Monday, June 26, 2017

Their Pain, My Perspective, and Finally a Response

We’ve all been in situations where we’re in close proximity to someone who doesn’t look like us. Some of the situations are temporary, and some much longer lasting.  Some people are forced into situations, and some make a conscious decision to experience life at a different pace than they might otherwise be used to. Immediately missionaries come to mind. They leave family, friends and home to go to a faraway place.
            And then there are people like Michelle Warren. Michelle and her husband made the decision to exchange lifestyles, but they didn’t go to a different continent to do so. Instead they settled in an area of Colorado. The only thing is, Michelle and her husband don’t look like most of their neighbors, and if they weren’t willing to study another language, they wouldn’t even be able to communicate with some of them. Their journey to proximity is detailed in The Power of Proximity: Moving Beyond Awareness to Action, (IVP Books, July 2017)

            I did more underlining in this book than I have in a long time, and have already used some of what I learned as part of a message for a chapel service at the local Rescue Mission.  Justice is a primary theme, and reading this book helps us see that we have a part to play in seeing justice come about. Biblical, not legal justice, restoration of people, not just punishment for wrongs (p 28). Life among people who are struggling helps us to identify that need for restoration.
            So, what is the deal with proximity? The simple answer is that it gets us close to the pain of an issue, changes our perspective, and most importantly requires a response. And as you can tell, from that 3 part answer, the simple answer is anything but simple.  
            Take a look at the communities that frame the lenses through which you see things. Do you live in one and work in another? Do you truly experience what others created in the image of God are living on a daily basis, or do you just brush shoulders with it during the short periods of time that you are in the vicinity, and then forget about it as you drive away? Michelle is truly experiencing it.
            Part I “Proximity Transforms Us” helps the reader understand what is meant by proximity, including the fact that to truly understand a different culture, we need to do more than attend some conferences or read a few books. It enables us to look beyond the surface for the underlying causes, and the possible solutions to some of the issues. And as we are confronted with the brokenness of others, we are also confronted with our own brokenness, which tends to help us understand even better what others are living through.
            Part II “Proximity Compels Response” is a little bit harder to read, simply because it forces the reader to decide “what am I going to do about it?” It’s one thing to read about an issue, to see it from a distance, and perhaps send a check, or ‘like’ on social media platforms. But when it becomes part of who you are, then a response is required. When proximity to the poor is a choice, you are privileged (108), and with privilege comes responsibility.
            And with Part III “Proximity for the Long Haul” there are some pointers. We can choose to move past fear, we can recognize and pray for healing for our churches, we can continue with our choice to be proximate, even when it is more difficult than we expected. We can live by faith, and stand with those who are already boldly making a stand, making the statement that enough is enough. In God's Kingdom we are all created in His image, and as such we should be willing to stand by our brothers and sisters.
            Earlier this year I was indirectly asked by a friend to choose a word for the year, a word which might shape and frame my actions and attitudes. The word I chose was justice, and this book is helping me with that effort. Michelle wears several different hats, but whichever one she is wearing at any given time is a reminder that proximity shapes us and has not only the potential to make our world a better place, but also the potential to mold us more closely to the Imago Dei in which we were created.
            I received a copy of this book from the publisher.  

            Highly recommended. 5/5

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The NIV Bible comes alive for young readers

Another Bible for kids, and you should care, why? I was thinking something along the same lines, until I got my hands on a copy. NIV Kid’s Visual Study Bible (Zondervan, 2017) is the Complete New International Version Bible, and it’s especially geared for kids from 8 to 12 years old.

                What makes this one special? I’m glad you asked. Almost every page highlights one or more verses and offers an explanation. In a regular study bible, these notes would probably be at the bottom of the page, but here they are in the margins, and stand out, so your junior scholar can read them and get a better appreciation for the customs and culture of Bible times. Sometimes, as in an adult study bible, some of the linguistic nuances are explained.
                Additionally there are pictures, tables, and maps throughout, (cover material indicates ‘over 700 images’) that help to explain the context of a particular passage.  Although I’m MUCH older than the 8-12 years old group, I enjoyed looking at the pictures and reading the notes.
                I was so glad to see that the illustrations weren’t what one usually sees in a kids’ Bible; in this version, with the complete text instead of stories, excerpts, and paraphrases, the illustrations match a level of maturity that the 12 year old will enjoy (they’re not treating me like a kid anymore) but still at a basic enough level for the 8 year old to enjoy. 
                Sure to become a favorite for the young ones in your family, and I can envision a 9 or 10 year old not only reading this bible, but looking forward to reading it aloud to younger siblings or cousins.
                This has all the potential to become THE preferred Bible for Sunday school classes because the teacher has handy access to the supplemental information needed to help prepare a lesson (and encourage further study) and the students will delight in the graphics and explanations.


I received a copy of this Bible from Handlebar Central (and Zondervan) in exchange for the review. 

Questions to ask when you're trying to get out of the rut

Sometimes it feels like things get stuck, and when they do you want to do something to get out of the rut. With that in mind I was excited to have the opportunity to read When Your Church Feels Stuck: 7 Unavoidable Questions Every Leader Must Answer by Christ Sonksen (Baker Books, 2017).

                As promised, Sonksen discusses seven questions, things like what’s our mission, what are our values, how do we get to where we want to go, and do we have the right people in the right positions. The questions weren’t new for me, and neither were the answers provided. So chapters 5-11 were mostly review of things I’ve read from other experts, some of whom Sonksen mentioned. .
                I did have a problem with his approach to metrics (chap 8: How do we measure a win?) Things like “we look at our music and ask if it’s done with quality”, or “we look at the messages…are they being presented in the highest quality possible?”  And how do you measure if the kids are “learning, growing, and having fun” during the hour of Sunday school. It’s easy to count “butts and bucks”, “nickels and noses”, but quality of the music or the message is a little more difficult to measure. Ask 20 people in a Baptist church, and you’ll get 25 different opinions!
                Having said that, I think the introductory chapters were probably more beneficial to me than the 7 questions. There are some good reminders of what ‘stuck’ looks like, and the review of the stages of church life, although different than others I’ve read, is an encouragement to look at what’s going on long-term (past and present) rather than just look at numbers for the past few weeks and go into panic mode.
                And of course, it’s nice to be reminded that God can do a lot of things through the people whom he calls to serve. Since God uses people, there are often going to be mistakes, but instead of whining about it, making excuses, and pointing fingers, we can learn from our mistakes and move forward.
                If this is new material to you, I would suggest that it’s a good place to start, but I don’t think Sonksen’s answers to the 7 questions are quite deep enough to really get the church out of its rut. The questions are probably the right ones, but the path that is presented to get out of the rut is probably overly smooth.

                I received a copy of this book from the BakerBooks in exchange for my review.