Book Review: God Made All of Me

My wife, Sally, and I get a lot of questions about how we teach and train our children about sex, marriage, and gender roles. We also get asked about how and when we talk to our kids about their private parts and healthy touching. One book, which frames larger discussions about marriage and sexuality, that we have found immensely helpful in reading with our kids to help protect them from abuse is God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, illustrated by Trish Mahoney. Justin Holcomb, PhD, is a professor of theology and Christian thought at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary, and his wife Lindsey Holcomb, MPH, counsels victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

gmaom_medium.bnkfttwqcorjilnklpwjageuhrcqexohMany people grew up in environments where adults focused so much on trying to prevent unhealthy sexual activity that children grew up thinking sex is bad and their private parts are evil. Others have grown up in “body positive” or “free-love” environments that have failed to protect people from healthy sexual boundaries altogether. These errors have left many parents today ill equipped to deal with the danger of sexual abuse. God Made All of Me (GMAOM) will help children avoid unnecessary shame regarding their bodies and sex while also learning healthy boundaries.

The state goal of the authors is to help parents protect their children from sexual abuse, and they do an excellent job in their story by providing an age appropriate conversation between a couple and their two children. After a note to parents, the book begins with a family conversation in the family room about God’s good creation of all things, including our bodies. With colorful and fun pictures, the conversation that makes up the story covers topics including the parts of our bodies that we share and the parts that are private, healthy touches, communicating to others what touches we do and do not want, saying no, talking to trusted people when we are confused or being touched in ways we don’t like, contexts where people may appropriately touch our privates (i.e. the doctor’s office during an exam), safe people to whom we can go for help, and secrets versus surprises. The book ends with 9 tips for parents.

While the book has no recommendation for the age of its audience, I think it’s a great book for children who have not yet started kindergarten (2-5yr olds), though older kids will still benefit from it.

Parents cannot afford to neglect these conversations. Sometimes we fear we’ll spoil our child’s innocence or foster unhealthy fear if we talk about these issues. We may also avoid these conversations out of embarrassment or the fear of embarrassment, knowing children sometimes bring up concepts they’re learning about in the wrong settings. But a little bit of information and the freedom to discuss these things openly as a family can go a long way toward protecting our children and helping them develop healthy boundaries with others.

I highly recommend this book to parents, but anyone who is around children and wants to be a part of establishing healthy boundaries will benefit from this book.

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Recent Reading Recs – 2017/12/27

Here’s a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

  • Andy Crouch.com, “Sex Without Bodies” – In an article for Christianity Today in 2013, Andy Crouch discussed the church’s response to the LGBT (now LGBTQ) movement.
  • Mere Orthodoxy, “Faithful Extension and the Question of Human Origins” Chris Krycho writes a review of Evolution and the Fall, edited by William T. Cavanaugh and Jamie K.A. Smith.
  • The Point Magazine, “True Story” – Tish Harrison Warren offers an explanation to secular readers about why she belongs in the church and how it is making and shaping her.

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • The Wall Street Journal, “Do You Know How Others See You?” – Elizabeth Bernstein explains that most of us are not as self-aware as we think we are and points to researching suggesting that people who have a high level of self-awareness make smarter decisions and have healthier relationships.
  • The Atlantic, “ADHD, or Childhood Narcissism?” – Enrico Gnaulati examines the increase in ADHA diagnoses since the 1980s and explores a richer social explanation for the problems children are facing.

Podcast Episodes

  • Harry Potter Book Club, “HPBC Episode 12: Sorcerer’s Stone, Chapter 13” – The group of friends respond to email questions and comments and explore chapter 12 of Rowling’s first book in the Harry Potter series.
  • Trinity Church Podcast, “S1 Ep6 – The Witness of the Church” – We discuss the problems with reducing the witness of the church to truth telling and suggest the church must proclaim the truth, exemplify goodness, and display the beauty of God.
  • Heavyweight, “Jeremy” – Host Jonathan Goldstein opens up and talks about his own experience with Judaism and his subsequent turning away from religion.

Books

  • A Place on Earth by Wendell Berry – a novel about Berry’s fictional town and the membership that lives, works, and loves in Port William, exploring change, absence, grief, and place
  • Evolution and the Fall edited by William T. Cavanaugh and Jamie K.A. Smith – an anthology by theologians and scientists reading the early chapters of Genesis assuming there are no conflicts with the discoveries of modern science

Book Review: The Tech-Wise Family

A headline here. A new study there. We’re learning more and more about the massive and rapid technological changes taking place right under our noses everyday. And we suspect these changes are impacting us in subtle and unseen ways. We feel like we can’t concentrate like we used to. Our memory doesn’t seem as good as it once was. Our kids seem hyper all the time, and we can’t imagine taking them to a restaurant without a device to keep them quiet.

