I'm Happy for You (Sort Of....Not Really) -- Book Review

We live in a culture obsessed with comparison.  As parents, we feel the pressure intensely with our children, or in our careers as we see others succeed, or in our homes when we alternate locations for small group gatherings.  We may not even be aware we are suffering from a disorder – Obsessive Comparison Disorder.

How do you know if you suffer from Obsessive Comparison Disorder? 

  • Do you feel delighted when you do something better than someone else?
  • Do you feel like you do not measure up when someone else does something better than you?
  • Do you look on Facebook or Pinterest or Instagram and wish your life was more like that?
  • Do you feel better at someone else’s misfortune?
  • Do you feel burdened by something unfair or unequal?
  • Do you feel embarrassed about something you have that isn’t new or trendy?

 If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you will enjoy reading I’m Happy for You (Sort Of…Not Really) by Kay Wills Wyma.  We are content when comparison is not involved, and we may be oblivious to what we lack, but once we start measuring against a new standard, we either enter the Land of Discontent or the Land of Superiority. 

Full of anecdotes and illustrations from her life as well as highlights sprinkled throughout the book of others' experiences, Wyma shows how big the problem of comparison is and reminds us that things are not always what they seem. She also gives solutions without sounding preachy, weaving them into her stories by showing what happens when we can accept life’s inequalities, when we can say “I am happy for you” and mean it without comparing, and when we can know each other for who we are and not what we do.  When we can think less about ourselves instead of less of ourselves, then we can begin to overcome the discontentment or superiority that comes from comparing.
I thought this book was delightful, entertaining, and humorous while also exposing the painful layers of my heart that are guilty of comparison in ways I had never considered.  I highly recommend this book to mothers and grandmothers.  To learn more about this book, check out the following:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith - Book Review

Sometimes it is just hard to face life.  We want to run from hurt or pain.  If we can't run from it, we want to mask it or cover it up.  Some do this chemically – pain pills, alcohol, weed, food, self-medicating with substances that temporarily replace the yucky feelings with good ones.  Others run from it by substituting their focus with something else – hard work, internet surfing, materialism, social media likes/approvals, status, evading the pain by burying it with action.  But when we do these things, we isolate ourselves; and we fail to hear the still small voice.

When I picked up Seth Haines’s book Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, I was not sure if it was the season to read it, but it was next on my list.  I was sitting in the hospital with my husband who was recovering from surgery and just diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer.  What interest could I find in a book about an alcoholic Christian, church leader, devoted father and husband on the search of sobriety? 

But what kept me reading was the pain that Seth Haines felt during a time of life when his two-year-old son was hospitalized and might not live. It was also during a time when he realized he had used alcohol as a balm to soothe him where God was not.  Writing in the style of a journal, he chronicled his path to sobriety over a period of several months.  He reached back to pain that stemmed from his childhood with a faith healer that failed him and how that experience had infected him and his faith now.  By facing the pain, digging into it and not covering it up and isolating himself, he found a new faith and a community that gave him strength. 

For me, this was more than a story of struggling with alcoholism and sobriety. It was a peek into another one’s life who struggles with the issues of healing and faith.  I could relate to the unhelpful things that people say and find the grace to forgive them in it.  I understood the desire to isolate oneself and could relate to wanting to cover up pain.  He showed me ways that we tend to run from pain, and how instead, we can let Jesus meet us there. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People - Book Review

God seems to sometimes show up in the least likely places.  In the midst of our crap, God reveals Himself and His ways to us, and if we choose to search and see it, it can be transformative.  This is the premise of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. 

Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran and founding pastor of the church House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, has a depth of understanding of living in this messed up world as a messed up person.  She writes from the vulnerable places in her heart, and her personality in all its unstereotypical beauty and rawness shines through. 

She acknowledges that we live in a world that admires only the strong, but God blesses the weak, and in those He may give us our greatest lessons, especially if we can count ourselves among them.  Through the stories of the least likely people whom she expects to hear from God, she shows how God reveals His grace, not so much in a warm fuzzy blanket but more like painfully being knocked to the ground.  We must be willing to look beyond the surface of people and our assumptions about them and see that they, too, are a child of God for whom Christ’s  body was broken.  She expresses the true meaning of living in Christian community with one another, sharing of the bread and wine among people who are very different but share the common bond of faith, and thus struggling through life together while displaying and receiving God’s grace and mercy.

