Coupla completely unrelated book reviews

From the top of my reading stack:

When I saw Chosen: An Autobiography sitting at the top of the “new releases” shelf at the Trinity Bookstore, I grabbed it last week during the store’s 40% off clearance sale. (See note about why the store had 40% off new releases, below.) Chosen is the life story of Michele Guinness, a Jewish believer married to an Anglican priest. The book is veddy British, containing lots of references to places (WH Smith’s in Newcastle) and things (nappies) that communicate life on the other side of the pond. And oy! the book is so Jewish. Guinness begins with the story of her grandparents’ arrival in England, and continues through her life-changing encounter with the Messiah to her recent semi-retirement from a communications career and life as a ministry wife.

Guinness is an engaging storyteller with a relaxed, meandering style to her writing. This meandering style made the book slow going, even for a speed reader like me. If I wasn’t so personally invested in the subject matter, I probably would have tossed it aside before I’d hit the guts of the book, which really started to gel after page 100 or so. I’m glad I did hang in there. Her observations about life in the church put words to the kinds of things I’ve experienced:

Over the centuries the simple Hebrew rituals that Jesus knew and loved were buried beneath a vast historical mound of Christianized adaptations and addenda, so that like the Communion service, they are no longer recognizably Jewish.

“That was very nice, thank you,” a man said at the door, as he left a Passover service Peter and I had led at a church in Yorkshire. “I didn’t know the Jews use our psalms.”

Only my husband’s firm grip on my arm saved the poor, innocent man from a throttling.

I think the pace of this book might move too slowly, and stay too close to the surface of things for younger audiences who’ve cut their teeth on the focused spiritual memoir of Anne Lamott or Donald Miller. But those interested in Jewish evangelism or in listening to the voice of an outsider trying to make sense of Christianity will find Chosen a worthwhile, lawn-chair worthy read on a couple of warm spring Saturday afternoons.

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I also read through the Christianity Today Study Series volume entitled Faith and Pop Culture, published by Thomas Nelson. (In the interest of full disclosure, let the record show I received a review copy from the publisher after I signed up to be a part of their book review blogger program.)

This 127-page volume offers small groups an eight-session opportunity to explore how faith intersects with popular culture. Sessions focus on movies, books, sports, TV, “family-friendly” entertainment as a genre, violence as entertainment, the influence of Christians in the entertainment industry, and the spiritual nature and cost of our ravenous hunger for entertainment.

Each session begins with a brief, relevant article from a past issue of Christianity Today magazine. The mag features strong, solid writing from the core of evangelicalism, and the articles in this study are meant to raise questions, not give answers. The introduction to the study guide suggests group members read the articles before the group gathers for discussion, but the articles are short enough that a group could take 5-10 minutes at the start of their time together to read the material while they munch on a snack.

The session instructions include a couple of options for ice-breaker activities, followed by some probing discussion questions designed to get your group talking about the issue on the table. There is space for interacting with Scripture together in each session, as well, before getting into the core material for each session.

There are a lot of questions in the core”Let’s Explore” section of each session. There’s no way a small group could talk their way through all the questions in this section of each session – a wonderful gift to small group leaders who can pick and choose from these questions to get a conversation started. They’re not easy yes or no, fill-in-the-blank queries, but are meant to help people share their thoughts, observations and experiences with one another. The final section of each session (“Going Forward”) is designed to help people prayerfully apply what they’ve discussed in the session.

The book is a useful piece of curriculum for small group leaders who don’t want to do the same old theme or book study. If they’ve got a bunch of people in their living room dedicated to gathering for prayer or serious Bible study, Faith and Pop Culture is most definitely not for them. But this tool might be a great starting place for a new group to begin discerning together how to walk in the way of Christ while watching Lost.

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NOTE: Trinity Bookstore, my on-again, off-again employer for 4 years, will now be run by an outside textbook management company, rather than by the university. The store, a hybrid of a typical college bookstore (lots of textbooks, T-shirts and candy bars) and a Christian bookstore for thinking people (few tchotchkes, lots of meaty theology and spiritual life books), was preparing for the management transition with the mother of all clearance sales. Though the store will continue – definitely a good thing – it will no longer be the quirky, delightful independent it has been for many years. I am so grateful for all that I learned during my employment there, as well as the terrific people with whom I worked, laughed, argued and occasionally…prayed.

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2 thoughts on “Coupla completely unrelated book reviews”

  1. “I didn’t know the Jews used our psalms…”

    Yep, that says it all. The intellectually incurious “believer” with no notions of history and no clue about the story of his own faith is, to my mind, a bigger threat to the church than any number of atheists, new or not. Thanks for the book reviews (can I borrow them?)

  2. I actually borrowed Chosen from the pile we’re bringing to Israel later this month. The CT book is yours for the borrowing, however! 🙂

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