Invitation to Solitude and Silence [A Review]

…all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own room.

So says scientist and Christian philosopher/theologian Blaise Pascal. And I tend to agree with him. Silence and solitude are on the endangered list of our society. For many, they are relics of a bygone era, antiquated practices obstructing efficiency and productivity. As I have said elsewhere, our love of noise is equaled by our disdain of silence.

Yet for the Christian, rest found in silence and solitude is essential to what it means to be human. Christians have long held to humankind being made in the image of God; we are God’s ikons, taking our posture and practices from the One we find incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth. I recently heard that in our culture “Yet these three remain: productivity, efficiency, and speed, but the greatest of these is speed.” (Phil Kenneson, Slow Church Conference, 2014). If this is true, living lives that incorporate silence and solitude into intentional rhythms of life are truly subversive.

Silence and solitude are countercultural ways of life.

Taking her cues from 1 Kings 19:1-19, Ruth Haley Barton leads us into a guided journey she has taken herself. Or, more accurately, and to use her language, it is an invitation extended to us by God.

For it is a wonderful thing to be invited. Not coerced or manipulated, but truly invited to the home of someone you have looked forward to getting to know, to a party with fun people, on a date with someone who is intriguing. There is something about being invited that makes the heart glad. Someone is seeking me out, desiring my presence enough to initiate an encounter. (p. 16)

A beckon, a question, a search: God is in the pursuit business.

It is a particular invitation to coupling of solitude and silence. This is intentional in that it forces us beyond the stereotypical understanding of Christian spirituality, namely Scripture and prayer. Yes, these are integral and make their way through the book. However, for Barton

…I have chosen to write about solitude and silence because I believe silence is the most challenging, the most needed and the least experienced spiritual discipline among evangelical Christians today. It is much easier to talk about it and read about it than to actually become quiet. We are a very busy, wordy and heady faith tradition. Yet we are desperate to find ways to open ourselves to our God who is, in the end, beyond all of our human constructs and human agendas. (p. 18-19)

With bringing us theology and practices girded in solitude and silence as her goal, Barton sets off and does just that.

Beginning with her own story of busyness, productivity, and noise, she gives her own narrative that sounds familiar; I’d venture to say a good majority of Americans could have written it. The difference, however, is the approach she took through reflection and allowing her desperation to be an invitation, not a roadblock. As she says,

As strange as it may sound, desperation is a really good thing in the spiritual life. Desperation causes us to be open to radical solutions, willing to take all manner of risk in order to find what we are looking for. Desperate ones seek with an all-consuming intensity, for they know that their life depends on it…Here [in solitude and silence] we give in to desperation and desire until God comes to us and does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. (p. 30, 33)

From here Barton lays out a scaffolding of how to enter into solitude and silence. Time, space, and posture all come into play in these exercises. Again, in a faith tradition (over)emphasizing intellectual assent to the point of becoming synonymous with following Jesus, being aware of the importance physical elements of solitude and silence can be somewhat jarring. Being aware of the posture we take when sitting, what time of day works best, and when our contexts best give themselves to us for silence are essential. We are not following Jesus and accepting God’s invitation in a vacuum. These things matter.

As we follow these general guidelines, Barton wants us to find rest for body, mind, and soul alike. Our propensity to gnosticize (material = bad, spiritual = good) Christianity is rampant, leaving us bewildered by what it could mean to love God with our bodies. Can we rest ourselves to the point of being still? Can we allow ourselves to face our limitations only brought about by a silent mind? Is it possible to allow ourselves to simply be?

For Barton, these disciplines are not ends in themselves. They are the means by which we prepare ourselves for the further journey. Like Elijah in the wilderness, solitude and silence develop and equip us for what is ahead. Facing our emptiness and powerlessness are both the results of these practices and the prerequisites for facing the storm ahead. And through them, we find the presence of God alive and well, beckoning us back into the world “for the sake of others.” “Not only does the love of God come to us in solitude, the love of God begins to pour through us to others.” (p. 133) This disorients us and reorients our ideas of success in relation to others:

Success for me now is measured by whether I am living within the rhythms of work and rest, solitude and community, silence and word necessary so the quality of my presence with God and with people and tasks is characterized by love and attention, wisdom and discernment. (p. 133)

In other words, solitude and silence are both personal and public, both for the revitalization of the individual and the community.

