Book Review Feed

In the Dark - Book Review

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 7.28.43 PMIn the Dark: A Memoir of Religious Initiation, Doubt, Rebellion, and Discovery

by Scott Stickney

In the early 1990’s Scott Stickney and I served on staff together at a church. My memories of Scott include kind interactions, outside the box thinking, and long lunches that were always accompanied by deep questions, thoughtful pondering and uproarious laughter. (All of which I experienced as I read his book.)

At that time I was a rookie minister and Scott was a veteran associate pastor who took the time, and made the effort, to encourage and assist me in my ministry and in my life with the Lord.  He inspired me to think deeply and to live thoughtfully. He helped me along in my journey of spiritual formation.

It has been over twenty years since I have crossed paths with Scott.  Through the grapevine I heard that he was working on a book, and I knew that a book by Scott Stickney was a book that I wanted to read.

A few weeks ago, when Scott’s wife announced (on social media) the completion and availability of his book, I immediately ordered it from Amazon and began reading it upon its arrival at my front door. I thoroughly enjoyed, In the Dark: A Memoir of Religious Initiation, Doubt, Rebellion, and Discovery.

Memoirs are powerful. A true story, or “testimony,” is weighty, but a testimony offered up with thoughtful reflection is compelling, and Scott’s memoir, In the Dark, is all that and more.

The author, Kim Stafford says, “[T]he work of memoir is to put personal memory in a form that may serve the memories of others.” As I read Scott’s book, there were times that I squirmed uneasily when he mentioned and reflected on challenging and unsettling experiences that he had with people that I knew and admired. I winced more than once when my own memories, personally and painfully, resonated with Scott’s reflections upon his childhood days in Santa Rosa. Good memoirs are oftentimes uncomfortable that way. Scott’s very personal reflections serve an important purpose in his story, but they are just a part of the rich message of faith and discovery that is detailed in his book.

It has been said that, “who you are and what you will be depends on the people you meet and the books you read.”  I see evidence of this throughout Scott’s memoir as he tastefully and effectively weaves into and throughout his story many thoughts and quotes from his four literary mentors:  Carl Jung, Søren Kierkegaard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Charles M. Schulz (yes, the cartoonist).  What a joy it was to encounter and experience these people in and through Scott’s writing. 

Another person you will meet in Scott’s book is Mrs. Fear (and trembling). She stands as a model of love, mercy, grace and abandon to Almighty God. Oh, that we all would have a Mrs. Fear in our lives—at least for a season.  She alone is worth the price of the book.

Speaking of value, at the end of each chapter in Scott’s book the reader is prompted to “Question Boldly,” via comments and questions that are provided. These sections are of great benefit to the reader as they grope through the sometimes dark process of spiritual maturation. 

Scott Stickney’s book, In the Dark: A Memoir of Religious Initiation, Doubt, Rebellion, and Discovery, reads well and is a spiritual memoir that I heartily recommend.  Scott Stickney’s thoughtful writing will stir the dark embers of your heart and life into a faith that finds its light and source in Jesus Christ.

View From the Top - Book Review

9781118901106View From the Top: An Inside Look at How People in Power See and Shape the World

by D. Michael Lindsay

This is more than a book about leadership.  It is a realistic glimpse inside the multifaceted and complex world of being a leader—highlighting the characteristics, insights and experiences of noteworthy individuals that have lead institutions that have made a significant impact upon the world.

Aspiring leaders, current leaders and former leaders will all enjoy and benefit from reading View from the Top.  It offers a wealth of knowledge gleaned from the personal testimonies and experiences of some of the most powerful and revered leaders of the past twenty years.  This book will both affirm and confirm the experiences of readers who have “felt the same way” or have experienced similar things in their lives of leadership, and it will serve to guide, challenge and assist any teachable leader wanting to better themselves for the sake of their institution and for the common good.

The engaging leadership examples and illustrations provided throughout the book were drawn from interviews of hundreds of successful leaders who were, at one time or another, leading an institution.  In View from the Top, Lindsay states, “Institutions, not individuals, wield the real, world-changing power.”  The truth of this statement is not lost on the fact that individuals lead institutions and at times it is difficult to distinguish between the individual leader and the institution they are leading. 

Later in the book Lindsay says, “Extraordinary leaders do more than verbalize, they personify.” It is undeniably evident in the many examples given by Lindsay that the influence and success of an institution is inextricably tied to the personal and professional choices and actions of its leader.  Leadership is an institutional undertaking that is realized at a very personal level.

This book was a delight to read.  Michael Lindsay writes in a conversational style that is nuanced with academic references to his unprecedented sociological study that makes the writing interesting, realistic, applicable and engaging.  He gives credence to the various leadership traits observed in others as he compares and contrasts them to his own personal leadership context in the realm of Christian Higher Education.

