Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book review: Elyse Fitzpatrick- Found in him

Found In Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and Our Union with Christ
Elyse Fitzpatrick
Buy the audiobook / buy the print edition

Union with Christ is a theological idea that has tended to not get a great deal of attention in the past. That’s unfortunate because its an idea that appears quite often in the New Testament and one that has big implications for how we relate to God. Thankfully that neglect is starting to be rectified. In addition to a number of academic level works, Rory Shiner published a brilliant book about it earlier this year, Desiring God has announced a conference on the topic and Elyse Fitzpatrick has recently released an good book on the topic called “Found In Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and Our Union with Christ”

Found In Him takes the really helpful approach of looking at union with Christ together with an in-depth look at the incarnation and humanity of Christ. This section on its own is helpful because it unpacks a lot of why it matters that Jesus lived as fully human for so long rather than just dashing down out of heaven briefly to save us. In the context of this book it was especially helpful because it also served to set a good foundation for the discussions in the second half of the book on union with Christ. The second section provided a reasonably clear explanation of the union with Christ, although I felt bordered on overusing the metaphor of marriage. The book made a strong close with an explanation of how our effort and being good relates to the ideas in the book.

The book was well structured and clear enough to follow. However, I found the writing style didn’t quite work for me. The writing was often a bit more over descriptive and slow to get to the point than I would have preferred. Don’t let that put you off reading it though- you may find the style works well for you.

Overall verdict: Recommended. It would do all Christians a lot of good to ponder the truths laid out in this book.

Review copy courtesy of christianaudio

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Book review: Kevin DeYoung- Crazy Busy

Crazy Busy
Kevin DeYoung
Buy at print version Amazon / Buy audiobook at christianaudio

It would be easy at first glance to assume that Crazy Busy is just another book bemoaning the busyness of modern life and handing out helpful tips on how to work less hours, tame your schedule and get through your emails quicker. In many bookstores there is big selection of such books and the blogosphere has even more to say about the topic.

Certainly there is some good advice in the book, but this book stands out for going deeper into the underlying spiritual and emotional roots of the problem and how we can work on addressing them. These include things such as feeling kids must be involved in everything possible if they aren’t to fall behind in life, pride about how much we can achieve and neglecting to get enough rest. The book also covered the role of digital distractions in busyness and misplaced priorities was particularly convicting.

He finishes his exploration of the issue with a helpful summons back to dedicating time to spend with God, both because it is what we should be doing anyway and because it helps other things in life fall into place a bit better. Towards the end of the book he also makes some useful clarification about the tiredness and schedule demands that can come from following God’s calling and the unhealthy busyness most of the book has dealt with.

Although the analysis is at times uncomfortably convicting (in a good way) , it doesn’t descend into feeling preachy as DeYoung shares plenty of his own failings and a bit of humor. Neither does the book drag on even though undoubtedly volumes could be written on the topic. The chapters are fairly short and the whole thing is only 3 hours in audio (128 pages in print).

Regardless of whether you think you are crazy busy or just a little bit busy, I recommend you read this book. You’ll likely come out understanding your own behavior more clearly and better equipped to keep your priorities in order.

Review copy courtesy of christianaudio

Monday, October 14, 2013

Poetry: A poem for a place

A poem for a place

Have you changed
Or was it I?
I've walked your streets
Sat under your night sky
Your rooms feel haunted
With the ghosts of what
I've been Is it better, is it worse?
Can't make sense of what I've seen

So here I am again
I've dwelt with you before
You look much the same
Don't know about me anymore
Soon I must depart again
I will surely be back one day
Then I'll wander your roads again
Maybe then I'll find my way

 (c) Joanna Holman

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book review: Carolyn Weber- Holy is the day

Holy Is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present
Carolyn Weber
Buy the book at Amazon

There is a lot that’s being said these days about doing dramatic radical things for Jesus. That has merit, but sometimes it is good to read of what it means to live faithfully in the midst of normal life. Carolyn Weber’s new book Holy is the day explores finding God in the normal things of life with incredible beauty, wisdom and intelligence.

