Category Archives: Thoughts on the Bible

Quick Review: The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting

I have recently done several reviews on Brene Brown’s books  – you can search this blog for reviews on The Gift of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wildnerness.  Before the end of the year here I’ll add one more since I just finished her short audio book called The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting.

This is short, but from a life and value standpoint, it might even by my favorite of her books because we’re deep into the parenting life stage of life, on the verge of having teenagers. Ten years ago I made a commitment to reading a marriage and parenting book each year.  Now, I’m ramping that up to 3-4 books each year on marriage and parenting because there’s no point in saving that learning until after our kids are out of the house.

This book provides short summaries of Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability, but there are just tons of nuggets that are awesome and life-giving for parenting and they often are directly backed up by research as well.  More importantly for me, most insights I believe reflect Biblical truths about leadership and parenting based on grace and truth.  The book is full of insights and principles that parents just need constant reminders so this is a book probably worth doing an annual review of because it’s that practical and helpful. It helps illuminate poor thinking patterns based on the surrounding culture and re-set for the sake of healthy and empowering relationships.

Some of the key sections relate to perfectionism and shame in parenting, over-functioning and control in parenting, struggle and hope, creativity and play, gratitude and joy, boundaries, and a variety of other things.

Beyond just being a general parenting book, the powerful piece still is the connection between shame and parenting which I believe also extends to leadership. Shame can be a factor in hindering play, increasing perfectionism and image management, and levels of control and comparison among others. This is important and reinforces one of her initial principles – who we are is more important than what we do.  That idea is really tough for a lot of folks, but it’s critical!

We have to deal with our own hearts. This is another reason why the question of where we get our worthiness from is crucial. People seek worthiness in all sorts of things – but I believe worthiness is ultimately only found unconditionally through a God who offers unconditional forgiveness in grace and truth. We need to be transformed first before we can be agents of transformation for others. If we have unresolved shame, that will translate to our efforts in shaping and molding those entrusted to us.

Here is a great specific summary of the audiobook that outlines principle by principle what Brown covers. This gives a real concrete picture of what is in the recording and the content.

 

Quick Review: Braving the Wilderness

It’s been a month or two since I read Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. I’ve delayed writing something up on it because I’ve had mixed feelings about it. It’s both the book of hers I’ve liked least, but it’s also the most intriguing related to some of my areas of research and study.

A lot of the book is similar to her other works – shame, worthiness, and vulnerability. I recently reviewed Rising Strong and there’s some overlap. It’s good stuff and there’s several stories and anecdotes from other books. However, there’s also a lot that is new and there is a different emphasis on this book. This focus, as I would describe it, is the connection between identity and belonging in a reactionary and tribalistic society.

What I liked was that at the core of this book, it really is a tackling of identity between individuality and community. Essentially, Brown is unpacking what family systems theorists call self-differentiation, the grounded identity that is both connected and separate even in the midst of an anxious and reactive society.  I kept thinking of one of my favorite authors, Edwin Friedman and his book Failure of Nerve as I read this. If you want to take a look see my post linking to a couple summaries here and also here.  It is one of my top 5 books of all time and has profoundly impacted my views on leadership and leadership formation.

Anyway – back to the wilderness. Braving the Wilderness is really a metaphor for self-differentiation. It’s living in between the polar extremes of reactivity and anxiety. Friedman calls one extreme emotional fusion. Christian psychologist PaulTripp calls this immersion. Harvard negotiation expert Daniel Shapiro calls this defaulting to affiliation.  It’s the surrendering of individual identity to the group out of fear of rejection, judgment, or shame. It’s compromising the integrity of personhood to belong – belonging becomes being part of a tribe.

Friedman calls the other extreme cutting off. Tripp calls it isolation. Shapiro calls it defaulting to autonomy for the sake of identity.  It’s surrendering community and relationship to preserve personhood. It’s to some degree distancing from those that provide a threat or challenge to be able to feel secure again in one’s self.

