Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life: a book review

Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life by Henri Nouwen; copyright 2013; Harper One; 256 pp. (audio 7 hr. 14 min.)

Nouwen wastes no time in his story before he defines his conception of discernment. To him, discernment is finding the spiritual answers that help us live our lives from day to day. Even more, he says–and this seems to be his purpose for writing–discernment is listening to the voice of God to find a purpose for our lives.

God speaks to us, he says, directing us as we discover what we’re passionate about. And once we’ve determined what we’re passionate about, God directs us to fulfill our purpose in His Kingdom. Vocation, however, is not the same as passion, according to Nouwen. Work can be anything we do to accomplish tasks. When we’re fulfilling our purpose, the work comes so easily and is so gratifying, we come away not even feeling like it was work. It becomes ministry at its best. Because it’s ministry at its best, it also means it’s service to others. And as we so often say, it’s “not about us.”

In fact, Nouwen makes the case that the attitude of humility helps us discern God’s meaning in things more correctly. Conversely, discerning God’s meaning brings humility.

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who spent nearly twenty years as a professor, also lived the Trappist life for a short time and worked with the poor in South America. But he discovered his purpose according to God’s will at L’arche Daybreak community in Ontario. Here, he worked with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

So, according to Nouwen, the idea is to listen. To God, to mentors, to those who’ve gone before us, and to the rhythms of our lives. Nouwen often quotes Thomas Merton, apparently a role model for him. It sounded like Nouwen felt kinship with Merton because their pilgrimages were similar. Both struggled with finding where they belonged if they were to serve God the way they hoped to. For me, hearing some of Merton’s ideas was a bonus because I enjoy his works as well.

Nouwen is considered among the mystics; at least I’d put him in that category. He talks a lot about his experiences in learning discernment, and for the most part, the stories are pertinent to the narrative.

Since I was reading an audio book, which he narrated himself, my mind would wander because he tends to ramble as he drops little gems of wisdom. But I want this to be a go-to book so I’m probably going to buy a copy. Then I’ll be able to mark it up and take notes in the margins. There’s meaty content and wisdom here I want to experience a second time.

Happy reading and be a blessing to someone today.

Humilitas: a book review

Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership by John Dickson; copyright 2011; Zondervan; 196 pages

Did I tell you about the time a local service group gave me a medal for my humility? Then someone saw me wearing it in public and I had to give it back. Just kidding. The author of Humilitas sort of makes the same statement, which is one we all know by now: Just about the time you think you have this humility thing nailed, you’ve shown that you probably don’t.

“The most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility” is Dickson’s thesis for the book, and I believe he proved it well. The book digs into topics like the logic of humility; why the ancients didn’t like the idea of humility; how practicing humility lifts the people around us; why humility can generate abilities; and why humility is better than ‘tolerance.’ His research is nicely balanced with stories, some of them about his own encounters with people who he believes are humble. Dickson cites other literature, other topic experts, and well-known stories, but the research never makes the book unreadable. On the contrary; it’s readability is one of the reason it shines.

Several examples of great people who’ve demonstrated humility (and some who haven’t) give insight into how we respond to leaders as we examine their character. It becomes clear that we all know someone who isn’t necessarily in the public eye or in leadership who makes an excellent impression because of their humility. Those people may not even have great intelligence or great physical resources to draw on. It’s more of a heart issue than a head issue. The author includes a whole chapter, “Cruciform,” about Jesus of Nazareth and how He redefined greatness through humble living and service.

Consider Dickson’s definition for humility: The noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. People who give to others seemingly without even thinking about it usually have a positive impression on us. We may not even realize at the time we’re being impressed. But that’s the thing, Dickson is saying. Humble people aren’t trying to impress.

Steps to become (more) humble come at the end. They seem to make good sense. Becoming humble, as with any virtue, comes with practice. As we say, it’s a journey, not a destination. I was pleasantly surprised with Humilitas. That impression began when I read the author’s dedication to his mentors, “who know more about this subject than I do, but would never presume to write about it.”

This one will not only be a ‘repeater’ for me, but a reference book. I mean, after all, they took my medal away. I need all the help I can get.

Happy reading and be a blessing to someone today.

“Why Can’t We Trust God?” A Book Review

“Why Can’t We Trust God?” By Thomas Wise; copyright 2020; Zion Press; 123 pp.