My only complaint about this book is that it ended too quickly.  There is much to be gleaned from the lives of the 550 leaders that Michael Lindsay has interviewed over the past ten years.  I hope that this book is the first of many that Dr. Lindsay will distill from the Platinum Study and share with the world.

Only Respect or Only Wealth?

Screen shot 2013-09-11 at 8.40.44 PMEvery morning I try to read one chapter from the book of Proverbs.  Today this verse caught my eye:
A kindhearted woman gains only respect,
But ruthless men gain only wealth.
Proverbs 11:16  (NIV)

In the margin of my Bible, right next to the second line of this verse, I have written the name, Henry F. Potter,  No, he is not a former boss of mine, nor is he an old school teacher that I despise.  (When it comes to teachers and bosses, you only remember the really good ones and the really bad ones.)

Potter, as he is called, is the antagonist in my favorite Christmas film, It’s a Wonderful Life.  He is the bane of Bedford Falls and can best be described by two words: rich and ruthless.

Potter controls the bank, he possesses the liens on most of the homes and businesses in the city and he is merciless in his efforts to “own” Bedford Falls.

He holds most of the town’s wealth, but very little of its respect.

George Bailey, on the other hand, is respected by nearly everyone in the little town of Bedford Falls.  He is the protagonist in the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, who runs the family owned building and loan company and spends his days and years helping people make a life worth living.  In the midst of frustration, hardship, disappointment and unrealized dreams George is quick to serve others, help the downtrodden and he is kindhearted to all.

In the closing scene of the movie, George Bailey stands in his home surrounded by scores of friends from throughout the town.  They have come to give him money to help him out of a tight spot that he finds himself in.  They are literally “paying” him respect for the kindness that he has shown them over the years.

As the money piles up and more and more of George’s friends crowd into the room, Potter is conspicuously absent from the scene of immense love, friendship and community.  It seems that George’s investment of kindness in the lives of others has left him standing amidst friends as the richest man in town.

The ruthless gain “only wealth” and when the money, power and prestige are gone, they stand alone, with nothing.

The kindhearted gain “only respect” and when the admiration, esteem and honor fade, they stand together, with friends.

Ruthless or Kindhearted?

Which one will your name be written next to?

Relational Theology -- A Book Review

Relational TheologyRelational Theology:                   A Contemporary Introduction

Edited by Brint Montgomery, Thomas Jay Oord and Karen Winslow                                                  

The book, Relational Theology: A  Contemporary Introduction, is a bit like one of those photomosaics that is composed of a collection of subject specific photographs that are arranged and presented in a way that when observed as a whole reveal a larger target image.

In this book the editors, Montgomery, Oord and Winslow have assembled a variety of essays on the topic of Relational Theology that when considered together reveal an image of the Relational God at the heart of Relational Theology.  They call this book an introduction, and introductions—of people or theologies—are as varied as the one giving the introduction.  However, each contributor in this contemporary introduction of Relational Theology very effectively illuminates the different facets of the radiant gem that is Relational Theology.

This book is a source of light.  As I read each and every essay, I found myself knowing and wanting to know the Relational God better.  I began to recognize God’s hand in nearly every aspect of my life and I identified areas in my theology that weren’t very relational.

Within the idea of relational theology I encountered a God who is cooperative, creative, diverse, loving, sociable and alive.  John Donne’s quote below gives words to the concept and the God that I encountered in this introduction to Relational Theology,

Religion is not a melancholy: the Spirit of God is not a damp: the Church is not a grave: it is a fold, it is an ark, it is a net, it is a city, it is a kingdom, not only a house but a house that hath many mansions in it.  Always it is a plural thing, consisting of many.  And very good grammarians amongst the Hebrews have thought and said that that name by which God notifies Himself to the world in the very beginning of Genesis, which is Elohim, as it is a plural word there, so it hath no singular.  They say we cannot name God but plurally; so sociable, so communicable, so extensive, so derivative of Himself, is God, and so manifold are the beams and the emanations that flow from Him.

Relational Theology is a description of something that is moving, dynamic and alive.  It is about a God that is engaged and at work—forming, restoring, creating, shaping and loving a world and its inhabitants that were created for good and for God.

The best way to get a clear view, or photograph, of a moving object is to move in relation to it.  The book, Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction is a great read that will get your mind and heart in step with the Relational God who is clearly visible at the center of Relational Theology.

