Monday, March 31, 2014

Love Will Have the Final Word - Jason Gray

When the ruins are all we see … It only means love isn’t finished yet

Love Will Have the Final Word 
Artist: Jason Gray (
Label: Centricity Music
Length: 11 songs/42 minutes

In the CCM 35th Anniversary Issue, TobyMac, formerly of dcTalk, said, “One of the things we lose perspective of is how needy we are.” One reason why I like Love Will Have the Final Word and each of Jason Gray’s releases is that he continually reminds me of my need for grace.

One obvious example is “Don’t Know How,” where someone could mistakenly interpret the opening lines as a before Christ experience. Rather, when Gray sings, “I want to believe but I don’t know how/Trust what I can’t see but I don’t know how,” he is recognizing his utter dependence on God, particularly when “baptized in the burning flame/when the troubles come my way.”

The distorted background, sounding like tranquilized grunge, complements the desperation in the lyrics and vocal delivery: “I have no choice but to cry out for you/Please help ’cause I’m helpless now.” I relate to this brokenness and the longing for wholeness, more than unattainable perfection.

If we read to know that we are not alone, the same can apply to listening. On the title track, when Gray sings, “When the voice of fear rages in my head/Reading down a long list of my regret/When the ruins are all I see/Remind me that it only means love isn’t finished speaking yet.” It helps me to know that I am not the only one to see the ruins. I need the reminder that “As long as God is on His throne/I am carried by the hope that love will have the final word.” Haunting, echoing guitar lines add an ethereal quality.

One could easily conclude that this life is characterized by sorrow, but joy will not be absent on the morning when we wake from the slumber of the world’s long night. In the eternal scheme, joy is deeper than sorrow.

One might not think that a song with the phrase “Ha Ha” would even fit, much less convey a real sense of joy. But the opening, exuberant “Laugh Out Loud” makes it work with handclaps, mandolin, and is that the sound of a hammer dulcimer? Let me underscore: it’s no small thing to find hints of heaven in a song. This puts a smile on my face. It’s like Gray is singing, “Spring up, o well (of bliss), within my soul.” If all this isn’t enough, it’s topped off by a chorus of hearty whistling.

This is followed by “With Every Act of Love,” a similar-sounding track with a larger than life chorus of “ohs” that leads me to anoint Gray as a king of the monosyllables. This is the soundtrack for when “heaven touches earth.” As Gray sings on the bridge, “God put a million, million doors in the world for His love to walk through/One of the doors is you.” This is a triumphant vision of God’s kingdom being brought to the world through every act of love. The recording is worth having just for these first two songs alone.

If a song can awaken compassion and encourage people to be tenderhearted, it is “If You Want to Love Someone.” Gray fleshes-out what it looks like when he sings, “Somehow you had a way of seeing just how deep my wound could go/Oh, but you were never scared to run and meet me there/That’s how I know/If you want to love someone/Search their soul for where it’s broken/Find the cracks and pour your heart in/That’s what You did.” It may be his way of saying that God met him at the point of his greatest sorrow and need. It’s an example of how through developing trust we can help the hurting.

“The Best Days of My Life” is Gray at his autobiographical best. It brims with hope as do most of these tracks. Need encouragement? You can find it here.

I appreciate the cover of a vigilant, bow-tie clad Gray, clouds and sky in the background, holding a broken pot together, which contains a beautiful bloom. It reminds me of the Heavenly Father, Who ever mindful of our fragile estate, loves us as we are and not as we should be (“As I Am”). He holds us when our world comes apart.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Table in the Darkness: A Healing Journey through an Eating Disorder - Lee Wolfe Blum

What recovery looks like

Table in the Darkness: A Healing Journey through an Eating Disorder
Author: Lee Wolfe Blum
Publisher: IVP Crescendo (
Pages: 200

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head (William Cowper).

Though inwardly compelled to make the review request, it was with a sense of dread that I approached Table in the Darkness by Lee Wolfe Blum. Even though many years ago I read with interest and benefit Starving for Attention by Cherry Boone O’Neill, I was slightly fearful of immersing myself once again in the throes of an eating disorder. But like the lines from the stanza by William Cowper, my fears proved groundless. Those clouds of dread were quickly dissipated as I became engrossed in a story big with mercy that brought blessing instead of condemnation.

It may be cliché, but nevertheless true, that this story is not as much about eating as it is about intangibles that shape us more than we realize. The disorder is a symptom of the lack of love and acceptance that we all crave but ultimately can only be found in an intimate relationship with God. Wolfe’s disorder was a flawed coping mechanism used to numb her pain.