Life for us and for our children is different than it used to be, but we aren’t sure what to do about it. Sometimes we wonder if we should swear off all new technology and go back to a simpler time. But it doesn’t take long before we realize that this isn’t really possible. We can’t avoid the changes that have come and will continue to come. So what can we do? Do we just surrender and hope for the best?

tech-wise

Enter Andy Crouch and his excellent book The Tech-Wise Family, a book aimed at helping us to put technology in its proper place so that our households can become places and communities where we can grow into wise and courageous people. Crouch refuses to deny the benefits and goodness of modern technology, but he insightfully warns us of unhelpful practices and habits that inevitably change us for the worse if we do not establish guidelines and disciplines that will nudge us in healthy directions.

Packed with research on the impact and use of technology, Crouch shares the 10 commitments he and his family have made over the years that have structured their life together. Each chapter unfolds the logic of each commitment, and encourages the reader to consider how they are facing the particular issues raised in the chapter. Studies have shown technology is the number one reason parents believe raising kids today is more complicated than in the past, so if that’s you, pick up this book. It’s written to parents, but it’s certainly not written only for parents. The insight and counsel of this book will benefit anyone looking for help in how to become a person of character.

The gracious and humble tone throughout the book is exemplified by his transparency at the end of each chapter where he shares the victories and the failures he and his family have experienced. There’s no condemnation here, only thoughtful reflection, honest evaluation, and hopeful counsel. Here’s how the book unfolds and the issues he addresses:

Section 1: Three Key Decisions To a Tech-Wise Family

1. Choosing Character: We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.

This chapter frames the whole book as Crouch ponders, “What is a family for?” He explains that he and his family have chosen to orient their life together toward the development of character. He distinguishes between knowledge, something readily accessible through the Internet, and wisdom which guides right action in a complex world. He also discusses the importance of developing courage, because the right thing to do is often scary and painful. The remainder of the chapter explores how modern technologies are good servants but terrible masters, especially as it relates to forming character.

2. Shaping Space: We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.

This commitment considers the space that is our home, and explores strategies for where our devices should be to help nudge us toward creativity, production, and beauty rather than mindless, banal consumption.

3. Structuring Time: We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.

Technology makes our work easier, but it also leads us take on more work and to rest in ways that aren’t restful. In this chapter, Crouch explores the difference between rest and leisure, the concept of Sabbath, and the empty promise of technology to relieve us of the toil of our work.

Section 2: Daily Life

4. Waking and Sleeping: We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.

In this chapter, Crouch explores our creatureliness by examining our sleep habits and bedtime rituals. He uncovers the anxieties and fantasies that both trouble and distract us from real life and the needed sleep we depend on to thrive.

5. Learning and Working: We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.

In one of the most important chapters of the book, especially for those with children, Crouch explores how modern technologies actually make us less able to think and learn. As it turns out, easy education isn’t better, and he offers the statistics and research to back up that claim. In a world where attention spans and the ability to concentrate are declining, Crouch shows that the less we rely on screens to entertain ourselves and our children, the more capable we become at entertaining ourselves.

6. The Good News about Boredom: We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together rather than using them aimlessly and alone.

In a chapter closely related to the previous one, Crouch explores how screens over stimulate us and rewire our brains, numbing us to the ordinary wonder of the world. It’s eye opening to learn how we’re training ourselves to be incapable of wonder.

7. The Deep End of the (Car) Pool: Car Time is conversation time.

The car is one of the older technologies discussed in this book, but the way new devices are built into modern automobiles calls for fresh reflection on how we drive. Crouch shows how his family has made the most of their car time by intentionally conversing while driving rather than leaning on the crutches of screens and digital music.

8. Naked and Unashamed: Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.

In another important chapter, Crouch tackles the issue of pornography and sexual activity, offering simple and humble strategies for helping one another live in the light. Pornography consumption is an epidemic with countless negative consequences for individuals, families, and society. This easily accessible, pervasive, and addictive content needs to be talked about with understanding and grace, and the strategies offered here can go a long way to break addictions and help curb unhealthy consumption.

Section 3: What Matters Most

9. Why Singing Matters: We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.

This is perhaps the one chapter some families might find difficult to embrace simply because not everyone is as musical as the classically trained, jazz piano playing Crouch. That being said, there’s still a lot to gain from a chapter than encourages families to sing and worship together.

10. In Sickness and In Health: We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.

This chapter explores the difference between phone calls, emails, and video chats and being present to others with our bodies, especially in the most important moments of life. We are limited creatures, and while technology can gives us the illusion that we can transcend those limits, our bodies are failing and will stop working altogether. In those moments, there’s nothing like the presence of other bodies that love us.