Sometimes I am frustrated by my lack of gradual transformation.  Nadia shows us that it is not necessarily about trying to grow or seeking growth through spiritual disciplines, but rather, it’s about seeking God and seeing Him in others as well as in our weaknesses.  It’s about grace, love, and mercy – giving it and receiving it.  People are drawn to freedom and are hungry for freedom, not the “Christian lifestyle”.  Christian community is a coming together to live and tell and be made into the story of Jesus together, a melting and being re-formed.  While I struggled with some of her descriptive word choices (aka profanity), I absolutely loved this book.

For further information about this book, click on the following:
Book Info

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books (Convergent Publishing) in exchange for my honest review.

Rising Above a Toxic Workplace - Book Review

At work, do you ever feel insecure, overworked, underpaid, or under-appreciated?  Are you frustrated when you are unable to meet expectations, or experience emotional harassment?  Is your boss a control freak, or do you frequently feel manipulated?  Or maybe you just find it hard to cope at work but you cannot put your finger on exactly why it is so difficult?  Sometimes workplaces can become unhealthy, harmful to your emotional health, even toxic. 

But there are ways you can cope, rise above it, and take care of yourself and others who are struggling.  In the book Rising Above a Toxic Workplace: Taking Care of Yourself in an Unhealthy Environment, by Gary Chapman, Paul White, and Harold Myra explain what a toxic workplace looks like and shed light on how it happens.  Simply understanding why leaders may create a toxic environment can help us understand better how to cope.  The authors counsel how to maintain our sanity and how to be a light in a place of darkness.  They use many real-life illustrations along with a survival guide and toolkit at the end.  Most of all, they help us know when it is time to leave those types of workplaces.

Workplaces change over time, sometimes good to bad, sometimes bad to good, sometimes a roller coaster in which we need to hang on for the ride.  I feel like the authors quickly turn to getting off the roller coaster more than how to cope with the drops and hanging on for change.  Many of their illustrations are of people who leave their toxic workplaces and then find a new job and live happily ever after.  In reality, it can be just as easy to walk into another toxic workplace, or one that starts out healthy and then management changes.  The subtitle of this book would be more appropriate to say “how to know when to leave” instead of “taking care of yourself in an unhealthy environment”.  Still, I thought this was an enlightening book and found some wise advice within it. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Moody Press in exchange for my honest review.

Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Everyday - Book Review

Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Everyday is a compilation of Pope Francis’s morning homilies from the Vatican chapel, St. Martha’s Chapel, from March 2013 to May 2014, edited by Father Antonio Spadaro.  Pope Francis provides true homilies, not written speeches, to the ordinary people from a variety of walks of life who attend the mass.  The preface by Father Spadaro is nearly 50 pages long and provides an informative background on possible ways to read and understand the spiritual richness of the homilies, and how to draw a personal encounter with God through them.

Pope Francis’s messages are simple, gospel-centered, sometimes strong, but always positive too. He proposes what we can do better instead of telling us what we must do, providing a challenge for us to strive toward.  He is truly a compassionate spiritual teacher of living the spiritual life and living out the gospel.  Whether Catholic or Protestant, there is much here for thought, guidance, and encouragement.

If interested, check out the following links:
Read Chapter 1

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Slow to Judge - Book Review

The Christian tendency to rush to judgement to soon or too often stifles dialog.  In David Cape’s book Slow to Judge, he shows that if we listen, we may be given a chance to speak.  However, if you are listening in order to fulfill your agenda of hoping to speak and be heard, you miss the point. 

David Capes, a professor at Houston Baptist University, discusses love, forgiveness, phobias, and problems with the cultural view of tolerance.  While the book starts off slow, most of the substance is in the last third of the book, especially in examining the definition of authentic tolerance and exploring when it is acceptable to judge and when it is not. 

The sub-title of this book turned me off at first: “Sometimes it’s okay to listen”.  Isn’t it ALWAYS okay to listen? Isn’t listening a way to express kindness or love?  But Capes points out that sometimes there are things that are not worth listening to.  If it is too offensive and injurious, we should not waste our time on toxic thinking – racism, facism, terrorism, etc.  Sometimes it is okay to judge. We need to speak out against evils like human trafficking, not be tolerant of it. 

Authentic tolerance intrinsically means handling things that make us uncomfortable, requiring us to practice a tolerance based on humility, an open heart, and love that gives the other person dignity and respect.  Because of general revelation, any culture enlightened by truth can be no other than truth revealed by our God and Father -- not promoting relativism but truth that is common for everyone because it is real. We can all learn from each other.

