SCOUTING THE DIVINE by Margaret Feinberg

scouting cover

Most of my readers know I’m a big Margaret Feinberg fan. Scouting the Divine is another favorite.

I actually listened to the audio version of the book read by Feinberg, a great touch considering the personal nature of this book. If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll even notice, like I did, when she was fighting that cold because her voice gets deeper. (Stalker material, I know.) This memoir-like journey by Feinberg is captured in her subtitle, “My search for God in wine, wool, and wild honey,” but the sensitivity and gentleness of Feinberg really shines through her voice in the audio version.

Dan bought the audio book for our 6-7 hour drive to Chicago last month for the Story Conference. It was a great way to set up our time there. Not only does Feinberg offer a unique perspective for reading the Bible, she also presents a writing strategy that really works in this format. Scouting the Divine is a pleasant and insightful read (or listen) for almost anyone.

As a writer, I appreciated the way Feinberg approached her topic. The book is basically a memoir of her visits with a shepherdess, a farmer, a bee keeper, and a vintner (wine-maker). Drink tea in their homes, wear your boots into their fields, and encounter divine appointments in the midst of an agricultural life. Feinberg even gives us the background stories about how she connects with each of her “experts.” Some of them are old friends, others are new acquaintances. Feinberg asks each of them, not all of them professed Bible believers, to interpret particular passages according to their knowledge of their profession.

This angle brings new life to familiar Scriptures. Margaret’s narrative brings new life to what could have been a familiar Bible study. One of my favorite ideas comes from the opening section. When Feinberg asks the shepherdess to tell her what she makes of the Nativity story, she says that in middle eastern cultures, the shepherds are often the weakest among the family – the children, women, or elderly. What a beautiful image that God would send his Beloved to be greeted by the “least of these” that would again and again share the spotlight in His earthly story.

This information, of course, means I have to get a shepherd girl for my Fontanini Nativity set this year! But I don’t mind, I love letting God and his story out of the box I put them in. Scouting the Divine would make a great gift this coming season or a wonderful audio gift to yourself if you have a long holiday drive. Check it out!

Reflections on STORY: Part 1 – THE VOICE

It is always nice to wait a few days after an exciting event and see which elements of the day stick with you, hang onto your thoughts and won’t let go until you’ve visited with them for awhile. One very specific message from Story is definitely doing that for me. In one of the general sessions, pastor Chris Seay introduced the Bible translation called The Voice. Here is a short clip of Seay speaking (it has baseball in it, so consider it my World Series reference even though, really, who cares?) – it doesn’t have anything to do with this Bible version, but it will give you a sense of his style and why I enjoyed his message so much at the Story Conference:

If you like The Message, you’ll enjoy this version as well. Seay and his church’s Ecclesia Bible Society, along with the impressive backing of Thomas Nelson publishing, put together Biblical scholars with modern writers and poets. Their goal was to rediscover the story of the Bible. It is a beautiful attempt. For example, and from the title of this version, they translate “the Word” in John 1 as “the Voice” for very specific reasons. We read “the Word” and automatically think of the physical book sitting on our nightstand as if we are reading it every day. But this team translated it as “the Voice” in agreement with the original Greek meaning that this Logos is alive and active in our world today – not just a bunch of pages glued together and covered with fake leather.

Dan and I have been reading from The Voice since we got home. It is enticingly simple and artistic, but my Bible College “theologians” also agreed with its self-described tag line of “faithful.” My son Jesse liked the way the narratives are written in play form, each speaker clearly identified before his or her lines. From our reading, we’re reminding each other that Jesus is our Liberating King and realizing what a beautiful difference that perspective makes.

Dan bought me a special copy of the New Testament that came with a handmade leather cover from Argentina (a project designed to provide jobs for a fair wage in good working conditions).  You’ll have to get your own!

A Rare Title: Donald Miller’s A MILLION MILES IN A THOUSAND YEARS

*This post brought to you by Michael Hyatt’s generosity. I won a copy of A MILLION MILES IN A THOUSAND YEARS from his blog and promised to post a review on the release date. It was truly my pleasure!

Nothing I write here about this book will do justice to how much reading it has made me think, re-evaluate, and even be grateful. BLUE LIKE JAZZ had a similar effect on me. This book, I think, messed me up even more. You want need to read this book!