Brown is unpacking these dynamics. I think initially I was irritated because it felt like it was being unpacked as new data or phenomena, but these concepts have been out there getting discussed in a lot of places. But I like that she connected shame and vulnerability what can lead people towards surrendering their identity for either reactive extreme. People feeling anxiety and shame tend to seek security and certainty and if they cannot stand on their own and hold their ground for their higher values and their integrity – the emotional forces of society will bounce them around.  Thus Brown is directly addressing in this book how to foster civility and empathy in a society that is looking to dehumanize others and where everyone is trying to strengthen their tribe at the expense of the other.

Worthiness is at the heart of Brown’s books – that people who feel and act worthy and like the belong, actually believe that they belong.  The elephant in the room is the question, “Where does that worthiness come from?” I do not believe Brown offers an answer for this, but to describe that we need to do our best to be civil and understanding and do our part to help extend hospitality across difference.   Added to this though, Brown also discusses a lot about curiosity and civility as key to fostering civil discourse and belonging across difference.

Brown is advocating for people to connect as humans, fighting the tendency of people to dehumanize for the sake of certainty and tribal belonging. As I read this, it’s a perfect apologetic for the Christian worldview as the image of God, loving your neighbor, and the call to grace and truth are core foundational pieces. It’s a shame that Christians tend to be just as tribal, if not more, than others. It’s a sign that the gospel has not taken root. But Brown is pointing to a question that is theological in nature. Can we achieve our own worthiness? Or do we have to receive it from someone else?  Can we get it from other people or does it have to come from a higher authority?

So there’ s a lot that I like and it’s the most I’ve thought about any of her books so it’s a sign that it maybe it ranks higher than I initially thought. But there are things that are hard. I understand why some reviews complain about her being too political, but I didn’t think it was that bad – but an example of tribalism in the reviews.  There’s also a stronger tone of anger and “screw you, I gotta keep it real” to this book that wasn’t as evident in her other books.  On one level – I get it – I think Brown has to have some of that edge to play the role she is playing.

However, I’ve seen too many applications of her work where people are rejecting shame and community accountability to defend their positions (an ironic example of what Brown is speaking against). People can find justification through some of the concepts to defend their personal choices.  Not all shame is bad – when people reject the voice of community completely to “keep it real” they then run the risk of cutting off and getting lost in a myopic view of life. This connects to a series I did many moons ago called “Prophets vs. Posers.”

All in all – it’s a good book and I’m still thinking about a lot of it. But it is a clear reminder that there are deep solutions to questions of shame and belonging and vulnerability. Will people humble themselves to really find those solutions outside of themselves and receive the dignity, belonging, security, and love that can anchor one firmly in that identity so they can freely love and serve others across difference?  This is the Christian life.  Now more than ever, followers of Christ need to embody this self-differentiation in Christ so they can brave the wilderness where is increasingly anxious, hostile, reactionary, and tribal.

So I recommend it, but I recommend Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve even more.

Quick Review: The Myth of Equality

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been able to go through Ken Wytsma’s The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege and want to pass on highest recommendation if you are in the Northern American context.

Last year I read Wytsma’s book Pursuing Justice and it was a good complement to this book. But The Myth of Equality is a needed book that seeks to lay out theological, historical, sociological context for both historical racism as well as contemporary racism in its various forms. I won’t give a comprehensive summary but will hit the highlights.

First, he did good Biblical and theological work, building on some of his work in Pursuing Justice. It informs the reader, especially if there’s not much Biblical or theological background, on the spiritual backdrop of the discussion.  He’s working to give the average lay church member, especially white lay church member, a context for the discussion outside of attacks and emotions. Most important to this is the question of who God is and what does God care about.

Second, he does a great job unpacking a “history of racism” that is very insightful and informative in terms of political and social develops several hundred years ago.  However, the unpacking and analysis of racism in the U.S. including slavery and then through the various post-Civil War legislation and government efforts through the 20th century is downright piercing. Even for someone who has read or studied much of what was covered in other places, to go through this history is deeply disturbing and generates a flood of emotions. But the reader is brought into the sacred space of just how much suffering has been driven by the systematic oppression and marginalization of ethnic minority groups in the U.S.