Mr. Wise has a good premise for his book. Some of the questions he supposes to answer are questions people in pain often ask. There’s a lot of good information and plenty of references to scripture telling stories about biblical characters who learned to (or failed to) trust God.

However, Wise, a university professor, more often sounds didactic in his writing than encouraging. From the wording in the title to the tone of the whole thing, it seems to me that he’s more interested in loading the reader with information than helping the hurting to find some peace. The subtitle reveals what the author intends to convey in the book but is buried in the negativity of the cover title’s treatment. In fact, the subtitle isn’t even included on the cover.

References to sources and the websites associated with them fall into the narrative early on and became distracting to me. They would have better been equipped with superscripts, referring them to the bibliography (‘References’) at the end of the book. The people he cites are most likely other scholars and I’m sure they’re credible sources, but the parenthetical references make the book hard to read.

When Wise begins each chapter with a heading including one of the “four sorrows” we deal with in our journey to trust, he does well, but again he buries the idea in long descriptions. I would have enjoyed hearing more stories from people he’s talked with. They would have helped me, in addition to his personal experiences, relate to others who’ve had the same challenges.

Perhaps Wise’s audience is other scholars or the people in “organizational leadership” that are mentioned in his bio. That might explain the nature of the tone and the content. However, I believe that in a book written to answer questions about why it’s so hard to trust God in our pain, those people in leadership would also be better served with hope and encouragement. This book reads more like a lecture or seminar.

Again, the premise is sound. I applaud Wise for tackling the subject. Throughout history—with biblical characters being excellent examples—people just like any of us struggle with trust. I appreciate his few personal stories; his pain is real. But overall, I don’t agree with most of the other reviews I’ve read.** I expected a more personal approach since pain is a hard topic to talk about. When I ask “Why” questions, I’d rather someone tell me “how and why I can trust God” instead of emphasizing “why I can’t.”

** I waited to read them until I’d written my own review so I wouldn’t be influenced one way or the other.

This review is for a book of which a reader’s copy was provided by the author through Book Crash.

“Hey Grandude” : A Book Review

“Hey Grandude” by Sir Paul McCartney; copyright 2019; Random House; 32 pages

Like many children, my kids loved being read to. “Hey Grandude!” is a book I’m sure my son would have wanted read more than once at bedtime. “Read it again” he’d say.

Grandude has four of his “chillers” staying at his house and with his magic compass, they go on adventures to the ocean, the desert, and a snowy mountain. There’s fun and danger in every trip. Grandude’s magic begins with a postcard he pulls from his pocket. (Maybe that “Wish you were here” is the real magic.) I’d say this one is best read at bedtime seeing as it ends with some tired-out grand kids.

Kathryn Durst’s illustrations are colorful and fun. The target age group is 4-6 years and I’m not sure some of the language would be something they can understand without having it explained. But the story includes a compass, a spyglass, a stampede, an avalanche, and postcards. Considering the nature of communications methods in place today, kids will most likely have to have “postcards” explained.

Nevertheless, since kids usually ask for an adventure story to be read over and over, so they’ll hear something new each time it’s read (isn’t that always the case on re-reads?) and maybe add to their vocabulary. There’s some “Zing Bang Sizzle” for most kids who have the imagination to lose themselves in the adventures.

Happy Reading.

5 Good Reasons to Read Books

It’s “Read Across America Day.” And whether or not you live in the United States of America, reading is fundamental (to quote an old slogan).

I learned to read while sitting at our kitchen table eating breakfast**. I learned how to sound out words like riboflavin, barley, lecithin, syrup, and all those other things I was feeding my tummy. My big sister also helped because she was a ravenous reader. I suppose she hoped I would be too. When we sat outside the small downtown grocery store while Dad and Mom ran in for a few things, she’d help me with the words on the big old signs that told us what the specials were that week. Hamburger, Wheaties**, margarine, Wonder Bread.

Me, ignoring people who say I have too many books.

Consider these five good reasons to read, whether it’s books; newspapers; magazines; your email (Especially the ones from your boss); your Twitter feed (Unless it gets nasty. Then run. Run away very fast); or that text your spouse just sent so you don’t get in trouble (Unless you’re driving because that could cause trouble).