Carolyn’s first book, Surprised by Oxford, tells the story of discovering Christianity and meeting her husband while an international student studying literature at the historic Oxford University. Holy is the Day picks up later in the story as she navigates pregnancy, facing the challenges of being a Christian employed in academia and moving home to Canada. As in her first book, the stories are vividly and beautifully told. As cliché as it sounds, reading her story made me feel like I was there amidst it all. The book also shines for the depth of the theological reflection, something I think she has grown even more in since her first book. She articulates a lot of big and thoughtful ideas while still maintaining beautiful prose. I was particularly struck by her reflections on how the difficult challenges of working through the aftermath of trauma. This is definitely something that could use more and better discussion among Christians.

I strongly commend this book to you. I hope it is widely read because it has much truth and beauty to communicate.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Quotable: Worship & faith

"The object of our faith is a Person, not a proposition. We do not place our lives in an idea or a doctrine or a system or a set of values. We place ourselves in the personal God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Proclaiming the creed, then, is an act of worship, not a recitation of doctrine. Faith, after all, is not simple agreement or the acknowledgment of certain propositions or hypotheses. Faith is the placing of your whole life within God, the only One who is faithful enough to hold your life, redeem it, and save it. There is no worship without faith, and there is no faith without worship. It is faith that leads us to worship and worship that enlarges our faith."

From Discover the Mystery of Faith by Glenn Packiam

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book review: Rory Shiner- One Forever

One Forever: The transforming power of being in Christ
Rory Shiner

There isn’t that many talks I would say changed my life but Rory Shiner’s talks on union with Christ at an Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students conference a few years ago did. It wasn’t a big, blinding moment of epiphany, but the introduction of a set of ideas that began to seep into how I thought about living as a Christian, changing me for the better. So I was rather excited when I heard that Rory was elaborating on these ideas in a book.

The idea of union with Christ or being “in Christ” does at first glance sound a bit obscure. Other than Rory’s talks, I don’t think I’ve heard it preached about much. But, as Rory points out in the book, it’s an idea the New Testament commonly uses to describe what it means to be a Christian. The big idea is that by being united to Christ in his death and resurrection, the victory over sin and death and the new life that he achieved is ours too. If that sounds a bit hard to get your head around, don’t worry because in the book Rory explains it strikingly well.

I think there is a couple of audiences this book can be particularly helpful. One is Christian who have fallen into feeling like Christianity is about what they do. There is quite a few books coming out these days that address such tendencies, but I think this angle is quite a helpful one. The book also has some evangelistic potential. While some of the concepts might require a bit more knowledge that some seekers would have, there are some really fantastic illustrations and metaphors that could be very useful when explaining the gospel.

It is only a short book (less than 90 pages), but there is so much good stuff in it. No matter how much or little theology you think you know, my recommendation is that you read it, followed by reading it again a few more times.

Review copy courtesy of Matthias Media
Book Trailer

Friday, August 23, 2013

Featured song: my remix of Fly to Paradise by the Virtual Choir

A few weeks ago I wrote some reflections on participating in the Virtual Choir. More recently, I've been dabbling with remixing the new Virtual Choir track. This is what I came up with. You can download it from the widget if you want. If you can't see the widget, click here to listen at soundcloud. If you want to have a go at remixing it, you can get the parts at the Virtual Choir website.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Notes to my college self

Today I visited the university campus I attended for a performance by a sibling's band at an open day for prospective students. As I navigated my way through crowds of wide-eyed prospective students, I couldn’t help picture being in these spaces in the past. I pictured high-school me, sitting in a courtyard while waiting for school band competitions at the campus to start. I would watch the students, so mature and sophisticated looking as they juggled their books and coffee. I could picture me at an open day much like the one I was attending. In other parts of the campus, I could picture first year me, learning my way around the complex and illogically arranged collection of campus facilities and experiencing various aspects of campus life for the first time.

I pondered what I would tell these past versions of myself if time and space was to bend in a way that made that possible. Certainly I would tell me practical tips about effective library use, how to negotiate university bureaucracy and the dangers of over-caffeination. But more importantly, I’d tell me some of what I wish I’d known or that I discovered by accident about what it means to not waste those years. Unfortunately I can’t send these notes back in time, but I can put them out there for those who have university/college study ahead of them. So here goes...

Dear student self,

I know it seems like you have a lot of years of study ahead of you. As cliche as it sounds, the time really does fly and before you know it you’ll be graduating. Yes, student life is busy, but it is worth investing time and effort into a few things that will make you more likely to feel like you made the most of these years when you graduate.

