This was a quick, easy memoir about a young psychiatrist, detailing his four years of residency at Harvard-Longwood school of Psychiatry. Adam Stern details his relationships with his fellow, high achieving, insecure classmates, his love life, and, most interesting to me, his experiences with his first patients. It’s a little like Gray’s Anatomy, without the blood.
But it is also the story of developing empathy, not just for one’s patients but also for his colleagues. And this turned out to be my favorite part of the book.
As a pastor, I resonated a lot with this book. Pastoral counseling has a lot in common with psychiatry in that they are both highly subjective, and at times you wonder if you are really making much of a difference. Broken people don’t get fixed very easily, and they don’t always stay fixed.
I loved Stern’s description of the Imposter Syndrome. That even when you have the title and the lab coat and the degree on the wall, you feel woefully unprepared to be the expert your job says you are. And yet, you learn by doing, you get better at it as you go, and at some point you give yourself the grace to say “Maybe I’m not such a train wreck at this as I thought I was.”
There are differences, of course. For one, pastors can’t prescribe drugs, and self medicating is generally frowned upon. Also, in my field, not everyone who hears voices is delusional. We actually encourage it. In all seriousness, pastors really do believe that God is guiding us and can provide wise counsel to those who seek him.
And while I can’t imagine doing my work without this core conviction that a benevolent God guides my steps, there is a point at which we pastors could benefit from the kind of cohort Dr Stern describes. I wonder how much more effective I would be as a pastor if I had had a period of residency, where I was closely supervised by veteran pastors. Where we would meet once a week with our colleagues to process the difficult cases that came our way that week. Where we would meet once a month for a “Morbidity and Mortality” review of how we responded to losing a church member. Without a doubt, we would have healthier pastors, and it is highly likely that we would have healthier churches as well. If pastors could adopt the “Never Worry Alone” maxim of the Harvard school of psychiatry, I’ll bet we would have fewer burned out pastors who need a psychiatrist.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being a pastor. I hold to the conviction that God guides me. But just because God is all I need, that doesn’t mean I have to act as though God is all I have. I need to find me a feelings class.
One down, thirteen to go! This is the main part of my reading goal for this year— to read through all 14 volumes of MLJ’s exposition of Romans. Pro tip: subscribe to the Martyn Lloyd-Jones podcast. The MLJ trust (www.mjjtrust.org) has converted all the audio recordings of his sermons to digital format. This basically allows you to make an audiobook out of this commentary. So every morning when I walk my dog I listen to a chapter. That is, I listen to one of his sermons.
How extraordinary they are! Preaching through Romans like MLJ did is one of those feats of strength and endurance that most people only read about. Like swimming the English Channel, or completing the Seven Summits. On October 7, 1955, MLJ began (on Friday nights, no less!) to teach through Romans. Thirteen years later, he concluded Chapter 14. The last word of the last sermon was “peace.”
After that, MLJ retired from his weekly pulpit duties because of illness. He did not complete the 16 chapters of Romans (slacker!) He spent the remaining years of his life editing the teaching notes and manuscripts that became this magnum opus.
Can you imagine a modern preacher doing that? He spent 29 weeks on the 32 verses of Romans 1, each sermon lasting almost 50 minutes. With no PowerPoint or video clips or LED lighting to set the mood or a worship leader to create the atmosphere.
Yet, to hear the sound of 1500 people rising to their feet for the closing prayer, on a Friday night, after this man spent fifty minutes on the phrase “called to be an apostle”— it is both a testimony to the power of God’s words spoken through a servant yielded to Him, as well as an indictment of how short our attention spans have grown in just half a century.
The sermons themselves are magnificent. As timely today in their critique of prosperity gospel and leader worship as they were in the decade immediately following WW2. If you read these, I can’t emphasize strongly enough how much it would benefit you to hear MLJ preach them. His style has been called “logic on fire,” and that is so apt. These are carefully constructed, systematic treatments of nearly every word of Romans, and the teaching leaps off the page. But then, you listen to the sermon! You hear Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his musical Welsh accent—with that epic rolling of the r’s—thunder about the r-r-r-rIGHTEOUSNESS of GOd! And the “grrrrrace of awr Lard Jesus Christ throughout our short uncertain pilgrimage.” Oh, if I could go back in time, it would be to London, on a Friday night in the early sixties. I would meet friends at a pub. We would have a pint of Guinness together. We’d walk to Westminster Chapel and settle in to our favorite wooden bench pew. Perhaps up in a corner of the horseshoe shaped balcony. And for the next hour, we would see and hear logic on fire, and come face to face with the righteousness of a holy God.
