Book Review: “Confessions of a Funeral Director” by Caleb Wilde

Funeral Director

Being gifted a book from a friend is always a dangerous thing. What if the book stinks? What if you have no interest in even reading the book in the first place? What if months go by and they ask you if you’ve read it yet and you haven’t or you gave up on page 2? Seriously, gifting books can ruin friendships.

Well, a friend recently gifted me the book Confessions of a Funeral Director: How the Business of Death Saved My Life, and I’m happy to say that not only did I read it, but I loved it!

Confessions of a Funeral Director is written by Caleb Wilde who is a partner in his family business, Wilde Funeral Home, in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. Wilde is also a popular blogger and has been featured in The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, TIME magazine, and on NPR, NBC, and ABC’s 20/20.

Whenever I read a book and I am explaining it to someone else, I usually try to put the book in a category comparing it with others of a similar type, but the great thing about this book is that I have never read anything like it. I have no established bookshelf for it to go on with others like it, which made it a fascinating read.

Confessions of a Funeral Director is a pretty candid exploration of death and all it has to teach us about life. Wilde tells numerous stories of his experiences working in a funeral home beginning at a very young age and unpacks his personal and professional struggles with death. I really appreciated how transparent the author was when it came to his wrestling with how to reconcile death and the idea of a loving God.

The book is essentially the authors journey from holding onto a death negative narrative to developing a death positive narrative. A movement away from seeing death as only dark and negative and destructive, and beginning to see the gifts that death has to offer. This movement to a death positive narrative doesn’t take away the pain or loss, but it reframes how we see, experience, and navigate death.

One of the highlights of the book for me was the explanation of the Jewish practice of a death Sabbath. This is a very intentional process of mourning and would bring such health to walking through the loss of loved ones.

Here are a few quotes from the book that stood out to me:

We will all at one time or another be confronted with death, our mortality, and the deeper questions of life. The question isn’t if we will be broken by death and dying and mortality, but how will these inevitabilities break us? Will we be broken open or will death break us apart? (p. 26)

…be present in the here and now, at this moment, in this place, in the ground I was planted, because maybe heaven is here, hiding somewhere behind the fear-inducing tragedies that cloud our eyes. (p. 51)

Tears are like a good confession. (p. 88)

…death and dying creates community by allowing us to touch one another’s humanity. (p. 112)

I know it is completely cliche to say, but I did laugh and cry, and I was deeply inspired by this book. I highly recommend you check this book out, but I do so with a caution. Some of the stories contained in this book deal with miscarriages and the death of children. The book is hilarious in some parts, it asks some powerful and beautiful theological questions in other parts, but it also tells some pretty heart breaking stories that are very difficult to read. Some of the stories brought me to tears because they reminded me of the losses I have personally experienced, and depending on your story, specific stories in this book may bring up some painful memories for you. I think Confessions of a Funeral Director is an incredibly valuable book to help bring people into a healthier view of death, but maybe use some discretion on the timing of when you read this book.

For more information on the author, you can visit his website HERE, and I would also recommend following his often hilarious Twitter account @CalebWilde.

To see a trailer for the book, check out the video below.

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Book Review: “The Day the Revolution Began” by N.T. Wright (Lent Series: Part 3/3)

The day the revolution

Over Lent this year I decided to read three books as a part of my Lenten experience. I divided the books into daily readings so that each day I would get to read a portion from each book and still have them all read by Easter Sunday. The three books I chose to read were: Show Me The Way by Henri Nouwen, 24 Hours That Changed the World by Adam Hamilton, and The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright.

Part 3 of 3

If you are unfamiliar with who N.T. Wright is…Merry Christmas! This blog post is my gift to you. I was introduced to N.T. Wright’s work a few years ago through his book Simply Christian and have since gone on to buy quite a few of his books.

N.T. Wright has a very storied career. He was the Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey, Bishop of Durham, and is now the chair of New Testament & Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He is considered to be one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars and has written over 70 books and commentaries.

