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Welcome to Sacred Friends. It and its companion website used to be Eternal Community, but, quite honestly, I never liked the name and felt a touch out of step with the focus. It's no longer about trying to train and equip counselors and others in relational ministry. Now it's about living relationally. It’s about my heart's desire to see people love God and others more deeply and to be a part of their journey as I share a bit of my own.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dance in the Rain: Book Review

Death and Grief

The question is not, will they come, but how will we deal with them when they do come. While the process will be different for everyone, Angela A. Dockter-Harris offers some assistance with her book, Dance in the Rain: His Joy Comes in the Mourning.

The Journal

Dance in the Rain is divided into two parts. In the first half of the book Angela guides the reader through a variety of journaling exercises; some are applicable to anyone experiencing grief and others are designed for particular situations such as the death of a child. Sections include Remembering the Person You Love, This Gift I Leave You (for those who are facing their own death), and The Loss.

One thing in particular that I like about this section is the simplicity. Particularly when someone is just beginning the grief journey, thinking can become clouded and difficult. Concentration can often be elusive at best. Angela makes it easy for the reader by not merely suggesting topics to write about, but by providing the start of simple, yet meaningful sentences, leaving space for the reader to respond.

Like a breath of fresh air, the honesty in the journal blows away the oppressive burden of pretending the deceased was perfect. She gives the reader an opportunity to share some of the loved ones quirks and even recall some of their “pet peeves” with the loved one. This is certainly not the focus of the journal, but these things are part of our daily lives with the people we love and it is beneficial to have someone say it’s ok to acknowledge them.

Whether readers like to journal or not, they can benefit from this section. A fairly common fear among the bereaved is that they will forget things about their loved one. The direction provided in the journal will jog the memory; even a one or two word response can help preserve precious memories and provide relief from the fear of forgetting. Thinking and praying through the journal prompts can jog the emotional memory as well and help the mourner find healing. For journal enthusiasts the prompts may be a springboard for additional thoughts about their loved one.

The Bible Study

Part two is a Bible study that examines four topics: When a Loved One Isn’t Saved, Anger, Sorrow, and Acceptance. The Bible study is provided twice in its entirety so that someone facing death may do the Bible study and then give the book to a loved one who can also complete the Bible study.

Parts of the Bible study may be a bit challenging and in all likelihood some people may disagree with a few of the author’s conclusions. Nonetheless, I believe the Bible study will prove to be valuable to those who are grieving, particularly, if the reader reads both of the introductions. In the first introduction Angela shares a bit of her own experience with grief which gives her a platform on which to stand when she makes some, perhaps, hard to swallow statements. For instance, in the chapter on acceptance she leads the reader through a series of promises and truths found in Scripture. She goes on to say that all Bible-believing Christians must embrace these truths. People in the midst of grief may have a hard time embracing the truth that God works all things for the good of those who love Him. The difficulty or pain doesn’t negate the truth, but I think it’s only fair to acknowledge the Bible study may present some challenges along the way.

In the second introduction Angela shares her heart’s desire for the healing of her readers. I get the sense that she genuinely cares about those who are mourning the death of a loved one and she knows from personal experience that embracing the truth of the Scripture and the One who wrote them will ultimately provide comfort and healing.

Recommendation

I recommend this book to anyone experiencing the pain of grief and to anyone who wants to help others travel through the journey.

Book Details

Author: Angela A. Dockter-Harris
Publisher: Tate Publishing & Enterprises (2008)
Categories: Self-Help: Journal Writing
Family and Relationships: Death, Grief, Bereavement
Christian Living: Relationships: General
ISBN and Length: 978-1-60694-513-8, 195 pages


Note: The reviewer received a complimentary copy of Dance in the Rain.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Going Rogue: A Review by Bob Kellemen

We have a guest blogger joining us today. Author, speaker, consultant, and professor, Dr. Bob Kellemen, reviews Sarah Palin's new book, Going Rogue.