This year I’m trying to read through Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ 14 volume exposition of Romans. Lloyd-Jones began teaching through Romans on Friday nights at Westminster Chapel in London on October 7, 1955. Thirteen years later, at the end of chapter 14, he was forced to retire from the pulpit ministry because of illness. He spent the rest of his life editing the manuscripts of his sermons. All his sermons were recorded on tape, and are available at https://www.mljtrust.org/free-sermons/book-of-romans/
I was a theater minor in college, and in one of my classes we watched the musical “Sunday in the Park With George,” about Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. I had never heard of the musical or the painting. The most I knew was that Mandy Patinkin (who played Seurat) was Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, and the painting was featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
I got obsessed with the musical, and with the painting. When my creative writing class assignment was to write a poem about a piece of art, I wrote about Seurat’s painting, choosing the most complicated form and rhyme scheme I could think of (an Italian sonnet in trochaic hexameter or something) because I wanted to capture what a precise and technical painter Seurat was. The poem was awful, by the way, and I deserved the “pretentious and lifeless” comment from my professor when I turned it in.
When I went to Chicago, I made a pilgrimage to the Art Institute to see La Grand Jatte in person. I swear to you, my breath caught in my chest when I entered the gallery where it hangs, huge and beautiful and brilliant.
So when I was looking for something to read on Scrib’d, this one caught my eye. It is an oral history by James Lapine, who collaborated with Sondheim on Sunday, and would later team with him again on Into the Woods.
Lapine’s writing flows easily between exposition and interviews with the various actors, producers, and designers he worked with, as well as conversations with Sondheim himself. The audiobook does a great job of using various voice actors to read the interview bits. An extra treat for fans of the TV show Blue Bloods is that the voice actor who reads Sondheim is Len Cariou, who plays the patriarch of the Reagan clan. Of course, if the audiobook had actually had Sondheim, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Kelsey Grammar, Christina Baranski, and all the others that had a hand in the development of Sunday it would be priceless.
As it is, this is still a pretty incredible history of the making of this particular musical, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into the whole process of collaboration and development for any creative work. Lapine doesn’t shy away from talking with the people he didn’t get along with on the set, and enough time has passed that no one comes across as still having an axe to grind.
If you ever saw Sunday in the Park With George, have ever listened to the music, or if you just like French Impressionism, this book is essential reading/listening. But even if you are just interested in the creative process, what it takes to put on a Broadway show, or are looking for some insight into how to work with creatives, you will enjoy this book.
Follow my 2022 reading journey. I’ll try to write a review of what I’m reading throughout the year.
Dune is slow going at first, but richly rewarding if you stay with it. A blurb on the back of the edition I read commented that the only other work that does world building on this level is Lord of the Rings That’s not a bad comparison. You’ll find a lot of dense mythology,
Dune was first published in 1965, the year before I was born. I’ve never been much of a sci-fi fan, but I wanted to try this one after the movie came out this year. I was struck by how much its story arc has been imitated in other stories that have come since. Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, Avatar— all about outsiders with superior technology who learn the ways of the native people, become accepted by them, marry a local girl, rise as a leader, and then defeat the people they came from.
I don’t know if Dune did it first or not. I wouldn’t be surprised if Herbert was influenced by the real life story of Lawrence of Arabia. The idea of “desert power” certainly reminded me of the British hero of WW1, who fought alongside Arabs against the technological superiority of the Germans.
I do have an issue with the audiobook, though. Simon Vance is always excellent as a narrator, and I would have been fine with the entire book done by him. But there are some chapters that are dramatized— James Earl Jones as Baron Harkanen, Scott Brick (also one of my favorites) as Duke Leto, and later as Stillgar, I think. And that’s the problem. Either go all the way with one or the other. Or have some logical reason for switching to a dramatized version. And this isn’t Hamilton. Don’t have the same narrator reading multiple parts, unless he’s the only narrator you have. It was just so jarring going back and forth.
I discovered R.C. Sproul fairly recently– last year I read Chosen by God as the first book I had read by him, and I felt like I was reading an American CS Lewis. This week, thanks to my friend Mark Knight trying to consolidate his library, I started reading Sproul’s The Holiness of God. And it is a fantastic book.
