Thursday, December 20, 2012

Favorite Books From The Past Year: Personal Growth

Posted by Michael

On a whim one afternoon at a local Barnes and Noble I picked up a small book on creativity that I passed on a shelf-end display. A lot of my impulse buys don’t work out, but “Steal Like An Artist” was different. Austin Kleon is a clever writer, humble and honest about his efforts at creative growth.  His simple premise is to immerse yourself in the writers, musicians, and artists that inspire you. For most, mimicking the voice of the those we admire is how we begin to find our own voice. Creative at it's core is about bringing the thoughts and visions that are uniquely yours to the world, and Kleon does an amazing job of inspiring discipline to that end.  “Steal Like An Artist” is a relatively short book, and can be read in one sitting, but it is well worth revisiting often though, and you seek to amp up your creative energy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Favorite Books From the Past Year: Fiction

Posted by Michael.

Tony and I are scheduled to review our 10 best movies from this year in January, but I thought I would get an early jump on the best books I’ve read in the past year. Same rules apply as with the movies in that the book can be from any year, but I had to read it this year. I try to read across a couple of broad categories, and will review my favorite book from each. I would love to know what you have read this year that stands out. I’m always looking for a good book to add to my “to be read” stack!

My favorite work of fiction from the past year was actually a collection of short stories. Short stories can feel a bit odd if you are used to consuming novels, or if you need tidy resolution at the end of all that you read. If however,  you are up for a bit of a change, Simon Von Booy’s “Love Begins In Winter” is well worth your time. Von Booy is able to tap into the depths of human emotion and experience in concise, clean prose. His words flow smoothly and expertly through your brain as you read. Many times I read books as if they are a sprint, racing to get to the end and the pay off. Von Booy’s work begs to be read slowly and savored. It  is more like a leisurely walk simply for sake of walking. Taking time to see the sights, and hear the sounds. “Love Begins In Winter” touches on the depths of loneliness and trauma, while affirming the power of relational connection, and it does so well enough to deserve a spot in your reading rotation.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Darkness and Light: Thoughts on Christmas

Posted by Michael

“If my strength is not my own, if my righteousness is Christ’s, my darkness only makes his light more lovely. Satan might as well be accusing the shadows in a Rembrandt of ruining the masterpiece. God bends even our sin to the service of his glory.”
      -Andrew Peterson (from his introduction to Russ Ramsey's Behold the Lamb of God)

Christmas is a time of hope. It captures us all. The smell of evergreen trees, the bright red ribbon around candy canes, the sound of familiar carols, all stir emotions inside of us. December finds us in a variety of states. Some have just pocketed Christmas bonuses while others pray for employment. There are homes packed with children and relatives that have traveled in from far away. There are homes filled with silence and loneliness.  Ornaments are purchased for a child’s first Christmas, while just down the street a widowed wife is unable to unpack the tree for her first Christmas without her husband. However it finds us, Christmas dares us to hope that things can be better, that somehow whatever immediate darkness we may be encountering will give way to brighter days.

The first ever Christmas also combined intense measures of joy and pain. Added to the joy of a newborn son was the knowledge that Mary and Joseph shared:  this child would be like no other! God was visiting His people just as He had promised. At the same time, it must have saddened the couple to birth their child so far from the comfort of home and family. On top of that, the prattling whispers of Mary’s premarital pregnancy that awaited them when they returned to their home added to their weariness and stress. They huddled together among the livestock in the last hours of daylight, cold and conflicted, honored and humbled.  Little did they know that as their new family spent its first night together, miles and miles above their head, a new light was piercing through the darkness.  A never before seen star’s light had reached the earth and the attention of scholars from the East. In spite of the darkness of that night or of their circumstances, God’s light was unwrapping a plan to rescue humanity.

Although a bit less extraordinary in some of the details, our lives mirror the experience of Mary and Joseph. Joy and anticipation mingles with loss and confusion. Sometimes it seems the darkness will suffocate the light completely. Mercifully, the light of God’s love for us will never be extinguished. Not only that, but the light is all the more brilliant in the midst of the dark world that surrounds us. God’s unending love for me is overwhelming, especially when I consider how poorly I love others and even myself. My prayer this Christmas season is that we will glimpse again the light of the irresistible love that God has for us, breaking through the dark.