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Adam Shields

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  • Being Disciples

  • Essentials of the Christian Life
  • By: Rowan Williams
  • Narrated by: Peter Noble
  • Length: 2 hrs and 16 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 9

This fresh and inspiring look at the meaning of discipleship covers the essentials of the Christian life, including: faith, hope and love; forgiveness; holiness; social action; and life in the Spirit. Written for the general listener by one of our greatest living theologians, this book will help you to see more clearly, love more dearly and follow more nearly the way of Jesus Christ.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • “Discipleship is about how we live..."

  • By Adam Shields on 11-13-18

“Discipleship is about how we live..."

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-13-18

I am a big fan of Rowan Williams little books. There are a lot of them. Most of them grew out of lectures and so are short (around 80-100 pages) and pack a lot of punch. There are a number of them that would make excellent small group discussion books because they could be covered in 4 to 6 sessions (what I think is an optimal length for small group discussions).

Being Disciples is a follow up to Being Christian. Being Christian focused on four practices that are central to being Christians, baptism, bible, eucharist and prayer. Being Disciples about attitudes or virtues or approaches to how we live. The chapter titles are Faith, Hope and Love, Forgiveness, Holiness, Faith in Society, and Life in the Spirit.

Williams is a real scholar and theologian and I have had some difficulty with some of his longer more academic books. But these shorter ones are are have a simple presentation without being simplistic. One of the reviewers of Being Disciples on Amazon said, “the simple presentations was made on the basis of deep understanding of theology and the human condition”.

Williams is a theologian, but a theologian that centers practice. He does not minimize theology, but suggests that how we live as Christians really matters to becoming more like Christ. The knowledge of theology is not unimportant. But we do not become like Christ through our knowledge, we become like Christ through our practice. (I read this right after finishing the Dangers of Christian Practice, so that was on my mind, but I still think that Rowan Williams is basically right here.)

Fairly early on in Being Disciples he says, ‘If you are going to be where Jesus is…you will find yourself in the same sort of human company as he is in…Our discipleship is not about choosing our company but about being where Jesus is.” He continues on to suggest that if you love God less, then you will love everyone less as well as vice versa.

Like many books that I have enjoyed lately, Being Disciples is a book of wisdom transmission. Books of wisdom transmission can be vague, and I think that is part of the inherent problems of trying to communicate something that is more art and practice than science. But Williams is fairly clear and while there are lots of good one line thoughts, this is not just a book of proverbs.

I do think that Being Disciples is not quite as good as Being Christian. But they are well paired and I think they would benefit many, especially because they are so sort.

#sweepstakes #shortreads

  • The Dangers of Christian Practice

  • On Wayward Gifts, Characteristic Damage, and Sin
  • By: Lauren F. Winner
  • Narrated by: Tavia Gilbert
  • Length: 5 hrs and 50 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 1
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 1

Sometimes, beloved and treasured Christian practices go horrifyingly wrong, extending violence rather than promoting its healing. In this bracing audiobook, Lauren Winner provocatively challenges the assumption that the church possesses a set of immaculate practices that will definitively train Christians in virtue and that can't be answerable to their histories.  

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Spiritual practices are not silver bullets

  • By Adam Shields on 10-24-18

Spiritual practices are not silver bullets

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-24-18

Over the past few years I have become a disciple of spiritual practices. I have a spiritual director. I regularly use the Book of Common Prayer. I really do think that the eucharist and baptism should be central to worship. This makes me the target audience of Lauren Winner’s new book, the Dangers of Christian Practice.

The rough thesis is that spiritual practices, while good, have weaknesses that need to be paid attention to. Just like the church is made up of human beings that are sinful and make every church community less than perfect, good practices that are commanded by God and advocated throughout history also have some weaknesses.

The easiest illustration and the best chapters is about prayer. Keziah Goodwin Hopkins Brevard is the main illustration. She is a 57 year old widowed owner of two plantations and over 200 slaves. She left extensive journals both of her thoughts and of her prayers as fodder for Winner’s discussion.

