psalms. Find them here:

http://www.sonsofkorah.com

WEBSITES

The Park Forum (theparkforum.org) - The Park Forum provides a devotional reflection of 400 words or less for daily Bible readings. Readings are taken from the M’Cheyne Reading Plan, modified to cover two chapters of Scripture per day. In two years, readers will have read through the entire Bible.

Today in the Word (todayintheword.org) - Each monthly devotional explores either a book of the Bible or a theme in Scripture. The daily readings include a Scripture passage and brief (300 words) devotional thought for meditation.

Bible Gateway (biblegateway.com) - Bible Gateway is a great resource for comparing Bible passages in different translations. It is also a good resource for word searches (e.g. “peace,” “hope”) and topical searches. Additionally, Bible Gateway offers devotional resources (from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, Charles Spurgeon).

Bible Org: Where the World Comes to Study the Bible (https://bible.org)

Great for understanding the lives and context of the original hearers of the scriptures.

Blue Letter Bible (blueletterbible.org) - This website provides a lot of free Bible study aids: commentaries, articles, encyclopedias, dictionaries, topical indexes, maps, and devotional readings.

The Divine Hours (explorefaith.org): This is a resource for fixed-hour prayer. It presents biblically-based prayers to be prayed at the divine hours of every day: morning prayers (between 6-9am), midday prayers (between 11am-2pm) and evening prayers (between 5-8pm).

APPS

For the Love of God (D.A. Carson) - Following the M’Cheyne Bible-reading schedule, Dr. Carson, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, explores the Bible in the larger framework of history and God’s eternal plan. These devotional readings were originally published in a two-volume book set.

YouVersion - Many Bible reading plans (3 - 365 days) are available through YouVersion.

She Reads Truth - This is an online community of women who read the Bible together daily. “Our goal is simple - to read the Bible daily and find Christ in every page.”

PrayerMate: This is a free resource for organizing and reviewing prayer requests. It also allows users to integrate prayer requests from other organizations.

Prayer Notebook, Prayer Notes: These are similar to PrayerMate, although they are not free free. They do offer additional capabilities.

BIBLE STUDY RESOURCE TOOLS

Concordance: This reference tool provides an alphabetical index of the words used in Scripture. It is most helpful to have a concordance for the translation you most regularly use. Additionally, there are brief explanations of the Hebrew/Greek words and their meanings, along with where these words appear elsewhere in Scripture. *Double-check if the concordance provides a cross-reference with Strong’s, whose numbering system is used for Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary.

- The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (KJV) - Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible (KJV) - ESV Comprehensive Concordance of the Bible (ESV) - Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance

Bible dictionary: This contains the most important words of the Bible and highlights the different Greek/Hebrew words used for English words.

- Vine’s, An Expository Dictionary - The New Bible Dictionary

Bible handbooks: This is an encyclopedic resource. It provides cultural and historical context for Bible readers.

- Eerdman’s Companion to the Bible - The Handbook of Life in Bible Times

Atlas:

- The New Moody Atlas of the Bible - Zondervan Pictorial Bible Atlas

Commentary:

- New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition - Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Published in 1706 and available at biblegateway.com)

Study Bible:

- The Thompson Chain-Reference Study Bible

Meeting with God_resources

Good News for the Poor

jenmichel@me.com

With the exception of the pair of shoes I left behind in the mudroom (and four blocks from the house, turned around to retrieve), my daughter, Audrey, and I made it to the airport without event. Although I don't exactly know what the days ahead will be like, I do hope to write here as often as I can, sharing with you our experiences in Rwanda with HOPE International In my morning reading, I read Psalm 146:

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever, who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.

The LORD sets the prisoners free; The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

This psalm reminds me of God's particular favor for the world's most vulnerable, the very kind of people with whom HOPE International works. It also points forward to the very first sermon Jesus preached in the Nazareth synagogue, when he unrolled the scroll of Isaiah:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

"Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing," Jesus announced (Luke 4:21).

