Review: Our Last Option

Option 1: I’m right and you’re wrong and that’s that.

Option 2: We’re all right in our own opinion and that’s that, let’s just get along anyway.

These are the two options most of us see when engaging in our society. You’re either pro-choice or pro-life. You’re either anti-gun or pro-gun ownership. You’re for gay marriage or you’re against it. You’re either FoxNews or HufffPo.

It’s exhausting and most people seem to teeter-totter between engaging in the topic du jour and ignoring it. They are exhausted by it because it lacks productivity. Few people can argue another person into change. But we seem to live in an age where winning is more important than virtue.


Learning about community from the Didache

I’ve got bad news for Tony Jones haters. There’s nothing to hate about his latest book, The Teaching of the Twelve. In fact, you may love it.

Last week, I finished reading his little book about the little book, the Didache. The didache is a book that dates back to the ancient church but didn’t quite make it into the cannon of Scripture. Unlike some of its contemporaries, it didn’t make it in because it was steeped in gnosticism… instead the didache likely didn’t make it in because it didn’t provide deep theological teachings, warnings, or narrative about Jesus. It’s not really a letter or narrative at all. Authorship is also unclear.¬†Instead, it’s a group of teachings– probably from various authors– that baptismal candidates likely studied before being accepted as Christians in a small town in the first century.

In other words, the Didache (greek word meaning teaching) is a practical guide for living in community with other believers. That’s an area I am growing. I’ve spent the last 10 years teaching on and focusing on individualistic growth in relationship to God. All the while, I’ve been fascinated by books about first century Christians, Essenes, the Qumran community, and early church history. There was a contradiction there between the individualistic faith of American believers and the community faith I read about in the first century. I have long been trying to figure out how to rectify the two as there is a gulf of difference between what we do today and what was practiced then. Deep down, the Holy Spirit has stirred in me a desire to figure out how we can do life together. I don’t have it figured out… but I’m on a journey of discovery towards figuring it out.

Like a lot of conservative Evangelicals, I tend to approach books by Tony Jones with my ears finely tuned to look for a twist to something traditional about his hermeneutic. For some reason I’m left looking for the agenda behind his words. I don’t know where this started… but it was something I carried into buying and reading this book. My radar was finely tuned!

So, for those haters, here is the bad news. Tony’s latest book approaches Scripture in a thoughtful, academically pure way. It reads the same as many of the scholarly texts places like Dallas Theological Seminary, Wheaton Graduate School, or Trinity Evangelical Divinity School would require of New Testament students. He doesn’t lift the didache up as Scriptural, rather uses this groups application of Apostolic teachings to explain how that culture was applying early Christian teachings. Even when the text permits him to hypothesize to tear away at traditional Christian values, he instead affirms them. When the text talks about a pre-millenial view of the community in the first century, he doesn’t try to spin it to another viewpoint… instead affirms what the text makes clear, that community looked forward to the imminent return of the risen Christ.

Conservative haters are left with nothing to hate. In fact, I think a lot of my friends need to read this book as we all figure out… “What does it mean to live in community as believers?” Yeah, we need to learn. Yeah, we may just be doing community wrong. Gasp! The horror!

I will leave you with the same encouragement that lead to me buying this book in the first place. Before you hate, before you criticize, before you call names, take the time to read for yourself. Read it, like I did, with a critical eye. Then, when you go to critique, you can do so intelligently. But my feeling is that if you actually read the Teaching of the Twelve, you’ll be as impressed as I have been with the treatment.

Books Church Leadership Video Clip

Mark Riddle Interview

I’ve had fun finally getting to know Mark Riddle. He and I have interacted on forums and blogs for several years, but we only met face to face for the first time back in February. He has a new book out which is near and dear to my heart… Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors. It’s a fun little staffing book that is designed to help church leaders understand what makes youth pastors tick.