Learn more than you have to. You’ll see lots of your fellow students doing their best to spend as little time studying as possible, learning exactly what they need for their exams (and absolutely nothing more). It’s tempting, but don’t be like them. You’re spending all this time and money to learn, so you may as well learn as much as you can. Read some of the non-required readings or go find some library books on a topics your classes don’t fully cover. If you’re busy, find some educational podcasts or audiobooks to listen to on your way to campus or while exercising. In addition to the intrinsic benefits of learning interesting things, the extra effort will probably help your marks and make you sound more intelligent in class discussions too. 

Expand your interests. You’ll have access to a huge range of sporting, arts and cultural activities happening a few minutes walk from where your classes are held. Make the most of this, since once you graduate being involved in such things is often more expensive, difficult to fit around a work schedule and might require travel time. So go to talks on interesting topics unrelated to your degree or go to recitals featuring a style of music your favourite radio station would never play. Join the quidditch team or the choir and maybe go watch the debating club in action sometimes. It’s a great time to be finding new passions and creating memories that will enrich your life now and in the future.

Invest in relationships. Your university campus is a big place with lots of people. You won’t have many people who are in more than one of the same classes as you. This means that you will have to put effort and planning into making and maintaining friendships.That looks a bit different for everyone depending on their interests and personality, but do whatever it takes to have regular, meaningful interaction with friends.

Invest in your career.Unfortunately your degree will count for a lot less than you hope it will in the job market, even though you are going to a very good university and will get good marks. A lot of what they teach you at university won’t be that job focused and most of the people you’ll be competing with for your future job will also have a degree. One day at a future job you’ll get the task of reading applicants' resumes and get sick of hearing how their group projects taught them teamwork and communication skills! Put time into volunteering, part time work and other experiences that will give you something to show to prospective employers. As boring as they are, take the job hunting and career skills workshops your university offers. Don’t leave it to your last semester, the earlier you can be getting ready for post-study life the better.

So, student self, time to get busy making the most of all those opportunities.

Your future self.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Finding real grace in a virtual choir

A few nights ago, I was in the kitchen with my laptop open on the counter, blasting the new Virtual Choir video on youtube.

While I was kind of dancing, kind of cleaning as the video played a housemate walked in to dump dishes in the sink. They stopped at my laptop and tried to make sense of what they were seeing and anime angel.....a classical colorful buildings....and an electro backing track. I tried to explain what it was they were seeing and I think they eventually kind of understood the idea of how a virtual choir works- that singers from all around the world submit the videos of themselves singing and the videos get joined together into a choir.

But what I now wish I’d explained was that to me, what they were watching was grace wrapped up in sound and video.

I love composer Eric Whitacre’s music and thought his concept of the virtual choir was brilliant. I had watched previous versions online in awe. And so when a new choir project opened up I downloaded the sheet music, loaded the demo tracks onto my iPod and started getting my head around the beautiful harmonies. But as the submission deadline drew closer, I despaired about my chances of joining the choir. I was already musically out of shape from too long away from singing. I was exhausted from working multiple jobs to make ends meet and the illness I had hoped would get better in time to record a video had not gotten better, both of which were messing with my voice. I sang the best I could but every recording was disappointing. But strangers from around the world on the choir forum spurred me on to join in and in a moment of crazy, I pushed upload.

I would not have faulted the Virtual Choir team for throwing my video out. The performance wasn’t very good and neither was the technical quality of the video. Anyone would have been justified to reject the video but they would all the more given how talented and respected some of the people involved in creating the choir are. Artists who win Grammy awards normally work with people who have a level of talent I could never attain. There was also more than enough great singers among the choir to create an impressive video.

Eventually release day rolled around. After much battling a bad internet connection I got the video playing and got lost in the video and the music. Several minutes in, I noticed a familiar face among all the singers I did not really expect to see. There I was, part of the choir. I had not been rejected but graciously made part of the choir. That was a feeling of belonging that I could not fully describe. We sounded beautiful. The flaws that were in my performance (and no doubt in other people’s) blended into an extraordinary sound.

I was originally going to make this post about what happens when people from different backgrounds are willing to cooperate or the possibilities of using technology for good or the power of collaborative creativity. All these things were inspiring about the Virtual Choir. But I realised that it is the grace I was shown that I want to dwell on and remember the most. Too often life is survival (or at least advancement) of the fittest, of the most talented, of the best. Never quite measuring up in all sorts of ways feels like the story of my life over the past few years. It’s something you experience hundreds of times over when job hunting! People’s flaws too often get mocked, whether that be on the playground or on the internet. People feeling like they don’t belong anywhere they try fit to fit in is endemic. Grace is rare.