As Winner recounts, Brevard prays for pliant slaves, she prays for the death of slaves that lie to her, she prays that Heaven will have a separate location for abolitionists and slaves away from her. (Note the political and rhetorical implications of a separate heaven.) She prays to be a good master and for a heart open to God.

Winner notes that the subjects of our prayers have long been a concern for Christians. Aquinas and others cited have thought and written about praying for things that are sinful or out of distorted desires. But the very nature of prayer is part of the problem. It is not just intercessory prayer, but teaching prayer to others and how public prayer is often not solely directed at God. Prayer can easily become gossip, self justifying or deluded. But even out of bad prayer often includes good aspects.

Winner gives illustrations of the anthologies of prayer that line her shelves. None of them are anthologies of bad or self seeking prayers that could help us understand how our own prayers may be come bad or self seeking. Instead prayer is presented and taught as an almost universal good.

The other two practices discussed in the Dangers of Christian Practice are the problems of the eucharist being held in too high of a value (the illustration is riots causes by accused desecration of the host) and the problems of antisemitism and supersessionism, and baptism and the problems of the privatization of baptism through private christening ceremonies that were held in the home in the 19th and early 20th century as well as the way that baptism can alienate the subject from their family or community as well as drawing them into the family of Christ.

This is a very brief overview. There are lots of side tracks as well as a good introduction to the concept and a concluding chapter that challenges the ideas of spiritual practices especially as it has arisen out of post-liberal theology.

The ideas behind Dangers of Christian Practice are very helpful. One that in someways could be an article or a much larger book and still be helpful. I was very skeptical about the concept of the book and probably would not have picked it up without reading James KA Smith’s very positive review at Christian Century. However, despite my skepticism, I this was well worth reading and a good reminder to not place too much weight or responsibility on any aspect of discipleship, moral formation, or model of church.

All models of church and modes of discipleship have weaknesses. All can be corrupted and tainted. But as Winner rightly notes in the last chapter, they are what we have. Because they are not perfect does not mean that we should abandon them completely. Winner is not advocating that. Instead she is advocating more humility and understanding of the practices so that we can minimize the harm that misusing spiritual practices can bring.

I listened to the Dangers of Christian Practice on audiobook. It was not my favorite narration, but it was acceptable. I kept checking my player because it felt like it was running slightly too fast. Like maybe the narrator read it too slow, and the editor sped the narration up slightly digitally by cutting some of the pauses and space between the words. But for me, it was far cheaper on audiobook than on kindle or hardcover.

#sweepstakes #Christian #SpiritualPracticeOfReading

  • Frederick Douglass

  • Prophet of Freedom
  • By: David W. Blight
  • Narrated by: Prentice Onayemi
  • Length: 36 hrs and 57 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 15
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 15
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 15

As a young man, Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland. He was fortunate to have been taught to read by his slave owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. He wrote three versions of his autobiography over the course of his lifetime and published his own newspaper. His very existence gave the lie to slave owners: with dignity and great intelligence, he bore witness to the brutality of slavery.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Excellent Biography

  • By Adam Shields on 10-22-18

Excellent Biography

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-22-18

I have not previously read any biographies of Frederick Douglass. I was aware of him from other history books or biographies. But this is an excellent biography.

I was aware of David Blight from the podcast of one of his Yale history courses but I have not read another one of his books. This was very well written and well researched. I am looking forward to reading it again in a couple years after I read some of Douglass' autobiographies directly.

Douglass is a fascinating figure.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Walking on Water

  • Reflections on Faith and Art
  • By: Madeleine L'Engle
  • Narrated by: Pamela Almand
  • Length: 6 hrs and 28 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 19
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 18
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 18

In this classic book, Madeleine L’Engle addresses the questions, What makes art Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian artist? What is the relationship between faith and art? Through L’Engle’s beautiful and insightful essay, listeners will find themselves called to what the author views as the prime tasks of an artist: to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation through one’s own art.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • great listen

  • By carolyn on 05-17-18

Musings on Christianity and Art

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-19-18

Walking on Water is a book that it is hard not to hear about if you are in circles where you interact with Christian who write professionally. I have been hearing about the book for years, but Sarah Arthur’s recent biography of L’Engle reminded me again about how many writers (and other artists as well) were impacted not just by L’Engle’s art, but by her speaking and writing about the role of art in the Christian life.