What, you may ask, does a book review on a political autobiography have to do with biblical counseling, soul care, and spiritual direction? Good question. First, all of life has to do with soul care and spiritual direction. There is always something we can learn from current events, history, and the ordinary stuff of life. Second, I believe that a solid model of biblical counseling will include four key components: Content, Character, Competency, and Community (more on each of these in upcoming posts). Bob's review leaves us with something to consider concerning character...who we are when everyone is looking and who we are when no one is looking. As counselors, mentors, disciplers, clergy, lay leaders, and spiritual friends, our character matters. While reading through Bob's review, particularly as you near the end, you may want to ask yourself a few questions.
  • How well do those around me know where I stand in regard to Christ as Lord?
  • How bold am I when it comes to communicating what I believe in and who I am?
  • If I were to write my autobiography, what would I include? What would people remember?


Going Rogue: An American Life by Sarah Palin
Book Review by Bob Kellemen

Book Details

*Author: Sarah Palin (with Lynn Vincent)
*Publisher: HarperCollins(2009)
*Category: Autobiography, Politics
*ISBN and Length: 978-0061997877, 413 Pages

Reviewed By: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., LCPC, Author of Soul Physicians, Spiritual Friends, Beyond the Suffering, Sacred Friendships, and God’s Healing for Life’s Losses. Find all of Bob’s book reviews, blogs, books, and free resources at www.rpmministries.org.

Recommended: Going Rogue offers Sarah Palin’s fast-paced, well-written, personal account of her American life from her relative obscurity in Alaska to her meteoric rise as John McCain’s vice-presidential candidate.

Review: Living the American Dream

Reviewing Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue: An American Life must be an American pastime. Within three weeks of publication, Amazon.Com already lists 536 reviews. No surprise, given that as of December 6, 2009, it remains Amazon’s number one best seller, and perhaps the most talked about autobiography since Bill Clinton’s mammoth My Life.

What Others Are Saying

I find many of the reviews, along with the comments and criticisms of the “liberal pundits,” to be almost laughable. Many complain that Going Rogue is “self-serving.” Such a statement is not a book review; it’s a judgment of the motives of the heart. Ironic, isn’t it, that those who claim Sarah Palin is a “judgmental Evangelical” turn around and judge her motives?

Others grumble that Going Rogue is “self-focused” or overly “self-referential.” Pardon me for being a tad slangish, but “Duh!” “Hello!” It is, after all, an autobiography. Read Bill Clinton’s My Life (all 957 pages) and guess what, it’s self-referential. The same is true of Hillary Clinton’s Living History and of Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father. Yes, by definition, an autobiography offers an individual’s personal slant on their life, perspective, beliefs, and impact.

The Foreshadowing: Living the American Dream

Being a political biography and autobiography “junkie,” I didn’t know what to expect when my copy of Going Rogue arrived. I’ve read autobiographies that creep along at a terminally slow pace. Not so, Going Rogue. Palin’s writing is fast-paced and captivating. (Yes, she has a collaborator, Lynn Vincent, which is common-place in such political autobiographies. However, the fact that Sarah Palin is a college-educated journalism major also likely has much to do with how well-written her autobiography is.)

Palin begins by foreshadowing the rest of the book.

She’s zig-zagging from booth to booth at the 2008 Alaskan state-fair, her four-month-old son, Trig, in her arms, Piper, her seven-year-old daughter her constant companion. Her phone rings and it’s John McCain asking if she “wanted to help him change history.”

From state fair to world politics. From babe-in-arms to fighting for the life of the unborn. From the obscurity of the Alaskan outback to the notoriety of vice-presidential candidate. Hers is “an American life”—where an individual can rise from a working-class home and work her way from city council, to major’s office, to governor of the largest state, to a heartbeat away from the most powerful office in the land.

Her American Life

From there, Palin transports her readers back in time to February 11, 1964, the day she was born in Sandpoint, Idaho. Within three months, her family is moving to the remote frontier town of Skagway, Alaska.

Palin tells the revealing story of her first attempt to fly. Four-years-old, she leaps off the wooden plank sidewalk. Her description is metaphoric for her life.