Chapter Six is called “Holy Justice,” and it deals with the harsh stories of God’s judgment against Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10); Uzzah (1 Chronicles 13-15), the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Canaanite nations that were driven out before the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land. As Sproul says in the opening paragraph, these are not stories for the faint or faint of heart.
It’s admittedly hard to square our “God is love” understanding from the New Testament with the God who put Nadab and Abihu to death for experimenting with the rituals of sacrifice. It’s even harder to think about Uzzah, whose only offense (if you could even call it an offense) was trying to keep the ark from falling into the mud when the oxen stumbled who were pulling the oxcart it was sitting on. But Sproul makes some great observations which help us understand this story:
The ark should never have been on an oxcart in the first place. God’s law was clear that it was to be carried on poles inserted through rings (see Ex. 25:10-16).
Uzzah should never have been in a position to touch the ark in the first place. Only the Levites were authorized to approach the ark, and even then, not all of them could. Sproul suggests that Uzzah might have been a Koathite, which would have allowed him to carry the ark in the prescribed manner (see the above point). But even if he was (and I think this is a big if. I’m not sure how Sproul comes to this conclusion); the Koathites absolutely couldn’t touch the holy things, or they would die (Numbers 4:17-20). David apparently learned from the mistake, because 1 Chronicles 15 is very clear that Obed Edom, who has been housing the ark, is among the Levites who ultimately transport the ark to the City of David.
It was presumptuous for Uzzah to assume his hands were holier than the ground. Uzzah did what any devout Jew would do–he reflexively reached out to steady the ark. But who are we to believe our hands, attached to our bodies, which rebel against God time and time again, are holier than the God-created ground, which never disobeys God? Sproul writes “Uzzah assumed his hand was less polluted than the earth. But it wasn’t the ground or the mud that would have polluted the ark; it was the touch of man” (Holiness of God, p. 108).
As I was journaling on this today, it came together in a poem. I wrote the last stanza several years ago, but this expands on that one stanza. You can kind of sort of sing it to “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Enjoy.
First things first: I am a conservative Christian. A Baptist Pastor. I live in Alabama, where yard signs for Democrats are as rare as college football championships everywhere else in the country.
So if you’ve already made up your mind where this review is going to go, congratulations: you have been influenced by the media.
See, media, by definition, is “that which stands between.” “Mediator”–someone who stands in the middle between two opposing parties, has the same etymology as “media.” So does “median,” which is a strip of land that divides two streams of traffic going in opposite directions. Which is an appropriate analogy for what the “mainstream media” literally does. It stands between the traffic going left and the traffic going right.
The only way NOT to be influenced by the media is to get your news directly from the source. Most of us will never get an opportunity to talk directly with the main characters in the news. So the next best thing is to read their memoirs. To that end, this year I’ve read “What Happened by Hillary Clinton (worth the read); “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff (totally NOT worth the read); “Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years by David Litt (a speechwriter for Obama whose wheelhouse was comedy writing–worth the read) and “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur (somewhere in the middle). What all these have in common with Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty” is that they were all written by someone who was actually “there” for the events that were making the news. Clinton’s book and Comey’s book were directly from the POV of the newsmaker; Litt’s and Tur’s were from several rungs down. But still, they represent, at least to some extent, unmediated media.
So, if you really want to make up your mind how you feel about James Comey, stop reading this review, go read the book for yourself, and then let’s talk.
Still here? Oh well, I tried. I guess I’m part of the media now.
So here it is: The book itself is very well written, and makes a compelling case for why the FBI and the Department of Justice must be separate and non partisan. Whether or not you agree with what Comey did with Hillary’s emails, his explanation for what he did and why he did it fits with his worldview and is consistent with what he says he has done throughout his career.
I really can’t say much about the politics. That’s beyond my level of expertise. So let me comment on what IS my area: Comey handles the Bible well. When he writes about the death of his infant son in 1995, he deals with Romans 8:28 and the book of Job with sound theology. When he casually mentions Proverbs 28:1 (“the wicked man flees though none pursue”) in the context of Trump’s over-defensiveness on certain topics, you realize that this guy has more than just a superficial relationship with the Bible. His handling of Scripture was much more skillful than, say, Trump’s (mis)handling of “Two Corinthians” 3:17 at Liberty University.