Early on in the book, in a chapter called The Cross in Its First Century Setting, Wright unpacks the presence, role, and the practice of crucifixion in the years before, during, and after the life of Jesus. This chapter deeply affected me and was incredibly eye opening. I had never considered what Jesus would have seen, and known, and grown up in as He approached the cross Himself. This look at first century crucifixion will profoundly impact how I read the New Testament and especially the account of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, with respect to the mental and emotional state He would have been in.

One of the main highlights of the book is Wright’s commentary on atonement theories. He argues with ample scriptural support that salvation is far more than “getting into heaven” and that unfortunately much of the Church today doesn’t go beyond this in it’s preaching and practice. Wright argues that to make salvation purely about going to heaven is to build a theology on portions of the Gospel and not the entire Gospel narrative. Essentially it is an incomplete, cheaper, and even a selfish view of salvation.

Almost nobody talks about “going to heaven.” When Jesus talks about the “kingdom of heaven,” he doesn’t mean a place called “heaven,” but the rule of “heaven,” that is, God’s reign, coming to birth on earth. (p. 196)

Jesus’s death is seen, right across the New Testament, not as rescuing people from the world so that they can avoid “hell” and go to “heaven,” but as a powerful revolution – that is, a revolution full of a new sort of power – within the world itself. (p. 220)

…salvation in the New Testament is not seen as an escape from the world of space, time, and matter, but rather as its redemption. (p. 348)

Sin matters, and forgiveness of sins matters, but they matter because sin, flowing from idolatry, corrupts, distorts, and disables the image-bearing vocation, which is much more than simply “getting ready for heaven.” (p. 363)

Wright points out that the Church can make the grave mistake of building it’s beliefs on cultural or inherited theology and not necessarily on scripture itself. So although some theological positions may be supported by the Church and may even be considered “traditional theology”, they may not actually fall in line with the Biblical narrative.

The historical questions and answers are the place to go if we want to find the theological answer. If we cannot see it there, that might be an indication that we are trying to answer the wrong question. If the gospels do not seem to be “saying the right stuff,” maybe it is our idea of the “right stuff” that needs adjusting. (p. 199)

This book challenged me deeply on how I understand what Jesus accomplished in and through the cross and His resurrection. I don’t mean to say that it fundamentally changed what I believe about the cross, but it certainly broadened what I believe and how I understand it. Wright does an excellent job in presenting what I would consider to be a holistic and Biblically faithful understanding of the purpose and work of salvation.

The cross stands at the center of the story of Jesus, Israel, the human race, the creator God, and his world. This is where the biblical narrative finds its heart. (p. 255)

Of the three books I read over Lent, this was the thickest book of the three, both physically and in theological depth. Wright himself would consider this a less academic “popular” offering, but I found this book to be quite dense at times. There are a few chapters that were slow moving for me, but they all still contained incredible insight.

The Day the Revolution Began is a truly exciting book. It is a reminder of who we were created to be, a reminder of the passion and commitment of God towards us, and a call to live fully in our vocation as image bearers of God, engaged as active participants in the coming Kingdom of Heaven.

Like I do with all of his books, I highly recommend you check this one out. It is not a casual breezy read, it will be a commitment, it will challenge you intellectually and theologically, but it will be completely worth it.

nt wright

Book Review: “24 Hours That Changed the World” by Adam Hamilton (Lent Series: Part 2/3)

24 Hours

Over Lent this year I decided to read three books as a part of my Lenten experience. I divided the books into daily readings so that each day I would get to read a portion from each book and still have them all read by Easter Sunday. The three books I chose to read were: Show Me The Way by Henri Nouwen, 24 Hours That Changed the World by Adam Hamilton, and The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright.

Part 2 of 3

24 Hours That Changed the World (2009) is written by Adam Hamilton, who is the senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas and the author of 23 books.