My heart started pumping midway through in an excited way because Wytsma goes into Walter Brueggeman’s work in The Prophetic Imagination to discuss the dynamics of power, leadership, change, and theology.  This book was one of the fundamental influences on me in terms of how I view leadership overall and the church’s role in the world.  To get a chapter about the “royal consciousness” was a delight. However, to do a deep analysis today on themes of racism and privilege through that lens continues to be sobering.

One of my big takeaways related to the discussion on privilege was a section where he discussed “creation stories” as a metaphor for each person’s story. Many are “birthed” into stories where they only know possibilities and freedom. Others are birthed into stories that have origins in shame, invisibility, closed doors, and a host of other atrocities. While it’s true that God can redeem every story, this was a helpful new window into understanding how people come at these discussions from very different lenses and perspectives. It’s simply very hard to connect and form relationships of equality and dignity without an awareness into how these starting points in a society impact identity.

I personally liked Wytsma’s approach to the language.  I think there is more to write on terms like privilege and white supremacy and other core terms of the modern discussion. I think Wytsma handled them well without resorting to a single story approach.  My struggles with these words over the years have primarily involved a pragmatic struggle with how hard it is to explain them to people prior to being able to have a meaningful conversation when there are so many landmines of meaning and interpretation around them that escalate emotion in often unhelpful ways. But Wytsma I think does a really good job explaining how these terms fit in the contemporary discussion and why they are appropriate even though there are all sorts of semantic and meaning issues connected to them in the journey of common understanding.

This is an important book for the church because more and more in the church want to be a part of a different story, but so many do not know the history and the reality that is often hidden from them if they’ve not leaned into cross-cultural relationships and issues of social injustice.

This is a 2017 book so it might be new to you, but I’d encourage you to go through it with some people you do life with.

 

Quick Review: 1 Peter Honor Shame Paraphrase

I’ve spent some time the last couple of weeks going through Jayson Georges’ paraphrase of 1 Peter, which includes some context and basic commentary. It’s primarily a paraphrase, translated to highlight in the language of the letter the honor-shame context and dynamics embedded in and around the letter.  This is what seems to be the beginning of a series as he has recently released a paraphrase of Esther as well.

Some might struggle if they don’t have the imagination or the creativity to utilize paraphrases in context. But this is a helpful exercise to draw near to the original context of the letter and the issues that people cared about and were most affected by.  1 Peter was a great letter to start with because the issues of suffering and persecution addressed.  These themes start to become a bit richer and clear through some of the honor-shame language.

I personally enjoyed some of the leadership/overseer sections of the letter as portrayed in the paraphrase, but the strength is really it’s clarity of the honored identity of Christ for those that see community and social relationships through this lens. It illustrates the contrast between what is honored in God’s Kingdom compared to what is honored in the world.

So – definitely worth checking it out if you want to challenge yourself with thinking about many in the ancient world viewed the issues of identity and persecution….and many people today as well.

 

Quick Review: Self to Lose – Self to Find

Last week I gave a quick review on the enneagram book The Road Back to YouHere is the second book I’ve read recently in my attempts to explore and understand the enneagram as a tool to help myself and others dig deeper into the heart issues that drive behavior.

Self to Lose Self to Find: A Biblical Approach to the 9 Enneagram Types by Marilyn Vancil was a much shorter treatment of the Enneagram types, but had much more depth to it from a spiritual standpoint. Half of the book is presenting a theology of Spirit-filled living, unpacking a framework of spiritual formation through the paradigm of dying to self and grounding one’s identity in the person and work of Christ.  This was a solid treatment and helpful for both those who jump into these things for the quick rush of finding their “type” like its a horoscope as well as those trolls out there who are quick to try to destroy anything that feels different to what they are used to.  I still am exploring how useful the enneagram is in life and ministry, but Vancil does a great job laying a solid framework for the bigger picture of how self-awareness is in service of our journey to put off the old self and put on the new self.

Self-awareness is something we all need and most people in leadership and ministry are trying to help other people develop in as well.  But often, the foundation of why we should pursue self-awareness is shaky or fuzzy. I like the beginning of this book as a primer of self-reflection and the Enneagram stuff aside, the rest of the book unpacks a helpful framework or process for cultivating Spirit-facilitated self-awareness. Vancil entitles that process with the acronym OWNUP, which links the process of reflection with the fundamental taking of responsibility inherent to what it means to “die to self.”