If you are like me – swimming (and perhaps drowning) in the waters of productivity and busyness – this will be a book of respite. I know for me it is a resource akin to a balm after a scorching sunburn. I began reading it and couldn’t put it down as her personal stories, subversive theological perspective, and practices at the end of each chapter pricked a place in my heart and soul. If you were to see my copy of this book, you’d see highlights and stars in the margins on nearly every page. I’d like to share many, many more quotes from this book, but space would quickly run out.

Go get this much needed book. Buy it here.

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A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-four Ways to Walk with God [A Review]

The difference between talking about prayer and praying is the same as the difference between blowing a kiss and kissing. – G.K. Chesterton

I am learning how to pray. Like Jesus’ original, questioning disciples, I am in need of some schooling in the ways and means of prayer. As the Chesterton quote above alludes, talking about prayer is a world apart from actually praying and I find myself frequently firmly planted in the talking about camp rather than the praying camp.

In this learning process, I’ve come to realize how my apathy towards prayer has lead to my antipathy regarding prayer. I have an aversion to prayer. It’s so boring and seemingly non-consequential. My mind wonders as time is wasted. In the end, all the talk about prayer was compounding my distaste for it.

And this in a world where I’d been taught the central place of prayer for life itself. Like many facets of the Christian life, prayer is a given in many discussions albeit an arduous road less traveled. Yet, my conversion to a life of prayer was borne out of life of actually praying. It wasn’t until I actually began praying in regular ways that I began to question how to pray, the efficacy of prayer, and the true central role it has for all of life. As I continue to learn and press through this antipathy – for it has never gone away completely – I find myself yearning for more of the God I encounter.

Thankfully, this book by MaryKate Morse landed in my mailbox. It is a variegated antithesis to all things stale and pallid in the life of prayer. Its multifaceted approach does what it says: it guides us into myriad of ways of getting on with prayer with an attentive gentleness outdone only by listening to Morse’s voice in person. (I have done so and have been bettered for it.)

The book gives us means of engaging with God in a uniquely trinitarian way.

The purpose of this book is to move from the lament to the joy of praying…Prayer is more than a practice. It is a living adventure with a relational and risen Lord. God created us to be in a relationship with God expressed in the Trinity. God is the Creator and Covenant Maker. Jesus Christ is the living embodiment of God’s love and is the Redeemer who heals and forgives us. The Holy Spirit empowers us and intercedes on our behalf. – p. 14

Taking her cues from the Divine Community, Morse has broken her book up in three sections focusing on one Person at a time: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each section, therefore, reflects the being and doing of each person. As such, prayers revolving around the Father discuss creativity, work, blessing, and worship; the Son on service, simplicity, forgiveness, and play; the Spirit, conversation, healing, and rejoicing. These are just a sampling of the prayers given and fleshed out among many others.

Within each chapter – i.e. creativity, simplicity, healing – exercises are given for the individual, groups, and partners. Thus, as one reads, not only is information amassed, but concrete practices are embodied. Furthermore, she does not foresee this work being used primarily as “an occasional tool for different ways to pray, but it is primarily designed to help us become people of prayer.” (p. 19) To this end, stories are given from folks who have gone ahead of the reader(s) in the specific type of prayer being addressed. These are helpful encouragements that play a prominent role in the book; they’re not just supplemental add-ons. In them I found my own story and circumstances echoing back to me in the common hardships and pleasantries of life. In other words, don’t skip them.

If you’re one who has grown tired of speaking of prayer, I suggest this book. If you’re a leader of retreats looking for fresh material, I suggest this book. If you’re a pastor/priest looking for both teaching material and exercises, I suggest this book. Regardless of where you find yourself, I suggest this book. From its plethora of prayers, to its beautiful trinitarian structure, to its personal stories, this is a resource rich in both diversity and the potential to unify.