 

My words really cannot do this book justice. It’s beautiful, practical, accessible, and timely. Who are you becoming? How is technology shaping you right now? What habits are you adopting to help get where you want to be? This book can go a long way in helping you answer those questions.

Recent Reading Recs – 2017/11/22

Here’s a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point  you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • The Atlantic, “Bill Clinton: A Reckoning” – Caitlin Flanagan recalls how Feminist leaders rallied behind Bill Clinton when he was accused of sexual harassment and assault in the 1990s and argues that the Democratic party needs to make its own reckoning of the way it protected him and his pattern of behavior.
  • Vox, “Bill Clinton Should Have Resigned” – In light of the wave of sexual harassment and assault accusations taking down prominent figures in Hollywood, government, and media, Matthew Yglesias reflects on the Bill Clinton scandal with Monica Lewinski while he was President.
  • NYT, “A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule” – Katelyn Beaty makes her case that the Pence Rule (also the Billy Graham Rule) isn’t actually Christian at all.

Podcast Episodes

Books

  • Is the Bible Good for Women by Wendy Alsup – a book explaining why those wishing to embrace the inherent dignity of women and of womanhood can and should cherish the Bible which examines many difficult texts in both the Old and New Testaments

Diet Problems in the Church

The baristas at Starbucks know I’m a pastor. Last week, one of them, making small talk, asked me if I was pumped up for Sunday. I was caught off guard and didn’t really know what to say at first.

As I thought about it, his question made more sense. I regularly see sponsored ads on Facebook for local churches where pastors with slick promo videos pump up would be viewers about the exciting and amazing Sunday that is coming this week…every week.

Of course I look forward to Sunday but not because every Sunday is going to be amazing and exciting.

Ordinary Means of Grace, Not Constant Excitement

Central to Christian worship and therefore to Christian formation, are the Word and sacrament. The reading and preaching of the Word leads the assembled to communion at the Lord’s Table.

The church lives by the bread of heaven, the bread of life, Jesus Christ, heard in the preaching of the Word and tangibly received through physical signs around the Table.

Both the Word and the Table nourish Christians as they respond to God’s word by remembering the body and blood of Christ, enacting and embodying the kingdom through a simple and ordinary meal of bread and wine.

It is through the Word and Table that we are fed, week after week, so that we grow up into godliness, maturity, and wisdom. Just as we need food to survive and grow physically, we need regular nourishment from God’s Word and Table. And in the same way a steady, healthy diet sustains our physical survival and health, so also a consistent, sound diet of Word and Table sustains our lives in Christ.

The American church struggles with severe diet problems, probably because, in part, we expect every meal to amazing and exciting. Rather than serving consistently healthy meals, our churches offer hungry people food that satisfies our worst cravings and leaves us unable to live on mission to starving world.

Church Types

We have candy churches that offer delicious experiences that get people excited and energized but lack the nourishment needed to grow strong.

We have fast food churches built on efficiency, convenience, and predictability that will serve thousands food that tastes good at first only to leave people feeling sick and bloated with self-indulgence.

We have buffet churches that give people all the options they could want to stuff themselves with whatever they choose.

We have extreme diet pill churches where fraudsters promise miraculous results by making false promises that will only destroy.

We have franchise churches with branding and style that works everywhere, with popular dishes shipped in frozen and made to order, lacking local flavor and personal touch.

We have Cracker Barrel churches thick with nostalgia complemented by good home cooking that makes you feel all warm inside longing for a culture that no longer exists, if it ever did.

We have locally sourced vegan churches that serve ethical meals but lack the meat needed to grow.

We have cutting edge, trendy churches for those under 35 where no one knows what they’re eating.

I’m sure you can think of others.

Diet Problems

We have all sorts of churches with diet problems. Just like children who don’t know how to eat need parents consistently providing healthy food, we need churches that responsibly nourish the family of God with simple, balanced, healthy, meals that are usually unexciting. That’s hard to stick to when the neighbors constantly offer the more appealing and exciting junk food at every meal.