This gospel of good news for the poor and the oppressed, for the hungry and the blind, was preached infrequently in my church growing up. A version of the good news was preached, to be sure. But it looked less like social activism and more like walking down an aisle, repenting of sin, and declaring the intention to follow Jesus and be baptized. (At a recent visit to my parent's home church, when the invitation stretched six anxious repetitions of, "People Need the Lord," I remembered the prayers I'd uttered as a young person for the sinners in our midst.)

Please don't misunderstand: I still believe that the gospel has everything to do with sin and salvation, and I'm grateful to have been raised in our church that preached both of these faithfully. Yet it wasn't until Wheaton College when I learned that the gospel was a full-bodied hope, that it had everything to do with putting to the world to rights, that it was good news for the poor in spirit and the poor. At Wheaton, I began to see passages like Psalm 146 and Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 differently - and see the kingdom of God differently.

I began to read the Bible differently.

And isn't that always the challenge before us: to read the Bible as it is meant to be read and to see and worship God as he has revealed himself? In his book, Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson calls this kind of earnest Bible reading the "forbidding discipline of spiritual reading."

"Forbidding because it requires that we read with our entire life, not just employing the synapses in our brain. Forbidding because of the endless dodges we devise in avoiding the risk of faith in God. Forbidding because of our restless inventiveness in using whatever knowledge of 'spirituality' we acquire to set ourselves up as gods. Forbidding because when we have learned to read and comprehend the words on the page, we find that we have hardly begun." It is the kind of reading which receives "the words in such a way that they become interior to our lives, the rhythms and images becoming practices of prayer, acts of obedience, ways of love," (Eat This Book, p. 10).

To read the Bible is to confront, at every turn, God's pledge of loyalty to the poor, the marginalized, and the mistreated. If we wished we could maintain a safe distance from suffering, if we had hoped that faith would ensure our comfort and convenience, the Bible warns that this is no option. We follow the Christ who braved the terrors of this world at great cost to himself. Our God became poor (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).

And we are his hands and feet.

The work of HOPE International, working through local churches to provide small business loans, biblically based business training, and savings services, is an expression of God's heart for the poor, especially poor women, who suffer particular vulnerability.

banker to the poorThese women, whom micro-credit helps, are described by Muhammed Yunus in his book, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty. Yunus founded the world's first bank to the poor, Grameen, in Bangladesh and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work.

Yunus relays this as a story of the typical Grameen borrower, who asks for her first loan of twenty-five dollars.

"She struggles with the fear of failure, the fear of the unknown. The morning she is to receive her loan, she almost quits. Twenty-five dollars is simply too much responsibility for her. How will she ever be able to repay it? No woman in her extended family has ever had so much money . . .

When she finally receives the twenty-five dollars, she is trembling. The money burns her fingers. Tears roll down her face. She has never seen so much money in her life. She never imagined it in her hands. She carries the bills as she would a delicate bird or a rabbit, until someone adviser her to put the money away in a safe place lest it be stolen . . .

All her life she has been told that she is no good, that she brings only misery to her family, and that they cannot afford to pay her dowry. Many times she hears her mother or her father tell her she should have been killed at birth, aborted, or starved. To her family she has been nothing but another mouth to feed, another dowry to pay. But today, for the first time in her life, an institution has trusted her with a great sum of money. She promises that she will never let down the institution or herself. She will struggle to make sure that every penny is paid back."

The beauty of most microfinance institutions, including HOPE International, is the high repayment rate. At HOPE International, 98% of loans are repaid.

I'm looking forward to learning more about HOPE's work in Rwanda (and around the world) in the week ahead. I'm also looking forward to meeting the many women and men who, with the help of a small business loan, are feeding their families, paying school fees, and saving for the future - all in the context of hope through Jesus Christ.

Read more about HOPE's program in Rwanda here. Find a copy of HOPE President Peter Greer's book, The Poor Will Be Glad, here. And stay tuned for more Rwanda updates from me this week.