Unarmed Empire, Book Review

A new book has come out that you should buy today: Unarmed Empire by Sean Palmer.

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Order it here!

“This book is the result of a lifetime in the church.”

So begins Unarmed Empire, the new book by Sean Palmer. Sean is an incredible story teller. He observes. He listens. He reflects. And as he writes, he tells a story that I truly believe every churchgoer will relate to on some level.

Sean loves the church. He loves what the church should be and can be. He hates what the church in many places has become.

As Sean relays stories of his experience in the church, he is quick to point out his own failings. As he is quick to state, people on both sides of the current state of political discourse have become victims. We have allowed our personal, political, and philosophical opinions dictate how we operate and interact. Instead of being a Kingdom people, we have adopted a “Pax Americana.”

If you are a churchgoer who wants to reclaim what Jesus called the church to be, this book is for you. If you have been burned by churches in the past, pick up this book to grasp a picture of what church can and should be and what some churches truly are striving to be.

Sean is calling us all to community—a community based on grace, a community based on welcoming, a community that seeks to create peace. This book is authentic. It is convicting. It is a road map for what we as a church have been called to be.

Sean is a friend. I have known him for more than half my life. As he writes, I can hear and appreciate his growth and maturity through the years. I can see the ways God has molded and shaped him; how God has used him to bring about the Kingdom without being too distracted by any earthly kingdom. Sean may not realize how important he has been to my own spiritual development over the years. And as I read his book, I was wanting to loudly proclaim, “Amen,” over and over—about 90% of the time. The rest of the time, he was convicting me to wrestle with my own sin; the ways I have given in to earthly standards in my relationships with other people.

We have lost our story. Let us reclaim it. “Christians can be right, but if we are not kind, we are wrong.” Let us be kind. Let us be welcoming. Let us be the church.

 

Stolen Jesus, Book Review

My friend wrote a book! And I highly recommend it! You can (and should) pre-order it here:

For years, Jesus was “more of a habit than a relationship.” It is my experience that this has been true for at least some portion of every Christian’s journey. Jami Amerine’s new book, Stolen Jesus, is her story of turning her habit into so much more.

Jami is honest and vulnerable. She shares from the deepest parts of her soul. (And she tells funny family stories, too!) As she details the number of false Jesus images she grew up with, she reveals an important truth: most of these images come from a good place. As I read, I remembered the ways I misunderstood Jesus because the picture I was given was incomplete.

I grew up as a preacher’s kid and even went to college to gain a degree in preaching. Yet it was not until my own experience of almost losing everything that I fully came to have a real relationship with Jesus. On my blog and in my personal interactions, I strive to achieve the same type of open story-telling that Jami utilizes in Stolen Jesus.

Jami experienced different church groups growing up. She has children ranging in age from 22 to 1. Her family fosters children. They have adopted children. They have moved. They have experienced home school, private school, and public school. They have faced family tragedy and times of questioning and worry. Yet through it all, Jami and her family have sought Jesus. Her journey is one of moving from what people tell us about Jesus to actually getting to know Jesus.

I have never shared cabbage with a friend because my breasts were engorged with milk nor have I had my dress pulled off of me my by a shopping cart in Walmart, but I have friends with whom I walk through this life together. I have had moments of extreme embarrassment knowing the entire world was watching. I know what it is like to see the looks and hear the words of the person who does not know you putting you down.

As Jami writes, our journeys are so different yet they are so much the same. I, too, have many inherited Jesuses that I needed to let go of in order to have a relationship with the one, true Jesus. She admonishes all of us. She encourages all of us. She can make us laugh and cry. Yet she is careful to say she is not the expert. All she is doing is sharing her story. And I am grateful she does.

Note: I received an advance copy from the publisher. If you are interested in reading more Jami, head on over here.

How Not To Kill A Muslim, Book Review

This review was originally posted to my blog in May. I think it is even more important today for the message of this book to be consumed. I am grateful for Josh and his work in building relationships.

You can order the book here.

“The relationship between American Muslims and Christians is arguably one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

With this statement, a “simple, local church pastor” begins an exploration of how Christians can follow the command and example of Jesus to love our neighbors. And even more than loving, or maybe before loving begins, Josh Graves reminds us we must see our neighbors.

In our post-9/11 society, with our seemingly never-ending need to have an enemy and a 24 hour news cycle that breeds on fear and distrust, the relationship between Muslims and Christians is often tenuous, at best. With misinformation, conjecture, and a sensationalistic media, many people who claim Christ treat those who are Muslim as the “other.”