May it help you – and me – in our transition to being people of prayer.

Purchase it here.

Full Disclosure: I received this book for free from InterVarsity Press with the condition I would read it and write a review. I was under no obligation to write an endorsement for the book; nor did I receive any monetary incentives. All words, unless cited with a page number, are my own and are not reflective of the authors or IVP.

Repent of Christianity and Follow Jesus: The Unkingdom of God [A Review]

Empire is a strong word. For many it brings up mental images of darkness, tyranny, and oppression. Simultaneously, however, it is a word absent from the imaginations of many. And this absence is the impetus leading to empires’ gains in momentum and perpetuation because empire works best unquestioned, unnoticed, or veiled in uncertainty.

For Mark Van Steenwyk, the time has come for exposing the Empire known as Christianity.

Not just exposing, but, to use his own language, naming and then repenting from this empire. Rather than focusing on the “logistical workings of empire”, Van Steenwyck proposes a light be shone upon “the ethos of empire.” Through the questions, “How does an empire understand and justify itself?” along with “[H]ow does the logic of empire (which is about security, domination and control) become intertwined with Christianity?” he directs our attention towards that which has gone on unquestioned, unnoticed, and veiled in uncertainty. He states,

Our proximity to power and affluence gives us a strange perspective from which to read the gospel. The logic of empire is the expeditious, organized pursuit of security, prosperity and control; and the best way to ensure these things is through domination. Our entire way of life depends upon this pursuit. Yet it is contrary to the life and teachings of Jesus, who foreswore security as he walked among the marginalized and challenged the civil and religious authorities; who offered people freedom and confronted those who sought to control others; who upheld and loved the weak rather than dominating them. We find ourselves trying to justify our way of life while worshiping One who challenges our way of life. (p. 28)

If Jesus’ life and work stands in stark contrast to the ethos of empire, how have we seemingly strayed so far? Many lay the blame at the feet of Constantine, but Van Steenwyk points us further back in history. Prior to the Constantinian nuptials of religion and Empire, there were decades of corruption found in the wealth and influence of bishops. The coalescence of imperial praxis with imperial theology allowed for the domination of the marginalized to flourish.

And this domination is not purely aimed and enforced upon humans. No, it is a totalitarian act engulfing people and resources because of the inherent relationship between the two. He who controls the one controls the other. The land does not escape the eye of the Empire.

Beyond this early and historical account of Christian imperialism, Van Steenwyk offers us a look at how the gospel was imperialized as Jesus was plasticized. Rather than being a gospel challenging Empire, it became “gospel of empire.” (p. 39). The taming of Jesus has opened up room for the pursuit of the American dream. This domestication has given us permission to shut Jesus up as we turn our ears to consumerism and individualism, among others. It is something we see everyday.

The solution Van Steenwyk purports is a repentance of this Christianity.

Repentance is not an event or an emotion, it is an ongoing invitation to engage the world differently – to see the world the way God does and act accordingly. Repenting of Christianity means adopting a posture of honest confession as we seek a better way. (p. 76)

We repent of this Christianity in order to follow Jesus further into his way of love that stands in stark contrast to Empire. This Jesus is not a mere historical person, but is a participant within the Triune God. We cannot address “the Compassionate Christ” (chp. 8) without “Encountering the feral God” (chp. 7) or “the Subversive Spirit” (chp. 9).

Moreover, the repentance offered here is not an intellectual account alone. It is a combination of both the mystical and the practical. Van Steenwyk offers us a spirituality tethered to an actual life carried out in concrete practices. Each chapter gifts us with exemplary practices aimed at attuning us to view the world the way God does and to act accordingly.

I highly recommend this book as it is a weaving together of justice and hospitality, theology and praxis, deconstruction and reconstruction. It doesn’t hold back in its naming the powers nor does it let us off the hook for our complicity. Thankfully, I have been graced with running in some of the same circles as the author and have heard many attest to the embodiment of the words found on these pages. If you are looking for a radical – truly radical: getting back to the root – approach which cuts to the quick, get this book. Read it, embrace it, allow it to challenge you, and then practice the nuggets of gold mined from within.

