You’ve probably seen William Stieg’s work before: his hasty, evocative illustrations defined the style of New Yorker covers for decades; he’s also the creative genius behind the movie Shrek. But what few know about Steig is his enduring contribution to children’s literature. Steig, who died in 2003, wrote a range of longer-format children’s picture book including Brave Irene and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. But one children’s book draws from his Jewish heritage to present a captivating argument for the existence of God:
As two freshly painted puppets dry in the sun, they wonder about their existence. “Do you happen to know what we’re doing here?” asks the thin, yellow puppet of his fat, pink companion. “Someone must have made us,” says Pink. “But how,” Yellow asks, “could anyone make something like me, so intricate, so perfect?” Pink is certain that they were created by someone, but Yellow argues that they are a fluke, that over eons they just happened. Unconvinced, Pink asks several awkward questions. Why can they see and hear? How can the paint on their bodies be so neat and symmetrical—”with perfect edges, in just the right places?” In the end, Yellow concludes that “some things will have to remain a mystery. Maybe forever.” — Anita Barnes Lowen
The story doesn’t end in a stalemate as a strange man soon appears who unsettles their theories. Children under age 8 may not understand the subtlety of the arguments presented, the narrative is compelling nonetheless. Adults will be deeply engaged by the clarity of Steig’s thought and the potency of his storytelling.
Modern picture books tend to be hopelessly banal and strive for little more than promoting the latest TV show. Yellow & Pink work certainly entertains – but also leads to thoughtful discussion about God and his role in creation. This is a children’s book that could be discussed in seminary classes; it certainly belongs in all church libraries!
The Life and Spirituality of John Newton (1725-1807), is an incredible autobiography about the author the world’s most popular hymn, Amazing Grace. What stands out in Newton’s life is the tremendous amount of humiliation and shame he experienced in his early life which culminated in his conversion. These extreme experiences softened his character and molded his subsequent ministry to include extraordinary relationships with others who suffered from depression and mental illness.
John Newton was born July 24, 1725 in London to a devout mother and irreligious sea-faring father. His mother died when he was six years old, and after just two short years of formal education at a boarding school, John Newton took to sea with his father, making five voyages to the Mediterranean by age 18. By all accounts, Newton was an incorrigible and rebellious sailor. In his autobiography he reports that his sea-faring conversations would “mak[e] the gospel history…the constant subject of profane ridicule.” Disciplinary issues arose on ship after ship, on account of his various pranks and attempted desertions. These resulted in Newton being beaten, imprisoned, and degraded in rank. At age twenty, Newton reached his nadir, discharging from his ship to take a ‘manager-in-training’ position with a local slave trader, a position that ironically ended up looking more like slavery itself.
Newton took up residence at his new master’s home on Plantanes Island off the West African coast, but became violently sick upon arrival. During this illness, his patron neglected to feed him to the point that he nearly starved to death, and only survived by sneaking out at night to eat the roots of nearby trees.
At long last, Newton was able to escape from this servitude and return to England. On his voyage home, he narrowly escaped death in a sea-storm which triggered a newfound hope in Newton that “there is a God that hears and answers prayer.” This hope blossomed into a conversion, and in time, bore fruit in a teaching and preaching ministry.
Newton’s first pastorate was in rural Olney. He was a captivating preacher, and soon reported that 2,000 regularly attended his church on weekends, though the village of Olney itself had few more than 2,000 inhabitants. In Olney, Newton’s curacy was marked by an expansive youth ministry and frequent home visitations, often to parishioners in “various degrees of derangement.” In 1779, Newton relocated to an affluent central London parish, where in addition to preaching, he became a kind of ‘evangelical patriarch’, mentoring church leaders from several different denominations. Though much of his youth and small group work were abandoned in London, he remained dedicated to visit the ‘sick and the sorrowful.’
The Life and Spirituality of John Newton demonstrates how ‘great’ pastoring arises out of a receptivity to the ‘greatness’ of God in the midst of ‘great’ emotional duress. In many ways, the strength of the John Newton’s pastorate truly reflects the strength of God, as a broken person allows their weaknesses to be used to strengthen others.