We don’t have to just join hands and talk about all we have in common.  We can discuss our differences as well, and listen, and learn from each other, even when it makes us uncomfortable.  I highly recommend this book, especially the last three chapters.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest review.

"The Surrender Experiment" -- An Experiment Gone Awry

Michael Singer, author of New York Times Bestseller Untethered Soul, has released his second book, The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life's Perfection.  I had not actually read Untethered Soul, so I read it before reading his new book, expecting it would be a sequel of sorts.  If you expect this book to be a follow-up of his first, or to be in any way related, you may be disappointed.  

This book is basically a story of his life, cherry-picking his successes to make them appear his surrendering caused all these incredible events to fall into his lap coincidentally, like Forrest Gump, except he is clearly very articulate, intelligent, and has a magnetic personality (which doesn’t come across in his writing).  While surrendering to the energy of the universe, he also contradicts himself, stepping in to change the direction of things that he doesn’t like.  Not to say I would disagree with the decisions to step in, but it messes up the surrendering aspect of his experiment, like his reaction to his neighbor cutting down trees, or hiring 20 attorneys for his lawsuit, altering the course instead of waiting to see how it might play out without interference.  He doesn't even acknowledge that he has violated his surrender experiment.  

There is not really any take-away messages or insights to glean from this book.  His first book was much more interesting and intriguing, even if you don’t agree with his perspective.  Check out additional information about the book and the author at Penguin Random House.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Exploring Christian Theology - Book Review

Theology isn’t simple. It’s not just a matter of reflecting on our own experiences or gathering anecdotal evidence. We must struggle with applicable biblical passages, all with their own histories and interpretation.  Then we must reconcile doctrines with each other. We need to cope with and incorporate discoveries in science and insights of psychology.  When we trace the history through the patristic, medieval, protestant, and modern eras, we can see what has led to diverse views traditions, and denominations.  We can also see what we still hold in common and what unites us as Christians.  Dr. Holsteen and Dr. Svigel show us how to do this in their book Exploring Christian Theology: Volume Two

I have not read volume one, but this volume stands alone as it examines the Christian doctrines of creation, the fall, and salvation without favoring or pushing toward any particular denomination viewpoint.  First, they portray a “high-altitude” survey, then zoom in to the applicable passages in the Bible, and then they take a stroll through history beginning in 100 A.D. for the doctrine’s development.    My favorite parts, though, were the “dangers to avoid” and the “principles to practice” with each doctrine.

The authors are masters at being able to develop and explain the doctrines in ways that unite rather than divide Christians and to embrace our different ways of understanding.  From the “facts to never forget” sections, they clearly hold an orthodox and evangelical perspective in line with where their professions as professors at Dallas Theological Seminary. 

While the back cover proclaims in bold print that the top that this book is “foundations of theology in everyday language”, some previous knowledge of Christian history and its major players will enhance understanding.  I would highly recommend this book for seminary and Bible students, pastors, and others who are in ministry.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review.

A Fellowship of Differents - Book Review

What is your favorite kind of salad?  Simple with iceberg lettuce smothered in ranch dressing? A basic garden salad with tomato slices, cucumbers, and carrots added? Or lots of ingredients like some kale, argula, spinach, cabbage, onions, cheese, croutons, and a little vinaigrette drizzled over the top to bring out each of the flavors? 

“Church is like a salad,” declares Scot McKnight, one of my favorite authors.  Many of our churches are rather plain iceberg lettuce salads, but church was meant to be a unity of a variety of ingredients, worshipping and living life together.  Is your church a mixed salad, a fellowship of differents?  Variety of genders and marital statuses and ages? Variety of socioeconomic groups, races, and cultures? Variety of music and artistic styles and forms of communication?

Scot McKnight says we should be going to church in our own neighborhoods. If I were to go to the church nearest me, I would walk across the street.  I suspect it would be just as much of a plain salad as the one we travel 8 miles to attend, if not even more so, at least theologically, based on the denomination and my observations of people in the parking lot. It’s kind of how people in the suburbs live their lives in the Midwest and South.  I likely would not find a socio-economically or racially diverse church unless I went downtown. 