Purchase it here.

Full Disclosure: I received this book for free from InterVarsity Press with the condition I would read it and write a review. I was under no obligation to write an endorsement for the book; nor did I receive any monetary incentives. All words, unless cited with a page number, are my own and are not reflective of the authors or IVP.

Books of 2013

P1020476It’s hard to believe 2013 is almost at its end. It has been a good year for my personal reading and I hope the following list will be of as much help to you as it was to me.

As always, the books aren’t in any particular order. I’ve read all of them in their entirety, which makes this list different than previous ones that contained partially read books. Regardless, these books have shaped my imagination, posture, and practices in one way or another. I pray you might pick some of them up and, if you do, make sure they don’t remain contained solely within your head. Allow them to travel to your heart and hands; share them with others; discuss their material with your friends.

May your story be continually formed by Jesus as we continue to learn together.

Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith by Fred Bahnson

The Missional Quest: Becoming a Church of the Long Run by Brad Brisco and Lance Ford [My Featured Review at Englewood Review of Books: here]

The Attentive Life: Discerning God’s Presence in All Things by Leighton Ford [Review]

The Wounded Healer: Ministry In Contemporary Society by Henri Nouwen

Engagement with God: The Drama of Christian Discipleship by Hans Urs von Balthasar

What Are People For?: Essays by Wendell Berry

The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry

Free: Spending Your Time and Money On What Matters Most by Mark Scandrette [Review]

Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight by Norman Wirzba

The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good by Tyler Wiggs-Stevenson [Review]

Becoming Human by Jean Vanier

Why God Won’t Go Away: Is the New Atheism Running On Empty? by Alister McGrath

Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying With Icons by Henri Nouwen

Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works by James K.A. Smith

Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology by Andrew Louth [Review]

Farming As a Spiritual Discipline by Ragan Sutterfield

Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food by Frederick Kaufman

Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation by John Koenig

The Gospel After Christendom: New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions edited by Ryan Bolger

Church History Doesn’t Begin at the Reformation: Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology [A Review]

I grew up in a rather conservative, Protestant, Evangelical (notice the capital “E”) church world. We took our cues predominantly from within the Fundamentalist movement of the late 19th/early 20th century, as we were its heirs. History wasn’t really a factor because it was mainly known as Tradition – again, take note of the capital “T” as it is typically indicative of all things Catholic within the aforementioned world. And when I say Catholic, I mean blasphemous. As in anti-Christ. As in world power pictured in the book of Revelation. There was no room for capital “T” within the capital “E.”

Church History 1 and 2 were classes I took while in Bible college and they, as far as I can recall, took a similar trajectory to the church world I grew up in. Basically, Jesus was born, died, resurrected and then the Holy Spirit started the church through particular acts of power. But don’t worry that stuff doesn’t happen any more. Wink, wink.

Fast forward from Jesus to the Reformation when Luther and Calvin took the world by storm. We left the heavy hand of the Catholic Church and now we are what we are today.

Not only was the gap between Jesus and the Reformation overlooked, it was so egregiously forgotten that there was not even a mention of the church fathers and mothers – the forebears of Eastern Orthodox Church and its theology. (And…shhh…the Church as a whole.) Thankfully, while in seminary, I was introduced to what has come to be known as the Patristic age.

And my world was changed.

This is why I am thankful for this little book by an amazing theologian, Andrew Louth: Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology. I had read some of Louth’s work while in seminary and was caught up in the lucidity and potency of his writing. This work continues in the same vein.

Within the pages of this book, he takes on the gamut of topics usually rendered by history as the spectrum of theology. Beginning with God (theology proper) and culminating with “the last things and eternal life” (eschatology), Louth gives us the Eastern Orthodox vantage point tying them all together.