Book Review: The Story of the Word

One summer, I was leading a Wednesday night college ministry bible study. There were about 50 students there, and I gave them a group assignment. On a piece of paper, I listed dozens of biblical characters and events and asked each group to put them in chronological order. I was trying to learn whether or not these students understood the overarching story of the bible and how these major characters fit into that story. As each group shared their answers, I wasn’t surprised to learn that, like me prior to seminary, almost none of them had any sense of the larger story of the Bible. They weren’t unique. Many Christians who have grown up in church have a familiarity with the Bible that lacks any sense of the overarching narratival unity of the Bible. After years of pastoral ministry, I am convinced there’s an even bigger problem: most Christians don’t understand how the larger story of the Bible, how all Scripture, is about Jesus Christ. In large part, it’s this problem that The Story of the Word by Trevor Laurence seeks to address.

sotwLaurence’s helpful book sets out to do four things: 1) to make use of Scripture as a means of grace, 2) to familiarize readers with the whole story of the Bible, 3) to train readers to interpret Scripture well, and 4) to help us see how the Bible speaks good news into every aspect of everyday life. This book accomplishes each of those goals effectively in a writing style that is both beautiful and easy to follow.

The book has three parts comprised of forty-five meditations and an interlude between parts two and three. Part one covers the story from creation to Christ. Part two covers the manger to the empty tomb. The interlude collects major themes and characters before Christ and shows how Jesus fulfills them all (this chapter alone is worth the price of the book). Part three unpacks and applies key passages in the New Testament from Christ’s ascension until his return.

Each meditation revolves around one passage of Scripture that serves as a major plot line in the grand story of the Bible and ends with a short prayer. The book works best if the reader starts with the Biblical passage before moving on to the meditation and prayer. It reads like a devotional commentary packed with background information beautifully interwoven with the details of each passage in a way that really helps the reader understand and appreciate what God has been doing in his world throughout history. Laurence’s writing style moves back and forth between connecting each passage to the larger story culminating in Christ and relating it to our lives today. Most chapters along with the biblical passage will take between 15-20 minutes to cover, making this book a wonderful morning devotional read.

Several chapters of The Story of the Word stood out to me as particularly excellent. In chapter 10, Laurence meditates on the blessings and curses of the Mosaic Covenant found in Deuteronomy 28 and 30—not exactly easy reading. But the way he ties this passage to the Garden of Eden, to Israel’s slavery in Egypt, to Christ, and to us turns a difficult and somewhat confusing passage into an accessible, relevant, and edifying text. In chapter 27, Laurence manages to explain what’s happening in the Garden of Gethsemane on multiple levels while addressing the issue of pride and temptation and highlighting the beauty of Jesus’ loving perseverance. In chapter 39, Laurence meditates on the end of Galatians helpfully connecting Paul’s teaching on walking in the Spirit and bearing fruit to the power of the gospel. These chapters are rich examples of what Laurence does through this book, beautifully and practically weaving together gospel-centered interpretations and personal applications in the Christian life.

If there are any weaknesses to the book, they mainly relate to what this book is not. If you pick it up expecting an instruction manual telling you exactly what you need to do today to be faithful, this isn’t the book for you. Laurence is interested in helping us see and imagine the world from within God’s story, not proscribing simple answers to the complexities we face in life.

This book probably isn’t the starting place for those who have no familiarity with the Bible. While it is intended to help the reader see the big story of the Bible, it does depend on the reader having some familiarity with Christian terms, figures, and concepts. Laurence doesn’t take time to defend the faith or make it comprehensible to skeptics, but anyone who is willing to try to understand the Bible on its own terms will benefit.

I really enjoyed slowly reading through this book day by day, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in understanding the Bible and its central figure, Jesus Christ.

Recent Reading Recs – 2017/11/07

Here’s a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything linked below, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider or enjoy. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • The Guardian, “Our Minds Can Be Hijacked” – Paul Lewis profiles some of the designers, engineers, and product managers responsible for the development of what some call the social media “attention economy” who are now concerned about the negative unintended psychological and even political consequences.
  • The Atlantic, “Harvey Weinstein and the Economics of Consent” – In the light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, actress, writer, and creator Brit Marling reflects on the economic and power dynamics involved in sexual consent and how we’re all complicity in this inhumane system.
  • The Economist, “Why English is such a great language for puns” – This excerpt from the Books and Arts section of the print edition of The Economist explains the emergence of pun parties and competitions and why English is unusually good for puns due to its large vocabulary, constant evolution, mostly ungendered nouns, and rich variety of homophones. I, for one, believe puns deserve prize.

Podcast Episodes

  • Trinity Church Podcast, “Parenting with Authority” & “Food, Feasting, and Fasting” – This is my church’s podcast, and these two episodes focused separately on parenting and fasting.
  • Heavyweight – Jonathan Goldstein’s podcast (currently in production on season 2) tells stories and gets involved with individuals who imagine how life could have been and how it might yet be.

Books

  • No Home Like Place by Leonard Hjalmarson – a difficult book aiming to develop a theology of place grounded in the doctrines of creation, covenant, incarnation, and eschatology which orients Christians toward mission to people in the places they live, work, rest, and play