In many ways Walking on Water is like a fifth volume of the Crosswick Journals. It is not as full of personal stories as the Crosswick Journals, but it was first published in 1982, between books three and four of the Crosswick Journals (Irrational Season in 1977 and Two-Part Invention in 1988). Walking on Water has a similar sense of listening to an older friend share wisdom about life. It is more focused on writing, but there are definitely overlapping themes with A Circle of Quiet (first book in Crosswick Journals).

Writing is more of a means of processing than as an art form for me. I do not edit as much as I should. So the thoughts on writing were not really my focus. This is a book that was written to be read and re-read. There is wisdom here, but like a lot of books of wisdom, there is some vagueness where the reader has to read into the text.

Walking on Water is the first of L’Engle’s books I have read after reading Arthur’s biography. Arthur had a helpful structure for writing about L’Engle’s contrasts (or paradoxes). Part of the paradox of L’Engle was her ability to mold the reality around her in ways that was not always ‘historically accurate’ but did show as aspect of truth that may not have been able to be shown without her shaping. That shaping of the world around her is hard to miss after Arthur pointed it out.

Walking on Water is a book I appreciated, but did not love as much as what many other do. I think that is in part because I am not an artist at heart but a consumer of art. Art is essential, but I am not a creator. Also, at this point there is an enormous amount of the content of Walking on Water that has leaked out of Walking on Water into other books that I have read since it was published 36 years ago. We are in time that values art better than some other eras. It is not perfect by any means, but I do think that L’Engle has strongly influenced the way that Christians receive and participate in art, in part because of this book. Walking on Water is worth reading. But, at least on this first reading, it was not a dramatic revelation to me, and I think that is largely a good thing, and at least partially the result of Walking on Water being a dramatic revelations to previous readers.

  • The Battle for Bonhoeffer

  • By: Stephen R. Haynes
  • Narrated by: Trevor Thompson
  • Length: 6 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 15
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 15
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 15

The figure of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) has become a clay puppet in modern American politics. Secular, radical, liberal, and evangelical interpreters variously shape and mold the martyr’s legacy to suit their own pet agendas. Stephen Haynes offers an incisive and clarifying perspective. A recognized Bonhoeffer expert, Haynes examines “populist” readings of Bonhoeffer, including the acclaimed biography by Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Bonhoeffer was a person, not a Rorschach test

  • By Adam Shields on 10-12-18

Bonhoeffer was a person, not a Rorschach test

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-12-18

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the most respected Christian figures of the 20th century. But it would not be surprising that his legacy is debated. Bonhoeffer’s works span 16 volumes in the complete works. Those complete works include letters, books, fiction, sermons, academic papers and more. It is unsurprising in the breadth of his work over time that there significant changes in thought, even in his short life.

What may be surprising for many is how recent the interest in Bonhoeffer is. There is a good chapter by Timothy Larson in Bonhoeffer, Christ and Culture that traces Evangelical reception to Bonhoeffer. And Martin Marty’s biography of the book Letters and Papers from Prison has a long section that traces the history of how Bonhoeffer was received as well.

The Battle for Bonhoeffer is really a book length expansion of the use and misuse of Bonhoeffer that both of the two mentioned book discuss in shorter sections. And for the most part is a scathing critique of the misuse while noting some of the better uses.

Bonhoeffer’s ideas have been controversially appropriated for different movements nearly from the start. John Robinson’s very controversial book Honest to God used Bonhoeffer’s concept of religion-less Christianity. But in 1963 when Honest to God was published, Bonhoeffer was not widely known and Bonhoeffer was tainted in conservative circles because of his attachment to Honest to God.