Graves calls us to get past that.

The book begins by laying a foundation of understanding story. Additionally, Graves provides a brief overview of how immigration policies have changed over the past 100+ years and how that has led to a growth in the Muslim population in our country. He starts with 4 assumptions that explain how we (American Christians) arrived at a point of distrust. Essentially, it has a lot to do with relationship, or lack thereof.

Using the parable of the Good Samaritan as his backdrop, Graves leads to a call to become passionate and engaged. We need to see, know, and love our neighbors. All of them. He quotes N. T. Wright who said, “The church doesn’t need to provide nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth-century questions. The church should offer twenty-first century answers to first century questions.”

Graves is providing the groundwork for churches to have the necessary conversations regarding the way we treat our Muslim neighbors. He details the specific work his church went through. One of the greatest conclusions to come out of the class the church participated in was that although information is vital, relationship is even more important.

As far as information goes, Graves provides a lot, even in such a short book that is extremely accessible to all readers. His three appendices include an Islam for Dummies (Like Me) guide (jihad is NOT one of the five pillars of Islam), a blog post Graves wrote regarding a mosque being built near ground zero of the 9/11 attacks in NYC, and the results of a stereotype study. In other words, there is a great deal of information. It is vital for all Christians to read and deepen their understanding.

But beyond information, Graves writes from a deep place of love and concern for God’s children. It is apparent reading the book that he has built relationships with people whom he views as just that—people. He talks about the fire in his belly that compelled him to write this book. That fire is visible on every page. Although he calls himself a simple pastor, there is nothing simple about his love for God and God’s creation.

At the end of this book, I felt a great sense of hope. (Which is part of the subtitle of the book: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in North America.) As long as there are people like Josh, who are willing to practice the radical hospitality they write about, relationships can be built and restored.

I also felt a sense to study even deeper. I want to go back and review what I learned in my church history classes; to try and discern why Christian culture attacked Islam from the start with no attempt at building relationship, or even evangelizing. I want to study more about how the end of the Cold War affected our relationship with Muslims. It is as if our need to have an enemy worthy of a Tom Clancy novel or a James Bond movie necessitates that we demonize some group of people.

Those are two things Graves does not address in his book, but he did not need to. He provides us with a conversation starter. He provides us with his heart to love our neighbors. He provides us with an example of how to do that.

And he tells us to go and do.

This book is definitely written to a Christian audience, and I would encourage all who claim the name of Jesus to read this book. I would also hope that Muslims read and add their insight, as well. And for people who have no specific religious or spiritual identification, I would ask that you read it so that you can see one person’s story of what it means to love like Jesus.

How Not to Kill a Muslim, Book Review

“The relationship between American Muslims and Christians is arguably one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

With this statement, a “simple, local church pastor” begins an exploration of how Christians can follow the command and example of Jesus to love our neighbors. And even more than loving, or maybe before loving begins, Josh Graves reminds us we must see our neighbors.

In our post-9/11 society, with our seemingly never-ending need to have an enemy and a 24 hour news cycle that breeds on fear and distrust, the relationship between Muslims and Christians is often tenuous, at best. With misinformation, conjecture, and a sensationalistic media, many people who claim Christ treat those who are Muslim as the “other.”

Graves calls us to get past that.

The book begins by laying a foundation of understanding story. Additionally, Graves provides a brief overview of how immigration policies have changed over the past 100+ years and how that has led to a growth in the Muslim population in our country. He starts with 4 assumptions that explain how we (American Christians) arrived at a point of distrust. Essentially, it has a lot to do with relationship, or lack thereof.

Using the parable of the Good Samaritan as his backdrop, Graves leads to a call to become passionate and engaged. We need to see, know, and love our neighbors. All of them. He quotes N. T. Wright who said, “The church doesn’t need to provide nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth-century questions. The church should offer twenty-first century answers to first century questions.”

Graves is providing the groundwork for churches to have the necessary conversations regarding the way we treat our Muslim neighbors. He details the specific work his church went through. One of the greatest conclusions to come out of the class the church participated in was that although information is vital, relationship is even more important.

As far as information goes, Graves provides a lot, even in such a short book that is extremely accessible to all readers. His three appendices include an Islam for Dummies (Like Me) guide (jihad is NOT one of the five pillars of Islam), a blog post Graves wrote regarding a mosque being built near ground zero of the 9/11 attacks in NYC, and the results of a stereotype study. In other words, there is a great deal of information. It is vital for all Christians to read and deepen their understanding.