It was an alter-ego that could bring a measure of comfort but increasingly became dominant “Ed was mean and brutal, no longer a friend; he was now a warden in my prison of his making. He was demanding and would say anything to keep me trapped. I no longer had a voice to fight back, with Ed’s voice so much louder” (104). This recounting of her self-talk, a major part of her struggle, is insightful.

While this is “raw, real and revealing,” as Cherry Boone O’Neill writes on the back cover, it’s a story told with dignity. It’s not gross or too graphic. It is, however, told with so much honesty and recollection of detail that this will be more than a little helpful for anyone with an interest in this area.

I did not want to read more than a chapter a day, so that I might prolong and savor the experience. I don’t want to narrate the particulars, better to let Blum tell it. I extend to potential readers something that I enjoy: the element of surprise.

This is not primarily self-help or a clinical evaluation; although the last chapter does provide details of what Blum’s recovery looked like. The points she enumerates are challenging but essential. Prior to this, it remains a narrative of the highs and lows of her life from childhood to the present. It includes a love story and the important roles played by family and friends.   

By illustrating from her life in a truthful manner rather than just telling what a person with an eating disorder should do, the author lets readers make their own connections and applications. When someone artfully presents reality, it can be like looking in a mirror. I, therefore, see how I am and how I might need to change.

This volume almost never came into being, and what a pity if that had been the case. It’s an extremely helpful and hope-filled book. I’m thankful for author’s vulnerability and the publisher’s willingness to put this amazing redemption story into print.

I note in passing that this is under a new imprint, IVP Crescendo. I heartily applaud the expressed intent: “IVP Crescendo is a new line that celebrates the significant and serendipitous results that arise wherever women apply their vision and gifts to the good of the whole church.” I will be interested to see and perhaps review what other titles spring from this line. Ladies, may I suggest that you keep your eye on their webpage.

I almost missed the grace found here because of those clouds of dread. I need to remember: there is no fear in love! Don’t shy away from this one. Any clouds of reluctance may be the precursor to God’s fullness raining down. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-first Century

Scholarly dialogue on human flourishing and compassion for people are what makes this special.

On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-first Century
Authors: Jorge Mario Bergoglio & Abraham Skorka
Publisher: Image
Pages: 236

Something in me wants to champion the underdog. I see the least of these. Maybe it’s because I am one. I also recognize that some of the best gifts come in plain packages. There may be little hint of the treasures within.

It may be why I am pleased to draw attention to On Heaven and Earth. In the canon of books that come from Pope Francis, this may get overlooked and not be highly regarded.

It’s the illegitimate child, written before Francis became Pope. It was first published in Argentina in 2010, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future pope was a cardinal. It was never planned as a book.

It grew from an interfaith dialogue with Rabbi Abraham Skorka. The mutual high regard and close bonds that formed prompted the rabbi to propose a book, to which Bergoglio immediately assented.

Would you rather see a sermon than hear one? The cardinal and rabbi provide a lesson in civil discourse that could replace many a sermon.

Even though they retain differences, in writing “On Religious Leaders,” they agree and embody a key virtue. Skorka writes in reference to Jeremiah 27, “The other concept that this story teaches us has to do with the most important term that should define a religious leader—the only virtue that the Torah explicitly applies to Moses—humility. Any religious leader that is prideful and lacks humility, who talks arrogantly and in absolutes, is not a good religious leader” (31). Further in the conversation, Bergoglio writes, “Taking up the theme of religious ministers, humility is what gives assurance that the Lord is there. When someone is self-sufficient, when he has all the answers to every question, it is proof that God is not with him” (33).

The two leaders tackle a host of subjects from predominantly ideological viewpoints. Theology enters in, but the book deals a lot with human flourishing. Scholarly reflections combined with compassion for people and communities are the highlights for me.

Subject matter that includes guilt, fundamentalism, women, politics and power, abortion, divorce, same-sex marriage, communism and capitalism, and the Arab-Israeli conflict are more than a little interesting. How many books feature a frank discussion by a rabbi and pope on the Holocaust?

Each topic covers a few pages where the participants respond to each other. The brevity constrains the depth but makes it a quick reference guide. Argentine politics and history occasionally enter in but don’t significantly detract.

For those who desire understanding, this book is helpful. Communicating with those who have different views can refine our own, helping us to see what we may have overlooked, or where we could be wrong. It can also foster intimate bonds as it did here between a future pope and a rabbi. Even when disagreements remain, how much better it is to see a person as someone to be respected and loved rather than an adversary.

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