Yet throughout the book, he is also cautious to remind us that these are the understandings of Eastern Orthodoxy mediated through his own experience. He doesn’t pretend to speak for all of Eastern Orthodoxy – for there is no inherent monolith – which makes room for the readers’ questions and personal inquiry. History is well represented, but it represented through a medium of humility allowing us to wrestle with the material being presented. “What we should hear from the chorus of the Fathers is a rich harmony, not a thin unison.” It is to this harmony that we are asked to participate.

What I loved about this book is its insistence on understanding through experience and prayer. These aren’t bifurcated realities; rather, they are one and the same: we live our lives as a prayer. Louth states,

An introduction to Eastern Orthodox theology, as I understand it, may well involve learning various facts and dates, terminology and concepts, but at its heart it is an understanding to a way of life. (p. 3)

And elsewhere,

The only knowledge that counts, the only theology that is truly Orthodox, is participation in God’s movement in love towards us in creation and Incarnation by our response of love. (p. 122)

And again,

First, the mysteries of theology are mediated by a prayer, not by a creed or treatise: we only understand by participating ourselves in prayer. Second, all that follows is seen in terms of engagement with God, flowing from prayer: accepting God’s gifts and using them, even more, imitating in our movement towards God, his movement towards us, so that the Word’s kenosis, self-emptying, calls forth our self-emptying…” (p. 123)

Thus, Louth encourages us, as has the history of the Church because of Jesus himself, to find our bearings in prayer. In an effort to aid in this, Louth has peppered the book with liturgical prayers. Many of these are breath-taking in their theological depth and candor. For those of us bereft of Tradition and liturgy, these prayers bring us into the heart of what both joy and sorrow look like; what petition and repentance can sound like; how both immanence and transcendence are found in Jesus. I found myself praying these prayers, not simply reading them off of a page.

For those of us who have grown up in Protestant saturated worlds, there will be plenty of material to truly wonder about. For instance, Eastern Orthodoxy’s place for Mary the mother of Jesus, their thoughts and uses of icons, and the thread of universalism found within their eschatology. How have these things been viewed throughout history? What did the early church say that has been carried through by the Orthodox?

All in all, I would certainly recommend this book. The clarity, thoroughness, and emphasis on prayerful participation make it well worth getting. In addition, I would particularly encourage those seeking a more historical approach to their Christianity, along with those who have perhaps grown tired of the pallid or historical short-sightedness common within much of the Protestant body to pick up a copy. The historical gold found within these pages is a much needed introduction – and, hopefully, encouragement to continue – to the vast wisdom and love given to us by those from the early centuries of the Church.

The World Is Not Ours To Save: Finding the Freedom To Do Good [A Review]

I’ve seen it time and time again. Name a daunting social issue, civic predicament, or public plague and I can – more likely than not – give you a story of someone or someones who have decided to take it on. This isn’t inherently a negative thing, but more often than not, the proposed cure for said ill must be of equal magnitude. It isn’t enough to take on something particular and local, to say nothing of the disease in one’s own life; a big problem needs a big answer.

And so we often find in our world of big problems, tactics urging us to make a response towards a big answer. By doing this or that, we are able to declare our assistance in the panacea to myriad of the world’s ailments. The circle of problem and answer seem to revolve around the same wheel chasing each other into oblivion.

You, too, can be a hero. After all, isn’t that what we’re called to? Isn’t being a hero – in some fashion – what justice is about?

Isn’t this world ours to save?

Questions such as these and their ilk are what Tyler Wigg-Stevenson proposes we wrestle with as he pushes us beyond the largeness of both the plagues and recommended solutions of our world.

Objective and Structure

“The question to us is, simply, how can we seek the particular shape of faithfulness in the time and place that God has called us into being and over which God has given us the privilege of stewardship? This book is an attempt to answer that question in two parts.”¬†(p. 20)

So states Tyler Wigg-Stevenson as his objective in this book. From here, he moves us into the remaining two parts. Part One is comprised of the “diagnosis of the potential dangers in the activist sensibility currently on the rise within the church.” He then “critiques four tendencies” he sees all too often in “Christian efforts to save the world” – including within himself. (p. 20-21) These critiques center on an understanding of calling, the problem of our world, our witness of God, and the human condition. He argues that an improper vision and practice of these essentials “make us into bad activists.” (p. 21) With a firm grip on false realities, we enter into our world perfectly positioned for “discouragement, burnout, and cause fatigue.” (p. 21)

