jasonbwatson

January 25, 2016

Snowflakes and Babies

All of the snow blanketing the East Coast from Winter Storm Jonas coincided with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. That prompted me to do some thinking about the correlation between snow flakes and humans. Some quick online research informed me that according to Jon Nelson at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan–a physicist who has spent a decade and a half studying snow–the number of cubic feet of snow that falls on the earth each year is about one million billion, or a one followed by fifteen zeros. So how many snowflakes is that? Well, again according to Nelson, one cubic foot of snow contains about one billion snow crystals (or what most of us commonly call snow flakes), meaning that in one year one quadrillion–a one followed by 24 zeros–snow flakes fall to earth.

What does all of this have to do with humans? Well, like me, you have probably always heard that no two snow flakes are alike. Nelson suggests that may not be entirely true. He thinks that snow flakes (crystals) that fall to the earth before they fully develop might be alike, actually. Of course, neither he nor anyone else will ever be able to prove that. Here is what Nelson had to say in an article posted on Live Science in 2007:

How likely is it that two snowflakes are alike? Very likely if we define alike to mean that we would have trouble distinguishing them under a microscope and if we include the crystals that hardly develop beyond the prism stage—that is, the smallest snow crystals. Good luck finding them though. Even if there were only a million crystals and you could compare each possible pair once per second—that is, very fast—then to compare them all would take you about a hundred thousand years.

So, maybe you would rather say “no two snow flakes are alike as far as we know” but I am content to leave off the qualifier. And if you believe that God is in control of the entire universe and the creator of every snow flake, as I do, then this is even more astounding. Job 38 references the storehouses of snow and hail. I find it fascinating to contemplate massive warehouses somewhere in heaven, filled with billions and quadrillions of snowflakes! Anyway, I got off track. What does this have to do with humans?

Well, not only do I believe that God makes each snowflake, I believe He makes each human being. Psalm 139:14 tells us that each human being is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” The previous verse says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” I love that word picture, because knitting is such a delicate craft, requiring attention to detail. It should encourage each of us to consider that God put each human together exactly as He saw fit, according to His specific desires and plans for each person. The Message presents Psalm 139:14 like this: “you know exactly how I was made, bit by bit.”

According to Professor Nelson it would be an impossibility to compare every snowflake that falls to the earth in one year. I suspect it would also be possible to compare–or even to count–ever hair on the heads of the earth’s six billion inhabitants, yet Luke 12:7 tells us that the very hairs of every head are numbered–meaning that God knows how many hairs there are on each and every head. The Voice renders that verse to include the statement “God knows you in every detail.” That is both comforting and intimidating but it means one thing for certain; if God cares enough to knit each human together and to be familiar with each detail of each person, down to the number of hairs on each head, then each human being has inherent worth.

In a recent column Mindy Belz wrote the following:

What role do I–one of 6 billion–have in the world? Infinitely the same value as all others, and theirs infinitely of more value to me when I know they matter infinitely to God. The fact that life is valued before it has done anything of value is groundbreaking enough to remake whole political systems–if it means the life of a plumber, poet, or president can be conducted for God’s glory. All men everywhere, leveled. Your one blank slate, while it is yet blank, created equal–preeminently so–to all others. It is earthshaking enough to unravel the world’s looming human catastrophes–if a life has infinite value to God.

So, next time you look at the snow outside your window–whether that is today or months from now, whether you like the snow or you wish it would just go away–let it be a reminder to you that God makes each snowflake unique, He makes each human being unique, and each and every human being was made by design, exactly the way God wanted him or her to be. God, as it has so often been said, makes no mistakes. And life beings at conception. The science is actually unmistakably clear and so is the Bible. Regardless of the arrogant and selfish attitudes of those like Lindy West–who announced last year, “It is a fact without caveat that a fetus is not a person. I own my body and I decide what I allow to grow in it.”–no one has the right to arbitrarily end the life of another. God created that life, He designed it perfectly, exactly the way He wanted it. God owns that body, not Lindy West or anyone else, and we must never forget that we are not God. None of us.

January 11, 2016

The one-eyed babysitter

Odds are good that you have heard the term “one-eyed babysitter” applied to television and, specifically, the use of television to entertain and occupy children. The amount of time children spend watching television and, now, occupied in front of other screens–computers, tablets, cell phones, etc.–is another serious side effect of the decline of marriage-based, two-parent families and the number of two-parent families in which both parents work. In January 2015, The Atlantic reported on a groundbreaking study conducted by researchers in Australia that calculated the total amount of time children were spending in front of screens of all kinds, as opposed to previous studies which focused on television or computers alone.

