Book Review – Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense – Francis Spufford

spuffordFaith is gut level stuff full of twists and turns, stories of wonder, valleys of frustration, holy relationships, and awkward fits and starts. Sometimes the best way to express faith is to speak to these realities but few seem to be allowed to express what is going on in the deepest levels of ourselves.

Somehow, in our modern context, faith that doesn’t have a chrome like luster to it isn’t considered faith at all. But I have always been drawn to writers, singer/songwriters, and artists that acknowledge that faith has a heart and soul component that has to be addressed if we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

But these kind of artists are hard to find. Sure, there are no shortage of devotional thoughts and email forwards that tug at our heartstrings. What I am talking about is not just found in our “chicken soup for the soul” moments but in our everyday midst of life moments. Frederick Buechner was that first one that I read that seem to infuse his writings with the absurdities of life, not for absurdities sake but because, if you haven’t figured out, absurdities are a fact of life, even for the Christian. Absurdities, but also pain, doubt, hope, frustration, soured relationships, grace, and love.

I say all of this to point out how refreshing it was to begin reading two books at the same time that express life and faith, not in the neatly packaged way of most Christian authors, but in what I seem to experience myself. First, I began reading Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic and couldn’t really believe that a book like this could actually be written in 2014. It is so gut level and raw that I would only reccomend it to certain people. His writing style is so pressed down that you wonder if he will ever come back up. Yet, his emotional case for Christianity is so compelling yet simple it is a wonder its message isn’t more wide spread. Just his HPtFtU (I will let you look it up) concept is worth the price of the book. Spufford’s writing is so profound because he touches on aspects of our lives that we all can identify. Have you ever felt guilt? Have you ever had a sense of God’s presence? Have you ever wondered how on earth things that are ruined can ever be made right? Have you ever thought Jesus might actually be saving you from something beyond Hell?

Readers weaned on Piper, Sproul, and Blackaby won’t get Spufford but if you need to be punched in the gut more than you need your intellect massaged or your religious app updated, Spufford will do the trick.

Book Review: Behold The Beauty of the Lord: Praying With Icons – Henri Nouwen

Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with IconsBehold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons by Henri J.M. Nouwen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a Texas boy raised in a Southern Baptist church. I work at a private Baptist college. The use of Icons in Christian worship or spiritual practice is not something that has ever been in my spiritual heritage. Yet, when I saw that Henri Nouwen had written a book on the use of Icons, I knew that I could trust his direction and guidance. His book, The Way of the Heart, was an excellent guide to solitude and silence. He takes deep spiritual practices with nuanced types of uses and presents them as absolutely simple and doable. All while keeping a tone that is rich and bountiful and enduring. Though books like this are an introduction to the use of Icons, this is so much more than what you might find on a page.

Reading this book I discovered how non-visual Christian religion can be, especially in Protestant circles. I would normally read from this book in the morning and the images would stay with me for much of the day. I realized how useful strong visual images could be for the spiritual life. Many people are very visual in how they process deep ideas, why isn’t there more efforts to use imagery to express ideas?

The only problem with an increased use of imagery in the Christian life would be how subjective our sense of art and imagery can be. For example, the Virgin of Vladimir is touching in the way the Christ child seems to be comforting the Virgin Mary instead of the other way around. But for me, the baby Jesus, with his adult features, is creepy looking and that distracts from the effect of the Icon. I know, Icons are not intended to be viewed in the same way you would view a Monet but these types of things often come down to taste and that means that not every Icon will touch people in quite the same way.

Though Nouwen’s interpretations of the Icons were somewhat puzzling at times, his enthusiasm and heartfelt approach was infectious and sparked my interests in pursuing Icons further.

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