This book is theologically rich, is packed with revealing historical information, and yet it is completely accessible for anyone to read. Throughout the book Hamilton discuses in great detail: the last supper, the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ trial, His torture and humiliation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection, including touching on various atonement theories.

One of the more disheartening things I read about was what the culture around Jesus was like when it came to issues of power and fear, and realizing how much of humanity today still seems to be stuck in the same place.

Fear performs its poisonous work within all of us. How often are we still motivated by it? In what ways does our fear lead us, individually and as a nation, to do what is wrong – what is at times unthinkable – while justifying our actions as necessary. (p. 50)

We must each be aware of the power of fear, and we must not forget the lessons of history. All of us, if we let our call to love be overshadowed by our innate fear, are capable of supporting and doing the unthinkable. (p. 50)

The question we must ask in our personal lives and in public policy as Christians is not “What is the thing that will make me feel most secure?” but “What is the most loving thing for me to do?” (p. 51)

Hamilton’s writing on the moment where the crowd chose Barabbas over Jesus was also an incredibly difficult thing to think about because I’m not confident our modern Western culture (including much of the Church) would make a different decision. Even with the advantage we have today over those in the crowd on that day, of having a Bible and knowing how the message, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus would impact the world for the last 2000 years, I am not confident the undying devotion to Jesus we sing about on weekends in our churches would be reflected in how we would choose our leader.

If you picture yourself as part of that crowd, which one do you pick? One is going to lead by force; throw out the Romans; reclaim your tax money, wealth, and prosperity; and restore the strength of the Jewish kingdom. The other’s leadership involves loving these same oppressors, serving them as they dwell among you, doubling the service they demand of you. Whom do you wish to see freed? Whom do you wish to see destroyed? When we see the choice in that way, it is not so difficult to understand the crowd’s choice of Barabbas over Jesus. They chose the path of physical strength, military might, and lower taxes over the path of peace through sacrificial love. (p. 73)

How far could such an approach be taken today? Is it possible to live as Jesus of Nazareth urged in our own world? Could a nation or government even survive that way? I do know that Jesus asks us to choose his way over the way of Barabbas; but I also know that while many admire Jesus of Nazareth, they feel safer, and prefer, Jesus Barabbas. (p. 74)

Please don’t read the above comments and quotes as a cheap instigation towards an argument between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. Jesus and the cross happened long before our political parties were established. Forget what your favorite political party champions, if you identify as a follower of Jesus, what does He call us to? What did He model with His words, life, and death? Was Jesus too much of an idealist? Was He being serious that it would cost us everything to follow Him? These are really difficult questions to answer in our increasingly complex world, yet for those who would call themselves disciples of Jesus, they are questions we must humbly and lovingly wrestle with in the context of true community.

24 Hours That Changed the World is a perfect blend of ancient cultural information, theological insight, and a call to action to live today in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you are looking for an outstanding book on the final hours of Jesus life, the meaning of the cross, and what it is to follow the resurrected Jesus, this is it. I highly recommend this book.

adam hamilton

Book Review: “Show Me the Way” by Henri Nouwen (Lent Series: Part 1/3)

Show Me the Way

Over Lent this year I decided to read three books as a part of my Lenten experience. I divided the books into daily readings so that each day I would get to read a portion from each book and still have them all read by Easter Sunday. The three books I chose to read were: Show Me The Way by Henri Nouwen, 24 Hours That Changed the World by Adam Hamilton, and The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright.

Part 1 of 3

Show Me The Way (1992) is a book of daily Lenten readings based on the writing’s of Henri Nouwen (1932-1996). Nouwen was a priest, a professor, and an author of numerous books including the well known: The Return of the Prodigal Son.

