Slow Kingdom Coming

I’ve always thought of myself as a justice-oriented, do-gooder-type person, but over the years, I’ve become a bit fuzzy about what exactly that means. For example, most people would say it’s good to donate to charities and worthy causes, but how many times have charities and worthy causes misspent, misappropriated, or misjudged? What about donating goods after natural disasters? International adoptions? Microloans? Many things that sound good on the surface—and that are almost always well-intended—aren’t necessarily doing the good work we think they are. It also seems that far too often when someone says “justice,” what they really mean is good intentions and a quick fix.

In his new book, Slow Kingdom Coming, Kent Annan makes clear that good intentions can only take us so far, and that the work of building God’s kingdom is anything but quick. He writes, “we don’t want to think … that our good intentions are enough, as though God wouldn’t expect us to love our neighbors in the best possible way.” And the best possible way, he continues, is by creating deep and lasting change that, almost by definition, comes slowly.

You can read the rest of my review of Slow Kingdom Coming at Red Letter Christians.

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Give it a Rest, Already.

What started as sniffles turned into a full-blown, wear-your-bathrobe-all-day cold. Nonetheless, I knew I would have no break from childcare, housework, or client demands. My husband pitched in more than usual, and I allowed the kids extra TV time. Otherwise, I plowed on, my “sick days” looking barely different than any other day—save for doses and doses of meds and piles of tissues.

According to Jessica Turner, author of the new book The Fringe Hours, and Brigid Schulte, author of New York Times bestseller Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, my response is the norm for women today. Both write how women have become so caught up in today’s quest to have and do it all that their bodies, minds, and souls have forgotten how to engage in of “me time,” self-care, and leisure, even when they need it most.

We desperately need to be refreshed. Or even just a nap.

Overwhelmed begins with a disbelieving scene: sociologist and time expert John Robinson exams a time journal Schulte has meticulously kept for a year and half. Schulte sees an over-busy and burdened schedule without even a minute to spare on herself; Robinson sees hours upon hours of what he deems leisure time. “Women have… at least 30 hours of leisure time each week,” he states, the implication being that they simply don’t know how to find or use it. He points to two hours Schulte spent waiting on a tow truck when her car broke down and calls it leisure time. The same for the 20 minutes she spent listening to the radio one morning while struggling to get out of bed. As infuriating as this may seem, when your life is inevitably bound to be busy and overscheduled, those periods matter.

It’s exactly those spots of not-quite-downtime that Turner, a working, blogging mother of three, embraces in her book The Fringe Hours. There are “little pockets of time throughout the day that often go underused or are wasted altogether,” she said. “If not intentionally redeemed, [these] fringe hours slip thorough one’s fingers like sand.”

You can read the rest of today’s post at Her.meneutics, Christianity Today’s blog for women.

Book Review: A Minor, by Margaret Philbrick

Margaret Philbrick’s recently-released book, A Minor, provides an intimate view into the life of a prodigious classical musician in love with an older, married woman (his piano teacher) who is suffering from early-onset dementia. Margaret’s knowledge of music and her ability to authentically voice the emotions of an angst-ridden teenaged boy are impressive, as is the way she has knit the viewpoint of a variety of players into her novel. Her character-types are wide ranging, and she handles each masterfully.

The protagonist of A Minor is the young Clive Serkin, a soon-to-be world renown pianist of the highest magnitude. Clive, however, is not just a musician: he is a teenaged boy in love with his piano teacher, Clare Cardiff, who just so happens to be old enough to be his mother, married, and falling victim to dementia. If that weren’t complicated enough, there are also issues such as faith, coming of age, familial relationships, an abusive marriage, and mental health to contend with. The complexities are many, and the reader may find herself wondering just how Margaret will manage to tie it all together at the end.

I won’t spoil the ending for anyone, but I will say that I was pleased that Margaret did not fall into the trap of a tidy ending. The reader will be satisfied by A Minor’s conclusion, that’s true, but she will also be left contemplating the questions Margaret raises throughout the book.

Some of these questions will pertain to faith as Margaret weaves both Judaism and Christianity into what I expected to be a “Christian only” novel. Each religion is handled with love, respect, and understanding, and adds depth to each character and causes the reader to reflect on how our faith is, should be, or could be applied to our daily lives and decision-making processes.

Also adding depth is the way Margaret has used a work of fiction to bring such an important topic to light: music therapy.

I am a proponent of medication where medication is needed, but also an advocate for exploring complimentary or alternative modes of therapeutic intervention. I have seldom seen this subject be so integral to a book’s plot (treating dementia), and the through line of music’s importance to our emotional well-being is, I think, unique.

That said, one does not need to be a classical musician, or even a lover of music, to appreciate this book; a reader can find other means by which to buy into the young protagonist. But, if you are a lover of classical music, then you’re in luck—the novel comes with a soundtrack! It’s well worth a listen, and will help you appreciate Margaret’s fine work all the more.

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Q and A with Sharla Fritz, Author of Divine Makeover

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My friend, Sharla, has just released her new book, Divine Makeover. Sharla’s graciously agreed to be here today to share a little bit about her book.

1)      How did God prompt you to write this book?

After my first Bible study, Divine Design, came out, I heard about some groups of mothers and daughters doing the book together. It was so exciting that women of all ages could come together and discover their true beauty in Christ. But I thought young women would enjoy having a book that taught the same principles while using examples of their own struggles. So I wrote Divine Makeover—essentially Divine Design for a younger generation.

2)       What struggles do you see the younger generation having?

I remember as a teen thinking that no one would ever think I was beautiful, no one would ever love me. Almost all of us go through an awkward stage where we doubt our beauty and worth. (Some of us never outgrow that stage!)

