Two Book Recommendations

I’ve been slacking on the blog, but I promise I’ve been writing. My manuscript for Zondervan is due April 1st, so that is where I’ve been investing much of my reading and writing time. Along with the enriching research I’ve been doing for my book, I have been reading some other books on the side. And since I miss blogging, I want to share good books, and my time is limited, I thought I’d offer some short recommendations. So, I’ll start off with two today and hopefully share two more next week:
I love how Alan Noble makes me think with this book. In Part One, he critiques our distracted, secular age and how technology and social media is affecting the way we view ourselves, our faith, and our world. With all of the choices and customizations before us, the gospel can easily be presented as just another personal preference like our diets, politics, and latest pet cause. “The challenge for the Christians in our time is to speak of the gospel in a way that unsettles listeners, that conveys the transcendence of God, that provokes contemplation and reflection, and that reveals the stark givenness of reality” (30). Honing in on our obsession with self-fulfillment and life-as-performance on social media, Noble pinpoints how our online personalities portray how we want others to interpret us. What can subtly happen is that “our focus shifts from practicing our beliefs to signaling our beliefs to ourselves and others” (43). This affects our gospel witness as well, as it gets treated as “performance of our identity” rather than “punctur[ing] the buzz of modern life, the thinness of belief, the closed immanent frame, and our attempts at crafting identities and narratives of our own” (60).
Noble presses the reader to recognize our need for contemplation, meditation on Scripture, living in community, reorienting our desires, and honest self-evaluation. “If my foundation for knowing my place, purpose, and end in this world is on the basis of a self-discovered hidden identity that only I can verify and properly know, and that others are obligated to accept by virtue of being outside me and therefore are unable to judge, there is less space for collective human flourishing” (72). And so he spends the second half of the book calling us to be disruptive witnesses through disruptive personal habits, disruptive church practices, and disruptive cultural participation. “A disruptive witness denies the entire contemporary project of treating faith as a preference” (81). You’ll have to read it for yourself to learn more. It will be time well spent!
I took this one with me on a long flight and it totally consumed me. In the first half of the book, Carr writes her experience in present tense as her 18-year-old son begins to kind of unravel---she later describes it , quoting from Elyn Saks, as a sandcastle slowly losing sand as it recedes into the surf---from the person they’ve known since birth, his diagnosis of schizophrenia, trying to learn what it going on inside his brain, caring for him, and the desperate love of a parent. There are so many layers to this book: personal biography, faith, lament, navigating through insurance coverage, proper medical care, drug use (both prescribed and illegal), the function of church, the weight of each decision along the way, family dynamics, the nature of mental disorders, danger to self and others, misconceptions, and the gripping question of whether to commit a loved one to institutional care. Carr is raw in how she shares this, revealing her own weaknesses, insecurities, sin, and restoration. All the while, God is glorified in her writing---not in a forced, “I’m a Christian and so I have to sound put together” type of way, but in an absolute, coming to the end of herself, dependence on the God who loves Simonetta and her son more than she ever can, and a holding fast to the character of God and his promises even as she doesn’t know how all these broken pieces fit together.
The second half of the book serves to help the reader navigate through all she and her husband had to learn in the process of caring for a loved one with a mental illness. This section is not only helpful for families going through this, but churches and friends who want to love those families well. We are looking forward to interviewing Simonetta on the podcast. I recommend that you buy the book and read it for yourself.