“I got to thinking: I had seen eagles and dragonflies and ptarmigan fly, but I had never seen a person fly. That didn’t make any sense to me. Hadn’t anyone ever tried it before? Why couldn’t someone just propel herself up into the air and get it done? I stopped and looked up at the summer sky, then down at the dirt road below. Then I simply jumped. I didn’t care who might see me. I wanted to fly more than I worried about what I looked like. My knees took most of the impact, and I scraped them both. ‘Well, that didn’t work,’ I thought. So I got up, dusted myself off, and kept walking.”

That’s the story of Sarah Palin’s life in just over 100 words. Like her or hate her, agree with her or disagree vehemently, Sarah Palin is a flyer. A risk-taker. She’s resilient. As Yukon Cornelius would say, “She’s like a Bumble. Bumbles bounce.”

I enjoyed her first fifty pages perhaps most of all. Her readers learn not only of her upbringing, but of her ancestry, back several generations to well-educated, middle-class, hard-working Americans. We also learn of her husband, Todd’s, background and Yupik Eskimo ancestry. Additionally, we learn of her athletic accomplishments, her working her way through college, her childhood and young adulthood friends, and of her meeting and marrying Todd.

Why the Feminist Hatred?

Palin not only traces her early years, but also outlines her political rise: from city council, to major, to governor, to vice-presidential candidate. Reading these pages, I couldn’t help but ponder, “Why the feminist hatred?”

Let’s be honest. If her political and religious views were liberal, then her back story would be the darling of the feminist world. Born without any silver spoon. Not making it in life and politics because of the help of a well-connected father, or on the coattails of a politically-powerful husband. Working her own way through college. Raising a family and becoming a working mother. Getting involved in local causes. Fighting the old-boys’ network to be elected to the city council, to be elected mayor, and then governor. An athlete. A beautiful woman who never used her physical beauty to gain political clout.

I mean, what’s not to like about her radical womanhood?

No doubt, it’s her conservative values that prompt the feminist hatred.

Painful Reading

Reading about Palin’s rise within Alaskan politics was enjoyable reading. However, once she made the transition to the national scene, I cringed as I turned every page. Not because of poor writing, but because of the documentation of the constant attacks—attacks on her family, on her intellect, on her views and values.

I’m no Sarah Palin apologist. I don’t agree with all her views—whether religious or political. I’m not even claiming she was the most qualified vice-presidential candidate in American history (she certainly was not the least qualified and she had more political and executive experience than many presidential candidates).

It’s just the sheer unfairness of the attacks. Consider just one small, almost ancillary example: her college education. She was mocked by the media because it took her five years to graduate from college. That’s because she worked her way through college and had to take time off to earn enough money to pay her tuition. Sounds rather honorable.

Others mock the schools she attended and the degree she earned. True, she did not attend an elite, Ivy League, Eastern university. Then again, neither did arguably one of America’s most successful Presidents, Ronald Reagan (Eureka College). Perhaps most ironic, those complaining the most about her college education had the identical degree: a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Of course, that’s pretty trite stuff compared to the way Palin was savaged as a hick, an anti-intellectual, a religious extremist, dangerous, totally unqualified and unfit, etc., etc., etc.

Yes, it was painful to re-live those excruciating months of national “notoriety.”

Then again, it was instructive finally to hear “the rest of the story.” Sure, as an autobiography, you read Sarah Palin’s personal slant and biased perspective. At least her side of the story is finally told.

What About Christ?

Many may be surprised where I do find fault with Going Rouge.

Where is Christ in Going Rogue?

I’m not questioning Sarah Palin’s personal Christian faith in Christ. Nor am I questioning her religious values. Neither am I denigrating her Christian lifestyle. She prays. She depends upon God. She attends church. She loves her husband and family. She lives out her pro-life beliefs. Etc., etc., etc.

I also realize that Going Rogue is primarily a political autobiography, not a religious one. I understand that Palin’s purpose was not to make converts. Still, Sarah Palin is not afraid, throughout Going Rogue, to speak her mind and to share her heart. In fact, she’s not afraid to talk about her relationship to God.