  1. Read because you can inform yourself and others.
  2. Read because it can be relaxing.
  3. Read to kids because you’ll teach them that reading is important. It’s also a great way to bond with them.
  4. Read because it improves your vocabulary
  5. Read because it’s your assignment for school and you want to pass the class

To celebrate Read Across America Day, try one of these ideas.

  • Read a book and tell someone a little about what you’re reading
  • Encourage someone to read
  • Help someone learn to read
  • Finish that book. Come on, you’re almost done
  • Tell us in the comments what you’re reading

It’s also the 116th birthday of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss gave us fun characters and some crazy worlds to visit. They lent themselves to memorization because, whether we noticed it as a kids, he was teaching us in a fun way about poetry.

Here’s a blog about books and reading from Why Not Books. The blogger includes a list of the Why Not 100 with links on his site for such lists as Harry Potter incantations; Beatles Songs as Book Titles; Books Written by Kids; Banned Books; Freaky Fictional Presidents, and more. Now those might make for some interesting reading.

The Why Not Books blog also includes a list of classic Dr. Seuss characters. How many Dr. Seuss characters can you name? What’s your favorite Dr. Seuss book?

In case you were wondering, I did become a rabid reader, just like my sister. She ended up recommending books to me as I grew. Her tastes ran to classics and she is six years older than me, so I was about thirteen years old when I read “Anna Karenina” at her suggestion. Thanks, Laura! What a ride it’s been.

Be a blessing to someone today. Read aloud to them, even if it’s talking through the clues and answers to your crossword puzzle.

“Gracie Lou Wants a Zoo” A review

Gracie Lou Wants a Zoo by Shelly Roark; Illustrated by Simone Kruger;  36 pp; Little Lamb Books; copyright 2019

Gracie Lou has a pet turtle, George. But she wants even more pets. Because her family lives in an apartment, each time she asks her parents for a new pet, they tell her “no.” It’s no wonder; the animals she wants require some pretty special circumstances. She asks for a duck, a giraffe, a monkey, and an elephant.

Dad reasons with her, telling Gracie God has a plan for her, even if it means she wants a zoo. Nevertheless, she has a tantrum and complains to George as she crawls into bed.

That night, Gracie’s wish comes true. She now has a duck, a giraffe, a monkey, and an elephant. But at what cost? The presence of them all proves to be more than she expected.

The illustrations in “Gracie” are fun and colorful with even the insides of the front and back covers featuring cute animals. “Gracie Lou” is long enough to tell a good story, and short enough to fit into a bedtime ritual. Gracie’s experience can help moms and dads explain why kids don’t always get what they want, and that God has a plan for them if they will be patient and see the wisdom in waiting.

In looking up the title on a couple book websites, I didn’t find a suggested age group for “Gracie Lou,” but would suggest ages 2-6.

I think one of the best parts of the book is watching the animals. George smiles and blinks in response to Gracie Lou. The giraffe eats potato chips as he sprawls on the couch with the TV remote. A rowdy monkey flings books from the bookcase. The purple elephant raids the fridge. Clever framed “photos” on the walls in the apartment add to the scenery.

Shelly Roark is the award-winning author of “The Bubble Who Would Not POP.”

Bookcrash provided a copy of the book for review.

Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living: a Review

by Reuben P. Job, copyright 2007, Abingdon Press, 77pages

This book is based on John Wesley’s three simple rules: Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love With God. The editor, Reuben P. Job, says in his preface that these three rules “have the power to change the world.” I’m a Wesleyan and am familiar with the Discipline, so the book had some attraction for me when I first picked it up.

It’s a book which can be read perhaps in one sitting, but I believe it needs to be read more slowly so the reader may chew on the wisdom of Wesley. For instance:

“When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly.”

While “Three Simple Rules” is intended for a general audience, I believe the message is especially relevant for leaders. Emphasis, in my opinion, should always be on staying in love with God. When I do that, I’m more likely to remember the greatest commandments. Then it follows that I’ll “do no harm” and “do good.”

This tiny little book includes a Daily Guide to Prayer and sheet music for “Stay in Love With God,” which is adapted from words by John Wesley. Epigraphs for each of the three chapters are taken from Psalms and the New Testament.