According to the article, “the study would suggest that many students worldwide are probably using technology much more than the recommended two-hours maximum every day.” That figure has long been the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which also recommends that children under three avoid screens completely. A March 2015 report on the BBC web site stated that children aged five to sixteen spend, on average, six and a half hours per day in front of screens, with teenage boys spending an average of eight hours per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ web site states, “Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.” Therein lies the real problem.

Any internet-capable devise puts its user a matter of a few key strokes away from accessing just about anything–and that is both good and bad. The access that we enjoy to information today provides incredible benefit and convenience. Our lives have been transformed by the ability to push a button and find the answer to virtually any question. One could easily argue that that is not always a good thing. For example, the need to memorize anything has all but disappeared. Still, the advantages offered by technology cannot be discarded. Neither, however, can the disadvantages and risks.

In a December article in WORLD on sex trafficking, Opal Singleton, training and outreach coordinator for Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, was quoted making an important observation about the risks associated with our worldwide connectedness. “Never before has there been this much competition of influences on our kids’ morals, spirituality, self-image, and sexuality,” Singleton said. “We have perfectly normal parents handing their child devices that provide access to hundreds of thousands of strangers around the globe.” Internet chat rooms, social media sites and myriad other tools, apps and web sites that make communication to easy and convenient also make it, when unfiltered, unmonitored and carelessly used, dangerous. Singleton went on, in the same article, to describe a high school senior with a 4.0 GPA who had been confronted by her mother just days before she planned to fly to Ireland to meet a 28-year-old man she met playing an Xbox game. That is just one example among thousands that could be shared.

In December 2015, Tim Challies authored a blog post entitled “Please Don’t Give Them Porn for Christmas,” which he started this way: “This Christmas a lot of children will receive porn from under the tree. It not what they wanted, and not what their parents intended for them to have. But they will get it anyway.” What did Challies have in mind? “[G]iving your children computers, iPods, tablets—any of these devices—gives them access to the major gateway to pornography,” Challies wrote, after citing these statisics: “According to recent research, 52% of pornography is now viewed through mobile devices, and 1 in 5 searches from a mobile device is for porn. The average age of first exposure to pornography is 12. Nine out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls will be exposed to pornography before the age of 18. 71% of teens hide online behavior from their parents. 28% of 16-17 year olds have been unintentionally exposed to online pornography.”

When parents are absent or are too busy to spend time with their children, getting to know them, keeping an eye on how they use their time and what they do with their electronic devices, they are creating opportunities for children to seek the attention they are not receiving from their parents in very dangerous places. Parents who are too busy, too tired or simply not present cannot provide the supervision, the attention or the training essential to the development of discernment that children need. Parents need to remember that children are a gift from the Lord and with children comes great responsibility. Parents need to be wise as serpents when it comes to the devices they allow their children to have, the amount of time they allow the children to use them and the amount of supervision they will insist upon while they are being used. Technology is a wonderful thing and can be great fun. Never, though, will a parent forgive him- or herself if they flip and east response of “go watch the television” or “go play on your tablet” results in a child addicted to pornography or lured into sexual slavery. No one thinks that will happen to their child, but the risk is just not worth it.

January 4, 2016

The 800-pound gorilla

At the end of November WORLD published an article that includes lots of contributors. Marvin and Susan Olasky got the byline, but the piece included contributions from Katlyn Babyak, Onize Ohikere, Abby Reese, Jae Wasson and Evan Wilt. The article took up six full pages of the November 28 issue and was also the inspiration for the cover, featuring a plump Uncle Sam in an apron offering broccoli to a young man who seemed less than thrilled. The cover headline was “Fat Chance: What Happens When Washington Says ‘Eat Your Vegetables?'” The article title was “Fat of the Land: How a healthy idea became a bloated bureaucracy.” What was all this about then? About the obesity epidemic in America in general, about the child obesity rate particularly and about Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign and resulting overhaul of federal guidelines for student lunches.