In his book A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together, Scot McKnight shows the importance of church and what it is meant to be with true community in diversity.  Church shapes how we understand the Christian life.  Too often, we prefer our own way – people just like us who like the same style of music and hold the exact same theology and political leaning.  But we miss out on so much when we stay in our comfortable zone!

Love is the center of the whole Christian life – love for God and love for others.  Liberals and conservatives, poor and rich, widows and singles and marrieds, Latinos and whites and blacks, men and women, elderly and children – when we leave life together, worship together, love each other, life gets a little bigger and a little fuller, and we live the unity that Jesus prayed that we as His followers would have.  Scot McKnight shows us how this is possible and why it is so important.  I highly recommend this book.

I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

How Christianity Changed the World - Seven Revolutions - Book Reivew

It is not fashionable to be a Christian.  In fact, for some it is unacceptable.  We live in the age of a double standard, where “my beliefs (or lack of them) are as legitimate as yours, but your Christian beliefs are no longer acceptable.”  Political, academic, and media elites bend over backwards to cater to the vocal minority. Freedom of religion is now defined as freedom from religion. 

It is a lie that religion is always oppressive.  The Church has had its failures, and many of them, but none of those abuses were ever sanctioned by God.  Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against her.  If Jesus returned today, He would still recognize His Church.  The foundation is not shaken, even though the Church’s influence is diminishing.

In Mike Aquilina and James Papandrea’s new book Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again, they show how our world is increasingly looking much like the Roman Empire in early Christian days.  Post-Christian secularism looks a lot like pre-Christian paganism, and both were anti-Christian.    Their premise is that much of what is good in the world – love of neighbor, human rights, quality of life, stewardship, and freedom are products of the presence of Christianity.  Without a religion of love, people will be greedy for power over one another, treating those without power as expendable or exploitable. 

The authors show the seven revolutions – seven gifts – that the Church gave the world, changing it for the better, including the definition of personhood, dignity of human labor, and caring for the poor and sick regardless of their religion.  We need to affirm the seven revolutions, and perhaps even start new ones.  Early Christianity changed the world precisely because so many were willing to be removed from it than conform to it.

Whatever the Church is going to do, it can do it only if you step up and participate in it.  While you are part of something bigger than yourself – Christianity, which encompasses Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, and Coptic Christians, at the same time, you are not insignificant.  The last chapter is a call to action with many practical ideas of how to put the concepts in this book to practice. 

This is not a book that mourns the changing times, nor does it idealize times past.  It broadens understanding in the view of history over the last two thousand years, showing that this is not a new road, and that we can learn from the past to change the future. 

I may not have agreed with every single point in this book (such as that the American forefathers were not Deists but good Christians who sounded like Deists because of their respect for other faiths; or the action of demanding respect from others), but I found much of which to agree and a broadened view of my place in history.  This book inspired me to not be ashamed to claim being a follower of Jesus, even when He has been misrepresented by many who claim to follow Him.

For more information, read about the authors and the book here.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Image Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Flipped - Book Review

Flip – “a reconsideration of what was always assumed to be true.”

My gradual transformation, spiritually, over the last year has been full of flips.  Flips can certainly make one dizzy, but can give a shift in perspective, enabling to see things differently, perhaps even more fully.

So when I saw Doug Pagitt’s new book, Flipped: The Provocative Truth That Changes Everything We Know about God, I was intrigued, especially with an endorsement from Brian McLaren on the cover about flipping conventional understanding.  I had not heard of Doug Pagitt before this book, but he is a pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis and has authored several other books. 

Doug Pagitt states that the purpose of this book is to see that the heart of Jesus’ message is the changing of your mind while engaging new ideas and drawing new conclusions.  He challenges the reader to see beyond familiar patterns and routine ways of thinking.  I loved this concept as the book’s intent, but the book really ended up being about his own spiritual flip and trying to persuade the reader to see and embrace his flip.

Pagitt’s flip is about changing the way of thinking of seeing God in us to that of how we live and exist in God.  This changed the way he listened to God, and he insists that it was also the primary understanding of Jesus, Paul, and others.  He comes across in this book as a really likeable guy, someone I’d like to sit and chat with over a cup of coffee, especially over this flip because it really did not strike me the way it did him.

Further endorsements inside the cover include Rob Bell, Phyllis Tickle, and Shane Claiborne.  If you are a fan of their writings or of the emergent church, you may enjoy this book.  If you believe that these authors have biblically missed the mark, then you will likely feel the same about Doug Pagitt’s book.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Convergent Books in exchange for my honest review.