Plus, in this age, the emphasis on physical beauty is greater than ever before. Celebrities are scrutinized for their hair styles, makeup, and clothing choices. Ordinary girls are slammed when they don’t wear the coolest brands. Every year hundreds of thousands of teens are so dissatisfied with their looks that they resort to plastic surgery.

I’m hoping that Divine Makeover will help young women discover their worth not in what clothes they are wearing on the outside, but on the clothing of their character.

3) How did you get the young women’s point of view for this book?

Admittedly, I am a long way from the teen years! So I met with some amazing teens at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lisle, Illinois every week. They candidly shared their views and struggles. I was truly impressed with this group of young women who clearly loved the Lord. Their faith and commitment to serve was very inspiring. Some of their words and stories are included in the book.

4) You talk about some myths of modesty? What are they?

I think three modern myths of modesty are: Modesty is old-fashioned, modesty means wearing a burlap bag, and modesty means following a strict set of clothing rules.

Modesty is an enduring principle because the Bible tells us that “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control” (1Timothy 2:9). Because God’s Word never goes out of style, this advice is not just for women of Timothy’s day, but for us too.

We might think that if we dress modestly we can’t be stylish, but that isn’t necessarily true. It may mean that we have to adapt styles: wearing a camisole under a too-low top, adding leggings to a dress that’s a bit too short, or wearing a cute jacket or sweater over a top that’s too form-fitting.

I have seen sites and books that give strict rules for lengths of skirts and depths of necklines. But I think rules sometimes beg to be broken, so I think a better way to view modesty is as a way to dress with respect: respect for the beauty God gave you, respect for God’s Word, and respect for the gift of sexuality—which God has reserved for marriage.

5) What are some of the other topics discussed?

Divine Makeover is a “What Not to Wear” for the soul. It talks about hanging up the uniform and letting go of your inner control freak. It encourages young women to get rid of the handbag of worry and live with an attitude of trust. It tosses out the prom dress of pride, the boots of selfishness, the bitterness sweater, and anything the color of envy green. Instead, in Christ we can wear humility, love, forgiveness, and contentment.

6)      You include some dramatic stories of teens who struggled with their self-image. Tell us about them.

Yes. Some young women graciously shared their stories with me. One young woman battled anorexia for a time in her life. When she looked in the mirror, she saw herself as fat, even though she definitely wasn’t. She bravely shared her story of how she eventually discovered that she had become obsessed with food and a totally skewed view of her body. Eventually she learned to choose to see herself as God saw her—His much-loved daughter.

Another young woman discovered she had alopecia. She lost all of her hair. In this society that worships thick, long manes of hair, she struggled to see herself as beautiful. She doubted that any man would ever love her. She has never regained her hair, but she has regained a healthy self-image because of her trust in God.

Both of these women are now in their twenties and happily married.

7)     What practical tips do you share with readers?

The book concentrates on our inner beauty, but does have some fashion fun. Every chapter ends with some Fashion Finesse: a few words about finding the right clothes, building a wardrobe, and looking your best. Some of the practical tips include choosing a cute yet useful purse, finding your best colors, and discovering the best style of sweater for your shape. After the chapter on the prom dress of pride, I included seven tips for a fabulous formal.

8)      What one thing should potential readers know about this book?

I pray that every girl who reads this book will take away one important truth: that in Christ she is beautiful. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we always look lovely in God’s looking glass. Our heavenly Father sees us not as we are, with our mammoth mistakes, our messy sins, our major bedhead. He sees us as we will be—perfect. The Bible tells us, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

9)      Tell everyone a little more about yourself.

I’m a Christian speaker and author who loves to communicate the truth of God’s transforming grace. I love meeting women around the country at retreats and conferences.

I live in the Chicago suburbs with my husband, who is the pastor of Hope Lutheran Church. Together we shared the adventure of homeschooling for 15 years with our two children. They are all grown up now and moved away from home. My daughter moved far from home—she now lives in China!

In my other life I am a church musician and piano teacher. I love traveling (especially to China!), going out to lunch with friends, and reading. If I’m not sitting at the piano or my computer you might find me at the thrift store stalking fabulous fashion finds.

10)     Anything else you’d like to share about this book?

Divine Makeover has eight chapters with each chapter having five days of devotions and Bible study questions. A girl could read it on her own, with or without doing the questions. But it would be even more fun to do with a group of gabby girlfriends!

Interested in having your own copy of Sharla’s new book, Divine Makeover? Enter to win here. Simply share your makeover story, and Sharla will select the winner from the comments received. The winner will receive a gift basket containing a copy of Divine Makeover, a Concordia Publishing House gift card, and a variety of other goodies.

 

 

Book Explores “God’s Radical Notion” of Feminism

Blogger extraordinaire and self-described “happy-clappy Jesus lover” Sarah Bessey has just released her first book, Jesus Feminist. In it, she explores “God’s radical notion that women are people, too.”

This is a (mostly) hyperbolic statement. Bessey actually explores the radical notion that women have worth and a calling all their own, both separate from and equal to that of men. As Bessey puts it, “Feminism only means we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance … to those of men, and we refuse to discriminate against women.”

Despite Bessey’s use of the “f-word” that many (erroneously) associate with anger, bitterness, and man-hating, she has a soft voice that is lyrically feminine, and full of love for men and women alike. Bessey is poetic, prophetic, and, at times, downright folksy. But one should not be fooled by her inviting and easy tone. Her words carry force and conviction, and all the more for their accessibility, as readers find themselves nodding in agreement at well told stories calling for love and justice in a hurting world.

You can read the rest of the book review at Sojourners by clicking here.