And for me, that matters. For me, that speaks to Comey’s credibility in his recounting of details. Add to that his quotes from Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr, two bedrock Christian ethicists and theologians; his allusion to Martin Luther’s “Here I stand” quote, and the fact that he made Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” required reading for all new FBI recruits, and I am much more likely to take what he says about integrity and honesty seriously. Much more likely than I am to swallow the version of his adversary, who so far is publishing his memoir 140 characters at a time.
As far as the much-maligned comparison of Trump to a mafia don, I can only say that once I realized Comey had ACTUAL experience with mafia dons, I was willing to give Comey the benefit of the doubt.
Comey seems to display a pretty high level of emotional intelligence, and makes a compelling argument for, 1) why it is an indispensable quality for leadership, and 2) how Trump is absolutely lacking in it. His insights into the various leadership styles of George W Bush, Obama, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, and John Ashcroft lay a foundation for accepting his negative comparisons to Trump and Jeff Sessions.
I’ll wrap up this review simply by saying that if you want to truly rise above media bias, then you have to get as close as you can to the source material. Read Comey’s memoir, and make up your own mind. Otherwise, just realize you are letting Anderson Cooper and/or Sean Hannity describe for you what the traffic is like on the other side of the MEDIAn.
I had high hopes for this one, because I loved Pillars of the Earth and World Without End so much. But this one was just okay. Other reviews have pointed out how the scope of this one was harder to get into– rather than staying in Kingsbridge, or even with people who have a connection to Kingsbridge, this one went literally all over the world. Characters were introduced that had very little to do with the overall plot. And I agree with the reviewer who pointed out that in historical fiction, the made up characters should never have such a pivotal role in actual events. But when the fictional characters are the primary instigators in actual conspiracies, and other fictional characters are the primary heroes in foiling said conspiracies, then everything just gets muddy.
But here’s what I think left me cold on this one, in comparison to Pillars of the Earth and World Without End: no one built anything. In Pillars, Kingsbridge Cathedral became a character in and of itself. In World Without End, Carris’s quest to reform the way medicine was practiced was so compelling, and the hospital, and Merthin’s bridge, and the revolutions in engineering and philosophy that marked the end of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance (not to mention the Bubonic Plague) gave you a sense of history being told in microcosm.
Not so with Column of Fire. I thought Carlos and Ebrima’s iron-smelting forge was going to be that thing. Or maybe there was going to be a genius ship designer who would help turn the tide for the English in the defeat of the Spanish Armada. But no. None of that happened.
If you read Follet’s introduction to the anniversary edition of Pillars, you understand that the book came out of a fascination with the cathedral builders– how they wanted to start something they knew they would not live to complete, but would pass their skills to the next generation. He had visited these cathedrals that took decades to build, and imagined all the stories that could be told of the builders. As a result, Pillars felt like a work fueled by the fascination of its author. In disappointing contrast, “Column” feels like it was fueled by fans wanting more Kingsbridge stories. Not a bad motivation for an author, I guess, but it just didn’t seem like his heart was in it.
An excellent read for church leaders to consider that evangelism and church leadership are not the exclusive domain of extroverts. It includes helpful ideas for how to structure the programs of our church to be more introvert friendly. It also helps extrovert-centric ministries to consider how much the body of Christ is enriched by the introverted personality. Parts of it will be a little off-putting to evangelicals because it suggests some of the more contemplative and liturgical worship practices (which we evangelicals tend to be suspicious of as mysticism). But maybe that’s the point. We tend to look at our worship experiences as being the only way to do it, and maybe that’s keeping the wallflowers on the other side of the wall–on the outside looking in.
Challies Challenge Category: Novel by a Christian Author
This is the second book I’ve read (well-listened–they are available in audiobook form)in Lynn Austin’s Chronicles of the Kings series. She is very skilled at taking the details we know from Scripture (which usually aren’t many) and creating a compelling story from them that still rings true to the context of the Bible. I’ve enjoyed her work, and look forward to listening to the other books in the series. For Challies challenge, this was my entry for “novel by a Christian author.”
Challies Challenge Category: Book less than 100 pages
This book was recommended by both Tim Challies and John Piper. I’m in a group right now that’s trying to memorize Romans, so it was well worth the 99 cents to download this one. The title is well-said: this is “an” approach. Not “the” approach. And as such, it’s pretty good.