Haynes carefully walks through how different groups have used (and often misused or distorted) Bonhoeffer for their own purposes. This is a brief but helpful reminder that broader context of a person’s life and work is important to rightly understanding and using a person’s ideas. My largest take away from Battle for Bonhoeffer is the importance of actually understanding the subject before talking about it.

There is special and extensive critique of Eric Metaxas and his biography. Metaxas is not a historian or theologian. While Haynes notes the value in Metaxas bringing more attention to Bonhoeffer, Haynes has almost nothing positive to say about the quality of Metaxas’ work. I am far from a Bonhoeffer scholar and at the time I first read Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, I noticed at least a half dozen mistakes. Haynes notes far more.

While Haynes is very critical of Metaxas and others bad use of Bonhoeffer, he is not unreasonable in expecting that subjects of biographies be treated accurately. As I was reading, I was reminded of Bradley Wright’s Christians are Hate Filled Hypocrites and Other Lies You’ve Been Told. Both are attempting to correct Christians that badly use data/history. Many Christians that are using data/history badly are justifying the bad use because of their good intentions. Wright talks about pastors trying to prove the importance of their subjects in their preaching by searching for the worst statistics they can find instead of accurately presenting data. Haynes’ point about Metaxas bad use of history and his ignorance of Bonhoeffer’s theology and historical context is that even if Metaxas had good intentions, the bad history still is bad history.

Battle for Bonhoeffer is subtitled ‘Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump.’ And there are several sections at the end that deal with current events. Part of the context of the critique of Metaxas is how Metaxas used Bonhoeffer as a weapon in his critique of Obama and Metaxas' support of Trump. Haynes is very concerned about how many modern figures on the political left and right keep pointing to Hitler’s Germany as somehow parallel to either Obama or Trump’s America.

However, at the end of Battle for Bonhoeffer, Haynes writes an open letter to Christians that are currently supporting Trump because he believes that while Trump is not Hitler, there are things that can be learned from Bonhoeffer that are relevant to our current political situation. He distinguishes between those that reluctantly voted for Trump but are concerned about Trump’s policies today and those that nearly two year after his election continue to fully support Trump. (Christianity Today reported on a survey by Lifeway that was released yesterday, Oct 11, 2018, that said that 52% of all Christian pastors support Trump’s presidential performance, 28% disapprove and 20% are unsure).

I am not sure many supporters of Trump will pick up a book about the use and misuse of Bonhoeffer, so I doubt that Battle for Bonhoeffer will make much of an impact to Trump's level of support. However, as an individual, this is a screed that I thought was personally useful in reminding me the importance of academic research, the limits of using historical data on understanding current events and the need to honestly inspect how we pick and choose data to make our points.

#Sweepstakes #History #Biography

  • All That's Good

  • Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment
  • By: Hannah Anderson
  • Narrated by: Rachel Dulude
  • Length: 5 hrs and 29 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 3

Look out over the world today. Pain, conflict, and uncertainty dominate the headlines. Our daily lives are noisy and chaotic - filled with too much information and too little wisdom. No wonder we often find it easier to retreat into safe spaces, hunker down in likeminded tribes, and just do our best to survive life. But what if God wants you to do more than simply survive? What if he wants you to thrive in this world and be part of its redemption? What if you could rediscover the beauty and goodness God established in the beginning? By learning the lost art of discernment, you can.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Discernment is about practice, wisdom & intention

  • By Adam Shields on 10-09-18

Discernment is about practice, wisdom & intention

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-09-18

For regular readers of my reviews, it will be repetitive to say that Christianity is not just about being saved from our sins and going to heaven. It is also about abundant life on earth now. When Jesus gave his commission after the resurrection, he said, ‘make disciples’ in Matthew. Evangelism is important, but it is the start, not the end of great commission.

Hannah Anderson is continuing this exploration of discipleship that she started in her earlier two books with a focus on discernment in All That’s Good. The blurb on the back of All That's Good says in part, "Discernment is more than simply avoiding bad things; discernment actually frees you to navigate the world with confidence and joy by teaching you how to recognize and choose good things."