The descriptions themselves of the 9 types are helpful and framed more from a Biblical perspective with some helpful categories to give insight to the types such as core sins, core fears, and several other areas helpful as a road map for personal reflection.

While the strength of the book is framing everything through a clear Biblical framework for following Jesus through putting off the old self and picking up our cross daily and embracing the new self, the cost is at more contextual content related to the specific types. I find that I need more context and content on each type to really get a handle on them, but having already read The Road Back to You and listened to some other content really helped. I am not sure this is the first book I would recommend to someone on the Enneagram for that reason. I benefitted because I already had some context.

Another disappointment was the section on wings was practically non-existent. That’s something still confusing to me and Vancil really doesn’t try to tackle that outside of making a small argument that each type is affected to some degree by each wing to the number’s left or right. That seems like a different take than some of what I’ve heard so far.

There are two unique contributions to the Enneagram as a spiritual encouragement. First, there’s a section where the author includes an “invitation” through God’s perspective to each type through a more Biblical lens and vision for what God may want for each person based on Scripture. Second, there’s a section of prayers from the perspective of each type that walk through a process of confessing core sin patterns and inviting God into the core needs and desires.  Both the invitations and the prayers were great and I think provide a helpful roadmap for people how to approach God authentically and in full surrender to His purposes and power.

So if you are into the Enneagram or are exploring it, I think this is a great resource – but its strength is in providing Biblical foundations and a framework to understand how this can be in service to God’s work of sanctifying a person. It is not the comprehensive resource for descriptions of the types themselves or other nuances, though the material that was included was helpful in what it tried to do.

I still plan to read a couple more, but will take a bit of a break from the Enneagram for a couple of months but hope to come back to it around the holidays when I have more time.

 

Quick Review: Crazy Busy

As I’ve continued to prioritize some reading related to rest and well-being, I decided to read Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy as another resource to reflect on how to best steward my soul and my contribution, given the immense stress of my life with its many demands, especially in a different country.

This is a short book – about 130 pages or so and it could be read in 2-3 hours easy.  They are short chapters that cover a lot of the main areas that need attention in modern society impacting well-being and business.  Prioritization (mission creep), Parental anxiety, Internet and Technology addiction or even attachment, Sabbath and rest, Personal Limitations, and most importantly the heart issues that drive our decisions and behavior that are rooted in sin or immature character.

This book is not a deep dive into these areas, but a broad exhortation in these different areas to highlight a key overall concept – we need to choose what is best even over the good.  And the best is resting in and abiding in God as the source of life, trusting that He will do what only He can do and expressing that confidence in faith by only doing what we can/should for God’s glory.

So many of us are struggling here with one or more of these areas covered in this book and we need to stay vigilant to guard against these enemies of living out of God’s abundance.

For a deeper dive I still recommend Buchanan’s The Rest of God as a more devotional journey going into rest and abiding in God that will draw you more deeply into God’s presence.  But this is a good and simple exhortation that we all need on a regular basis to guard our hearts, schedules, and relationships from drifting away from abundant life in God.

 

Quick Review: The Rest of God

Over the past month I’ve been going through The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul By Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan. If there’s been any theme or need in my life over the past year, it’s been the concept of rest and abiding in the Lord – but the last month has been when I’ve really been able to take steps towards that rest as most of the year became the antithesis of abiding.

Reading this book in a spirit of reflection and contemplation – taking each of the 14 chapters every two or three days to really focus and think about has helped me move closer to what title of the book promises – experiencing the restoration of my soul.  Coming into this summer I was probably closer to burnout that I wanted to admit, fresh off an inhuman pace of life and work. This was one of the best books that could have helped me enter the truth – the truth of God’s rest available to me and the truth of how and why I avoid or fail to enter that rest all too often. This is the book I recommend regarding burnout and rest as opposed to what I reviewed last week.

The book is not just about Sabbath as Sunday, but as living life in the Gospel – experiencing life in God as a gift to be received, not as something to be mastered or conquered.  There are excellent chapters on rest, Sunday Sabbath, play, freedom, and identity among others.  In fact, all 14 chapters had significant insight and reflection on God’s gift to us of Himself through Sabbath rest.

