Book Review: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Essentialism BookOne of the most valuable lessons I learned in college was during my internship in the office of the college president. I admired President Mark Maxwell’s leadership style. He didn’t attempt to accomplish everything that was asked of him. Rather, he thoughtfully declined requests that were better suited for someone in a different position. This empowered others to take responsibility for important tasks at the college, and allowed him to give attention to things that only he was in the position to do.

As I read Essentialism I thought of Mark as a model for how to practice the principles presented by author Greg McKeown. The ability and willingness to let go of the non-essential gives us freedom to truly enjoy life, and to be purposeful with that which is most important to us.

McKeown challenged me to ask, are the things I’m committed to absolutely essential for the main goals I am trying to accomplish? I know I can’t do everything that is asked of me, so I need to choose to do only a few things really well. McKeown claims, and I agree, that following the principles of Essentialism will give me more control over my time, and will result in more satisfaction in everything I do. After all, as McKeown says, if I don’t make firm decisions about my schedule and place clear boundaries in my life, someone else will do it for me. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to have a more effective and disciplined lifestyle.

Review of I Still Love You by Michael Ungar

I Still Love You by Michael UngarNo parent wants a their child to be labeled as a “problem child,” but not many of us are confident about how to prevent that from happening. With three children of my own, and with responsibilities as a pastor to teenagers and parents, I am thankful for Michael Ungar’s book I Still Love You.

Ungar impressed me particularly with how he used a non-threatening story about three fictional families to suggest nine things troubled kids need from their parents. The entire book follows these three families, who represent a collection of real situations, and the issues they and their children are experiencing. He covers a multitude of problems, from substance abuse and violence to rebellion and teenage pregnancy, while providing readers with practical advice on how to respond to children dealing with these problems.

The key principle Ungar emphasizes is that “there are no more problem children when parents help them flourish.” If you are asking yourself how to help your child flourish, I urge to you please read this book. But, it is not only for parents. I would recommend this book to any person who regularly interacts with troubled children, particularly teenagers. It won’t give you all the answers, but it will give you enough to start heading in the right direction.

Review The Third Plate by Dan Barber

Danbarber0709We have all been told since we were children that we should eat a well-balanced diet of grains, dairy, fruits, vegetables and protein, along with an active lifestyle, in order to maintain good health and live a long-life. However, Dan Barber would like to supplement those recommendations with well-balanced and sustainable production of food.

Barber, the executive chef of Blue Hill in Manhattan, a trend-setting farm-to-table restaurant, was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2009. His influence does not only encourage new ways of preparing great tasting dishes, but also in promoting a healthy relationship between chefs and the farmers who produce the ingredients they use in their restaurants.

I was immediately drawn to Barber’s book The Third Plate upon reading the first few pages of the introduction. He describes his discovery of a variety of corn that had more flavour than any other he had ever tried. It was also one of the oldest varieties in America, dating back to the 1600s. This story introduces a book full of culinary discoveries that has made me reconsider every ingredient I cook with at home.

Barber’s vision for the future is a plate of food made up of ingredients sourced for mainly their sustainability of local farming. He encourages his readers to think about ways to cook all of the food the local farms produce, not only the choice cuts of meat and the best of the produce.

I think the message of this book is important for all home cooks and chefs to consider. Most of his ideas are not new; they have merely been forgotten in the pursuit of mass-production and cost reduction. Barber is calling us to re-think what we put on our plates for the sake of our children and grandchildren, while encouraging creativity and the discovery of great tasting ingredients that we would have never previously thought to consider.

Book Review of One Hour in Paris by Karyn L. Freedman

One Hour in ParisAs a pastor, I am faced daily with the possibility that I might be required to provide comfort and assistance to people in crisis. This is why I am grateful for the knowledge and wisdom passed on from others who have experience in dealing with difficult situations, understanding that some knowledge is only gained by incredibly unfortunate means.

In the honest and courageous memoir, One Hour in Paris, readers are provided with a window into what it is like to experience, and begin to recover from, one of the most devastating events anyone can imagine. On August 1, 1990, at the age of 22, Karyn Freedman’s life was changed for the worse because of the terrible actions of a man in Paris.

She describes the details of her rape, and how she managed to narrowly escape from being killed by a man out of control. Although the graphic details of the rape make the first chapter a challenge to read, Freedman quickly moves on to the process of recovery, which is an incredibly helpful description of what a rape survivor experiences on a regular basis. More than twenty years after her rape, Freedman is now a philosophy professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, and is an advocate for social justice and women’s rights around the world.

While the descriptions in the first chapter may be triggering for survivors of rape or violence, this short book is for those who need some hope for recovery. It is also for those with loved ones in their lives who have survived rape or violence. I commend Karyn Freedman for her courage; publishing a book is a very public way to share a very private and tragic experience. She has done it well and I believe many will benefit from her story.

Book Review: The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel

The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3 ESV)

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 ESV)

In his book, The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel emphasizes the importance of a word that describes the Sabbath day in both these passages: the Sabbath day is a holy day. I read this book upon a recommendation from Eugene Peterson, in his memoir The Pastor (a book I have not yet reviewed, but I hope to write one soon). The Sabbath is a short but incredibly insightful look, from a Jewish perspective, into the day on which God rested from his work.

I have been discovering that time and rest mean something entirely different for me as a pastor than any other occupation I have had. I am not paid by the hour. Nor am I paid to accomplish a certain amount of work each day or week. Prior to becoming a pastor, rest meant a break from school work, design work, sales work, physical work, and so on. A day of rest was truly a break from my daily responsibilities. However, how does one rest from relationship? For, relationship is my primary occupation. Relationship with God and with people.

Heschel has provided me with a grasp of the meaning of sabbath that is helpful in my role as a pastor. In one of the most powerful statements, he describes the sabbath as a sampling of eternal life. It is time made holy, set apart unto God. Observing the sabbath is about the recognition that we are citizens of a holy kingdom, a realm that is superior to the physical world. By observing the sabbath, we declare that we are eternally and ultimately dependant on God, not our things or our work.

Robust in Love

Peterson - Practice ResurrectionWith today being Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to write on the topic of love.

I am struck by this statement made by Eugene Peterson in Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing up in Christ.1 He states this as the subject of his book: “healthy in God, robust in love.”2

What does it look like to be robust in love? And how does this happen? Peterson gets this phrase from his own translation of Ephesians 4:16:

We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

Peterson suggests that being healthy in God and robust in love requires that which is counter intuitive to the typical North American lifestyle: quietness, obscurity, patience, and a willingness to give up control.3 This is done, according to Peterson, as “we keep company with Jesus, alive and present, who knows where we are going better than we do, which is always ‘from glory to glory.'”4

The term “robust in love” is used within the context of community. Paul uses in depth the imagery of the church as a body, with Christ as the head and the lifeblood. The concern of this particular passage is that the body works properly. In order to work properly, the body must be nourished by Christ.

Take a moment to think about what this means. Christ is a person. He is not a program or a doctrine. He is not an idea to agree with or a moral standard to live by. He is the very life and breath of the church. What, then, are we expected to do with Christ?

This is where things get troublesome for our consumeristic culture: we are expected to simply be connected to Christ. Our trouble is that we think there is always something that needs to be done. Yes, there are things that need to be done, but the most important things, the things that involve being healthy in God and being robust in love, have very little to do with action and have far more to do with just being the body.

  1. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2010 []
  2. p. 5 []
  3. p. 6 []
  4. p. 8 []