Fantastic! The audiobook of this is the free book this month in christianaudio.com, (April, 2016) but after listening to about half of it I ordered a hard copy from Amazon. There really needs to be a small group study on this. The SCAN acronym– the Bible is sufficient, clear, authoritative, and necessary– is worth the price of the whole book. In addition, there is an an annotated bibliography of books at the end– grouped by category and graded on degree of difficulty, that makes me glad I don’t just have it on audio.
I appreciated Voddie’s commitment to keep the ultimate goal of an apologetic conversation in mind–to share the gospel. He reminds the reader that according to Romans 1:18-20, people don’t have a knowledge problem. They have a righteousness problem.
I’m also challenged to spend more time learning the creeds, confessions, and catechisms that have been used to teach the faith for hundreds of years. As a Baptist I’ve never studied them much, apart from memorizing the Apostles Creed. But now, and especially as a Christian educator, I appreciate their value for helping us teach and learn how to “give an answer for the hope that is within us”
(1 Pet. 3:15)
My only complaint with the book is that I wished he had used a different example of an apologetic sermon in the appendix. He had already summarized the sermon in same sex marriage and the divisions of the levitical law earlier in the book; so the appendix felt redundant.
Challies Challenge: Book by or about Martin Luther
The main part of this book is the 95 Theses, followed by various letters Luther wrote to defend the theses. Also included is his Shorter Catechism, and a handful of his sermons. It was very enlightening to me, primarily to realize that the Theses weren’t initially intended to start the Reformation, but to reform a specific practice in the Catholic Church. As with a lot of books that start off for me with the audio version, I found it very helpful to download a Kindle version as well.
Challies Challenge Category: Book more than a hundred years old
So, Chesterton himself called this a “chaotic volume,” and I don’t disagree. For the first three-quarters of the book, I couldn’t figure out why it was called “Orthodoxy.” It was hard to follow any organizing principle, and if he was arguing to make a point, he argued more like a poet than a lawyer.
It didn’t help that I was listening to the audiobook. Even though it was narrated by the amazing Simon Vance (whose narrations of Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End are some of the best audiobooks I’ve ever heard) I don’t recommend the format for Chesterton. This book is meant to be chewed slowly, like a really good steak. You need to be able to roll the words around in your mind, and unless you’ve got your finger constantly on the pause and rewind buttons (not recommended while you are driving), you can’t do that.
So, I bought a hard copy, and now I feel like I have to read it again.
I’d had this in my Christian Audio library for awhile, and when I saw that yesterday was the anniversary of the premiere of Messiah, I started listening. Great read. The two best takeaways are George Bernard Shaw’s criticism of mass choirs performing Messiah, and the theological question of “why doesn’t ‘Messiah’ end with the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’?”
Challies Challenge: Book written in the 20th century
This was the second time I’ve read this. I picked it up again after watching the “Everest” movie. I don’t think the previous edition I read had the postscript about the ongoing fight between Krakauer and the author of another book about the same events, which is critical of Krakauer’s criticisms of one of the guides. It is an interesting read on its own, dealt with issues of journalistic integrity and fact checking.
Date Started: April 16 Date Finished: April 21
I really enjoyed this book. Robison writes with clarity and humor (whether or not it is intentional humor is hard to say, given that he is writing as an Aspergian). There are times when he comes across like a real life Forrest Gump–a social misfit who winds up in the right place at the right time to make an impact on the world that a so-called “normal” person could never make. The main difference is that instead of meeting Presidents like Forrest Gump, Robison met rock stars.
The book is also genuinely moving as it gets into the time Robison spends with his own son.
I would recommend this book to anyone that has someone on the autistic spectrum in their life, as well as anyone that just enjoys a well-written, if quirky and oddball–memoir.
Date Started: April 20 Date Finished: April 28 Challies Challenge Category: Novel set in a country other than your own
This book was a feast. Moving, deeply Christian, informative, poetic, redemptive, beautiful. The characters are richly drawn, multidimensional, and fully realized. The prose is gorgeous. The message and the issues are timeless, as relevant to Ferguson, Missouri as they were to Soweto, Johannesburg. I will go back to this one again. And for what its worth, the 1995 film version starring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris, is on Netflix. While it isn’t a perfect movie, it is perfectly cast.