The article highlighted some unique programs around the country that teach children how to eat healthy, that teach children to grow vegetables, that help overweight children (and adults) shed pounds and more. Some of the programs are impressive, while others sound almost too good to be true. After all, I struggle to imagine any environment in which a bunch of young elementary school students actually enjoy (or even actually eat) a lunch of steamed edamame, beef and brown rice pilaf, and oranges. At least half of the article though was devoted to Mrs. Obama’s crusade. The article touted good things she has done, including her willingness to do whatever necessary to promote healthy eating and exercise. She has, the article states, “danced and push-upped her way across television talk shows. She charmed kids by making a video in which she boogied with a turnip. She donned gardening gloves and tilled the White House kitchen garden.” All of those things are indeed impressive. Given that Mrs. Obama is the youngest First Lady the U.S. has had since Jacqueline Kennedy, it has been encouraging to see her engage in activities other First Ladies could not have done. (For the record, Hillary Clinton was only 83 days older than Michelle Obama when her tenure as First Lady began, but I do not think I am alone when I say that I cannot really imagine Mrs. Clinton doing anything mentioned above for public view).

The article does a good job of also highlighting the downside to Mrs. Obama’s crusade, including the resulting public school lunches that most students do not enjoy or even eat, the bureaucratic growth stimulated by so many new federal guidelines ans recommendations and the government overreach that comes when the government institutes a goal of average fruit consumption among students reaching 100% of the recommended level by 2030. Of course, trying to find ways to reach unobtainable goals calls for some creativity and guideline restructuring, such as the USDA’s decision in July to allow vegetables in smoothies to count toward the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’s mandate a 150% increase in fruits and vegetables in school meals. Somehow I suspect I am not the first one to think of the ballyhooed inclusion of ketchup as a vegetable in the 1980s (even though pickle relish is what was actually recommended, not ketchup). Another part of the problem, of course, is the waste that results when students are served foods they won’t eat. I do not disagree that children need to be fed healthy foods and that they need to learn to eat and enjoy them in order to have a balanced diet, but I question the wisdom of making that the responsibility of the government.

That leads to the 800-pound gorilla in the title, which is alluded to in the article’s conclusion and is the real inspiration for this post. After referencing the many studies that attempt to diagnose why there are so many obese individuals in the United States the article states the following: “[A]mong the outpouring of papers and studies on why some adults and even some kids weigh more than 300 pounds, no one seems to be scrutinizing the 800-pound gorilla in the room: fewer families with married moms and dads in the home, and more families with mothers who come home from full-time work exhausted. Few things are more politically incorrect than to speculate on the connection between family and fat, yet until we do that we’re driving blind.” This is crucial–and I extend kudos to Olasky, et. al. for addressing it in their article. Of course there are plenty of two-parent families that do not eat well, but single-parent and two-working-parent families are more likely to eat processed, packaged and unhealthy foods I would bet. I dare say, too, that two-parent families with children whose schedules are slammed with school, practice, rehearsal, club and whatever-else, constantly scurrying from one activity to another, are more likely than children with well-balanced schedules to eat unbalanced meals.

To his credit, Mike Huckabee has raised the issue (healthy eating and its connectedness to many of the other problems and potential problems facing our country) in both his current presidential campaign and his unsuccessful 2008 run. Few journalists seem to take notice, few debate moderators seem to care and few other politicians seem to have any interest in the subject. That’s fine, I suppose, because there are myriad other important issues for presidential candidates to address and, as I mentioned above, solving this problem is not the bailiwick of the federal government. What is important though, and the point that Olasky is making, is that there are many ramifications and repercussions to family disintegration that we do not think about when we get used to no-fault divorces, single-parent families and other iterations of the family that vary from the way family was intended to function. Likewise important, and the point that Huckabee is making, is that when we do not consume a healthy diet, it is more than our waistlines that suffer. The law of unintended consequences is alive and well and we can find prime examples of it every day if we just look around. As we enter the thick of campaign season this is good to keep in mind as we listen to the promises and claims of those vying to get our votes.

It is also, of course, a great reminder that it would behoove us all to eat a good meal tonight–a home-cooked one, ideally without any processed food and with the entire family sitting around the table.

January 1, 2016

My Year in Books-2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 9:54 pm

My annual review of my year in books is the post I receive the most comments on face-to-face. Readers tell me they enjoy and look forward to it every year. It is a favorite of mine, too—I enjoy looking back over the list of books I read during the past year and recalling what I learned, liked and disliked. In 2015 I did, once again, surpass fifty books for the year, ending with fifty-four (and a quarter—more on that quarter later). So, without further ado, here is the overview. As always, the books are grouped primarily by genre rather than by the order in which I read them, not all fifty-four books are included, and none are reviewed extensively for sake of space.