I so much appreciate that Hannah Anderson starts All That's Good with an exploration of a vision for goodness, “...in trying to keep myself safe, in obsessing over making the “right” choices, I found myself making a whole lot of wrong ones. Because I lacked a vision for goodness, I also lacked discernment.” (Page 12)

The main section of All That's Good (pages 63 to 154) is an extended meditation on Philippians 4:8, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (NIV). In many ways (all good) this feels like the type of meditation on scripture that Eugene Peterson writes. It isn’t a word for word bible study, it is a practical exploration, not just the biblical concepts of the passage, but also of what that means to how we live our lives.

The practice of discernment as it is explored is not primarily thought of as a spiritual gift given to some (although that is one aspect of discernment for some people), but a skill that is develop over time. That skill, along with necessary components of humility, wisdom, virtue, the right understanding of goodness, not just the avoidance of evil but the knowledge of good, and a touch of shrewdness, allows us to rightly see the world around us.

In many ways this type of development of skills that is focused on in All That's Good is part of what it means to work toward discipleship as illustrated in a larger community of thought and writers. James KA Smith in You Are What You Love, Stanley Hauerwas’ The Character of Virtue, Alan Noble’s Disruptive Witness, Alan Jacob’s How to Think, Christena Cleveland's Disunity in Christ, Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well and many more are all trying to get Christians to pay attention to spiritual development, virtue, and character as a necessary component living well as a Christians right now.

Theologically, I keep running across people that seem to think that any intention in spiritual growth is somehow a dependence on ‘works’ instead of God’s grace for our salvation. It is no more a dependence on ‘works’ to focused on spiritual development than it is a bad for a piano or football player to practice. Undeveloped gifting is no more usable than not having any gifting at all. As is clear throughout All That’s Good, discernment is not simply about natural or developed skills, but by being open to see how the Holy Spirit works around us through the development and practice of virtue, character, and wisdom. Discernment is a result of being open to the Holy Spirit. This is why Anderson can say,

"In this sense, truth is holistic; it relies on both the material and immaterial. And it’s why Christians believe that divine intervention is necessary to perceive and understand truth. Christianity does not give us access to a “higher truth” so much as it gives us the moral integrity we need to embrace truth. Rather than relying on our own wits, Christians believe that the “eyes of [our] understanding” are enlightened as we submit ourselves to the One who is truth Himself. Humility—not little gray cells—makes us wise."

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Everything That Rises Must Converge

  • By: Flannery O’Connor
  • Narrated by: Bronson Pinchot, Karen White, Mark Bramhall, and others
  • Length: 9 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 864
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 732
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 744

This collection of nine short stories by Flannery O'Connor was published posthumously in 1965. The flawed characters of each story are fully revealed in apocalyptic moments of conflict and violence that are presented with comic detachment.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Pride goeth before the fall

  • By Ryan on 08-14-13

I don't know how to really evaluate this

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-03-18

One of my reading projects this year has been to read all of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction this year. I have previously read A Good Man is Hard to Find, but I will probably re-read it again. But I have no idea what to think about O’Connor now that I have finished all of her fiction.

She is a skilled writer. It is easy to see that she is writing not just for a surface meaning, but for the re-readings as well. There is depth there that many writers cannot pull off.

But there is also a twistedness that is hard to take. It is not just that many of these stories end in ironic tragedy, but that there is an intentional turning everything upside down. There is much to appreciate about the upside-down nature of the stories. A woman farmer that complains about a stray bull is, of course, gored by the bull. I saw that coming a mile away. But the path to the inevitable end seems to matter. And the upside-down nature of the stories I believe is representative of her understanding of Christianity.

Part of what I do not know how to process is what much of this means. As I was reading around after finishing, one blogger called the title story one of the most anti-racist short story ever written (which does seem to be more than a little hyperbolic), while many others concentrate on her refusal to meet James Baldwin when he was in Millegeville or her antipathy to the civil rights movements or her racist jokes that were not uncommon in her letters.