Part Two builds upon this with a “constructive alternative” starting where the critique left off. This inverted alternative begins with the human condition and flows backwards into God, the world, and calling. Taking his cue from Micah, Wigg-Stevenson asks us to consider the human condition in light of the peace of God’s kingdom. Continuing with Micah, we are challenged to wonder anew what worship, discipleship, and evangelism have to do with being at peace with God. Furthermore, if peace with God is attainable, how does this beckon us into peace among the nations through justice, industry, and nonaggression? Finally, Part Two, concludes with living in peace in community revolving around dignity, prosperity, and security along with a “new vision for Christian activism.” This activism manifests itself in nine possible modes: priestly, didactic, architectural, judicial, prophetic, pastoral, diplomatic, militant, and sectarian.

Reflections

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and thought it touched on vital issues very much in need of being addressed. Topics such as just war theory, biblical servanthood, and the fear of God are buttressed by personal stories of pain, joy, and discovery. Much of the realms pushed into stem from Wigg-Stevenson’s real life. Growing up within a family seeking a world free of nuclear weapons, later travels to cities devastated by such weapons, and marrying into a family whose history was heavily affected by South African apartheid make one’s imagination capable of writing such a book. His own pursuits are engulfed with “seeking the abolition” of nuclear weaponry, which places him smack dab in the middle of this world-saving action.

For me, however, the emphasis on peace stood out. As he says, for most of us, myself included, we have heard more about grace than peace despite Paul’s conjoining of the two. In many circles, peace is not something to strive towards, whether it be in your neighborhood or with countries across the globe. As he states,

Unfortunately, when Christians disdain peace, it is a clear triumph of cultural religion over biblical fidelity, because peace is at the core of what it means to follow Jesus. (p. 108)

If peace is truly the answer to the human condition, then we must attend to our means of perpetuating it through “extending [it] to saturate every aspect of existence.” (p. 102) He does well to remind us of our orientation to this peace: it must be a present awareness acted out in the everyday while it yet remains a future reality. More than just a spiritualized feeling of some sort, it is an active peace struggled for in the life of disciples of Jesus. “Jesus does not bless the peace-feelers or the peace-talkers, but the peace-doers.” (p. 110)

There are many aspects of this book not mentioned here that make the book worthwhile. If you are one of those wondering about the current models of activism and how to morph, exchange, or break free from them, I suggest this book for you. I pray this is helpful.

Full Disclosure: I received this book for free from InterVarsity Press with the condition I would read it and write a review. I was under no obligation to write an endorsement for the book; nor did I receive any monetary incentives. All words, unless cited with a page number, are my own and are not reflective of the authors or IVP.

Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most by Mark Scandrette (A Review)

Many of us are too busy or distracted to sustain a life of compassionate engagement. We lives lives of hurry, worry and striving, finding little satisfaction in our manic work and recreational activities. Instead of being free to create beauty, nurture relationships and seek the greater good, many of us feel stuck in lives dictated by the need to pay bills or maintain a certain (often consumptive) standard of living. We can’t have it all – the prevailing level of consumption, a life of deeper meaning and relationships and global equity and sustainability. To realize these good dreams we must adjust our values and practices and seek creative solutions. Mark Scandrette (p. 15)

If you’re looking at the title of this book and thinking you’ve read a hundred books on this topic, might I ask you to think again. Please don’t dismiss this book as another time and money accountability/competency resource. It is not. It is much, much more than that.

Method, Purpose, Goals

Three core beliefs have shaped this book and are taken from the invitation of the gospel:

1. We were created with a purpose, to seek the greater good of God’s loving reign.

2. We have enough.

3. We can make intentional choices about how we spend our time and money.

What would it take to realign our lives around these three beliefs?