Anyway, here’s an interview I did with Mark about the book for the YS Blog. I apologize for the poor audio. There are times you can hear the birds in my backyard better than Mark. But if you can get past that I think it’s a pretty solid interview.


The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan

I’m not sure where I first heard this phrase but, as a parent, I think about it all the time. It’s a parents job to mess a kid up, it’s their life’s work to put it all back together.

That could be the byline for John Grogan’s book, The Longest Trip Home.

This memoir picks up early in John’s life in the Detroit suburbs. Like a lot of families, John was born in Detroit but his parents sought solace and safety in the burgeoning oasis that developed near the industrial areas of Pontiac in the mid-1690s. His neighborhood was a developers dream, complete with a lake, Catholic church, and outlot where all the families could have a common swimming area.

The truth was that John’s parents chose their lot in the neighborhood because of its proximity to the church. His life was defined by daily mass, Catholic schools, and vacation to North American sightings of the Virgin Mary. They were not a run-of-the-mill Catholic family, they were a Super Catholic family.

The Longest Trip Home is a faith story. Moreover, it is a case study in how we raise kids in the church. Let’s just say John’s parents didn’t get it right. It seems that their primary faith development tools were fear, fear, and fear. As soon as the kids discovered that their sins didn’t immediately send them to hell they were all out of there. While their bodies went to church their brains and hearts never did.

That’s where the mischief started. In youth ministry terms, we’d say John began living a dualistic life. He did his best to maintain a clean cut happy face to his parents. But when they weren’t looking John was into all the things you’d expect a kid in the early 1970s to go through.

John’s story of walking away from his faith begins to slowly turn subtly in his adulthood. As his parents guilt trip him for everything from skipping to church to living with his girlfriend his hatred towards the hypocrisy grows. Yet buried in his annoyance is a seed of questioning that begins to grow.

This isn’t a Christian book. And the author’s life doesn’t resolve into a tidy feel good story. John Grogan is not going to write the Catholic version of Mere Christianity any time soon. But what it does is raise some interesting questions about faith development and our role as parents.

Most disturbing in John’s story is that his story towards faith isn’t about connecting with God, it’s about connecting with his parents. And that, my friends, is something worth exploring.


Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica

Kristen and I like to eat out. A lot. In fact, if we could figure out a way to afford it and not gain 1,000 pounds we would probably eat out for every meal of the day 365 days per year. We love the experience of going to new places, trying new things, and watching people.

I’m not going to lie. Waiter Rant exposed just how much I ignore the people who make our dining experience enjoyable. We rarely converse with wait staff and I tend to treat waiters like a caddy. In my opinion, the best waiter is quiet, prompt, and available to answer questions. Steve’s stories of a life in the restaurant business have likely changed my perception of waiters forever. While I’m far from a jerk customer, listening to the waiter’s tales taught me a valuable lesson about the Golden Rule.

Waiter Rant gives readers a behind the scenes look at what it’s like to work at a restaurant. The author explores it from a lot of unexpected and fun angles. He dives into the emotional side as he realizes that his temporary gig turns into 6+ years. He documents the power struggles between the owner, the chef, and the waiters who ultimately decide if the place succeeds or fails. He delves into he pecking order and how that relates to the best shifts and subsequently the most money. He documents what makes a good customer and a bad one. He shares what it means to get a bad tip. He even goes as far as to talk about the nasty parts of restaurants… dirty kitchens and waiters who do things to your food. He places owners, chefs, and waiters into understandable categories. The book even has a couple of appendixes. One is for waiters, so they can know what to look for in an employer. The second is for customers, providing an insiders guide to know if a restaurant is well-run.