All that said, I ask again, “Where is Christ in Going Rogue?”

My antennae first went up when I read Palin’s two explicit descriptions of what Evangelicals might call “conversion.” The first, on page 22, describes her personal conversion.

“I made the conscious decision that summer to put my life in my Creator’s hands and trust Him as I sought my life’s path.”

The second, on the last page of her book (page 413), involves what some might describe as an “altar call.”

“And I do know there is a God. My life is in His hands. I encourage readers to do what I did many years ago, invite Him in to take over . . . then see what He will do and how He will get you through. Test Him on this. You’ll see there’s no such thing as coincidence. I’m thankful for His majestic creation called Alaska, which has given me my home, and for His touch on America, which has given us all so many opportunities. By His grace, an American life is an extraordinary life.”

What’s missing?

Christ is missing.

Sin is missing. Confession of guilt before a holy God is missing. Salvation is missing.

My antennae alerted, it then dawned on me that I didn’t remember hearing any Christian salvation concepts anywhere in Going Rogue. Perhaps my memory was bad, especially since I wasn’t consciously looking for these concepts in a political autobiography.

So I performed an Amazon “Search Inside” the book.

How many times in her 413 pages does Sarah Palin mention Christ? Zero.

Christian? Zero.

Christianity? Zero.

Salvation? Zero.

Sin? Twice. However, both are said sarcastically about journalistic sins of omission. So, sin? Zero.

Grace? A dozen times. However, not once in the context, or with the meaning of, “saving grace.” So, saving grace? Zero.

Evangelical? Twice. Once about her mother being invited to an Evangelical church, and once about Sarah being called a “book-burning Evangelical extremist.”

Lord? Eleven times. Several in Old Testament quotes. Several in prayers, such as “Dear Lord.” Several in slang, such as, “Dear lord, you call that a good interview?” Never in the Evangelical sense of Christ as Lord.

Church? Eleven times.

God? Forty-two times.

If Palin had never shared her conversion experience (page 22), or never broached the topic of encouraging her readers to do what she did many years ago (page 413), then I would have been a little less concerned. I could say, “It’s a political memoir, that’s why Christ is missing.”

However, having addressed the topic, plus having mentioned God 42 times, and then leaving Christ, sin, and salvation totally out of all 413 pages… I have to ask, “Where is Christ in Going Rogue?” “Why was Christ omitted from Going Rogue?”

What to make of this? Again, I’m not questioning Sarah Palin’s Christian faith or Christian life.

However, I am raising the important question of how she chose to describe her conversion and her Christian faith in her autobiography, where on so many other personal issues she’s so unafraid to speak her mind boldly.

Honestly, it’s scary. Scary because it’s illustrative of our post-modern conception of religious faith.

It’s religion lite. It’s conversion without Christ. It’s salvation without the cross. It’s redemption without sin and guilt.

It’s “AA Faith”: putting our hands in the hands of an anonymous, generic “Higher Power.”

If the “Religious Right” is behind Sarah Palin, it had better not be because of her depiction of salvation from sin by grace through faith in Christ alone. At least not on the basis of 413 pages of autobiographical narrative where she mentions Christ zero times, where she never once mentions sin and salvation from sin.

Yes, unfortunately, it is a typical American life. We pray to God in the hard times. We mention God. But we eschew explicit dependence upon Christ as our only Savior from sin by grace through faith.

A Political Autobiography

As a political autobiography, Going Rogue: An American Life is an excellent read. If you want Sarah Palin’s defense of Sarah Palin’s political life (which is what every political autobiography offers), and you want it in a tell-all, fast-paced, well-crafted book, then do what 2.5 million people have done already—buy Going Rogue.

However, if you want a personal autobiography (of someone who claims to be a spokesperson for the Evangelical Right) that at least provides a snippet of content about conversion to Christ from sin by faith—then Going Rogue will disappoint. Going Rogue, while it is a defense of Sarah Palin’s life and politics, is not a defense of Christ’s saving life, death, burial, and resurrection for our sin. Which, in my conviction, is not only America’s only hope, but the only hope of the world.