I will start with what many would call classic fiction. Despite referencing it in my teaching for many years, I had never read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. I have now rectified that. It is worth reading and worthy of its classic status. It does provide an interesting look at the life of immigrant workers and the meatpacking industry. John Updike’s Rabbit, Run provides a glimpse into the life of someone who seems unable to get past the fact that his success in high school basketball is not going to carry him through life. The search for the thrill and fulfillment he experienced there, though, leads him to make some poor choices, and if nothing else the book serves as a lesson in the folly of thinking that real happiness can be found in self-gratification. I had read it before, but a debacle over the merits of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath being read by students in a Christian high school English class led me to read the book again. My own opinion remains that the book has merit and provides an abundance of teachable moments, but I do understand and respect the opinion of those who do not agree. Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, which I had not read before, proved a reasonable alternative for 20th-century American literature. The book reminded me in many ways of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence and it can certainly produce excellent discussion on the subject of marriage.

The quest for ideal American lit for Christian school students led me to read or re-read each of the following, as well: John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I found all worthwhile reading and conducive to meaningful discussion.

Each year I set my sights on one of the greatest classics I have yet to read, and in 2015 that was Don Quixote. Suffice it to say that I did not enjoy it, do not recommend it and struggle to grasp why it is considered one of the all-time greats. I found most of it absurdly silly and ridiculously long. The same objective could have been accomplished in a book one-third the length (or less). It did not help matters that the translation I was reading did not adhere to normal rules of English grammar, resulting in extreme run-on sentences and other challenges. It took me five months to finally finish the book, and even then I had to force myself to read 100 page increments in between other books I read during that time.

In the genre of contemporary fiction, my 2015 reading included Elaine Neil Orr’s A Different Sun, about a well-bred southern woman who marries a former Texas lawman-turned-missionary and joins him in missionary work in Africa. This book, too, could produce interesting discussions about marriage and love, as well as dealing with temptation and the many challenges of evangelizing an unknown land. Jolina Petersheim’s The Outcast was my first foray into Amish fiction and it was presented in the review I read as a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter. While there are some similarities, I think that is an overly generous comparison. Still, the book did present opportunity to grapple with hypocrisy, the cost of sin, the meaning of forgiveness and the impact of bitterness among other topics. Someone gave me Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and encouraged me to read it, so I did. The story is interesting in parts but invites the reader to follow a dangerous path of looking for omens to direct one’s life and “listening to one’s heart.” I would not recommend it for those immature in their faith, as it could prove problematic. Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune, though, gives insight into life in Victorian-era Chile and in Gold Rush California. It also provides a look at the lengths to which someone who believes they are in love will go to find their soulmate.

I don’t recall how I came to read Laird Hunt’s Neverhome and I am not sure I liked it. The book tells the story of a woman who fought in the Civil War, disguised as a man, leaving her husband at home. It does not make it clear right away that that is what is happening—the reader is left to figure that out. Women, of course, did fight in the war, and the book provides an interesting look into the challenges they faced in doing so. However, the book never makes clear why the main character’s husband stayed at home and makes him out as a sissy, quite frankly. Perhaps the blatant abandonment of proper male and female roles is why I ultimately disliked the book.

I was sorely disappointed with Harper Lee’s Go, Set a Watchman. I did not find it particularly well-written and it left me disliking Atticus Finch–I would have been content to keep liking him.

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, on the other hand, was quite enjoyable. It is the first of Doerr’s books I have read, but his interweaving of the lives of a blind French girl and a German boy during the period Germany occupied France in WWII was captivating. Particularly agreeable is the love shown between father and daughter.

I always have a number of entries in the mystery and crime fiction genre and 2015 was no exception. Mary Louise Kelly’s The Bullet was an engaging tale that I enjoyed, but it fell victim to too many convenient unlikelihoods that made the ending somewhat unsatisfying. Alafair Burke’s Long Gone was a fun and pleasing read, as was Charles Cumming’s A Foreign Country.