Each of the daily readings begins with a few verses of scripture, then a selection of Nouwen’s writings, and closes with a prayer. Unlike the other two books I read during Lent, Show Me the Way is not focused on describing ancient culture in great detail and unpacking difficult theological ideas, but rather the focus of the book is on heart transformation. With Nouwen’s writing being as beautiful and honest as it is, he is a master at writing for spiritual formation.

Throughout the daily readings Nouwen touches on a number of different subjects with subtle power, beauty, depth, and compassion:

loving our neighbor:

  • It is in God that we find our neighbors and discover our responsibility to them. We might even say that only in God does our neighbor become a neighbor rather than an infringement upon our autonomy, and that only in and through God does service become possible. (p. 22-23)

what the reality of God means for us:

  • …as soon as I say “God exists,” my existence no longer can remain in the center, because the essence of the knowledge of God reveals my own existence as deriving its total being from his. (p. 31)

finding our identity in our Creator:

  • By accepting our identities from the one who is the giver of all life, we can be with each other without distance or fear. (p. 44)

incarnational compassion:

  • Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human… (p. 44)

I highly recommend Show Me The Way to anyone looking for a book of daily Lenten readings. I found myself almost every day being blown away by the power of Nouwen’s words. This book is a deep dive into reflecting on the condition of your heart and how that translates into how we live in our world. To quote Nouwen again: “The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it” (p. 109).

Reading Show Me The Way through Lent was such a meaningful experience and it will certainly be a part of my annual Lenten experience moving forward.

nouwen

Book Review: “What is the Bible?” by Rob Bell

what is the bible

I feel like any time someone mentions the name “Rob Bell” in Christian circles post Love Wins, someone should yell out: “LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!” So whether you love him or hate him, he’s back with a new book called What Is The Bible? and I’m sure it will get us talking.

If you are unfamiliar with who Rob Bell is, he founded and pastored Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids MI for about a dozen years, he’s written eight other books including: Velvet Elvis, the New York Times Best Selling Love Wins, and What We Talk About When We Talk About God. He hosts his own podcast called the RobCast, he’s done some events with Oprah, and in 2011 he was listed in Time Magazines 100 Most Influential People in the World.

In his newest work Bell sets out to answer the question presented in the books title: What is the Bible? This book is written for people who have never read the Bible before, people who love it, people who are suspect of it, people who are bored by it, people who are confused by it, people who are afraid of it, both believers and unbelievers.

Bell writes this book like someone who has visited the most amazing and mind-blowing place in the world (the Bible) and desperately wants everyone else to come and experience it too.

The book begins with Bell unpacking numerous sections of scripture, giving examples of how rich and complex and layered these passages are when you begin to dig into the cultural contexts and start unpacking the original languages it was written in. Throughout the book we are reminded that the Bible was written by “real people, in real places, in real times”, and when we read the Bible with this in mind it will change how we understand and experience it.

When people say the Bible is boring, they’re saying that because they haven’t actually read it. Because if you actually read it, and enter into the stories, and the depth and background and context and innuendo and hyperbole, the one thing you will not be is bored. (p. 141)

In my opinion, this reminder (not necessarily all his conclusions) for Christians to dig deeper into the text, has been a strength of Bell’s going all the way back to his first book Velvet Elvis. I personally have been challenged by Bell throughout the years to dig deep when studying scripture and it has most certainly had positive impact on my relationship with the Bible.

Another thing I appreciate about this book, is Bell’s unbridled passion and excitement for the Bible. If I had never read the Bible before, the first thing I would have done after reading this book, would be to go and buy a Bible.

When you read the Bible in its context, you learn that it’s a library of radically progressive books, calling humanity forward into a better future. (p. 114)

Bell’s consistent affirmation throughout the book of the relevance of scripture for today is also a very encouraging note, and one that I strongly agree with. That said, I find it somewhat inconsistent with at least one comment I’ve heard Bell say on the Bible. In an interview with Oprah a few years ago on the subject of sexuality, and the varying moral positions between much of the church and culture, Bell said: “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense…” In my opinion, whether he intended it or not (probably didn’t), his statement regarding scripture comes off as a low view of the Bible, and not very affirming towards the relevance of scripture if it holds a position contrary to our own or that of our culture (regardless of the issue being discussed). While I completely agree that we need to unpack scripture in it’s original context to properly understand it, and we have to exegete it for our current cultural context, my comfort level or level of agreement with something in scripture doesn’t make it any more or less true or relevant. So on this point of scriptural relevance, I probably agree-ish with Bell.

Another line from the book that MIGHT BE of concern for me, is when he speaks of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The line begins saying: “The next time you hear someone insisting that it was an actual, literal resurrection…” Now, in no other book (including this one) or interview, have I ever heard Bell say that he denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but this line feels like he is distancing himself from those who do hold that belief. If that is the case, I have significant concerns with that position, but if I have read too much into that line, I apologize, and there is nothing to see here.

What about the big questions concerning the Bible? Is it the word of God? Is it authoritative? Is it inerrant? Is it inspired? Where does Bell land on the big ones? Well, he actually dedicates almost 90 pages to answering those and other questions.

The Torah started the discussion. For many in our world, the Bible ends the discussion. Someone stands up and reads from the Bible and then tells the gathered masses what it means and what is right and how it should be interpreted and then the service is over and everybody leaves. But in the first-century world of Jesus, the Torah and the prophets and the wisdom writings were the start of the discussion. You read it, together. And then you interpreted it. You engaged with it. (p. 153-154)

Some people will sound the alarm that this book should not be read by anyone (especially new Christians) because they may begin to interpret the Bible solely through the opinions of Rob Bell, and that’s dangerous. Amen. I couldn’t agree more. Though it would also be dangerous for us to have John Piper, or Tim Keller, or C.S. Lewis, or N.T. Wright, or your pastor, or ______________ (insert your favorite theologian here) be the sole expositor of scripture in our lives. There is nothing wrong with reading other theologians and their interpretations of scripture, in fact reading a diverse mix of voices is an important and healthy thing, but the best thing, is that we are personally reading and praying and wrestling through the scriptures ourselves and we are doing so in the context of community.

There are definitely some conclusions Bell comes to that I would need to do some further study and research on before I could stand by them (or not), there are some conclusions that I find to be a bit of a stretch, and there are other conclusions I completely agree with. If you are curious as to who Bell’s theological influences are, he gives a pretty hefty list of books that have helped shape his theology including authors like: Thomas Cahill, Bruce Feiler, Peter Enns, Dallas Willard, and N.T. Wright to name a few.

What Is The Bible? in my opinion will be no where near as controversial as Love Wins, but similarly to that book I think it will be successful in bringing people into a conversation, in this case about the nature and purpose of the Bible, and that’s a great thing. So yeah, you should check out Bell’s newest book. Read it, question it, affirm it, disagree with it, but more importantly, and Bell would agree, just go grab a Bible and start reading that.

Bell 2017

Book Review: “Create vs. Copy” by Ken Wytsma

CreateVsCopy

A few years ago I was invited to do a review for a book from an author I had never heard of, but the subject was an important one to me, so I read it. The book was called Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma and it turned out to be hands down the best book I have ever read on the subject of justice (you can find that review HERE), and it is no question a must read on the subject.

So, when I was recently invited to review Wytsma’s newest book Create vs. Copy, I was more than happy to get involved.

Wytsma who lives in Bend, Oregon wears many hats on top of being an author (his other books include: Pursuing Justice & The Grand Paradox). He is the founder of the Justice Conference, the founding pastor of Antioch Church, and the president of Kilns College.

Create vs. Copy is divided into two parts: the theology of creativity and the practice of creativity. To be clear this book is not just for those who consider themselves to be “creative” or “artistic”, it is for anyone and everyone who wants to live out their God given calling to create and make a redemptive difference in all corners of life from your home, to your neighborhood, to your business, to your church, to your band, the list goes on and on.

I especially appreciated chapter six on imagination & innovation and chapter seven on intentional creativity. Wytsma breaks down imagination into three different categories, including: comprehensive imagination, artistic imagination, and practical imagination; and the role that each of those forms takes in innovating. He then illustrates with his own family how when our values guide the whole creative process (imagination / intentional creativity / innovation) it can create beautiful and life giving environments.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • If we are born to create, innovation isn’t just about harnessing creativity – it’s actually about restoring creativity to its rightful place at the heart of all we do. (p. 18)
  • Creativity is one way we manifest and exercise the image of God…When people say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” not only is it untrue, it’s denying the image of God in us. (p. 26 & 27)
  • We need redemptive creativity – creativity that aims not just for success, but freedom; and not just for ourselves, but for others and for the good of creation as a whole. (p. 61)
  • When God redeems, He breathes life into what was dead – and that is the eternal project to which we are called to lend our own creative efforts. (p. 163)

Create vs. Copy is a great book that can be read individually or with a group or team. Every chapter ends with reflection questions and some really great interactive further study options (ie. videos, recommended books, articles…). I knew this book did its job inspiring creativity and innovation when by the time I was reading the last couple of chapters I was jotting down notes not just for this review, but also notes on new ideas I was coming up with for being a better leader in my home and thoughts on trying new ways of leading and experiencing weekly church worship gatherings. I would definitely recommend this book.

You can watch a trailer for Create vs. Copy HERE.

You can order Create vs. Copy from Amazon.com HERE.

If you would like to follow Ken Wytsma on Twitter, his handle is: @kjwytsma.

Book Review: “You and Me Forever” by Francis & Lisa Chan

you and me forever

Since reading Francis Chan’s first book Crazy Love, which had a profound impact on my faith, I’ve read everything he’s written since. You and Me Forever is Chan’s newest book, which is co-authored with his wife Lisa, and is on the subject of marriage.

At first glance, the title of the book and it’s main premise, “marriage is great, but it’s not forever”, seem to contradict each other, but as you read on you’ll discover that they go hand in hand.

Like Crazy Love was a “good uncomfortable” for your personal walk with Jesus, You and Me Forever is a “good uncomfortable” for your understanding of marriage.

If you prefer reading fluffy, feel good books on marriage, you will not find that here. I found this book to be very challenging to my understanding of a Biblical marriage and how to practically live it out.

One highlight for me was the chapter on parenting. As a soon to be first time parent, this chapter was both encouraging and challenging. This quote beautifully captures the heart of the chapter: “Make sure the mission of God is the priority in your life. Let your kids see, and give them opportunities to join you in serving God. As they experience the joy of serving, the hope is that they will still be serving Him faithfully long after you are gone” (p. 168-169).

Here are a few additional quotes from the book that stood out to me:

  • “…most marriage problems are not really marriage problems. They are God problems. They can be traced back to one or both people having a poor relationship with God or a faulty understanding of Him” (p. 20-21).
  • “Can you really call your marriage ‘good’ if your focus on your family keeps you from making disciples, caring for the poor, reaching out to the lost, and using your talents and resources for others?” (p. 116)
  • “Marriage-centered marriages have become accepted and applauded rather than Christ-centered ones” (p. 117).

You and Me Forever will greatly challenge and expand your view of marriage. It will force you to see marriage through the eyes of eternity and being lived out as disciples of Jesus whose primary mission is to make disciples.

I would definitely recommend this book if you are looking for a challenging read on the subject of marriage from the Christian perspective. In classic Chan style, the book is thick with scripture and it also has great reflection questions at the end of each chapter. I think this book is a powerful resource for those who are already engaged or married, but also an outstanding book for those who are single.

For additional information and resources on this book, check out: www.youandmeforever.org

* This book can be downloaded for FREE from the above website. 

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