Recently, I’ve had an opportunity to read a handful of interesting non-fiction books. The first, Keri Wyatt Kent’s Listen: Finding God in the Story of Your Life, was a wonderful treat to myself. The next three were review copies offered to bloggers by publishers. The books have taken me from contemplative life to life between the sheets, from a theological throwdown to a challenge to rise above the rabble of pop culture.
Read on to find out which one of these books I didn’t like one bit.
Listen: Finding God in the Story of Your Life (Jossey-Bass) is an accessible, thoughtful invitation to a deeper life with God. The divisions of the 193-page hardcover offers a great overview of the way author Keri Wyatt Kent has tackled the subject of intentional listening: Section 1, Listening To Your Life, explores our passions, struggles and longings. The next section discusses Listening to Others in community and through a committment to compassion. The final section of this book, Listening Practices, is an introductory journey through the spiritual disciplines of silence, lectio divina and prayer.
Wyatt Kent’s writing voice is luminous and wonderfully honest. She puts her life and struggles onto the pages as appropriate, encouraging illustrations meant to urge us along. She’s a smart, funny suburban mom, kneading her passion for God into the dough of everyday life – and letting the rest of us know that a deeper, wiser, more intentional life is possible. Highly recommended.
Even though the picture above looks like a floating fig leaf, it is actually the cover of Pastor Andrew Farley’s recent release The Naked Gospel (Zondervan). The subtitle of this book is “The truth you may never hear in church”. I’ve actually heard his version of “grace versus law” over the years in some of the dispensationalist churches we’ve attended.
Farley is understandably angry about his own past addiction to religious performance (“My intensity hit its pinnacle when I could no longer sleep at night unless I had shared Christ with someone that day”). His Martin-Luther-like “Saved by grace through faith, and not works” breakthrough in intellectual understanding about the nature of grace helped move him off the performance treadmill and onto the horse he’s riding in this volume.
I disagreed with his view of the place of the Old Testament and the need for confession, just for starters. But his smug, graceless delivery that left me feeling like I’d been slimed by the time I’d finished the book. Farley had some clever illustrations to support his points, though it was a bit distracting to have him insist on presenting them as fact (“In 1998, my father was killed in a car accident…”) instead of the illustrations they are (his dad wasn’t killed in a car accident – gotcha!). The book’s tone is unnecessarily defensive and combative, and by the time I finished its 231 pages, I all I wanted was a piece of good news. This attempt to strip away religion from the gospel wasn’t it.
No More Headaches: Enjoying Sex & Intimacy in Marriage (Tyndale/Focus On The Family) would make a helpful read for a monogamous wife and mother of a couple of young kids who has been married for about 10 years. Dr. Juli Slattery tackles differences between men and women in this overview of married sexuality, coaching her readers toward a greater commitment to their mates, themselves and God.
She’s frank without being salacious, and discusses desire, physiology, our past baggage, life in our hyper-sexualized society, and the effects of parenthood on intimacy in far more detail than you’d hear at church, but less detail (thank you) than you’d hear on Oprah. Slattery would affirm my own (thank you) response – she observes that younger and older women tend to have different comfort levels with discussions about sex. Younger women who have been brought up in our sex-saturated culture keep far more on the table when discussing their sex lives with their friends than we boomer women do. My own experience working with college women has confirmed this.
She does a good job connecting the physical to the emotional and spiritual, while avoiding specific prescriptions (how adventurous should a couple get?) in favor of general principles. Slattery’s friendly writer’s voice and lots of anecdotes from her own counseling practice make the book like a heart-to-heart conversation with a smart, wise Christian girlfriend – and a useful overview/gentle course correction for some church-going women.
For a heart-to-heart of a different kind, Jordan Christy’s How to Be a Hepburn in a Hilton World: The Art of Living with Style, Class and Grace (Hachette) is the kind of advice book most every generation needs. Unfortunately, the people who most need Jordan Christy’s advice – the skanky girls who use Paris/Britney/Kardashians as role models – would probably never pick up this breezy book. But for young women trying to figure out how to navigate a world where immodesty and agressive sexual behavior rules, Christy’s smart, sweet book of advice is like pep talk from someone who is channeling a combo of Miss Manners, your wise grandmother, and yes, Audrey Hepburn.
With chapters discussing topics like language, friendships, clothing and dating, you’d think this book might read like a giant, pruny scold from an never-married aunt born during Queen Victoria’s reign. But Christy writes with the bubbly confidence of someone who is navigating these waters NOW while making intentional choices that allow her to rise above vapid shallowness. She tosses store names (Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters) and sprinkles pop culture references (Ashton Kutcher) into timeless advice like “don’t call him – wait for him to call you”.
In fact, those date-stamped “right now” references may give this book a relatively short shelf life. But for young (20-35) women trying to figure out who they’re going to be, Christy’s cheerful wisdom may be just what they need right now to march into their tomorrows with class and a cute pair of shoes.