How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James KA Smith

Reposting this review because the kindle edition is on sale for $3.99

Summary: The traditional story of how to the world came to be secular (a subtraction of belief) is not the real story.

Starting last year I have been paying a lot of attention to James KA Smith (Jamie).  The first book of his that came across my radar screen was Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation. (I still haven’t actually read that one, it is on my list for this summer.)

But I did read Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works.  And it really did fundamentally change my perspective on liturgy and worship.  Since then I regularly read Smith’s editorials (he is the editor of Comment magazine) and I have slowly been reading some of his other books.

How (Not) to Be Secular is the type of book I wish were more popular.  For important ideas to really take hold, we need good authors to popularize those important ideas into formats that a general public can understand. Charles Taylor’s A Secular age is a massive and important book, but at 900 pages it is too long (and too dense) for most readers.  (And more than a few people have suggested Taylor is not the most readable author.)  So Jamie Smith has put together a 148 page companion that covers the basics of the argument and includes relevant contemporary examples.

The basic idea of A Secular Age is to explain what it means to live in a secular age and how we have come to this place in culture.

“We are all skeptics now, believer and unbeliever alike. There is no one true faith, evident at all times and places. Every religion is one among many. The clear lines of any orthodoxy are made crooked by our experience, are complicated by our lives. Believer and unbeliever are in the same predicament, thrown back onto themselves in complex circumstances, looking for a sign. As ever, religious belief makes its claim somewhere between revelation and projection, between holiness and human frailty; but the burden of proof, indeed the burden of belief, for so long upheld by society, is now back on the believer, where it belongs.”

Taylor’s innovation is how he reframes discussion about secularization from what it has lost (belief in God) to how the very nature of belief claims have changed.

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

Reposting this 2013 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $3.00
Dad is Fat by Jim GaffiganSummary: Funny stories mixed in with some advice.

I like comedy.  I don’t laugh nearly enough.  I have a tendency to be a little too serious.  But I have a few standard humor authors.  Christopher Buckley is one of my favorites (but I have read pretty much everything he has written.)  Christopher Moore is pretty funny except when he isn’t.  I really liked Bossypants by Tina Fey.

Last year, some friends introduced me to Jim Gaffigan.  Since then I think I have seen three of his TV comedy shows and I really like his humor.  He seems like a fairly real person.  And like me he is an introvert, likes kids, hates sports, is a little over weight and loves his wife.

This seemed like the perfect book for him.  He has great material on being a Dad.  He has five kids (six and under).  He lives in New York City in a 2 bedroom apartment (on the 5th floor without an elevator) and lives without a car.  When he is not touring, he is often at home with his kids.

How Sweet the Sound: A Novel by Amy K. Sorrells

In her debut novel, Amy Sorrells has established herself as a story teller and poet. How Sweet the Sound is a story of an Alabama family, the Harlans, and their generational struggle to bury the ugly pain that haunts them. All of their lives come crashing in around them when two brothers kill each other. The tension between the two had been brewing for years from dark family secrets of rape and abuse. Anniston, who lost her father in the double murder, struggles with all of the upheaval in her young life and her cold and hard hearted grandmother.

I highly encourage you to read this well written book in a place where you feel safe to weep and have an ample supply of Kleenex at hand. It is a story of redemption and hope for those dealing with the brokenness in their lives – a stirring story of amazing grace and encouragement.

How Sweet the Sound: A Novel by Amy K. Sorrells Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

A Christian Survival Guide by Ed Cyzewski

Summary: The basics of Christian practice and belief from someone that survived their faith.

One of the problems of my life is that I spend very little time with people that actually are non-Christians. I am a stay at home Dad, I work part time out of the house in my spare moments, my prefered enjoyment activities are reading and being alone.

The time I do spend with people is usually my extended family or church small group. In spite of that I feel like I know a lot of ‘post-Christians’. Those that have grown up in the church or on the perefery of the church, but have an uneasy relationship with the church now.

The US makes being a ‘none’ easier all the time. And for many, it is far easier to walk away from the church when things get difficult than it is to struggle through to a new equalibrium. Or at least that is how I describe it. It seems to me that there are many points in time where all is good, you are comfortable, you have faith, you see God working, and things make sense. But then there is a crisis of faith, or a dry spell or a tragedy or something that breaks that equilibrium and you have a choice of searching for a new equilibrium or to just stop fighting.

Ed Cyzewski has written this guide for two groups of people, those that have no background in the church, or those that have lost their equilibrium and need to find a new one. For both readers, the old answers aren’t working any more. New Christians have different questions because they didn’t grow up in the church and they are culturally ill-disposed toward the standard answers that were based in a previous generation’s questions. And those that have grown up in the church and had their equalibrium break, the standard answers were probably what caused the break in the first place.

Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis

Takeaway: A story of regret and complaint, joy and pain. Much like the story of many of us.

As regular readers of this blog well know, I have been intentionally reading a lot of CS Lewis for about 18 months. Lewis is an icon of Christian literature. And there are few that can compete with the breadth of his work, from apologetics, to memoir, to children’s literature, to serious adult fiction, to serious academic work, to contemporary essays.