Tattoos On the Heart -- Book Review

Tattoos bookTattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle

Over the years I have heard references to Father Greg Boyle and his amazing work with gang members in Los Angeles. He has been making a difference for a very long time in an extremely dark place and he is greatly admired by many.  He has given his entire life to the work of helping youth see themselves as worthy contributors beyond the hopeless trappings of gang life.

Last week on iTunes I noticed a new documentary called “G-Dog.”  It is a glimpse into the life, work and ministry of Father Greg Boyle.  I watched, or more specifically “wept,” my way through the movie and when it was over I started the movie (and my crying) all over again. The story of Homeboy Industries and the work of Greg Boyle is nothing short of amazing.

G dog movie

Through the movie I learned of Father Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.  I immediately bought it on Kindle and read through it in two days.  It is a great read.  I could hear Greg Boyle’s voice throughout the book.  It was the same gentle voice that I heard in the movie, G-Dog—full of patience, wit, care, solidarity, compassion and extravagant love.

I found this book hard to put down.  It is full of real life stories—replete with humor, tragedy, victory, loss, hope and love. Boyle’s writing is much like his life.  He doesn’t just visit the margins to help and to minister to those less fortunate; instead, he dwells in the margins with them, as an equal.  In his writing, Father Boyle, the Jesuit Priest and former English Teacher, expounds upon poetry and various quotes from desert fathers/mothers and Catholic writers in a way that enmeshes the profound with the prosaic and the result is a glimpse of the very Truth that resonates throughout the Gospels.

I cannot help but recommend this book (and the movie) to you.  Enjoy.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years--Book Review


I so enjoyed this book.  I received it in the mail on Friday, started reading it on Friday evening and finished the book on Sunday morning (and I had a very busy weekend!).  I didn't even have time to list it in the "What I Am Reading" sidebar of my blog.  I laughed, cried and reflected my way through this book and when I came to the last page, I was sad that it was over.  I will read this book again.

I love the idea of "story" as it relates to life and faith--and that is what this book is all about.  It is about realizing that our personal stories are important and significant parts of the larger story of God.  Throughout Miller's narrative he encourages the reader to recognize the important parts of our life stories, to acknowledge how they affect the overall stories of our lives and to realize that our stories can be edited.  Each person has a lot to do with the writing and the editing of their own stories.

As Miller shared stories about himself and others I was reminded that there is an "author" in each of our lives that give our life experiences purpose.  "Without story, experiences are just random." (pg. 27)  Miller doesn't skirt the issue that not all stories in this life turn out "happily every after."  Like the best stories, life is filled with conflict, antagonists and risk to overcome.

As I read Miller's book I found myself wanting to live a "good" story and help others get out of a "bad" story.  Reading Miller's words confirmed in my mind that I know what it takes to live a better story than I am living.  And now, I don't have a choice because, "Not living a better story would be like deciding to die, deciding to walk around numb until you die, and it's not natural to want to die." (pg. 66)

There is someone writing each one of us.  There is a plan, there is a way, there is a path--there is a great story that each of us needs to let God write in and through our lives.  "People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen." (pg. 100)  When I landed on the last page of Miller's book I found myself wanting to live a great story and willing to pay the price for the joy that accompanies a great story.

"Sharing a story with somebody [makes] the story more meaningful." (pg. 154) This is true when you go to the movies and it is especially true when you are living life.  Thanks for letting me share a bit of the story of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  It is a good read.

Fearless--Book Review

Fearless book

Max Lucado’s newest book, Fearless, is a very satisfying read.  Every chapter touches on a very real place in the human heart and feeds that hunger with the promises of God.  The book is filled with illustrations, personal testimony and Biblical reflections that touch on the genuine places, feelings and experiences of life.

I love the way that Max Lucado casts the light of scripture upon the path of human experience.  He often puts into words what so many people feel, but can’t or are afraid to express.  As I read this book, I felt his voice was reminiscent of the Max Lucado that I enjoyed reading in his first books so many years ago.  He is an artist with words.  Max Lucado can say more in one sentence than can be read in a multi-volume set of theological textbooks—because he speaks to the heart.

In this book he addresses the issue of fear and moves the reader into the realm of fearlessness through many different perspectives.  He reminds the reader to avoid the things that lead to fear and he does so in a meaningful and memorable way.  Here is quote from the book that I won’t easily forget, “Worry is the darkroom where negatives become glossy prints.”

Fear is a very big and real issue in each person’s life.  It is not a place where God wants his children to reside.  Max Lucado makes this very clear in his book and he offers the reader a very clear picture of the Fearless life that Jesus offers and provides to all who will look to him.      

