Thursday, July 30, 2015

My Review of "Encountering Truth"

Pope Francis' Encountering Truth:  Meeting God in the Everyday -- the Morning Homilies from St. Martha's Chapel is an amazing collection of the Holy Father's morning homilies.

Early every morning, Pope Francis celebrates a Mass in the small Saint Martha chapel at the Vatican.  The audience is made up of gardeners, nuns, cooks, office workers, and always changes.  What doesn't change is that the pope gives his homilies without notes just as he did when he was a parish priest.  This book features highlights from almost 200 daily homilies covering a year from March 2013 to May 2014.

I was especially drawn into Antonio Spadaro's introduction which has an in-depth look at how Pope Francis prepares, including what the pope thinks is important in contemplating and conveying the Word of God to the faithful.  Spadaro also gives a survey of the way Francis circles round various topics, engaging them from different angles as the liturgical readings progress day to day.  That was a new idea for me, that to get a full sense of his teachings one must patiently look at them from day to day.

These homilies make excellent devotional readings.  Each of those readings contain surprising inspirational points, and make me look afresh at the biblical text and at spiritual wisdom.  Each homily is brief -- usually only just a couple of pages -- but there's enough in this book to engage readers for a long time to come.

Encountering Truth is a book I definitely recommend.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

My Review of "Stand Strong"

Nick Vujicic's Stand Strong:  You Can Overcome Bullying (and Other Stuff That Keeps You Down) offers advice and wisdom about the bullying epidemic affecting 1 in 6 American children.  He's more familiar than most with the nightmares, stomach aches and sense of hopelessness bullies cause when a child is "different".  Since Nick is the post-child for difference, there's no better spokesperson to write a book like Stand Strong.

Born without arms and legs "for reasons never determined", Nick hop-walks with one small fin-like flipper. However, when he was a child confined to a wheelchair, he felt intimidated, insecure and depressed because he was a "bully magnet and a "bully's dream".

Born into a supporting, Christian family, Vijicic never fell for self-pity.  Instead, even at a young age, he learned responsibility.  In spite of disabilities his parents gave him assigned chores and encouraged him "to do it for himself" if possible. "They didn't cut me any slack because I lacked limbs", he writes.  Instead he was taught to clean his room, brush his teeth, dress himself and even vacuum his room.

However, once he left the shelter of his loving and supportive family for the "hallways and playgrounds of elementary school", he felt he had "a target on his chest that said, 'Bullies, aim here'".  Even though he tried to fit in the hurtful taunts, jokes and ridicule made him question God and why He created him with "so many imperfections".  By age ten, Nick saw no future for himself and attempted suicide in a bathtub full of water.  He flipped over, face down in the water, until visions of the pain he would cause his family rolled him over, spitting and sputtering.  "That's when he knew suicide wasn't an option", he writes.

Today, Nick is married to a beautiful woman and father to a strong and healthy son and he's no longer a "bully's dream".  Instead he's learned "to handle bullies by controlling how he responds to them", one he adopted as his "personal mission" in life.

So Nick kicked off his anti-bullying campaign in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2013, with a message of hope about attitude, "if you don't get a miracle, you can still be a miracle".  That sense of hope is contained in the pages of Stand Strong that teaches how to build a "bully defense system" from the inside out.

That's what makes Stand Strong essential reading.  If you feel like a bully's target, lonely, defenseless and without hope, learn from one who's been there.  Who developed "anti-bully antibodies" with an encouraging, doable, "bully defense system" he teaches to others and writes about in this book.  Because, "No bully can define who you are" if you do that for yourself.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

My Review of "Broken Gods"

Gregory Popcak's Broken Gods:  Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart attempts to recover a classic theological anthropology that's epitomized in the maxim from St Athanasius:  "The Son of God became human so that we might become God".  From St Athanasius and St Irenaeus, through to St Thomas Aquinas, and even Protestant leaders and writers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and C.S. Lewis, this theological anthropology affirms that we humans are meant to live now and eternally in communion with the Holy Trinity -- "to become gods".

Of course that theological anthropology -- and the theology of salvation which flows out of it -- seems foreign to our twenty-first century ears.  Talk about "deification" or "divinization" seems so out of place after the influence of contemporary "secular" anthropologies.

So Popcak's goal -- as a theologian and a trained psychologist -- is that deification can be seen through the lens of both psychological health and integrated faith, and that deification can name so much of what it means for Christians to think about "being human".

Popcak explores what deification is, how and why we fall short of it, and how the virtues associated with that deification can heal us.

And it's that emphasis on virtues that has me most excited about Broken Gods.  For each of the seven deadly sins, Popcak proposes a "divine longing" that the vice tries but can't satisfy; for instance, pride is a misguided attempt to satisfy the divine longing for abundance, and humility is the way to approach it.  The diving longing for justice is fulfilled through patience, not wrath.  The divine longing for trust is fulfilled through generosity, not greed.  And so forth.  Of course, this isn't a new approach.  Historically, this is the spiritual theology articulated by Aquinas.

So Popcak really seeks to bring Aquinas into conversation with our world.  That's why each chapter closes with an exercise -- offering questions that bring this theological anthropology into conversation with neuroscience.

Broken Gods is such a distinctive read with an impressive and important message.  I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to think and practice the depth of the Christian spiritual tradition.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.