It just feels much more complicated than the either/or. Alice Walker, probably best known for her novel Color Purple has a chapter on O’Connor in her collection of essays, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens. For about a year, Alice Walker, when she was 8 and O’Connor would have been 28, lived just a few miles from O’Connor’s farm and remembers passing it, although she did not know anything about O’Connor at the time. In 1974, Walker and her mother went to visit their old home, a falling down shack in the middle of a pasture, and then the O’Connor farm.

Walker and her mother ate in a local restaurant, that was legally obligated to serve them, but did not have to like it. And they visited the O’Connor house, which had been built with slave labor and still had a servant/slave house behind it. Alice Walker had appreciated the skill of O’Connor’s writing when she first came across it in college. But when she eventually came to know about African American writers she put O’Connor away. Walker’s resentment against O’Connor was at least partially having been introduced to O’Connor without being introduced to skilled African American authors at the same time. Eventually she missed O’Connor and was able to pick her up again.

The essay is 18 pages of ambivalence that ends with, “’Take what you can use and let the rest rot.” If ever there was an expression designed to protect the health of the spirit, this is it.’ That is a phrase and sentiment that Alice Walker can use, but I do not think I can. It is not that I cannot attempt to find good in O’Connor, I can. However, as a White person, I cannot take the good and leave the bad without reckoning with the history. Historically, White culture takes the good but does not deal with the pain or broader culture and history that gave rise to what is viewed as good.

O’Connor frequently uses the N word in her writing, which mattered then and matters now. Walker and some others have noted that O’Connor does not write from the internal view of African Americans in her stories, which Walker believes was an attempt at respect for African Americans, but that does not seem to be enough. Others have suggested that O’Connor’s writing would have changed significantly had she lived longer, which is of course likely, but we do not know how it would have changed.

I have written before about my difficulty with how to deal with the weaknesses of Christians. It is not that I dispute the concept of universal sin, I do not. I also affirm that we were created as limited being as James KA Smith has written well about. However Christianity has moral and ethical beliefs and while no one seriously debates that the church has failed on those many times, how we think about the people that both do good and do evil, especially evil in the name of Christ, is not simple.

I do not think I will ever be completely at ease with sinful Christians. I do not think I want to become at ease. I also do not want to apply a level of critique of for historical (or Christians today) that is more than what I want applied to me or is beyond real capacity of Christians. While everyone is sinful in some ways, the use of Christianity to oppress others or to empower yourself over others is a particularly harmful set of sins that has to be rooted out of leadership. Racism, sexism, abusive power, sexual or other types of physical or emotional abuse should be disqualifying from Christian leadership. The implications of those sins isn’t just on the proximate victims, but on the very message of Christ.

Flannery O’Connor was a skilled writer who was also a serious Christian that strove to use her faith to inform her writing. In some ways, she should be a model for Christians artists today. At the same time we cannot just take her talent and ignore her weaknesses. I have a lot of temptation to leave her behind. There are other great writers that are less problematic (at least in the area of race) that are also quite talented. (There are also many that are significantly worse.) Maybe I will leave her behind, because I do think it is important that we start paying attention to the ways that the church has thought that racism was problem, but not a large enough one to do much about. But I will struggle because taking the good and leaving the bad is not as easy if you have, as I have, realized that much of the history of the problems of White Christianity has been exactly the result of wanting to individualize the sin by taking the good and leaving the bad instead of systematizing the sin by understanding it in a broader context.

  • The Good Neighbor

  • The Life and Work of Fred Rogers
  • By: Maxwell King
  • Narrated by: LeVar Burton
  • Length: 14 hrs and 7 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 60
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 56
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 56

The first full-length biography of Fred Rogers, The Good Neighbor tells the story of this utterly unique and enduring American icon. Drawing on original interviews, oral histories, and archival documents, Maxwell King traces Rogers’s personal, professional, and artistic life through decades of work, including a surprising decision to walk away from the show to make television for adults, only to return to the neighborhood with increasingly sophisticated episodes, written in collaboration with experts on childhood development.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Fred Rogers was the person you saw on TV

  • By Adam Shields on 10-03-18

Fred Rogers was the person you saw on TV

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-03-18

It is surprising that it has taken 15 years since his death for an actual biography of Fred Rogers to be written. At the end of the book, the author Max King, says that the family took a good bit of convincing to participate in the biography because Mr Rogers had been resistant to a biography when he was alive. Max King convinced the family of the need for a biography, not because he wanted to be the one to write it, but because he understood the importance of a good biography to legacy of Mister Rogers. Once the family was convinced of the need, they wanted King to be the author.