This is a highly-accessible book that draws on Dr. Jim Osterhaus’ treasure store of counselling over many decades. It’s remarkable how Dr. Osterhaus has an uncanny radar for marital relationships. You may begin reading this book as any other, but find you pause frequently when a single line or vignette jumps off the page into your soul. Specifically, the book helps clearly connect family of origin dynamics with patterns that linger into the next generation. It’s also a helpful book to understand some of the underlying dynamics in your friends’ marriages, and helps engender a deeper empathy for them.
The “What is ‘healthy’?” question is just one of many questions couples have asked me over and over again in my counseling practice. The typical couples I’ve counseled have again and again asked, “Why do we get into so much conflict over the same issues?” “How can we learn to trust each other?” “Who leads?” “What do we do with in-laws?” and a whole host of other questions. In this book I take the 18 questions I’ve been asked the most and summarize my answers to them. Each chapter stands on its own as couples search for answers to the challenges they face. After many of the chapters, I’ve included helpful, practical tips to help you understand your relationship better, and begin the process of making it more fulfilling.
Jim Osterhaus is a clinical psychologist and public speaker based in Virginia, with extensive experience in helping individuals, couples, families, and organizations move through conflict and change. His experience includes a special commission established by the Vice President of the United States to consider the emotional effects of government downsizing, facilitation of the Organizational Culture component of the Army Staff Redesign.
Hundreds of books about the intersection of faith and business have been written in recent decades, often with conflicting conclusions. Tim Keller’s recent book, Every Good Endeavor, written in conjunction with a former Silicon Valley CEO, cuts through the cacophony of this literature to ask three simple questions:
- Why do we need to work in order to lead a fulfilled life?
- Why is it so hard to work?
- How can we overcome the difficulties and find satisfaction in our work?
One of the most poignant observations Keller makes with respect to the first two questions is the modern fallacy of seeing work as an all-important means to self-actualization:
“In traditional societies people found their meaning and sense of value by submitting their interests and sacrificing their desires to serve higher causes like God, family and other people. In modern societies there is often no higher cause than individual interests and desires. This shift powerfully changed the role of work in people’s lives. …In the modern world-view, it becomes an arena for self-realization…the defining activity of [humanity]” (141-2)
Beyond this cultural critique, Keller’s response to the third question shows pastoral concern for those whose working life seems futile or pointless. In the end he arrives at hope, a fresh vision of work rooted in the gospel story. When we cease looking to our work as a means to construct our identity and receive our vocation from God instead, we “finally have the power to work with a free heart. You can accept gladly whatever level of success and accomplishment God gives you in your vocation, because he has called you to it. You can work with passion and rest, knowing that ultimately the deepest desires of your heart…will be fulfilled” in this life or the next. (241)
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One of the best books of 2013 was Walking with God through Pain and Suffering – the newest book from Timothy Keller.
“New York Times bestselling author Timothy Keller—whose books have sold millions of copies to both religious and secular readers—explores one of the most difficult questions we must answer in our lives: Why is there pain and suffering?”
Released this summer, God in My Everything, by Canadian author Ken Shigematsu, is a down-to-earth book that expresses how spiritual formation is more than just solitude and quiet reflection. Spiritual formation happens in the everyday, so that even a busy life can be fertile ground for Christian growth.
In an age of self-help and quick fixes, God in My Everything encourages readers to walk the old paths of the Jesus tradition – prayer, fasting, hospitality, and witness. I found this book especially compelling because of the way Shigematsu’s writing exudes grace. For once, the spiritual disciplines seem accessible and not overly burdensome. Reading the book did not trigger feelings of guilt (for not doing enough) but inspired me to invite God to enter parts of my life I hadn’t seriously considered letting him enter before.
I was not aware of the ‘rule of life’ concept previously, a view of daily life drawn from the monastic tradition, but am glad Shigematsu has dusted off this forgotten treasure of Christian history and demonstrated its immense contemporary relevance. Many of us live disjointed and distracted lives; a rule of life helps us allow God to integrate these threads back together.
Through poignant insights, memorable anecdotes, and a hybrid Japanese / Canadian perspective, Shigematsu provides a unique perspective on aspects of life rarely discussed in discipleship literature – play, Sabbath, family life. Reading this book reawakened my desire to live deeply in a superficial age.
Order God in My Everything from READ ON Books at a discounted price: $13.99 including shipping. To order, stop by the store or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (416) 620-2934.
Book review by: Jacob Buurma (opening paragraph adapted from Zondervan)