I first read Till We Have Faces nearly three years ago before this most recent reading. I liked it much more this time. I think I both understand Lewis and have more context than the previous reading and I think I probably read the book better.

Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche from the perspective of one of Psyche’s sisters. I didn’t really know the story of Cupid and Psyche before, and so I intentionally read several things about it before I re-read this to make sure I have the basics of the story in my head.


Starting tomorrow I am going on a week’s vacation.  I have book reviews scheduled, but I am not sure if I will be posting any free book posts.

All should be back to normal on Sept 15 (or maybe the 16th if I am really swamped the first day back at work.)

Outlander TV Review

1410465192_0.pngThe Outlander novels, written by Diana Gabaldon, have transcended multiple generations and are generally recognized as one of the bestselling series of all time. With the first installment arriving in 1991, and subsequent novels appearing every few years after, it helps that the Outlander fan group has had decades to grow. Throughout the years, the novels have attracted many readers that enjoy romance, but have also found a place in the hearts of those who enjoy fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction and even mystery novels. Gabaldon has made it abundantly clear that her works are genre-bending, and she’ll have words with anyone who tries to push her series into the romance section.

It’s no surprise then, that a book with such a vast audience would soon find itself invited to be transformed on television. Following the success of shows which provide romance, fantasy, and action all-in-one, Starz pinpointed Outlander as a potential hit. It appears they were correct, since the series premiere pulled in over 5 million views in the first week, and the success of the following episodes have since led Starz to already commit to a second season. The show, which is available only with a Starz subscription (local channel info here), has been the best performing series the network has produced yet.

Perelandra by CS Lewis (Space Trilogy #2)

Reposting my 2013 Review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $4.74.
Perelandra by CS Lewis (Space Trilogy #2)Summary: In the second book of the series Ransom visits Venus.

The books of Lewis’s space trilogy are hard to review.  How to you review a classic work of CS Lewis?

In the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, Ransom is kidnapped and taken to Mars where he finds a ‘garden of Eden’.  Mars is an old world, one that has not fallen.  There is no sin.  There are only the creatures, following in perfect unison with their creator.

In Perelandra, Ransom is called to Venus for some purpose he does not know.  Once there Ransom meets a green woman.  One of only two people on the planet.  She has been separated from ‘the king’.  The world of Venus is a great ocean with floating islands.  There is one solid place in the whole world.  But the green woman and ‘the king’ have been told by their God that they can visit, but they are not to live there.

8 Free Christian Fiction Kindle Books

Lip Reading: A Novel by Harry Kraus

434 pages, 40 of 40 reviews are 4 or 5-star

She Could Save Millions, or Save Herself

She just needs a little longer. She’s really close. Dr. Rebecca Jackson, a medical researcher, stands on the verge of a breakthrough that will transform medicine. But she soon discovers the reason behind the miraculous progress in her research, and it leaves her with a nearly impossible choice . . . and little time to decide. More than her research is at stake. And more threatens it than this latest revelation. Something she’s tried hard to cover up. There is a high cost to some things in medicine and it’s not always the patient who pays. Can Rebecca find the faith and wisdom she needs to make the right call? The clock is ticking and the pressure is on.

The Cat in the Window and Other Stories of the Cats We Love

193 pages, 23 of 26 reviews are 4 or 5-star, Lending Enabled

People love their pets–cats more so than any other (or so the cats would like to think). And if there is anything cat-lovers enjoy almost as much as stroking their beloved feline friends, it’s reading about cats. In the tradition and style of her previous smash hits, Callie Smith Grant brings readers a brand-new collection of uplifting stories about the amazing creatures that warm our hearts–and our laps! With stories from Melody Carlson, Jill Eileen Smith, Robert Benson, Kathi Lipp, and many others, The Cat in the Window offers the perfect excuse to curl up on the couch with a furry friend.

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by GK Chesterton

132 pages, 6 of 9 reviews are 5-star, Public Domain

Chesterton’s finest achievement—at once a gripping thriller and a powerful allegory

In a colorful neighborhood of West London, two poets are at each other’s throats. Gregory is an anarchist who longs to upend civilization with the power of his words, while Syme is a man of reason, convinced his opponent’s beliefs are nothing but a fashionable pose. To prove his seriousness, Gregory introduces Syme to the central council of European radicals, where the newcomer is given the codename “Thursday.” Though none will admit it, every man in the council is a liar—and each is deadly in his own way.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

The financial crash of 2008 surprised almost everybody–the investment banks, the government, and the Federal Reserve, not to mention millions of American homeowners. In The Big Short, Michael Lewis tells the story of a handful of investors who saw it coming, who read the tea leaves in the mortgage market, recognized that it was unsustainable, and decided to bet against the system. They earned hundreds of millions of dollars off one of the worst economic collapses in history.

Lewis dives into the underworld of mortgage backed securities (MBS), collateralized debt obligations (CDO), and credit default swaps (CDS), explaining them all in incredible detail. Despite the technical discussion, if you stick with it Lewis rewards you: he manages to weave a story so fascinating that it reads like a thriller novel. I devoured it in just a few days.