I kept thinking of Rob Bell’s endorsement of this book while I read; I didn’t read this book, “this book read me.”

The foundation of A MILLION MILES is that Miller was given the divine gift of outside perspective when movie producers worked with him to make a movie of BLUE LIKE JAZZ. That’s a book of memoirs, if you’ve read it, but the producers wanted to fictionalize it – make “Don” into a character that movie goers would like. In the middle of this enlightening and sometimes painful process, Donald Miller realizes he hasn’t been living a good story.

My musician husband Dan has a theory that summarizes the concepts in this book well: “the stage isn’t going to find me while I’m sleeping in my basement.” After reading Miller’s book, we could re-phrase that to say a good story won’t find you while you are napping – you have to find the Story!

For writers, this book is gold. But the real beneficiary of Miller’s study of the elements of story is YOU. You, mom, still wondering what to be when you grow up. You, student, wondering how to get through three more years of finals. You, husband, wondering why life seems to be moving in slow motion. You, parent, wondering why your kids aren’t interested in Jesus. You, nobody, who wants to be somebody. This book is for You.

When Miller assesses his own life, one of the main things he realizes is missing is some of the very things I have in abundance: a family and community of friends, which makes me grateful. He’s honest about the way our stories here on earth don’t always work out like movies, which rings true of my own experiences. He is careful to note that just pursuing any kind of dream will not make the difference; there are qualifications to being a good story. Ultimately, Miller uses the Writer’s advice in Ecclesiastes that says we should:

Write a good story, take somebody with you, and let [God] help.

You are going to laugh out loud. You are probably going to cry.

You are never going to want to watch a parade again – you’ll only want to be in it. You are going to love this book!

Here’s a peek (click on the READ button at the lower right):



Fearless by Max Lucado

When our kids are fearful at bedtime, we’ve taught them to personalize and recite II Timothy 1:7 – “God has NOT given ME a spirit of fear, but of POWER, and LOVE, and a SOUND MIND!” This book is the adult version of that meditation.

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From the inside cover flap, a summary:

The one statement he [Jesus] made more than any other was this: “Don’t be afraid.” In this book, Max Lucado invites you to consider Jesus’ invitation to courage.

Fear will always knock on your door. Just don’t invite it in for dinner. And for heaven’s sake, don’t offer it a bed for the night.

The promise of Christ and the contention of these pages are simple: we can fear less tomorrow than we do today.

From the title it is clear that this book is about being Fearless, and most of us know what to expect from a Lucado book. No disappointments here. Lucado delivers a simple message through classic jokes, clever analogies, and crystalline Bible interpretation. His manner is fatherly and gentle – especially welcome considering his topic.

What surprised me most about this book was how often I heard myself saying, “Oh!” or “Hmmmm!” at the close of every neatly wrapped chapter. No one ties up concepts in punchy bows like Max Lucado. Considering the timeliness of this message, however, I also found the book authentic, valuable, and rich with comfort. Who hasn’t been scared to bits over Swine Flu (thanks, Dr. Gupta, for easing my mind on that one) or terrified by state of affairs in the Middle East?

I’m usually one to keep my cool on matters such as disease and natural disaster (unless I watch too many episodes of House), but Lucado also touches on more nuanced fears. My favorite comes from Chapter 12, “The Shadow of Doubt: Fear That God is Not Real.” This chapter alone is worth the ENTIRE BOOK. I loved it. I won’t spoil it for you, but Lucado works his exegetical magic here and provides two clear methods for battling doubt. And with these tools we can win the fight!

My conclusion on Fearless by Max Lucado? Easy read. Timely message. Revelation of Jesus. This book really could make a difference in people’s lives.

*This review brought to you thanks in part to the Thomas Nelson Book Reveiw Bloggers Program!

www.brb.thomasnelson.com

A Rare Title: Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Wide Open: See and Live the Real You by Jud Wilhite with Bill Taaffe

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I won this book in a drawing on Anne Jackson’s blog (she has new book give-aways often). I have crazy good luck in blog book drawings. Seriously.

What stands out to me about this book are two things almost in contradiction with one another: Eyes Wide Open is simultaneously simple and comprehensive. I loved, loved, loved the transitions at the beginning of each chapter. The authors basically review the concepts discussed in previous chapters while introducing the connection to each new concept. The book is divided in three sections that move the reader step-by-step into a detailed explanation of why God uses us, how he uses us, and what he’d like to see us do.