The Good Neighbor is Max King’s first book. he was a journalist for 30 years culminating in being the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1990 to 1998. Then he became the President of the Heinz Endowments, which helped to fund of the Mr Rogers programming. When he retired from the Heinz Endowments in 2008 he was asked to lead The Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at St Vincent College where he is still a fellow. From his position at the Fred Rogers Center he was able to see the importance of Mister Rogers legacy and be in a position to write with access to both documentary evidence and people that were around Fred Rogers.

The Good Neighbor was released on the same day that the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor was released to DVD/Blu-ray home sales. I did not see the documentary in the theater, but I have now watched it three times since the digital release. Max King is one of the figures that was interviewed on the documentary. These two projects, along with the Tom Hanks feature film on Mister Rogers that is scheduled for release in 2019, coincide with the 50th anniversary of the start of Mister Rogers Neighborhood.

The Good Neighbor is traditional in biographical form. It traces Fred Rogers’ family history, his childhood, teen and college years and early TV career in a fairly straight line. Once the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood starts its main production the straight line narrative breaks down and never really fully comes back together. As I was reading I kept thinking about Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. In a somewhat similar way to Steve Jobs, Fred Rogers was so completely identified with his work that it is virtually impossible for a biographer to write without long discussions of that work. The Steve Jobs biography discussed the company and the products, the Good Neighbor discusses not just the production of the show and the structure of what became his non-profit production company, but also his work in childhood development, puppetry, the rise of PBS and many other topics that were informed by Fred Rogers but were more than just biography.

In my review of Flannery O’Connor’s Everything that Rises Must Converge and the new biography of Madeline L’Engle, A Light So Lovely, I discussed the importance of Christians telling honest stories about our heroes or predecessors and not falling into the trap of hagiography. Max King does not fall into the trap of hagiography here. There is significant respect for Fred Rogers. And if there is a single theme of The Good Neighbor, it is that Fred Rogers was fundamentally what we saw when we watched Mister Rogers, a person that cared significantly for those around him. The Good Neighbor does not present Fred Rogers as a saint. He made mistakes, he was not a perfect parent. His objection to being the subject of attention and resistance to licensing toys and advertising have probably limited the reach of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in a way that Sesame Street has not been limited.

But another theme that also carries through The Good Neighbor, is that Fred Rogers was driven by faith in his work. This is not a ‘Christian biography’ and I have no idea of what Max King’s religious background is, but Fred Rogers’ faith is throughout the book because Christianity was part of what made Fred Rogers into the person that we saw on Mister Rogers. The two previous semi-biographical books on Mister Rogers that I have reviewed here, Peaceful Neighbor and The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers were more explicitly about Fred Rogers’ Christianity, but in the Good Neighbor, his faith carries throughout.

There is some repetition of stories and ideas that I think could have been cleaned up with more editing, but on the whole this is a well written biography and one that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in Fred Rogers. I was glad I watched the documentary before I read the biography. As much as I love the documentary, the fuller picture of biography is very helpful. A two-hour overview of Mister Rogers cannot rise to the level of detail of a 320 page biography. There are several places where the documentary seems to gloss over details in a way that when handled by the biography seem to be almost a misrepresentation.

