Review of James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and LeadershipA Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James B. Comey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.

View all my reviews

Resurrection Revealed on the Way From Jerusalem

Does it matter whether or not the resurrection really happened? It really does. Do we have evidence for it? We really do.

Easter Sunday (April 1, 2018)

Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL

James Jackson, Lead Pastor

Text: Luke 24:13-35

Click Here for PowerPointWTJ 5. Resurrection Revealed

Review of Steve Parr’s “The Coffee Shop that Changed a Church”

The Coffee Shop That Changed a Church: Discovering the Net EffectThe Coffee Shop That Changed a Church: Discovering the Net Effect by Steve R. Parr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First off, full disclosure: Steve Parr is a friend. I’ve heard him speak on his “Why They Stay” research several times, and brought him to my church so they could hear it too. I’ve led conferences with him, used his material to train my leaders, and so forth. So you could for sure write off this review as biased.

That being said, this is a wonderful book. The trope of using a narrative story to teach practices and principles is either time worn and effective (see Andy Stanley’s “Communicating for a Change” or John Kotter’s “Our Iceberg is Melting”) or time worn and hokey (see Art Rainer’s “The Money Challenge.”) Steve’s narrative, about a struggling pastor who begins to meet with an older pastor and learns how to be a more intentionally evangelistic church, is actually a really good story. The only place it got hokey was when said older pastor recommends a book from “a friend of his” and it turns out to be ONE OF STEVE PARR’S BOOKS. Come on, man!

I would recommend this book to any pastor who is interested in leading his church to be more evangelistic. And knowing the results Steve himself has had, I can tell you that it really works. Which, by the way, is half of the title of the real book, written by Steve, that the fictional pastor recommends: Sunday School That Really Works.

Shameless, I know.

View all my reviews

Ten Lepers Left

0001620_ten-lepers
Ten Lepers, by James Christensen

I wrote this poem several years ago, but updated it and used it in a sermon I preached this past weekend. A few folks have asked for it, so here it is. It is based on the story of the ten lepers Jesus healed in Luke 17:11-19.

Ten lepers walked the city streets,

and stopped to hear the preacher preach

So close to death, all pride was stripped,

Nothing to lose; so those with lips

Called, “Jesus, help us out a bit?”

“Go, show yourselves unto the.  priests,”

He said, they scattered, west to east

Their skin, with cleansing fire burned

Ten lepers left, but one returned.

 

Once, the question came to mind, “What happened to the other nine?”

And though I claim no revelation—this is nothing more than speculation

I offer you this testament

To where the other lepers went.

 

First, there’s Leper Number One

Who took off in an all out run.

Her feet, now free from open sores

Ran like they’d never run before.

 

Poor old leper number Two

Had no idea what he should do.

So, scarred from years of being shunned

Went home, locked up, and saw no one.

 

Then there’s leper Number Three

For whom sickness became security

For years, defined by leprosy

Till it became identity

Healed, became a bitter man

And wished he could get sick again.

 

That accounts for three who were healed that day

Nine lepers left, one leper stayed.

 

Leper four, his skin free of spots

Left and immediately forgot

He’d ever been a leper.

 

Five and six found love along the way.

Ran off, got married that same day.

 

So that makes six accounted for

One leper stayed, that leaves three more.

 

And of those three, there were the two

That wrote “Life from a Leper’s Point of View.”

They gained great fame in lecture halls,

Signed copies of their books in malls.

And on the Oprah Winfrey Show,

Oprah said, “We want to know,

To what do you attribute health?”

“From within,” they said. “We healed ourselves.”

 

Number Nine believed his leprosy

Was to be replaced with prosperity

Convinced it’s what he deserves, somehow.

He’s out there living his best life now.

 

So, ten lepers went their separate ways

Nine lepers left, one leper stayed.

He stayed to fall at Jesus’ feet,

Stayed to feel His touch so sweet;

To thank Him for the gift he gave,

Ten lepers cured, one leper saved.

James Jackson