Must Reads

End_of_the_spear_book I have read these two books over the last thirty days.  I didn't have time to read them with my responsibilities in work, studies, family etc., but I had to read them.  I needed to read them.  For me, they were must reads. I carved out reading time wherever and whenever I could get it.  Most of my reading of these two books was realized in the early morning and late night hours of the day.  Every minute of lost sleep was worth it.

Both of these books are related to the story of the five missionaries that were killed in South America in the late 1950s.  End of the Spear is a book that was written by Steve Saint, the son of Nate Saint, who was one of the five martyred missionaries.  This book was made into a movie and I own the movie and have watched it many times.  The movie is great, but the book is better. (of course)  I loved the story (it is a true story) and I marked many portions in the book that I want to reread and share with others.Unfolding_destinies

Unfolding Destinies is a book that was written by Olive Fleming Liefeld who was the wife of the martyred missionary, Pete Fleming.  Thirty-plus years after she lost her husband on a river beach in South America she wrote a book reflecting upon the "unfolding destiny" of God through the incident and throughout her life.  In the book she cites Pete's journals and affords the reader a "real life" glimpse into the hearts of the missionaries, their wives and their families, as it relates to God's ways, presence and work in their lives.  The book is another perspective into the seemingly tragic missionary tale.

I am fascinated by the story of these missionaries.  They were great men with great faith and a radical commitment to Christ, but that is not the part of the story that fascinates me.  I am amazed at God, who is undeniably enmeshed within and throughout the real life narrative.  From the first missionary calling in the men's hearts to me writing about the story nearly sixty years later--God is present and working for good and in love.

I became a follower of Christ as a teenager.  I was a reader and for Christmas one year my parents bought me the books: Through Gates of Splendor, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot, and The Journals of Jim Elliot.  I am so glad that they bought me these books.  These books began my journey with the story of the five martyred missionaries.  These books served as my gauge for what real Christian commitment looked like.  These books and their story have inspired my service and haunted my theological wrestlings over the years.

Obviously, I can't say enough about the story of the Auca Indians and the lives of the missionaries who loved them enough to die for them.  The story is rich, multi-faceted and replete with the very essence of God.  God was there on that bloodstained beach in South America sixty years ago and he is present even now in each of our lives and he is working for good and in love.

All of the books I have mentioned are must reads.

(I would also recommend the biography of Nate Saint called Jungle Pilot.  I read this one a few years ago.)

Teach Us to Number Our Days--Book Review

Large This is a book review that I posted on of David Roper's book:  Teach Us to Number Our Days.

All of David Roper’s books are excellent, but I believe this to be one of his best.  In “Teach Us to Number Our Days,” he clearly communicates the Word of God and the words of the Spirit using both his immense Biblical knowledge and his personal, experiential wisdom.  The rich, concise writings in the book are filled with Biblical references, poems, personal narratives and lasting practical application.

The tenor of this book tends to speak to those that are in their advanced years.  However, I am entering the “mid-life” era of life and I found this book to be an extremely rich resource for my spiritual journey.  There are things in this book that I needed to hear so that the “number of my days,” honor God and are fruit bearing for the Lord.

I read this book as I would a devotional reader—one chapter a day.  The content of each chapter was so rich I found myself reflecting and meditating upon its precepts throughout the day.  This book served as a significant instrument in my personal journey of spiritual formation in Christ.

Personally, I think that David Roper’s books will stand the test of time and take their place in the genre of significant and classic Christian writing.  This most recent book, “Teach Us to Number Our Days,” is definitely a God established work of his hands.

Safely Home--Book Review

SafelyhomeSafely Home. Randy Alcorn, (Tyndale House Publishers, 2001).

A friend of mine recommended that I read Randy Alcorn's book, Safely Home, but he also said, "Be careful, it will mess you up."  I read Safely Home and it "messed me up." 

Safely Home is a fictitious novel that compares and contrasts the modern day lives of two men.  One man lives and works in the corporate world of the United States of America and one man lives and serves in the world of the underground Christian church in China.  In the book, these two men are friends and former college roommates who haven't seen or interacted with one another for twenty years.  In the story they re-connect in China and the perspectives of Western Christianity and the persecuted church come crashing together.

In this story is found a glimpse into the throne room of heaven, the ground is stained with the blood of martyrs, the indifference of materialism is exposed, the cries and suffering of the persecuted church are heard and the beauty of committed faith in God is realized.

I came away from reading this book with an ache in my heart for a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.  Safely Home exposed my spiritual apathy and it inspired me to treasure all the more the Word of God and the priceless treasure that it holds within its pages.  I don’t want to share more of the story for fear that I might spoil it for you.  If you have the time or the inclination, I heartily recommend the enlightening, challenging and inspiring read of Randy Alcorn’s book, Safely Home.  But be careful because… “It will mess you up.”