As a teacher, l loved the systematic approach. But this is not a textbook or a boring self-help plan. Wilhite uses anecdotes, analogies, and real life stories to illustrate each point. His position as pastor of a growing church in Las Vegas (wouldn’t John Bunyan love that Wilhite pastors in Sin City!) provides many of these colorful examples, but Wilhite also pulls from other sources. Best of all, he uses himself as an example. His humility and common-sense approach permeate the advice he offers to fellow Christian pilgrims.

The beginning of Chapter 18: Unhindered to Make a Difference is a perfect example of one of those transitions I loved and a sneak peek at what the book has to offer:

Seeing and living with eyes wide open means we not only embrace God’s view of us, along with our new identity, and begin the journey of personal change, but we are also freed to make our own unique mark for good on our culture.

Eyes Wide Open is a fast read and has a lot to offer new and mature Christians alike. I think it would make a great small group study or church-wide reading project, but I loved it as a personal refresher course, too.

CompassionArt

Dan and I are dreamers. We dream about music projects and writing projects. We dream about what our kids will grow to be and how lovely it will be to grow old together even when they leave us. Sometimes our dreams are original – ideas for songs or  books. Other times we see another person’s project and recognize a dream we didn’t even know existed in our own hearts.

That is what happened when we heard about CompassionArt. Dan has long admired Martin Smith of Delirious? and the CompassionArt project was instigated by Smith as a way of uniting art and social justice. Every writer, some of the biggest names in worship music, gave up all royalty rights to the songs on this recording and turned them over to a number of charitable organizations. This is the kind of thing we would LOVE to do with our lives.

We’ve been listening to the CD for about a week. We’d like to add a couple of the songs into our regular service rotation and the idea that the CCLI royalty money will benefit the poor is inspiring. This is one of the promo videos.

Just thought I’d tell you about another thing I’ve been enjoying lately.

Living Your Story

Did you read all the great Seven Word Wisdom comments for graduates below? Here’s a funny thing, so many of you wrote something about “dreams” or another form of destiny chasing. Do you actually do this or is that just something we say to other people? (This is the question I’m asking myself a lot lately.)

I recently earned a copy of Donald Miller’s short DVD “Let Story Guide You.” I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoyed this teaching session. First of all, I kind of heart Donald Miller, but, its OK because so does my husband. : ) Secondly, the ideas contained in his message about the power of story are life-changing. You can see a short clip if you click on the link.

I’ve been hearing bits and pieces of this material for awhile. In fact, I’ve kind of been nervous to listen to the entire message because I knew one of the catch phrases: “What if your life was a movie – would anyone want to watch it?” I had to be honest – I’m not sure!

Don (Can I call you that? I mean “Miller” alone sounds so high-school sports team-ish and “Donald Miller” sounds so formal. You really don’t strike me as a formal guy.) distills the elements of story into these required elements: 1) a likable but not perfect lead character, 2) a worthy goal or objective, 3) some conflict, and 4) an acceptable resolution. The sticking place for me is the “worthy goal or objective” and being brave enough to chase it.

The most powerful part of Miller’s message (high five!) is the fact that an acceptable resolution doesn’t have to be a fiary tale ending – everything doesn’t have to work out perfectly. The power of story is in its telling. For us, in its living out. Don uses the fact that narrative is the most common literary form in the Bible as his illustration, but each story doesn’t end with a 3-point sermon. Instead, we learn about living a life with God by reading the stories of others who have already lived their story.

So I wonder what you think. In the DVD Miller mentions a friend who started Blood:Water Mission. When Miller himself was first gaining the revelation of this idea of story, he spent several days alone seeking God for what his “worthy mission or goal” should be and decided on The Mentoring Project, an organization addressing the fatherless crisis in America.

These are awesome goals, but I wonder if there are other ways to live your story effectively. Ways that don’t require founding a non-profit organization? What other kinds of worthy goals or missions (don’t forget – the ones that require a good amount of conflict are the best from a storyteller’s perspective) do you think would qualify? If someone produced the movie of your life, what goal or accomplishment would you be pursuing?