Then, too, there are always a number of books by authors I read annually—as most of them can be counted on to provide at least one book a year. David Baldacci’s The Escape is a typical Baldacci page-turner that would be enjoyed by any of his fans. Jeffrey Archer’s Mightier Than the Sword was the latest installment in his Clifton Chronicles and was generally as enjoyable as the others. The next book in the series is out next month, I believe. James Patterson can be counted on for quick reads, and NYPD Red 2 and NYPD Red 3 both fit that bill (and both were co-written with Marshall Karp). John Grisham’s Theodore Boone: The Fugitive was an expectedly consistent addition that series of juvenile fiction.

Among Baldacci, Grisham and Patterson, all three had new books out late in the year, and the three of them are grouped in Amazon’s “frequently bought together” feature. In these three offerings, the authors apparently felt compelled to inject current affairs into their novels. Grisham’s Rogue Lawyer is probably the book I like least of all of Grisham’s efforts, and I have read them all. The book seems like a combination of short stories slapped together in an effort to hit on all of the hot-button issues of the day while cranking out a legal thriller—cage fighting, human trafficking, homosexuality (the main character’s wife left him for a woman and works in a law firm full of raging lesbians), police brutality and more. Even worse, the book contains some of the most implausible plot twists Grisham has used since his conclusion to The Firm.

Baldacci’s The Guilty continues his Will Robie/Jessica Reel series and is centered around Robie going home for the first time since high school to (1) find out why his father has been arrested for murder, and (2) deal with some inner demons that cropped up after a successful assassination mission at the start of the book unintentionally included killing the target’s young daughter. Homosexuality is not a main theme of the book, though it does come up, and Baldacci creates a character—a physician in Robie’s hometown—who gives away Bibles among other efforts at righting the wrongs of his father. When he helps Robie crack a coded message based on Leviticus he gives a Bible to Robie. He explains that Leviticus contains one of the passages that has created such a fuss when it comes to homosexuality and says something to the effect of, “I don’t believe everything in this book. It has some great stuff, but it’s time we realize we’re in the 21st-century and ignore biblical injunctions against homosexual activity.” That the one character in the book who seems to possibly care about biblical truth takes this approach to the Word is disappointing. The book also includes reference—though not explicit—to child molestation and incest.

Patterson’s Cross Justice was apparently written by Patterson alone, a rarity for Patterson books these days. Frankly, Patterson would be well served to allow a little more time to pass between the events Alex Cross deals with in his life full of one crisis after another. This book, too, takes some incredibly unlikely plot twists and includes some truly absurd actions that ultimately go unpunished. Still, the book is interesting overall and, like all Patterson offerings, a quick read. This book includes a split personality male whose alter-persona is a female. It was refreshing to see that Patterson presents this cross dressing persona as a result of nurture, not nature and of mental instability. I feared from the beginning that it would go the other, more politically-correct route.

In the biography category, Terry Teachout’s Duke is a comprehensive and well-written biography of Duke Ellington, perhaps the greatest American jazz composer. Karen Swallow Prior’s Fierce Convictions, a biography of British poet and abolitionist Hannah More, was well-written and interesting. Prior to reading this book, More to me was nothing more than a name that had appeared in biographies of William Wilberforce. David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers is the latest in McCullough’s long line of well-crafted biographies. I have spent a considerable amount of time on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where Wilbur and Orville Wright made their first flights so have always had an interest in the brothers, but this book only heightened that interest. It also prompted me to plan my summer vacation travel to include a visit to Dayton, OH where the Wright brothers grew up, had their bicycle shop and eventually perfected manned flight.

Rifqa Bary’s autobiography Hiding in the Light is a captivating account that will both challenge and aggravate you. It will challenge you to reconsider your own faith and how strong it really is while aggravating you to see what Bary went through with Social Services after running away from home for fear of her life.

As I do every year, I read a number of history books last year. Gregory Coco’s Wasted Valor is an attempt at understanding how the Confederate dead at Gettysburg were treated. This is a unique and necessary part of Civil War history, but the book gets tedious at times and would likely not be of interest to anyone who is not a devoted Civil War buff. Eric Foner’s Gateway to Freedom is a mostly-fascinating (though at times tedious) history of the Underground Railroad. Richard Beeman’s Plain, Honest Men is the most thorough account of the constitutional convention I have ever read and is well worth reading for anyone interested in that transformational summer.