But beyond information, Graves writes from a deep place of love and concern for God’s children. It is apparent reading the book that he has built relationships with people whom he views as just that—people. He talks about the fire in his belly that compelled him to write this book. That fire is visible on every page. Although he calls himself a simple pastor, there is nothing simple about his love for God and God’s creation.

At the end of this book, I felt a great sense of hope. (Which is part of the subtitle of the book: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in North America.) As long as there are people like Josh, who are willing to practice the radical hospitality they write about, relationships can be built and restored.

I also felt a sense to study even deeper. I want to go back and review what I learned in my church history classes; to try and discern why Christian culture attacked Islam from the start with no attempt at building relationship, or even evangelizing. I want to study more about how the end of the Cold War affected our relationship with Muslims. It is as if our need to have an enemy worthy of a Tom Clancy novel or a James Bond movie necessitates that we demonize some group of people.

Those are two things Graves does not address in his book, but he did not need to. He provides us with a conversation starter. He provides us with his heart to love our neighbors. He provides us with an example of how to do that.

And he tells us to go and do.

This book is definitely written to a Christian audience, and I would encourage all who claim the name of Jesus to read this book. I would also hope that Muslims read and add their insight, as well. And for people who have no specific religious or spiritual identification, I would ask that you read it so that you can see one person’s story of what it means to love like Jesus.

Book Review: Why Did Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Moses-Buddha-Mohammed-Cross/dp/1455513954

Have you ever wondered what might happen if Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed all met while walking along the road? What would that conversation look like? Specifically for Christians (since that is the majority of my audience), what do you think Jesus’ response would be?

Brian McClaren considers this in his book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road. In this book, McClaren acknowledges two things Christians do well: have a strong Christian identity that responds negatively to other religions; and being accepting to the point of never proselytizing.

McClaren suggests we should do something different: a Christian identity that is both kind and strong. Our Christian identity should be so strong that our love for Christ should move us into relationship with others. We can affirm what we believe without attacking those who disagree. This book is a search to answer the question: “How do we, as Christians, faithfully affirm the uniqueness and universality of Christ without turning that belief into an insult or a weapon?”

McClaren speaks about CRIS: Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome. This conflict stems from the fact that Christianity has spent too much time building walls and barriers at the expense of pursuing peace. How can we as Christians pursue more fully a relationship with Jesus without alienating others? How can we love and welcome others without compromising our faith in Christ?

In four parts, McClaren digs into finding answers to these questions. Many will consider this book bothersome or troublesome. I think that is good. I also think that is partly McClaren’s intent. In part 1, he studies some of the historical issues that have brought us to where we are in our current religious identity crisis. He concludes the section by saying, “Until we face this deep-running current of imperial hostility in our Christian history, we will not be able to forge a robustly benevolent Christian identity. Doing so will be painful. Many will shrink back from it.”

This book is a call to consider creative ways to “rediscover our compelling Christian mission.” It is an important read for all who claim the name of Christ. Unfortunately, there is a lot of negative publicity given to relationships between Christians and Muslims. When President Obama correctly mentioned the history of atrocities performed in the name of Christianity, his opponents unfathomably bristled. We need to learn how to acknowledge the truths of our history and heritage and seek ways to change.

In parts 2, 3, and 4, McClaren talks about our doctrine, our liturgy, and our mission. Throughout each part, McClaren does not suggest that we jettison what churches have done for centuries. He does not recommend changing our message or the foundational truths of Christianity. He does suggest, however, that we look for the mutations that have formed and address them. In other words, how has our application moved from what Jesus actually intended? These are difficult questions to ask, but they are necessary.

All in all, McClaren is calling for welcome and reconciliation. A radical fellowship and with-ness. In the part on liturgy, he suggests we view the table as less than an altar of sacrifice and more as a table of reconciliation and fellowship. What a profound change.

Step back and read news headlines. Check social media feeds. Look at the ways many who profess to be Christian talk about people of other religions, especially Muslims. Ask yourself if that is how Jesus would respond. Ask yourself if that is how you would respond if you met someone face to face as you walked along the road. Imagine a conversation between the leaders of the four largest world religions. What would that be like? McClaren suggests there would be no fear. Instead, there would be humility, love, and peace. I agree with him. I challenge you to read this book and see if you agree or not.