It is worth celebrating and remembering when people who could justifiably do otherwise show grace and extend belonging to those who don’t deserve it and in doing so create something wonderful. It is worth watching for, because sometimes it is to be found in unexpected places, even in anime animated, elecro-classical youtube choirs.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Book review: Paul Angone- 101 Secrets for your twenties

101 Secrets For Your Twenties
Paul Angone
Buy it at amazon

Most people seem to have some idea of how their 20’s will work out. Usually it involves some blend of relational milestones, career achievement and impact making.

But what happens when things don’t work out as planned?

That’s where Paul Angone steps in with his book 101 Secrets for Your Twenties. As you can probably guess from the title, the book is made up of 101 ideas about living well in your twenties even when your dreams aren’t coming true. Some of the secrets are funny, some are serious and it covers a wide variety of the craziness that’s often encountered at this life stage.

There are a few things I really liked about this book.

One was that it is the right kind of positive. Some books are an annoying, grating positive that sound like a cross between a bad graduation speech and an inspirational bumper sticker. This isn’t one of those books. It is hopeful and encouraging while avoiding the platitudes and acknowledging the realities of life.

Another thing I really appreciated was in the book was its encouragement to not go it alone but to seek community and help. That is not necessarily something that gets enough focus in our individualistic society. I was particularly happy to see the emphasis on putting deliberate effort into developing meaningful friendships (secret 70) and pushing through the awkwardness to get professional mental health help if needed (secret 7).

I think the thing I liked the most about this book though was that it made me feel less alone. It is easy to look at other people who seem to have it all together (and have the Facebook photo albums to prove it) and wonder if you are doing something wrong. It is incredibly reassuring that other people find post university life disorientating, hard or disappointing sometimes but still find a way to thrive even though things didn’t play out as they planned.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

New project: Wyn Magazine

For the last few months I've been working alongside a team of writers from Alaska to Australia lead by Becky Castle Miller and  Amy Jane Helmericks to put together Wyn Magazine (, an online magazine and blog focusing on providing resources and hope for mental and emotional healing. It is a bit intimidating to write about such things but I think it is important and worthwhile because so many people struggle in silence due to stigma and lack of knowledge surrounding mental and emotional health issues. I'd really appreciate it if you would visit the site and pass it on to anyone you think it might help.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Summaries, short-cuts and spiritual growth

Seth Godin posted a great piece recently on the dangers of thinking that the convenient, summarized version of information is enough. Here is an extract:
"You're probably smart enough to 'get it' merely by reading the 140 character summary of just about anything. But of course, that doesn't mean you understand it, or that it changed you. All it means is that you were quickly able to sort it into an appropriate category, to make a decision about where it belongs in your mental filing cabinet. The best experiences and the biggest ideas don't fit into a category. They change it. They don't get filed away, they transform us." (emphasis mine)
I think this is worth pondering when it comes to spiritual growth, particularly learning the Bible. There is no shortage of biblical ideas being tweeted, short bible overview guides or devotionals that can be done in a few minutes. Some devotionals I've seen lately advertise that they can be read in as little as a minute! These are not inherently bad things. Twitter is a very useful tool, overview guides can be very helpful when used alongside Bible reading and shorter devotionals might be a really useful for new Christians taking baby steps into good spiritual growth habits or people who genuinely have no spare time due to unusually demanding responsibilities.

But, I think these summaries can be dangerous if we let them become a short-cut. It is easy to feel like we're getting somewhere because we've managed to learn more facts we can slot into our mental bank of knowledge. Not only that, but we can do it so quickly when everything is neatly summarised for our quick processing!

One problem is, these summarised forms can become a substitute for actually reading the Bible. The summaries may be useful, but they ain't the inspired word of God. Additionally, learning the bible is not a game of he or she who takes in the most facts wins. It's about learning to love God and being transformed towards becoming more like him. That kind of change and growth takes reflection, prayerful engagement and sticking with the process over a long period of time. Just quickly absorbing summaries or snippets before moving on to the next thing won't get you there.

My challenge for you (and myself!) this week is to not fall into the trap of prioritising how quickly we can take in bulk biblical information, but to slowly, prayerfully engage with extended portions of the life changing word of God itself.

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/