Thomas Bogar’s Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination is an absorbing look at the actors and theatre employees who were present when Lincoln was shot and how that event impacted their lives. That brings me, as well, to the “and a quarter” I referenced at the start. Robert Summers’ The Assassin’s Doctor includes a 160-page biography of Dr. Samuel Mudd, which I read. Mudd is the physician who set the leg of John Wilkes Booth after Booth assassinated Lincoln. Though it is unlikely Mudd knew about the assassination ahead of time, he was sentenced to life in prison for his role in aiding Booth’s escape. Andrew Johnson pardoned him, however, just before he left office, meaning Mudd served not quite four years. The book, however, also includes some 500 pages of primary source material, including letters to and from Mudd, trial documents and much more. It would be a treasure trove for anyone interested in Mudd. I am interested in Mudd, both because of my interest in Civil War history and because I grew up just a few miles from Mudd’s house. When I entered school on my first day of kindergarten it was at Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Elementary School (which also tells you more than a little about the sentiments and sympathies of those in southern Maryland!). So while I read the 160-page biography, I have not read all of the documents Summers included.

Nathaniel Philbrick and Erik Larson write history books that read more like novels—and that is meant as a high compliment. Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea is a fascinating account of the whaling ship Essex. In addition to a thorough accounting of the tragic final voyage of that ship and the impact it had on the men who survived, the book forces readers to consider what man is capable of doing when staring almost certain death in the face. I have not yet seen Ron Howard’s film adaptation of this book but look forward to doing so. Larson’s Dead Wake was a compelling account of the sinking of the Lusitania, interweaving perspectives from the U.S., Great Britain and Germany. Fascinating characters abound, and the look into the secret British intelligence office alone makes the book worth reading. In the Garden of Beasts is an older one of Larson’s books (2011) but equally intriguing. I recommend it for anyone interested in WWII history, and especially to anyone who has ever wondered how no one could have seen what Hitler was doing in Germany.

In the category of leadership, Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership was a worthwhile read but offered little that was truly new insight. Good reminders, though. Theodore Kowalski’s The School Superintendent is really a textbook, but it is one of the best and most practical books I have ever read on the subject (despite being written for public school administrators), while Gene Frost’s short book Learning From the Best, Volume 2 takes secular business insight and applies it to the Christian school.

In the area of Christian living, my 2015 reading included Max Lucado’s Before Amen (a helpful book on effective prayer written in typical Lucado fashion), Nancy Ortberg’s Looking for God (an interesting read I did not agree with entirely and well summed-up in its sub-title, Slightly Unorthodox, Highly Unconventional, and Entirely Unexpected Thoughts about Faith), John Ortberg’s All the Places to Go…How Will You Know? (a book consistent with Ortberg’s style of addressing meaty spiritual matters in an easy-to-read and sometimes lighthearted manner), Edward Welch’s Side by Side: Walking With Others in Wisdom and Love (a practical guide for effectively coming alongside those who are hurting for one reason or another), John MacArthur’s The Truth War (an exposition of Jude and highly relevant for this day), Kevin Leman’s The Way of the Wise (a book in typical Leman fashion about applying practical biblical life lessons), and Jamie Snyder’s Thou Shall (a short book focusing on all the things the Bible tells us we should be doing, challenging the reader not to focus on all of the things the Bible says we should not be doing).

In March I finally read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, a book I have been meaning to read for years but kept putting off. Some of it I liked and some of it I did not. I found that Miller addresses topics few other Christian writers are willing to address. Sometimes that is refreshing and necessary. Other times it is because they should not be addressed. I also found Miller unnecessarily crude at times. Even if that is his effort at “being real,” I found it off-putting. After discussing the book with a friend, said friend then loaned me two of Miller’s other books, Through Painted Deserts and Searching for God Knows What. The previously stated opinion of Miller’s writing was only reinforced in these two volumes, though the latter of these two books did include an excellent chapter on Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet in particular) that would be beneficial for anyone wanting to bring biblical integration into a study of that most famous of all Shakespeare plays.

I read only one political book in 2015, but if your political leanings are at all like mine, Rick Santorum’s Blue Collar Conservatives will leave you wishing Santorum had a place on the main stage for the GOP debates rather than being stuck in the undercard round.

I think that just about sums up my 2015 in books. Thanks for sticking with this post to the end. Please feel free to share your own recommendations for books I should read, or your thoughts on any of those referenced here, and stay tuned next year for another review of my year in books.

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