My children are exactly the age that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood targeted. In the last month my children and I have watched many episodes. My four year old does not like how some episodes Fred Rogers has dark hair and some he has gray hair; she prefers the older Mister Rogers. But that peaceful pacing and direct conversation to the audience and direct confrontation of difficult issues (the show covers war, divorce, death, assassination, racism, etc) has made me happy to turn on the TV to my children’s requests to watch the show.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding

  • By: Rhys Bowen
  • Narrated by: Jasmine Blackborow
  • Length: 9 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,839
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,719
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,711

In the days leading up to her wedding to Darcy O'Mara, Lady Georgiana Rannoch takes on the responsibilities of a grand estate, but proving she can run a household just may be the death of her in the new Royal Spyness Mystery from the New York Times best-selling author of On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Overall I loved it!

  • By Dylan on 08-13-18

She gets married. Finally.

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-03-18

I have really enjoyed these light cozy mysteries as a change of pace. Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding is the twelfth in the series. Like any series, there is some unevenness in the books. And although I do think this is one of the better books recently, there are parts that drive me nuts. Georgie’s continued assumption that Darcy is cheating on her, when every time, it is part of his job as a spy or another very explainable reasons is tiring. Georgie is smart and this thing about making her doubt herself all the time doesn’t really work. Some self doubt is natural, the extent of her doubt in Darcy is not.

In the last book, as someone in directly line to the throne (35th, but still direct), Georgiana had to receive permission from the King and Parliament to remove herself from the line to the throne so that she and Darcy could marry (since he is Catholic). Having been given that permission, this book is about the planning for the wedding. I already said above that the wedding happens. There have been enough delays in this series already, so I at least would want to know if it was going to be delayed again.

I appreciate that the crimes being solved in this book (and generally in the series) are not high profile crimes. I think some mystery series get stuck in the trap of making the crimes larger and larger, which tends to mean more ridiculous and unbelievable. (Looking at you Cormoran Strike and Bruno, Chief of Police.) The crimes still tend to be homicide, which is serious, but major figures in the world do not seem to be dropping.

My frustration in the series has mostly be around the lack of development of the characters and relationships of the main protagonists, not the mysteries themselves. And this one does develop the protagonists fairly well.

I was about ready to write the series off after the last book. But after this one, I will keep reading.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • The Year of Our Lord 1943

  • Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis
  • By: Alan Jacobs
  • Narrated by: Paul Boehmer
  • Length: 8 hrs and 37 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 9
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9

By early 1943, it had become increasingly clear the Allies would win the Second World War. Christian intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic thought the soon-to-be-victorious nations were not culturally or morally prepared for their success. These Christian intellectuals - Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil, among others - sought both to articulate a sober and reflective critique of their own culture and to outline a plan for the moral and spiritual regeneration of their countries in the post-war world. 

  • 1 out of 5 stars
  • The Audible is a Train Wreck

  • By John on 09-04-18

Education as virtue development

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-03-18

I feel inadequate to comment on The Year of Our Lord 1943. I spent about two weeks reading it. I have been thinking about it for a week since I read it. And I think I probably should go back and read it again before I try to write about it. But do not really have time to do that. This is a book that needs a second reading. It is not that Alan Jacobs is hard to read. He is not difficult to read, he writes clearly and well. And he is not dense in the way that some writers are dense. But every time I read Jacobs I appreciate that I am not really as well read or as smart as many people in this world. Jacobs puts ideas and people together in ways that I just would not on my own. Which is why he is so helpful to read.

I have not previously read about many of the people that are talked about in this book. In fact, I think really the only person in this book that I had much more than a passing background in is CS Lewis. The other thinkers and writers that are explored here are Jacques Maritan, Simone Weil, WH Auden, TS Elliot and Jacques Ellul. I read some Ellul in college and I know that Jacobs has done a lot of work on Auden. But basically I was starting from scratch on all of these figures.

Much of this is about how World War II in some ways focused these Christian thinkers on the long term importance of human development, not as a eugenics or progressivist project, but as an educational project that seeks to create virtuous people that are deeply influenced by Christian thought.

I am going to stop at this point. I really do need to read the book again to understand more of the argument that Jacobs is trying to develop. But there were many ideas here that were provocative and that I will be thinking about for a while.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful