‘The Road Trip that Changed the World’ by Mark Sayers

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When Jack Kerouac’s second novel, ‘On The Road’ was published in late summer 1957, the review in the New York Times said that:

“…its publication is a historic occasion insofar as the exposure of the authentic work of art if of any great moment in any age in which the attention is fragmented and the sensibilities are blunted by the superlatives of fashion….[and is] the most beautifully executed, the clearest and most important utterance yet made of the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as ‘beat’ and whose principal avatar he is.”

It was recognised immediately as a classic, a book that reflected the developing worldview of a generation which desired freedom from regulation and traditional expectation, which wanted to be ‘on the road’, constantly seeking the next transcendent experience to somehow overcome the ‘mundane’ existence of life in post-war America.

But as I read it now, 55 years on, the experiences of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty seem tame and almost, dare I say it, boring.  How can this be?  How can such a seminal book, one that influenced and changed the lives of so many, now seem so ‘run of the mill’?

Kerouac’s novel is a classic, but it’s more than that, it’s a signpost, marking the place and time when a paradigm shift took place in culture and society that still underpins our contemporary view of life and ‘post-modern’ existence.  My worldview, my outlook on life is influenced, whether I realise it or not, by the same cultural change that is articulated in Kerouac’s semi-biographical story telling.  I find it mundane because it’s already such a intrinsic part of how I think and feel.  Living ‘on the road’ is no longer a subversive and rebellious act because it’s now ‘normal’ – the counter-cultural lifestyle of the ‘beat’ generation has been adsorbed and is now ubiquitous in our everyday, contemporary culture.

This is the main critique that forms the basis for Mark Sayer’s new book, ‘The Road Trip that Changed the World’, not that Kerouac single-handedly changed the culture, but that Kerouac through ‘On The Road’ spoke on behalf of a generation that was changing, moving away from the certainties of the past to a post-modern dynamic narrative that forever altered how we experience the journey through our lives, including those of us in the church.

In his two previous books, ‘The Trouble with Paris’ and ‘The Vertical Self’, Sayers has shown himself to be a talented observer of the interface between church and secular culture, demonstrating how, so often, the church is overly influenced by the surrounding secular worldview.  ‘The Road Trip’ continues this good work, using the example of Abraham to contrast the ‘way of the road’ with the ‘way of the cross’ – to encourage us to live a different story, to walk a different road, as he explains:

“The choice before us is now clear. To follow our culture’s collection of stories that go nowhere, to believe that the world is a meaningless place, out of which we can only hope to eke out passing moments of pleasure. To follow a road which at the end of our lives will leave us only with a well-groomed Facebook page, a collection of digital photos, and a library of downloadable songs and movies. Our lives will be reduced to a digital memorial that can be erased with the click of a mouse. We will live and die as shallow people living in a shallow culture…..The second choice before us is to…immerse ourselves in the story of a God who came to earth to die for the world. A God who calls us to follow a different road, a road which is tough, a road which does not always let us get what we want, a road of sacrifice and pain, a road that ends with a Cross. A Cross which opens our eyes to the true nature of reality. A Cross which enables us to see that the world is luminously alive. That it pulsates with the sacred, that each atom, every creature, bears the fingerprints of its creator. A place where in the poetic words of William Blake we can “see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower – Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.” Then we will be deep people, on a mission to deepen the world, reservoirs of living water in the secular desert, revealing the glory of God.”

Sayers hits the mark for me. He understanding that the contemporary church in Western culture is at a crossroads where a decision needs to be made. The choice is stark – stay the same, be shallow, follow the road of the world, be hidden and irrelevant, or wake up to your calling, choose to take the road of the cross, become deep, and find again the power of devotion, the creation-changing power that will bring the world back to life.

I have always found Sayer’s writing to be compelling, encouraging and inspiring in equal measure, and ‘The Road Trip’ is definately up to his usual standard.  This is a book that should be read by everyone who loves Jesus and who cares about the future of the church.

So if that’s you, then get a copy before it’s too late.

 

(For the record, I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher for review, however, this has not influenced my view of the book in any way, and I have subsequently bought a digital copy on Kindle to show my support of the author.)

A Review: ‘Jolt’ by Phil Cooke

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Have you ever read one of those really annoying ‘management’ books that try to brainwash you into the false hope and blind belief that positive thinking alone will solve all your life problems and help you find success and riches beyond your wildest dreams?

 

If you have, and, like me, you find them shallow and unrealistic, then you might want to put ‘Jolt’ by Phil Cooke on your ‘best to avoid’ list.

 

But if you did, then you would miss out on a well written book, which, against my better judgement, I must admit I found challenging at times, that is, when I wasn’t cringing at Cooke’s sometimes sickly ‘you-can-have-it-all-like-me’ confidence.

 

The basic premise behind the book is that we all need a kick up the backside, a jolt, to shake us up, realign our thinking and make us realise that the world is changing around us whether we like it or not. Media and technology are taking over our lives, and we need to take back control and ‘adapt to the turmoil’ or get washed away by the tidal wave of emails, updates and constant streamed information.

 

The secret, he feels, is to understand and harness the power of change. As he writes, “We don’t have to trade our freedom for connectivity, our values for financial success, or our devotion to God for our commitment to technology. Perhaps more important, we can actually embrace the radical disruption and make it work for us.”

 

How? By ‘jolting’ specific areas of your life, waking you up to the destructive effects of bad habits and practices that dampen your motivation to change, and ultimately hold you back from being a success.

 

What I did find refreshing was that Cooke was clear and upfront about his faith as a Christian, not in a preachy or pushy way, but with sincerity and honesty, acknowledging his spiritual walk as an important contributor to his success in business and life.

 

If you want a motivational book that will challenge your thinking, then this is a book for you. However, I found it disappointing, because I was hoping that, as a Christian, Cooke would bring a different perspective, one in which embracing change leads us to appreciate and value what we have rather than just feed our desire for more.

But he didn’t, which, for me, is a shame.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Review: ‘Peace Be With You’ by David Carlson

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading ‘Peace Be With You’ by David Carlson, due to the fact that I only picked it up because I was intrigued by the basic premise behind it, mainly, the desire to consider the response and reaction to the horror of 9/11 from a monastic perspective.

Carlson, professor in Religious Studies at Franklin College, Indiana in the USA, wrote the book as a result of three personal encounters with the monastic community, that seemingly occurred by coincidence, during the years after that fateful day in September 2001, or three ‘knocks on the door’ as he calls them.  As such, the book is written with two specific questions in mind. “Firstly, how did monks, nuns and retreatants respond when first learning of 9/11? And second, how have they continued to respond to our world of violence and terror, given their spiritual resources and training?”

Carlson attempts to answer these questions by conducting a series of interviews with men and women living the monastic life from across the denominational spectrum, recording their answers and opinions, and then summarising the themes and reactions that he found. Each interview provided him with a different but complimentary perspective of the attocity, which together allowed him to form a window through which he was able to perceive a better way to deal with hurt, pain and conflict.

The book is inspiriational and enlightening, although at times a little hard going.  However, I’m glad I read it, and can honestly say, hand on heart, that my personal response to the events of 9/11, and my general outlook on life for that matter, is different because of it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Review: ‘With’ by Skye Jethani

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If you have ever visited the ‘Out of Ur’ blog, then you should be familiar with the easy writing style of Skye Jethani.  For me, he writes with his reader in mind, making sure that he carefully walks the line between communicating facts and providing satisfaction, and as such, I always find his writing a joy to read, and his new book, ‘With’, is no exception.

His stated purpose for the book is to examine the reality of how we as Christians often approach God, and then to consider a better way that ‘brings life and freedom’.  He does this by distilling the essence of the Christian experience into a series of postures, described by using the prepositions ‘under’, ‘over’, ‘from’, ‘for’ and ‘with’ , explaining how they relate to one another, and ultimately, how they influence our relationship with and attitude towards God.

It is an easy to read, but challenging book, very much in the style of authors like Philip Yancey and John Ortberg, using illustration to good effect in order to communicate wisdom, insight and truth in a style that everyone can understand and enjoy.  However, I must confess that at times I found it hard going, with some repetition and maybe a little too much padding in places, especially in the first half, but thankfully, this didn’t spoil or reduce the impact of the book.

Overall, I think ‘With’ is a good book, and one that is well worth reading, but be aware, it will challenge your Christian worldview, and make you think deeply about how you relate to God. As for me, I found it inspiring, and at times felt like Jethani had written the book personally for me as it spoke clearly into my current condition.  My prayer is that it will do the same for you.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Review: ‘Finding Our Way Again’ by Brian McLaren

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I must admit, this is the first Brian McLaren book I have actually read from cover to cover.  I have lots of his books on my book shelf, and have dipped in and out of them many times, but this is the first time I have ever completed one from start to finish – always seeming to have lots of other books that take a priority.

So I was glad to get the chance to read ‘Finding Our Way Again’, since it’s subject is very close to my heart, specifically, having an authentic experience of the Lordship of Jesus by encouraging the day-to-day use of ancient practices that have been largely forgotten about, or in some cases, ignored in the contemporary evangelical church culture.

The whole purpose of the book is explained in the first chapter, that Brian feels that as professing Jesus followers we need to “rediscover our faith as a way of life, not simply as a system of belief”.

I couldn’t agree more.  Spot on!

Does he achieve what he sets out to do?  Yes, I think he does.

The book is easy to read, with many illustrations and examples taken from his own life, and gives a good overview of a number of spiritual practices that have been used by believers through the ages.

However, he doesn’t cover anything in real depth, but I don’t think that was the function of the book.  It was written as the first in a series, The Ancient Practices Series, and as an introduction to the others I think it works perfectly. 

I enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for an outline of how ancient spiritual practices can add practical benefit to your daily walk with Jesus, but don’t expect too much because you will be disappointed.  However, having said this, my overriding feeling when I finished it was the desire to read the other books in the series, which from Brian’s perspective, I’m sure, would be considered as a successful outcome.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Review: ‘Mystically Wired’ by Ken Wilson

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‘Mystically Wired’ by Ken Wilson is a good book, mainly because if you take what he has to say seriously, and put it into practice, then you will discover new intimacy with God and start the long journey of a life of prayer.

It’s as simple as that really.

I loved the book, I loved Wilson’s writing style and I really enjoyed his blend of mysticism, practical advice and scientific explanation.  Throughout the book Wilson deals effortlessly with the transition from mystic and scientific theory and fact into prayerful practice, giving loads of good ideas and tips to assist the reader in developing an effective and intimate prayer life.

The book is divided into two main parts. The first deals with the truth behind our mystical wiring – blending together the spiritual and scientific aspects into a easily digestible whole. The second part then explores ‘new realms in prayer’ considering ways to focus, meditate and develop intimacy with God, including praying at intervals.

Having said all this, Mystically Wired is not a book for easy reading.  You won’t read it through in one sitting and I would even suggest that you read it at intervals over a number of months, putting into practice its advice as you go along – and almost stopping at times to reflect on your prayer walk as a result of reading the book.

I would not hestiate in recommending this book to anyone who wants to deepen their relationship with God through prayer and mediation.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that this book is essential reading for all who want to focus more on the ‘quiet place’ and it is already back on my reading list for future ‘re-reading’ and reference – as a means of reflecting on my own prayer practices going forward.

If you let Him, I think God will change your life as a result of this book.

It just depends on whether you will let Him.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Review: ‘The Map – The Way of All Great Men’ by David Murrow

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Right from the opening few paragraphs ‘The Map – The Way of All Great Men’ by David Murrow grabs your attention and takes you on a literary rollercoaster ride.  Written in a similar style to a Dan Brown novel the pace is fast, the story full of apparent intrigue and mystery, and the writing direct and easy to read – and, I have to say, nothing like any other Christian book I have ever read to date!

But this is the appeal of the book.  It has a different concept and delivery, the first half of the book is fiction, the telling of a story that is used as an illustration for the non-fiction second half of the book where Murrow gets serious with some inspirational teaching and encouragement.

And, overall, it mainly worked, for me at least.

The story is simple.

David Murrow, the writer and main character, wakes up in a barn, somewhere in the middle of Greece, having travelled half way across the world from his home in Alaska to find a map that supposedly holds the key as to why men are leaving the contemporary church across America and the rest of the Western world.  Can he find this mysterious map before it is to late, and then do what he does best, write a book so that all can see and understand why this strange phenomenon is occurring.

We then find out that this story is in fact a fiction, which is used as the background for the teaching elements in the second half of the book, where Murrow outlines his thoughts about why men are losing interested in their ongoing faith and spirituality?

His conclusion is stark and direct – the church has become too feminine and female orientated.  Men as a result don’t find what they need and so leave to find fulfilment elsewhere.

Where does the map come in?  Well the map, according to Murrow, is the ancient map of manhood found hidden in the gospel of Matthew.  This map needs to be understood and taught to men in church so that they can recognise that they can grow to be spiritual giants and yet still retain their masculinity, getting the right balance between what Murrow calls the feminine trait of submission and sacrifice with the masculine trait of strength.

This is all well and good, but I can’t help but feel that Murrow ends up describing the path of discipleship for all Christians not just men.  Yes, I can understand where he is coming from, but after a while his insistence on submission and sacrifice being girly and feminine, and strength being ladish and masculine rubs a bit, and to be honest, gets a bit patronising and, dare I say it, chauvinistic.

For me, in the end, it was a good book on discipleship spoiled .  Too much emphasis was put on the differences between men and women and the need for men to come to terms with their ‘feminine’ side and characteristics – and I don’t think it was necessary!  Murrow could have got the same message across without it and instead could have focussed on the need for all in the church to become disciples – mastering submission, strength and sacrifice as part of their walk of faith together.

Having said all that, I really enjoyed reading the book and agree wholeheartedly with the substance if not the detail.

I would recommend this book to everyone – not just men, because there is a lot of truth in it that we all need to learn.  The first half of the book is a brilliant story and one that will appeal to most readers of contemporary ‘pulp’ fiction.  The second half, however, for me, should be read carefully and thoughtfully, and with 1 Thessalonians 5: 21 in mind, “Test everything.  Hold onto what is good”.  There is a lot of good to hold onto, but unfortunately, at times, how it is framed can be a little annoying.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”