Three Books That Surprised Me

It’s been a reading bonanza here this week. I took a chance on three books recommended by different sources, not sure I’d be that into them. How much fun is it when you’re wrong? These books were helpful, entertaining, and made me feel good about God, people & life. Prepare to be surprised :)

First, Finding Church: What If There Really Is Something More? by Wayne Jacobsen.  Jacobsen posits an end to the institutional church. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. There’s no way for me to do this wise book justice, but it’s filled with thought-provoking reality checks about how much closer we get to God through relationships rather than organizations and programs.

This dovetails exactly with how Steve & I have been thinking about the overlap between adoption and church planting. For example, research shows that children placed in foster homes learn to respond to people – looking to different relationships for help, wisdom, guidance, etc. – whereas children placed in group homes or other institutionalized settings learn to respond to programs and systems, which is far less effective. This is equally true about faith. The evidence is convincing that we all do better when learning and growth come through relationships rather than programs.

Jacobsen reminded me of the power of deep, Jesus-focused relationships: friendships that happen naturally and grow and develop over time around this one unifying pursuit. Living this way can be chaotic and messy, but is ultimately redemptive because God knows how to sort out our messes.

I’m not convinced that we need to completely abolish meeting weekly as a church, or during the week in groups to pray, consider the Bible, etc. (particularly here in greater Boston – if something isn’t a recurring event, it takes three weeks to find a time to get together with someone). But I love the way he prioritizes relationships over programs. I’d recommend this book to anyone who feels like church has become a second job because you’re there 20+ hours a week doing programs and classes.

Next, Angel In Aisle 3: The True Story of a Mysterious Vagrant, A Convicted Bank Executive, and the Unlikely Friendship That Saved Both Their Lives by Kevin West.  This is a feel-good read. West was under indictment for bank fraud and awaiting trial when he met a seemingly homeless man named Don who wandered into the small grocery store where he was working. Don brought heavy doses of scripture-based encouragement, and a wisdom that surprised West. The story is VERY black and white in terms of West admitting his wrongdoing and taking responsibility for his actions – it’s clearly writing for a conservative Christian audience that might not be very forgiving. Which is sad, in a way, because this is a story about grace showering down over these two men and their families, and grace can handle whatever we throw at it. This is a book to grab if you’re looking for a pick-me-up.

And finally, the biggest surprise of the bunch, Strong and Kind: And Other Important Character Traits Your Child Needs to Succeed by Korie Robertson. I reviewed one other Duck Dynasty based book and it was terrible. Trite and simplistic and “we’re all fine here.”  This one had way more to offer. It’s a parenting advice book, and I got some good tips here that I put into action right away (I used one – a way to nudge a fibbing child toward honesty – approximately 30 seconds after reading it.) Robertson  has a strong voice, a good use of humor, and thankfully doesn’t delve too heavily into the whole redneck thing that feels like such a facade, especially for her. My favorite part of the book is Robertson’s willingness to parent her children, rather than trying to be their friend. She and her husband (whose essays pop up in various chapters) seem very secure in their role as the adults. That’s a refreshing change, especially as an adoptive parent. My kids don’t need me to fret about their self-esteem or help them identify their emotions. My kids need me to model a functional life where things happen in an orderly way and it’s safe to be a kid because the parents are being grown ups.  The Robertsons just announced that they’re adopting another foster child (this will be their third adoption) so I suspect some of this has influenced their parenting style. I recommend this book for Moms looking for reassurance that you can be loving, tough, and have clear expectations for your childrens’ character.

Disclosure: I received copies of Angel in Aisle 3 and Strong & Kind from their publishers in exchange for an honest review. I purchased my copy of Finding Church.