If you are on the verge of burnout or if you just need to have a helpful catalyst to resting in the Lord, I highly recommend The Rest of God.  I really enjoy Buchanan’s writing style and I think there are several chapters I plan on coming back to on a regular basis because they are so helpful for me in light of my typical struggles to find rest and abide in the Lord.

This will be something I recommend a lot moving forward, so I’ll start here with you 🙂

 

Quick Review: The Art of Virtue-Based Transformational Leadership

So a book I started well over a year ago and have read excerpts and sections off, but never really officially finished until this week was The Art of Virtue-Based Transformational Leadership by Mark McCloskey and Jim Louwsma.  It’s about 140 pages and a great primer on a really helpful leadership framework.

I had been looking forward to this book for quite a long time because Mark McCloskey was a significant mentor in my life as the head of the Transformational Leadership MA program I went through at Bethel Seminary a decade or so ago.  This book essentially captures the intro class to that program with a bit more refinement in some of the ideas and in the packaging. Louwsma has been a significant collaborative partner with McCloskey. I remember him visiting and presenting in some classes during that time and was impressed by his insights and perspectives.

The book gives an overview to what they call the 4-R leadership framework, which starts with Relationships and works its way out to Roles, Responsibilities, and then ultimately Results.  I’ve found it to be the most comprehensive and helpful framework for leadership development that I’ve used, but it’s also the dominant framework I’ve been exposed to over the years. McCloskey was former staff in my ministry organization and helped implement this framework as the leadership framework for the whole organization.  So I’ve been immersed in this framework both academically and in practice over the past 20 years.

As an aside – if you are Cru Staff, you should own and read this book to have more foundation for the framework that is central to organizational evaluation and development.

The authors weave the theory of the model with the narrative and example of Nehemiah from the Old Testament book of the same name, but one of the nice touches is they include a diverse number of 2-3 page biographical summaries on various transformational leaders in history.  I especially liked that they extended behind typical examples, but took a global approach in highlighting leaders who have exhibited transformational leadership.

It’s really not an overwhelming read as it’s less than 150 pages, but you get a lot in those pages. For $100 you can find the MBA / ultra-academic version of this book.  But now that this is available as a Kindle e-book I can’t recommend it enough if you want to explore a practical, yet research-based framework to help build and shape a leadership culture. Even if it’s just for your own development, it will help you do an audit on just about every area of your leadership from character to practices to skills.

Get it!

 

Quick Review: Families Where Grace is in Place

One of the most timely books I’ve read in a while is Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderen.  I enjoy VanVonderen. Quite a while ago I was deeply ministered to by his book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse in a season where I was observing a lot of spiritually abusive dynamics and tactics in some of my environments. This book on grace in the family was just as refreshing and significant.

I’ve read a few books in the last few years related to marriage and family and this has vaulted to the top for me I think so far. Some of it may be timeliness in that we are under a year from having teens in our household, but it’s more that VanVonderen grounds an approach to marriage and parenting…and really all developmental relationships in the foundational truths of the gospel and the need for grace for true change to take place.

Today there are so many ways Christians especially rationalize their legalism, shaming, and performance approach to parenting, leadership, and any exercise of authority roles. This book shines a spotlight on what does not pass the grace test and what truly reflects leadership under the Lordship of Christ. It’s convicting and even painful at points as the book fosters self-evaluation according to shame or grace-based approaches in relationships. But it offers hope and life that is grounded not in methods or control, but in love and the life of Christ as the source of all life and all authentic change.

The author uses a couple acronyms that are helpful – C.U.R.S.E. and T.I.R.E.D. to capture the reality of parenting and exercise of authority in relationships that reflect the core patterns of sin in Genesis 3. You can read the book to do a deeper dive on those – but it’s well worth it 🙂

As I’ve been researching more and more stuff related to shame, the more I’m convinced we need to ground everything we do in authentic, grace-based relationships in which the truth is allowed to do its work to heal and restore rather than harm, hurt, put down, or belittle. But sadly that is not the case for many marriages, families, and churches. This is what we are trying to prioritize in our development right now as parents and it’s been life and hope giving as well as healing in some regards as well.