On Friday, August 13th, my cousin reminded me of how superstitious our grandmother had been. The conversation took place on social media, so pretty soon my sister had chimed in and added to the list of things that drove poor Nana to hysteria: seven years of bad luck with a broken mirror, death in the family from the movement of an empty rocking chair, ominous outcomes from black cats and playing cards on Sunday. How does anyone find the courage to live in that kind of unpredictable universe?
The three of us had a good time remembering Nana making Grampy turn the car around to avoid an intersection with a black cat, but, later that day, I didn’t find nearly so funny the moment when my reading choices put a stern finger on areas of my own life where irrational conclusions had clouded my logic. I had to admit, with Michael Scott, “I’m not superstitious, but I’m a little stitious.” So this month, I’ve been asking myself a few pointed questions:
Can I benefit from reading a book on prayer, or should I just get down to the business of praying? Does this have to be black and white?
Are my convictions about theological truth based on what the Bible says–or what it doesn’t say?
What suppositions should be off limits for fiction writers? (There’s a reason it’s called fiction, right?)
When I reject an idea simply because it’s uncomfortable, or when I respond in fear to the unknown, I’m more than just a little superstitious–and I don’t want to be that way!
What irrational conclusions are clouding your logic? Do they show up in your reading choices? Maybe, like me, you’re “just a little stitious.”Tweet
Now, let’s talk books…
My August reading is split right down the middle between fiction and non-fiction, unusual for me, and I hope you’ll find these four books to be challenging–all in very different ways!
How Did I Get Here?
It’s a subtle slippage that takes a solid believer from passionate engagement to auto-pilot. When author, speaker, and ministry head Christine Caine began to detect her own heart’s reluctance to keep pressing hard into ministry, when she found herself wanting to “take cover more than [she] wanted to take ground,” she asked a very natural question: How Did I Get Here?
The story of finding her way back when everything was pulling her away began with Hebrews 2:1: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”
The answer to a prone to wander heart is a closer attention and a more intentional leaning in to truth. In our following life, there is always a risk that we will begin to lose the awe of our salvation and the wonder of a right relationship with the God of the universe.
Busy-ness, inferior sources of security and significance, and the pull of our current cultural context are the undertow, causing us to drift away from a fervent love. Paying attention is the set anchor that keeps us in close communion with what’s important. Caine asks probing questions to encourage readers in self-assessment, always with grace, but alongside a sober warning that it is so easy to drift. “All you have to do is nothing.”
The Book of Longings
I almost didn’t read or share this new fiction from Sue Monk Kidd. The Book of Longings challenged me to explore my convictions about how much wiggle room a fiction writer is free to take with her subject and, even more crucially, to withhold judgment until I’ve had time to process the role of fiction in expanding my knowledge of a story I thought I already knew.
Ana is a strong and feisty female protagonist whose New Testament-era story provides deeply revealing insights about life in a tightly knit Jewish community in Palestine.
She is also the wife of Jesus, a premise that set my mind against the book from the beginning–until I winnowed my objections down to one question: What difference would it have made if Jesus had been a married man? I embrace his full humanity, and I reject the notion that singleness or celibacy are prerequisites for ministry leadership, a belief that has caused no end of heartache and error for centuries.
Much of Jesus’s early life is left unrecorded, but is it also left to our imagination? Sue Monk Kidd thought so, and in applying her unique gift of lyrical prose to Ana’s life story (this is clearly her story), she offers insights to the Greatest Story that are both reverent and startling.
Ana’s gift to the world is the record of her heart’s longings, what they taught her, and the manner in which God answers her writerly prayer for beautiful words that make a difference. Sue Monk Kidd’s gift to me is the realization that my orthodoxy can become a wall, shutting out the what-ifs of a story that is not mine to control. Would I have been more comfortable if Ana had been a sister to Jesus or even a close cousin? Sure, but maybe my comfort isn’t the point…
Where Prayer Becomes Real
While it is much easier to read books about prayer than it is to actually get down to the business of praying, some books push the reader forward in her pursuit of the praying life. Kyle Strobel and John Coe have wrapped prayer in the gospel for a journey to the place Where Prayer Becomes Real.
We all begin at Romans 8, for “we do not know how to pray as we ought.” It’s hard work, but good news comes with Holy Spirit intercession and an invitation to rewrite the song of your own prayer life in the key of honesty.
What a relief to hear that prayer, far from being a performance, is instead “a place to be honest,” to enter the presence of God complete with questions, distractions, idols, and worries, leaving behind the need to “manage” and manipulate God. Prayer, then, is the place where we test our closely held beliefs about God and about the Christian life, where we unlearn the harmful and embrace the life-giving truth that God’s invitation to pray without ceasing is not a burdensome thing but a delightful entry into authentic relationship. Exercises at the end of each process facilitate this camaraderie.
As we wrestle with our struggle to be more fervent and honest in our prayer life, we find our way into conversation with the heart of God. Life becomes prayer, a daily presentation of all we are and all we have to the God who knows us and loves us well.
Aggie and Celia, Cheryl Grey Bostrom’s strong protagonists, have little in common. At ten, Aggie is most at home hunting bird’s nests in the towering tree tops around her home. However, it was only under duress that Celia had come to the Pacific Northwest. Even her deep love for her grandmother was not enough to defuse her rage at having been left behind by her dad while his work took him out of the country.
Sugar Birds carries readers forward into the stories of two families, their choices, their conflicts, and, ultimately, how they become part of each other’s narratives.
Realistic internal dialogue delivered in first person and enriched by regional colloquialism works “better than socks fit a rooster” to create three dimensional characters who are wrestling with the weight parental dysfunction, marital disputes, and mental health issues place on a family. Gram and Burn emerge as two strong and steady rocks who also provide fascinating insights flowing out of their shared love of avian life.
While Aggie grieves alone and in hiding, Celia turn her sadness outward, lashing out at others and charging head long into a relationship with Cabot, a young man who appeared “as smooth as boiled onions,” but whose spiritual ladder is “up a dead tree.” Ironically, the girls will play a role in each other’s rescue from the danger created by their own choices.
Besides a beautifully written novel with a strong sense of place, Bostrom’s great gift is the cautionary word that we are all sugar birds at heart, “scratching and pecking and clawing for a sweet seed that will soothe the ache.” May we find grace to look for the answer on our way to forgiveness, both given and received.
That’s it for August! Thanks for reading, and be sure to share your own recommendations in the comments below!
Holding you in the light,
Recommendations for end-of-summer reading at The August Book Talk!Tweet
The new issue of Joyful Life Magazine can now be pre-ordered, and it includes an article from me! Look for “If I’m Already Forgiven, Why Do I Need to Confess My Sins?” Too, my friend Sue Moore Donaldson is sharing her thoughts on spiritual growth. The fall print publication will orient our gaze toward the beautiful growth and change that the Lord is working in our hearts and our homes.
Best of all, the first 100 to pre-order will receive some special bonus gifts.
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Many thanks to Baker Publishing, Penguin Random House, Net Galley, Revell, Thomas Nelson, and She Writes Press for providing copies of these books to facilitate my reviews which are, of course, offered freely and with honesty.