At its core this is a book about doing just that: aligning our resources – time and money – with our values and talents. Part theology and part praxis combine to make a whole comprised entirely of experiment. Unlike some resources out there that focus solely upon “financial freedom” or obtaining “financial abundance,” the Scandrettes challenge us to pursue the holistic purposes of the Creator through simplicity, gratitude, trust, contentment, generosity and sustainability on personal, communal, and global levels. This call isn’t a mere intellectual assent to particular principles, but, as is characteristic of Scandrette, is to be followed through in the mundane of our everyday lives.

Moreover, this isn’t a call to individualistic freedom. We are urged to do this with others – spouse, friend, or small sized group. Not only does this allow for accountability, transparency, and honesty, it allows for the encouragement and sustainability communal practices embody. Videos, discussion guides, and more are given within the book and/or are found online to ease us into building community.

Our attention is called to developing practical skills by which we can align our resources with our goals and values. Seven steps are given as the book unfolds in chapters by the same names:

1. Name what matters most to you.

2. Value and align your time.

3. Practice gratitude and trust.

4. Believe you have enough.

5. Create a spending plan.

6. Maximize your resources.

7. Live generously and spend wisely.

Within each chapter, stories of the Scandrettes’ journey mix with¬†action-reflection steps. These action-reflection steps come in the form of experiments and tasks. Each experiment takes between 15 and 45 minutes and are various. The underlying design of each experiment is “to help you become more conscious of your thoughts, motives and behavior, and to risk an action that might open you up to new possibilities.” (p. 21) Due to the variety of experiments, one is able to, well, experiment. One exercise might not be pertinent, another might be much needed. “The key is to do something tangible and measurable to see what effect that action has in your life. Be specific and know that intensity is important.” (p. 21)

Tasks are longer in duration and are “specific assignments to help you develop a tangible plan for spending your time and money.” (p. 21) For each task you should devote between 2 and 6 hours as they will require more reflection and long-term thinking. By the end of the book, if you’ve completed all the tasks, you will have a thoroughly detailed and comprehensive resource for actively pursuing a life marked by freedom. Staying on track is much easier since you’ll be able to look back at your values, talents, and goals.

In the end, their hope is to give guidance and encouragement towards a life of freedom found in simplicity. Rather than the prevalent tendencies of challenge through guilt or over-the-top recommendations, their angle is that simplicity is “‘choosing to leverage time, money, talents and possessions toward what matters most.'” (p. 37) This won’t happen all at once, or by ourselves, or through reading through this book once. It is a life-long process of repetition, reflection, and action.

Personal Reflections

I loved this book. Let me say it again: I loved this book. It is simple, but not simplistic. It is challenging, but not burdening. It is difficult, but in the good sense of pushing me beyond the status quo.

This is due to the place in life my wife and I find ourselves and the book’s holistic view of life. We are in the throes of transition and “what’s next.” We now have 3 children and are facing future-oriented questions and realities unlike ever before. The timeliness of this book is tangible as it has allowed us to step back and truly ask the questions of life. Values, talents, and practices are getting honed through the extensive and penetrating experiments and tasks. All areas of life – physical, relational, spiritual, etc. – are up for reflection and action, bringing an interconnected picture of our life into view.

Practically speaking, I read the book first and then my wife. Now, together, we are working through the material with paper and pen. We will eventually type up our answers in a more cogent manner and place the resulting actions somewhere visible. 1 year goals will begin to be worked on as we work in the everyday to maintain and obtain the goals we mutually come to. Revitalization of some latent hopes, dreams, and talents in both of us have been warmly received.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone wondering what’s next, feels stuck, or is hearing, like us, the whispers of simplicity. Find some friends, a small group, your spouse, and begin the excavating work this book provides. You will be greeted by experienced and wise sojourners – Mark, Lisa, their children and like-minded friends – who speak from years of testing, trying, and applying the thoughts found on these pages.

Purchase the book here.

Full Disclosure: I received this book for free from InterVarsity Press with the condition I would read it and write a review. I was under no obligation to write an endorsement for the book; nor did I receive any monetary incentives. All words, unless cited with a page number, are my own and are not reflective of the authors or IVP.