This book isn’t about restaurants or even waiting on tables. Waiter Rant is about Steve’s search for his life calling in the midst of dealing with the hand he dealt himself. I think anyone can identify with Steve’s predicament. Sometimes we all get caught up paying the bills while in full knowledge that, while we may enjoy our present situation, it isn’t the dream we’d had for ourselves. In the ebb and flow of that we see the waiter master his life position and then lose control of it. As he feels himself lose control of his once expertly maintained head waiter career, he tailspins out of control in many areas of his life. Anger and bitterness slip in where joy once lived until he could take it no more. Smack dab in the middle of this angst-filled time Steve discovers his true calling as a writer. (One letter off from “waiter,” by the way.) Amidst the toughest of times the waiter see’s his blog, Wait Rant, become a best selling book. Life is just like that.

You’ll certainly never look at a server quite the same.


Slam by Nick Hornby

I picked up Slam in the Nashville airport the other day and read it on the flight home. I’m not much of a power reader, it took me 3 years to read Master and Commander, but I got this one done in 2 sittings.

Slam is the story of a 16 year old boy, Sam, and his self-reflection towards becoming a teen dad. When I read the jacket cover I wasn’t really that excited about the story because I thought, “eh, this is going to be Juno from the boys perspective.” In some ways it was but in big ways it wasn’t.

Sam is a guy who is really into skating and Tony Hawk. In fact, Sam read Tony’s autobiography so many times that he can have conversations with Tony and he comes up with what Tony would say based on quotes from the book. It was his Bible. This aspect provides and interesting perspective as Sam repeatedly seeks out a Tony Hawk poster for advice instead of adults in his life who could help him make better decisions.

Adding to the mix is Sam’s mom, a single mom herself who had Sam at 16. In subtle and sarcastic ways she reminds him over and again that he ruined her dreams… and she warns him over and over again not to make the same mistake. Imagine Sam’s horror when he realizes he’s repeating the cycle.

Enter Alicia, the hot girl from the private school who just broke up with her boyfriend because he was constantly pressuring her for sex. They meet at a party where they are the only two teenagers and hit it off. Oddly enough, after their first date the new couple finds themselves having sex. In fact, for the next several weeks they skip the date and just have sex. What I like about this book is that it somehow captures the story from an adolescent perspective. Hornby manages to never break character, the whole thing is from Sam’s lens, how Sam would react, and how Sam would think. Even down to the detail of Sam’s fantasy life and dreams of “whizzing forward” in the story.

The crux of the story happens when Sam and Alicia discover that they’ve somehow gotten pregnant. Sam asks, “How is it that 2 seconds of stupidity can ruin your life forever?” From there, the couple struggles with the reality of their situation. (What I’ve shared is basically a summary of the first couple chapters, still plenty of story left.)

Why should youth workers read this story? Isn’t it obvious? This is a story about real life. Teen pregnancy happens. We adults have a tendency to look at pregnancy as an adult thing and we look at it through the lenses of our adult sexuality. What we miss when we do that is that we view sex as for adults only, pregnancy as good for married people and bad for everyone else, family life as simple when it is truly complex, and we forget how much confusion and fear play into the mix.


Going All the Way: A review of Craig Groeschel’s Latest

Going All the WayI had the pleasure of reading Craig’s latest book. This one is about intimate relationships and it may be the best book on dating and marriage I’ve ever read. Check that, since it was actually good it was the second book I ever finished on dating and marriage.

Here’s an excerpt of my review for YMX.

This is how many books on marriage are marketed to the reader–the author takes the position as a expert guiding the reader through several easy steps to relational bliss. If the reader will merely submit to the author’s successful plan, the reader’s marriage and in turn, life will be much easier. To further the stereotype, the covers of these books often depict a happily married couple who look as though they’ve never had an argument as they look longingly in to one another’s eyes sporting smiles befitting a Cialis commercial. Fortunately, Craig Groeschel, in his book Going All the Way: Preparing for a Marriage that Goes the Distance, takes a refreshingly realistic angle on marriage. Craig’s style flies in the face of the typical, resulting in a page turning book on relationships. That’s right–a book on relationships actually worth reading! Read the rest…

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