I keep reading this book over and over again because it’s like a guidebook. There’s so much to learn and apply. Certainly it will take a lifetime for me to be true to its principles.

“Fruit Flies in Our Faith” a Review

Fruit Flies in Our Faith by Annie Paden; Angel Faith Publishing; copyright 2018; 188 pp.

 Through a look at the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23, Annie Paden teaches how to both nurture and share love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Her premise is simple: we all need a close relationship with God to let the Spirit work in us to develop the fruit. We, however, will resist the teaching or experience trouble, which distracts us.

Through personal stories and opportunities to reflect on our lives, the author shows us how we can better see what God has in store for us as we grow in grace. The persistent and pesky “fruit flies” will submit to pest control when we submit to the leadings of the Spirit.

Each chapter describes the various aspects of one fruit, helping us to understand how God will use it and refine it in us. She starts with an anecdote related to, for instance, kindness. She leads us into “Nurturing Fruit,” with examples of ways to grow by applying what God is saying to us.

In the “Sharing Fruit” section of each chapter, Annie’s ideas for working with others describe ways to put feet on our faith. They’re simple ideas that anyone can carry out. In each section, she supports her ideas with scripture.

Finally, each chapter includes questions for reflection and study.

Fruit Flies in Our Faith is targeted to women and both new believers and mature believers can find support and maybe even new ideas for growth. I think she does a good job of encouraging women in a way that’s relatable. Used as a study guide, it could provide an opportunity for a group of women to honestly share the challenges, struggles, and joys of producing fruit.

4 of 5 stars

This review was requested by the author in exchange for a contributor copy.

Days With Frog and Toad: A Review

What a cool relationship Frog and Toad have. They remind me of an amphibious odd couple. Their personalities are different as well as their skins. Frog seems to be always upbeat and Toad seems to have a tentative attitude toward things. And then there’s the Toad-is-brown and Frog-is-green thing going on.

Kids learning to read will have fun with “Days With Frog and Toad” because Frog and Toad help each other, play together, relax together, and obviously care about one another.

Each of the five stories—“Tomorrow,” “The Kite,” “Shivers,” “The Hat,” and “Alone” are comical and sweet. Each contains a lesson that parents can discuss with their child. The stories are a fun way to learn about helping, being persistent, being responsible, and appreciating people.

The frog and toad stories remind me also of “The Wind in the Willows” because of the characters’ particular species. Arthur Lobel has done a fine job with the I Can Read Book, with engaging stories and simple illustrations to go with the simple sentence structure for beginning readers. The I Can Read series is explained as “a perfect bridge to chapter books” with “high-interest stories for developing readers.”

 

“Socrates in the City” A Review

Socrates in the City by Eric Metaxas; copyright 2011; Blackstone Audiobooks; approx. 15 hours

“Socrates in the City” is a compendium of talks given in the forum of the same name that takes in place in New York City. This periodic event’s premise is based on Socrates’ words, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m as pleased as I can be that I read this as an audio book because it meant I could hear the speakers and the questions in their own voices. I would have missed the nuances of each speaker’s voice and those of the audience members in the Q & A sessions.

Each guest speaker does, indeed, talk about the topics listed in the subtitle. These topics are what I call gritty. You may not agree or even understand the stance each speaker takes on his subject, but you’ll have to admit that they are people who challenge your thinking. They know the subjects and are astute to the fact that we might not be.

It was refreshing–their delivery of facts about their given topic, observations which form and affect culture, and their expressions of their individual opinions on the topic. They speak in civil discourse, something that’s lacking in our age of “power through social media.” The audience members asking questions following each speech prove that they are no slouches either.

Socrates in the City is a platform I respect because of the content and the method in which the content is delivered. Metaxas’ introductions often make me cringe with his attempts at humor, but his keen wit in these efforts outweigh the groaners, so I forgive him. In fact, a few of the speakers found his introductions of them clever.

Metaxas ends this audio book with a talk on his most recently (at that time) published book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Having read “Bonhoeffer,” it was a pleasure to hear the author explain a little about his writing and research process and some high points in the biography to look out for. Truly, “Bonhoeffer,” though a monster of a book, has been listed as one of two of my favorite biographies to date. The book Socrates in the City: Conversations on “Life, God, and Other Small Topics” is fairly high up there on the current list of favorite non-fiction too.